Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Insurance Writer relocates to Phoenix

December 26, 2007

Release Date: Immediate Contact: Nancy Germond, ARM, AIC

Insurance consulting firm relocates to Phoenix

Insurance Writer, owned by Nancy Germond, ARM, AIC, a national risk management and insurance training firm, recently relocated to Phoenix, Arizona.

Insurance Writer was founded in 1997 by Nancy Germond. She has authored scores of articles on risk management, safety, personnel matters and claims management. She authors two columns, one for and for Workers’ Comp Bottom Line, a Thomson West publication. In conjunction with Stillman Thomas, she designs advertising for some of the top MGAs and service providers in the nation. Her website is Her blog’s URL is

Germond is a skilled and experienced consultant and presenter. Her relaxed and entertaining talks and columns focus on societal risks impacting today's risk management professional as well as tips for tightening day-to-day business operations.

If you'd like more information, please call Nancy at (602) 870.3230.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

E-mail communications may shoot us in the foot

For an excellent overview of the continuing problems with e-mail discovery, click here. I couldn't have said it better myself.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Insurance Writer announces new column

December 6, 2007

Release Date: Immediate

Contact: Nancy Germond, ARM, AIC
573 638-3738

Insurance consulting firm launches new risk management column

Nancy Germond, ARM, AIC, President of Insurance Writer, a national risk management and insurance training firm, will debut a new column in January 2008 at, which is owned by Dun & Bradstreet. Ms. Germond’s column, “Risk Management for the 21st Century,” will assist small-to-medium sized businesses in better managing their risk.

As any manager knows, risk is inherent in almost every interaction in today’s increasingly complicated workplace. Many organizations rely exclusively on their insurance agent or broker to handle risk. However, business managers should have a high level of knowledge about managing risk. This column will provide business leaders with practical, common-sense tips to improve safety, better manage risk and the purchase of insurance, and more thoroughly understand the insurance marketplace.

Insurance Writer was founded in 1997 by Nancy Germond. Click here to view here to view her blog or website.

She has authored scores of articles on risk management, safety, personnel matters and claims management. For almost a decade, she has contributed to Workers' Comp Bottom Line, a Quinlan publication. Germond is a skilled and experienced presenter, and her relaxed and entertaining talks and columns focus on societal risks impacting today's risk management professional as well as tips for tightening day-to-day claims operations.

If you'd like more information regarding this or other information, please contact Nancy.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Employers must pay for most personal protective equipment

OSHA has promulgated a new personal protective safety standard which, in a nutshell and with few exceptions, requires employers to pay for all employees' personal protective equipment. For a full read, click this link.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Are you at the right venue?

I recently attended the Workers Compensation Disability Conference in Chicago. There were over 200 exhibitors vying for the attention of the attendees. I tried to visit every booth to view new products and look for article ideas for my monthly column in Workers' Comp Bottom Line. Do you know what I noticed? Some exhibitors were at the wrong trade show.

That's right. They had spent thousands of dollars to buy space, transport and house personnel, furnish marketing material and burn valuable marketing time. The results? Some probably are back in their offices this week, wondering why their phones aren't ringing.

There are many vendors developing products that are ripe for an insurance industry eager, no desperate, to cut costs. But your marketing consultants may not be the best vehicle to ensure you're reaching the right portion of the industry with your message because they don't have a hands-on knowledge of the industry.

You've heard the phrase "targeted marketing." Targeting your prospects ensures your advertising dollars are reaching the audience that needs or will consider your product. The insurance industry is complex, and the consultant or ad agency you use must understand the industry to help you penetrate this complex market.

Here's one example. One young vendor was there with what appeared to be a great program that adjusters can use to dictate their reports and receive them back in just a few hours. With the amount of outsourcing carriers are now doing, this product makes sense. Unfortunately, this venue, where many attendees were Federal employees and adjusters not empowered to make purchasing decisions, probably wasn't a great show for this product. There's several other venues I recommended to this provider that would reap much stronger results.

Your advertising agency should be more than a vehicle to produce copy; it should provide a tailored marketing program that will help your product penetrate a highly competitive and increasingly technical marketplace.

Today, every advertising dollar counts. For a free consultation on your product, call me at 573 638-3738.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Are we focused on the goal

to the exclusion of seeing those around us?

The Oakland Police Department recently spent hours trying to oust a gunman who had barricaded himself inside his house. After two hours of firing tear gas canisters into the house, the officers noticed the home owner standing beside them in the police line up, chanting, "Please come out and give yourself up!"

It's a great thing to set goals and feel proud of our successes, but to truly succeed in life as well in business, we should remember the others beside us, also helping us to succeed. Survey after survey shows employees feel increasingly disenfranchised from their work, which hurts productivity and creates customer service issues galore.

Take a moment today to sincerely thank those who help you to succeed.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Is your Blackberry costing you too much money?

I am attending the Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference in Chicago. I've noticed a few striking changes in the audiences attending events.

Attendees (and many exhibitors) are so busy scrolling through messages on their PDAs and returning cell phone calls or reading text messages, they've stopped talking to people. And they've also, in some cases, stopped listening to speakers. Many of the audience member are terribly distracted, and the same held true in the exhibitor center.

I'm not sure what the answer is, but I do feel that one of the benefits of attending a conference is to schmooze, network, and otherwise meet people and learn about new products. If we're so preoccupied with what's going on back at the office, I'm not sure attendance benefits anyone.

Next time you send your personnel to a conference, suggest they take a break and enjoy the show. One thing I've learned the hard way, whether I'm answering my phone and reading e-mails 24/7 or not, the world spins on without me.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Thank you cards for busy execs

I preach to the converted, I'm sure, about the value of cards in building business. I've discovered a great resource, a card service that allows you to manage all your cards and contacts on line, whether it's birthdays, anniversaries, thank you cards, or seasonal wishes.

For about a dollar (this includes postage), you can send a beautiful card automatically, even personalized in your own handwriting. For more information, take ten minutes and call me for more information.

I find many busy agents are doing Google searches looking for advice on writing cards. This simple program will help you manage your card commitments.

What better way to build relationships than by cards? I've kept in touch over the years with hundreds of people this way. You can, too. Call me (visit my website for contact information) and simplify your life while building your relationships. Isn't that what sales is all about?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sum up how you serve

When people ask you what work you do, do you respond, "I'm in insurance"? I've killed numerous conversations with that line at parties, or on a plane when I don't want to talk to my seatmate.

There are scores of articles advising a one-minute marketing speech that recommends that you quickly promote yourself to others. I advise a little more caution. When we meet others, we make snap-second decisions regarding whether we're even willing to learn more about them and their profession. Pushing a 30-second "canned" presentation the first few moments you meet someone that so many networking experts promote can backfire.

If you're "in insurance," how about this one-liner? "I help people protect the people they love." Or if you're an HR manager, what about "I help my organization recruit and retain the brightest people in the [fill in the blank] industry."

Build a picture of what you do with your words and open the door to a conversation where, once trust is built, you can divulge more information to others when warranted. Americans are overwhelmed by pitches and we who rely on networking must be careful that we don't come on too strong.

We can paint a picture with our words that shows our enthusiasm for what we do. If we're excited about what we do, it's easier to get others excited, too.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

First Boomer applies for Social Security!

On October 15, Kathleen Casey Kirschling, a former teacher, applied for Social Security benefits, according to CBS News. This makes her the first of nearly 80 million Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, to apply for benefits.

77 million Boomers will begin to retire over the next two decades, over 1/4 of the workforce is eligible to retire in 2010. Is your organization ready?

To receive a free White Paper that details 22 steps your company can take to ensure you're ready for this exodus, click here.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Great guide for journalists

When you are contacted by members of the media regarding insurance matters, here's a step you can take to ensure they better understand how insurance works. The more knowledge a journalist has regarding the insurance industry, the better his or her reporting skills and the more balanced the journalist's reporting should be (in a perfect world, at least).

The Insurance Information Institute offers a free booklet for journalists that explains frequently used terms and can be used to better educate media members. Insurance Handbook for Reporters is free to journalists and members of the media; there is a small charge for others.

If you agree to an interview, this is a great URL to send journalists prior to your discussion if you feel they may lack an understanding of the industry.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Do you need a domain name?

Here's a nifty tool to help you find a domain name for your business, or for your new venture, if you are branching out. It's called Bust A Name and it's easy. Just visit the website and type words or concepts that you believe you'd like or that describe your enterprise. For example, I typed in several words relating to insurance, risk, the future, strategy and consulting. It gave me about 15 examples of domains that are available.

You can reorder them by readability, length, and can keep track of the ones you like. It also shows the price of the domain on various hosts.

All in all, it's a cool tool and it's free! Check out Bust A Name.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Write simply and clearly

Because I frequently write on human resource and intellectual talent issues facing the financial services industries, I read many, many article and White Papers. Some are well written; others, not so much.

Here's an example of confounded writing from an article in this month's Chief Learning Officer's online magazine (which I recommend) that discussed "practice communities." Practice communities are groups of people who meet to share knowledge and which I discussed in my recent White Paper (available on my website), "Brain Drain."

Processes that facilitate structured knowledge sharing ensure the white space between process owners is not missed. And when the community formalizes its knowledge into standard work processes, tacit knowledge becomes explicit and is no longer subject to loss when someone leaves the organization.

I would rewrite the paragraph for more clarity because I think the article would provide excellent knowledge, but I don't have a clue what "white space between process owners" is. If you do, I'd love to know.

There is a wide body of literature available about improving business practices. Today's executives don't have time to wade through obtuse writing that leaves them uncertain about what they've read and unable to implement suggestions from it into their businesses. There's just so little time and so much information from which to choose.

People often have great ideas, but it helps to have an editor who can provide unbiased input into your topic. If we can help your business, please contact us.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Press release

October 6, 2007

Release Date: Immediate Contact: Nancy Germond, ARM, AIC

Insurance Writer offers new advertising concepts—entertaining ads capture business consumers.

Recent Adweek Magazine survey reveals 80 percent of responders like
“smart, entertaining” advertising.

A recent Adweek Magazine survey of Americans’ opinions of advertising showed that 72 percent of those surveyed “…get tired of people trying to grab my attention to sell me stuff.” A full 84 percent say “Too many things are over-hyped now….” Yet 80 percent of responders admit they like “smart, entertaining” ads. This poll illustrates that most consumers are tired of advertising, yet potential buyers’ attention can be captured with humor. With a hint of wit, venders can generate both click-throughs and branding. Buyers of your service are more inclined to remember your name if you capture their attention with humor.

Nancy Germond of Insurance Writer, in conjunction with Stillman Thomas of the Stillman Group, develops advertising for some of the top insurance brokers, MGAs and insurance service providers in the nation. To view an example of one of their branding ads to promote the independent insurance agent, visit this link.

Today’s consumers are bombarded with advertisements, printed, on-line and in e-mail. Consumers, whether agents, brokers or industry service providers, are also assailed with media trying to sell a product. It is imperative that advertising dollars are spent on ad vehicles that are “sticky,” that remain in people’s minds long after they have viewed your ad or perhaps clicked through to your website.

Nancy Germond, ARM, AIC, President of Insurance Writer, develops advertising and provides consulting services for a variety of insurance-related organizations. Stillman Thomas develops advertising and provides website design and computer consulting.

For more information regarding the services they provide, please e-mail her at or call her at (573) 638-3738.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Form letters often in poor form

Most agency or claims management systems have standard form letters that the user can send to clients and insureds. I've viewed more than my share of the letters as a Lloyd's auditor, and frankly, they leave a lot to be desired.

Here's a typical "your premium came in high" letter I found on one agency management system:

Dear First Name:

Your auto insurance has been issued with a premium higher than we quoted. The result is a higher $74 for an additional ticket you failed to disclose. A notice of cancellation will result ... and may result in the loss of your license.

Okay, many of your are saying. We don't even want to write people who lie to us. I don't blame you. However, in a non-cancellation state, you're married to the insured for the foreseeable future. In addition, First Name may have cousins, brothers, a mom or dad, who don't lie. How you treat First Name in every interaction makes a difference.

Consider, instead of that form letter, this quickly customized form letter:

Dear Mr. Last Name:

Unfortunately, an additional speeding citation you received on August 13, 2006, still appears on your motor vehicle record. Therefore, your policy, which we originally quoted at $700 annually for liability only on your 1998 Nissan truck, will now cost $29 additionally annually. The company has billed you for this additional premium. If you did not receive the bill, please call us immediately so that we can make arrangements to assist you.

Thank you for trusting us with one of the most important decisions you can make--your insurance. If we can assist you or someone you know, we would love to help.

Most systems allow you to input your own letters or customize their form letters. Why not take a few moments and customize your letters?

contact you have with your clients is a chance to do one of two things--turn them into a more loyal customer or alienate them. There isn't much middle ground, is there?

Client churn can often be attributed directly to customer service and in today's competitive marketplace, people still value the personal touch. Even those with convenient memories.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

New study shows women-loaded boards performed higher

An interesting new study by Catalyst, a consulting firm, found that companies with more females on their board enjoyed 53 percent higher equity returns than those with few women on their boards.

As the insurance industry talent gap widens as Boomers retire or change careers, companies should examine their hiring and promotion practices to ensure they don't overlook their brightest talent.

To read a synopsis of this study, click here.

Friday, September 28, 2007

White Paper now available

The White Paper "Brain Drain--Twenty Two Steps to Reduce the Impact of Retirement and Increase Employee Retention is now available on my website here.

To read the full press release, click this link.

This White Paper offers solid solutions to the coming loss of intellectual capital companies face with the impending retirement of Baby Boomers, historically brief job stays, and the difficulties of managing an increasingly multigenerational workforce.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My wonderful mother

Marge and my father Andy, married in 1940, founded two insurance agencies, but more importantly, taught their four children strong values. My brothers and I miss them daily.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

My most awesome father

Here he is (left) introducing Barry Goldwater at his Rotary Club.
Everything I learned about how to treat people (and most of what I learned about insurance), I learned from my father and my mother.
May they rest in peace.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

E-mail ads that work

This is a very interesting article about the development of different typefaces and the logo changes that The Nature Conservancy has undergone in its history. While we aren't type designers, we do develop e-mail advertising for some of the top MGAs in the country, so choosing a type that fits with your corporate image is always part of our design.

How do we design an ad for you? First, we spent quite a bit of time on your website and review any written communications you send out about your program. For example, if you're writing habitational products, we'll look at promotional material you send about your offerings or any links on your website such as where your agency agreements reside to determine the look of your website.

From there, we pick a theme. If our client allows, we try to think outside the insurance box. For example, we developed a hilarious and highly successful e-mail campaign for an insurance education provider. The theme: "I have to take another insurance class?" Then we found a picture of a young man sleeping in his coffee cup.

That particular campaign really generated click-throughs, which is the point. You want to drive people to your website. Even if they don't buy then, they know who you are and, perhaps with some repetition (another ad, because research shows it takes at least seven contacts before someone actually buys from you), they'll make a purchase.

People want to buy from people; not a nameless corporation. So it's vital that we learn a little bit about how you operate so that we can pitch your personality in our ad. We really enjoy designing email ads that help make our customers more successful.

E-mail ads must be expensive, you might think. They are very inexpensive when you consider you're getting thousands of people to see your ad, versus static advertising like an ad in a trade journal, which is not interactive and is often simply branding your corporate identity. As we've discussed before, branding is vital long-term. But if you need to make a sale this week, then e-mail is the best way to achieve that sale.

If you want to read an excellent article on typeface design, click here. And if we can help you, call anytime at 573.638.3738. I'm a writer; I work weird hours.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Google earth

If you want to see some beautiful pictures of the earth and sky, visit and download Google earth. Here's where I'm located, just in case you want to drop by. ;-)
As technology improves with lightning speed and makes distances seem to disappear, it's good for those of us in customer service (and who isn't in customer service) to remember: The Golden Rule is never outdated in business or personal relationships.
Thanks for visiting Insurance Writer!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Is it time for your case study?

Case studies are an increasingly popular marketing tool. A case study is a customer success story. For example, your company may have helped a company save money or time by using your product. With that company's permission, you can write a case study that outlines that company's problem and how you helped that company solve their problem.

Case studies are usually short, about 1,000 words maximum. Once a case study is written, it can be posted to information portals that publish management pieces, sent to your potential clients, or posted prominently on your website.

Because of their brevity, case studies generally aren't expensive. The case study is an effective method to carry your message to potential clients or to remind past customers that you can assist them with future problems.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Brain drain

I'm about to release a White Paper on managing the coming information crunch from Brain Drain in the insurance industry. During the process of researching this article, I've talked to a great many insurance professionals to discover ways insurance companies are dealing with the impending talent crunch.

By and large, I've found that few companies are strategically tackling this problem. One company that has impressed me with its efforts to develop a mentoring program to address this issue (among other employment issues they face) is Aon Services Corporation. I spoke at length today to one of their senior managers, who spent almost an hour to assist me by describing steps her company is taking to address important employment issues such as talent loss and inter-generational management concerns.

If you know of any other insurance organizations that are working proactively to address intellectual capital losses whether from retirement or other issues such as downsizing, please let me know. My contact information is found on my website at Insurance Writer.

While not all experts agree that a talent crunch is coming, demographics show with startling clarity what our industry should expect in the next decade. Once I publish the paper, I'll either let you know where to find it or post it on my website.

Friday, August 3, 2007

How to write a thank you

I am a big believer in "thank you" notes. It's the way my mother raised me and it stuck. I have noticed in business that many people don't seem to know when it is appropriate to thank people.

Ann Marie Sabath in her book Business Etiquette offers a great rule of thumb. If someone does something for you that takes longer than 15 minutes of his or her time, a written "thank you" is appropriate. She also counsels against sending an e-mail thanks, except when the effort the other expended on your behalf is minimal.

Some experts argue that a typed letter is more appropriate in business settings. However, I usually send handwritten notes. I keep several boxes of professional looking thank you cards on hand and even if I'm a little late, I still send them.

Write legibly! Many of us write so infrequently now that our handwriting may be difficult to decipher.

Here are some of the reasons I find to send notes.
  • When a colleague refers business to me. Many people will not refer business again to colleagues who don't say thanks, at least via e-mail.
  • When a client retains your services, especially for the first time.
  • When a client pays me for larger projects and from time to time, just to say "thanks" for their continued patronage.
  • When a potential client takes time out of his or her busy day to listen to me pitch my services.
  • When a colleague provides input or advice beyond casual assistance.

Always keep the tone professional. If you don't think your recipient has your business card, enclose one, otherwise, you can omit your card. Don't enclose more than one card because it may appear that you're looking for more referrals.

If the referral is a major one, a gift may be appropriate such as candy, flowers or a gift card. This varies by company and its corporate policy, so be sure you send something they can accept.

People like to help, but most appreciate being acknowledged for their assistance. It only takes a few moments to write the note, but it is often the right thing to do.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Writing a strong executive summary

Whether you’re writing a proposal or preparing a white paper, an executive summary is an integral part of any lengthy or complex report. An executive summary allows the reader to quickly understand the scope of the report, your major finding and your conclusions. It is a succinct wrap-up of the report or proposal’s contents. Because time is such a precious commodity, people who should read an entire report may only skim it. The executive summary allows the readers to know, in one or two paragraphs, what to expect in the report.

The executive summary should be near the beginning of your document and clearly delineated by a heading and formatting. If you know your presentation will be read by many employees, for example if you’re responding to a Request for Proposal (RFP) for broker services, write the executive summary to the highest ranking person who will read your report.

The executive summary should avoid the nuts and bolts of how to implement a project, but it should give an overview of the problems being addressed, what action to take, and what the benefits of taking that action are.

Your executive summary should be a call to action. Use action phrases such as “We recommend” or “The problems you have faced in prior data conversations can be avoided by utilizing our project management experts.”

Broadly speaking, an executive summary should do the following:

1. Tell your readers what your report contains or what it evaluates.
2. Explain any method of analysis you may have used.
3. Summarize your findings.
4. Succinctly state your recommendations.
5. Briefly state any limitations you encountered that might have impacted the thoroughness of your report.

It may be a good idea to write your executive summary after you have written your report. When you have completed your report or proposal, use a voice recorder and summarize each section of your report. For example, in a white paper, you may have headings such as “problems of integrating technology,” “what to look for in a claims management system,” and “what to expect during data conversion.” Briefly describe the findings of each major section in your white paper, with a strong emphasis in your executive summary of the conclusions that, of course, your company is best positioned to solve. Keep your summary brief—an executive summary should probably be fewer than 1,000 words.

If you’re pitching to a large organization, the executive summary may be the only part of the presentation that the decision makers read. Your report may be passed to lower-level managers to determine whether your proposal has merit. In other words, your executive summary can mean the difference between winning that new account or losing it to your competitor. The extra efforts you apply to develop this summary can reap huge rewards.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Does your client need a risk manager?

In today’s turbulent business client, can your organization afford to ignore risk management? Every organization must consider risks seriously, whether you are a two-person shop or a major corporation reporting to stockholders. Who in your organization performs this function?

Many organizations have an employee who wears many hats, and usually, organizations place insurance, safety and risk management responsibilities with either a finance person or, in larger organizations, a personnel director. That decision may work if you have a small organization, but as your business grows, the greater are your assets at risk and your exposures to loss.

A risk manager analyzes an organization’s core business functions to determine insurance coverage needs and to reduce risk. To analyze coverage, the risk manager must examine the organization’s current and impending activities to determine if those endeavors are covered adequately under its current insurance policies.

For example, a few months ago I heard from a frantic North Carolina business owner. He assumed that, although he had two corporations, all his employees were covered for workers’ compensation. When one of his employees was injured, he found out the hard way that employees under the second corporation were not covered under his workers’ compensation coverage. With thorough risk management and an experienced independent insurance agent, this loss could have been prevented.

The risk manager often becomes to “go-to” person in each organization when employees see trouble on the horizon. “Can we do this?” is a question the risk manager must answer frequently. A risk manager’s job is rarely to say “no.” Instead, the job often requires imagination and innovation to answer the question “How can we do this?”

A risk manager’s job may involve working with line supervisors to ensure employees are following safety procedures. If you have no written personnel or safety procedures, a risk manager will work with peers to develop them for your organization. Personnel issues such as sexual harassment or potential dismissals may, in conjunction with human resource officers, involve the risk manager.

Training, such as supervisor safety training, will probably fall to a risk manager. Safety inspections and adherence to safety policies are a regular part of the risk management function, as well.

Managing claims is an integral part of the insurance function. The risk manager works with other managers to ensure all losses, whether injury or property damage, are reported timely to insurance carriers. Developing a reporting procedure for all claims to guaranty prompt claims reporting is critical to accident management.

Educational backgrounds vary among risk managers. While most hold at least a bachelor’s degree and professional accreditations such as the Associate in Risk Management developed by the Insurance Institute of America, the major issue to consider is the ability to think creatively to either embrace where appropriate or avoid risk. While a risk manager must be able to interact with senior managers and board members, he or she must also be comfortable with line employees, where safety problems occur most frequently. If you must choice, choose excellent communication skills and good common sense over technical training.

When is it time to consider either hiring a risk manager? First, there are “rent-a-risk managers” who will consult with your organization for a monthly or annual fee. However, if the potential savings a risk manager offers your organization exceeds his or her salary, given an acceptable rate-of-return, your organization should strongly consider hiring a risk manager.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

How not to talk to a journalist

Because I have no shame, I am going to share my most embarrassing interviewing mistake. I was a new cub freelancer, still green behind the ears, to mix a metaphor. I had read an interesting article in a trade journal that made me realize I could expand on that topic by delving into it more deeply. I really thought one of the insurance executives who was quoted had an astute insight into the issue. This was a bit before Google, so I tracked him down through a couple phone calls.

He agreed to talk to me, making clear he had only a moment for me, and said abruptly, "So, what's your question." I froze. I absolutely could not get one word out of my mouth.

After a couple of seconds, I managed to stutter something like, "Well, I loved what you said in the article in National Underwriter and I wondering if you could elaborate on that."

The fact that I didn't have a specific set of questions for him was my mistake, born of inexperience. But what happened next was his mistake. Instead of taking a moment to ask me to remind him of what he said, or to somehow lead me along a bit (remember, I was new at this and it showed!), he snapped, "I don't have time for this. Either ask a question or get off the phone."

I thanked him for his time and hung up. That was 15 years ago, and guess what? I'll never bother him again and I remember his name. So what's the lesson?

Most reporters have never owned a business, been subject to a profit motive, and except for the few that specialize in insurance and work for the trade journals, don't understand insurance all that well. As your own public relations band, it's your role to become an orchestra leader. You must guide the interviewer when needed. And always, no matter how busy you are, be gracious. People remember jerks.

I have provided a link to an interesting article about how to talk to journalists written by a journalist.

Friday, July 6, 2007


Editing documents is my business, so I have a particular routine down. First, I write the article, often stream of conscious, not worrying about spelling (I use auto correct for the simple errors). Then, on screen, I go back over the document a few times to ensure I've caught the most flagrant errors.
Next, I print, always double spaced. Then I edit, usually away from my desk, in another room, away from where I created the document, normally using my German shepherd as a footstool. I use a red Precise Rolling Ball red pen, which I buy in bulk. I use standard editing marks, which you can find here.
Then, I return to the computer and make changes, reread on line again, then print. I often print and edit an article four or five or six or more times before I'm ready to consider it a finished product. In the interest of recycling, for new rough drafts I reuse paper.
Here's the most important tip of all. If your document is important (and I maintain every one is except the most mundane e-mail to a pal), then lay the document aside overnight and reread it the next morning with a fresh eye. Here is my guarantee--if you do this, your communications will improve a great deal.
The eye finds many, many errors more errors when you print your document rather than if you edit on-line.
My favorite spell check error occurred when I was a public sector risk manager. I was on the board of PRIMA-AZ Chapter, and the President that year was the former State of Arizona's Attorney General, and a wonderful, high-profile woman. As president, it was her role to put out the Chapter's newsletter. She apparently relied a little too heavily on spell check, because when I read the newsletter after it arrived in the mail, on the front page in big letters was the word "Public" spelled without the letter 'l'.
She had a great sense of decorum, but a better sense of humor, so I lost not one minute calling her to crow about her error. There was dead silence on the phone for a moment, then she said flatly, "I'm blaming YOU!"
We both laughed and learned how to take "public" without the 'l' out of our spellchecks. Come back soon and I'll tell you how to remove words from your on-line dictionary. It may save you some embarrassment.
P.S. One of my sharp-eyed friends just emailed me to point out a typo, which I fixed. That shows Stillman's comment is true: someone else needs to proof your document, too!

Monday, July 2, 2007

A beautiful website

Need a breather from your day? Planning a vacation soon? Then visit my brother's website and visit the "Arizona" link. As you scroll over the various sites, a pop-up will appear of that destination. Of course I'm biased, but I've traveled all over the United States and then some and to me, Arizona is one of the most beautiful places on earth. For diversity, there is no state more varied.

If you reside in the Phoenix metropolitan area and need insurance, give Carol M. Kahn a call at 623-931-5343. Northwest Insurance puts its clients first.

And for another shameless promotion, one of my other brothers, Stillman Thomas, designed both my website and the Northwest Insurance website. You can contact him here or through me (he works with me from time-to-time on technical projects). Isn't he a great designer?

This month's Rough Notes magazine had an article about husband-and-wife insurance teams. Give it a read. If you're tired of struggling to find good employees, why not shake your family tree?

Friday, June 29, 2007

On a mission

I heard a great slogan the other day that speaks to the heart of what makes a good salesperson. "I'm on a mission--not on commission," this salesperson said. To be truly successful in the long run, I believe, sales people must look beyond the immediate profit to what is best for the client.

The agency I worked with recently in Arizona has done just that. Over the years, they have always put their clients' needs ahead of their need for profit. They have had to turn business away to brokers with more markets or who were better suited to help their insureds. They always did so with grace and good humor. They wished their clients well who left them, even if it was only for a hundred or so dollars in premium savings. "If we can help you in the future, just let us know," they would always say. Inevitably, some of that business came back to them. They have lived the slogan "We're on a mission--not just commission."

I wonder how many people in the insurance industry still put their client's well-being ahead of their organization's need for profit? I know some do.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Do you need a slogan?

Many organizations have slogans. Insurance Writer has two: "Where Insurance is an Art," and "Making you successful makes me successful." I've used the first one for years; the second one is to brand my blog. No matter the size of your company, a catchy slogan is critical to your branding efforts. After all, where would Allstate be without its "You're in good hands" slogan?

Developing a slogan is a process of trial and error. To develop a slogan, you'll need to define the benefits your organization provides that others in your niche may not. For the agent I was working with last week in Arizona, they are family owned and have been in business in that area for 45 years. They have a slogan they've used for years, but on the agent's business card whose business we are building we put, "The Personal Insurance Specialist." That says, in four words, exactly what she does and differentiates her from the agent pack.

To develop your slogan, and recall that you may have two or three different slogans for various uses, devise a list of ten or twenty possible slogans and solicit feedback from long-time customers, friends and trusted colleagues. You can also use a method from poetry, the "cut-up" method. Take key words like "service," "trusted," "home-town," or other ones you might use. Put them in various combinations to find a phrase you like.

A copywriter can help you develop slogans for your company. Considering that a good catchphrase can boost your business greatly, you'll reap a big return on investment.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Are you a Chamber member?

If you are, are you taking advantage of your local Chamber of Commerce? Last week I worked with an agency's personal lines manager to assist them in developing and implementing a marketing plan. Their phones weren't ringing as much as they'd have liked, partially due to the competition from direct writers.

First, I learned this agency's sales goal, which is readily achievable, especially given the exponential growth in this region. Next, we looked at a big problem this agency faces: It doesn't have a physical location in that area.

This agency belongs to three or four Chambers but hasn't attended regulary. So we took the proverbial bull by the horns and went to two Chamber mixers at the same Chamber. (We're not going to spread ourselves too thin; this Chamber has over 1100 members and is booming. Next month, we may hit the other Chambers, but there's plenty of work to be done here first.)

The first meeting we went to was a marketing committee meeting where we volunteered our services to help get ready for the Chamber's annual dinner. There we met a realtor, a loan officer in a bank (my client's bank, by the way), and an Avon lady, to name a few. All of these people can help her and she can help them. These are informal strategic alliances.

How can an Avon lady help an insurance agent, you might ask? First, this isn't just any Avon lady. She's a retired pit boss in a Las Vegas casino, we learned when we chatted as we worked, so she has to be sharp. And, she's going to be in about every home in that area, we could tell just from her demeanor--she's a go getter. Next, she's in the the age range of this agent and that can be very important. Generally speaking, we like to work with people of our own generation. We laugh at the same jokes, we often hold similar values and we feel more comfortable with people in our own age range.

Before we left the marketing meeting, I made an appointment for us to chat with the Chamber's executive director. The next day, we returned for a morning mixer where attendees had a few minutes to talk about their product and we introduced our agency. After the meeting, we met with the Chamber's director, and picked her brain.

She had a few good ideas. She told us that each member can obtain a mailing list annually (1100 members, remember?) of all Chamber members for the cost of the labels. We also confirmed that there was office space available if my client needed to meet a client in the area. This will be a great help until they build business enough to open an office there.

Next, we stopped by a local realtor's office to determine where some of the local realtor groups met and found we could leave flyers for the Realtors. It was that simple.

Finally, we went back to the office to devise our flyer and postcard campaign. How long did this take? It took us about three days total and we're ready to enter Phase I of this agency's growth plan.

As I told my client, you cannot send only one mailing and expect that your business will grow. You have to continue with mailing, Chamber attendance, Chamber sponsorship, flyers, and advertising, because it can take from to four to eight contacts to potential clients, keeping your name before people or organizations, before they think of your company when they need insurance. You have to be patient and persistent to see your marketing efforts take root.

Using Microsoft Publisher, we're able to do all the flyers we need using one or two templates. Using an online publishing company, we ordered new business cards with more "eye appeal" and postcards for the Chamber mailings.

Marketing doesn't have to be expensive to pay off; it must be look professional and you must be persistent. And you must follow up. I met with a retired agent friend of mine while in town and she told me a great story. She worked for an agent who did a big mailing and received over sixty responses. He never returned one phone call to any of these prospects. This, she said, is the norm for the agencies where she has worked, not the exception.

This is probably the number one rule of a successful salesperson. Follow up. If you obtain an expiration date, call. Why spend money on advertising if you aren't going to follow through? Why join a Chamber if you're going to attend just once or twice a year? After all, there are many agents out there who will. That's why their successful.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Are you killing them with PowerPoint?

Use humor to convey your message

I like PowerPoint, don't get me wrong. I've been using it for a number of years. However, it seems that everyone is now using PowerPoint and many users aren't too successful.

Whether you are building your brand and your professional reputation or just trying to train your troops, from time to time you'll be forced to make presentations. It's important to get your audience's attention when you present but it's also just as important to keep their attention.

Here are a few PowerPoint tips.
  • Don't start with PowerPoint, start with a pen and paper. Develop what's known as a "storyboard."
  • Your storyboard shouldn't be just text, it should be conceptual. Think in ideas that can be created visually. For example, if you're talking about safety, how about a great photo of a repair person on a metal ladder in a swimming pool (complete with water) changing an electrical switch? Hilarious photos to illustrate your point abound on the Internet. Just Google; you'll find them. (Don't violate any copyrights to do so!)
  • Consider your audience. Presenting to human resource professionals is much different than presenting to police chiefs or line supervisors.
  • Use some humor, especially when opening. It may be a photo or a relevant joke, but remember that certain jokes will fall flat on certain audiences.
  • The eye likes white space. Keep text, bullet points and paragraphs short. Use the notes page to add comments. No one wants to read your every thought (they're too scary).
  • Don't data dump. You may revel in statistics, most audience, however, do not. Pick key statistics like "Texas has the highest rate of population with no health insurance. 30 percent of its population has no coverage." Then talk about this statistic and its impact.
  • If there is a lot of data you feel the audience needs, hand out those statistics in a separate piece after your talk.
  • Audiences generally prefer a faster pace to a slower pace. Don't spend more than four minutes per slide. Some presenters go as quickly as four slides per minute. Figure out your pace before you present.
  • Know your technology. If you fumble around with the presentation, it's hard to then get your audience to take you seriously.
  • Read your audience comments. (I know, sometimes it hurts.) It's a gift that enables you to polish your next presentation.

PowerPoint is a tool, but a tool that, used poorly, can pinch. With a few tips, your next presentation can be powerful.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Making the phones ring

Next week I'm heading back to Arizona to help an insurance agency there with a marketing plan. Competing against direct writers in today's market isn't easy, especially in personal lines. Marketing your agency is easy, but to do so, you have to spend some money.

One great marketing tool I use is Vista Prints. They have a stockpile of templates for mailings. They have a simple-to-use website that allows you to design postcards, business cards, or brochures. For a little over 50 cents including postage, you can design and mail a custom postcard to any number of prospects.

Check out Vista Prints. (I don't gain financially from this post, I'm just letting you know that I've relied on them for awhile with good results.) And remember to track your returns on your direct mailing projects. It doesn't do any good to spend money on advertising or mailings if you don't know how much revenue they produce.

Friday, June 1, 2007

How to get your press release noticed

I spent some time with marketing personnel from Business Wire and PR Newswire recently, and learned a few tips for getting your press release read and helping to brand your company.

First, most who read press releases read only the headline to determine if they want to read further, so your release's headline must pack as much information into it as possible. Second, always "build your brand" by putting your company name in the headline. Remember, the more times your name is bandied about as a solution to a problem or as the name to go to for a commodity or service, the stronger your bottom line.

Even though it looked a bit long when I wrote it, here's the most recent press release headline I wrote for one of my great clients, Proxix.

Skittish insurance industry skirts hurricane-prone coastal areas;
Proxix Solution’s CATUM tames storm-surge risk

Another tip for getting more mileage from your press release involves "click-throughs." These are hyperlinks such as the Proxix link above where readers can click directly to your home page or a page on your website containing specific information.
The White Paper we had just assisted Proxix with was a click-through in their press release so that anyone interested in their computer model can click through directly to their White Paper.
Implementing just these two tips will get more mileage from your press release. I didn't promise it, but these two companies did, and they, after all, are the experts.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Top 12 tips we like

In a recent blog entry in "What About Clients," which is geared to law firms, I found an excellent blog entry on customer service.

Rather than paraphrase it here, I'm going to let the entry speak for itself (click on the blue link).

I couldn't agree more wholeheartedly with this entry. The client is number one. Deliver more than he or she expects and you'll keep clients for a long while.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Reaching out to the media

Last week I spent three days with the nation's top business journalists and editors. I came away with a few thoughts.

In one seminar I attended, the speaker asked the room of about 100 journalists how many of them had ever owned a business. Less than 10 percent raised their hands. Yes, they cover business, but I'm not sure that, even with many years of watching various industries, and there were many industry-specific experts there from finance to housing, most journalists really understand what it takes day in and day out to run a business successfully. So perhaps it's no surprise when they interview you and either miss the mark or focus on the negative.

What can insurance executives do to ensure better media coverage? There's several things.

Let's start by looking at the recent Greensburg, Kansas tornado. I noticed a Yahoo headline that said "Insurance industry performs well after tornado." Finally, I thought, the industry gets some faint praise. When I clicked on the article, however, go figure: It was written by an insurance industry trade group.

Why isn't local or national media covering how well the industry performs, instead focusing on how certain carriers drop the ball after catastrophes? Even if industry groups and insurance carriers put out press releases to say "Hey, we did a great job here," journalists rarely read press releases. And if they did, they're going to take a jaundiced eye at companies promoting themselves.

What's the answer? The seminar leader said that it is imperative that insurance companies build relationships with journalists before problems arise. That way, when companies want to get their message to the media, whether it's after a disaster or when the company does something good, you can simply pick up the phone and, perhaps, get some favorable coverage for a change.

The speaker at this seminar also emphasized it was important to be forthcoming even if mistakes are made. If your company ends up with a public relations nightmare, wouldn't it be great to be able to pick up the phone, call journalists by name because you've already built relationships, and tell them your side of the story?

Perhaps starting at the local level would help. Why not reach out to your local newspaper and talk with your business journalist? Don't focus on what he or she can do for you; focus on what you can do for them. Perhaps offer to clarify questions they might have when they arise. Maybe they'd visit your company where they see the various departments to learn what an underwriter does or how your claims department works.

Don't expect a reporter to understand your business. The onus is on you to build media relations before you need them. It will pay off.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Make the most of your training

I participated in a teleconference today sponsored by the Society of Insurance Trainers and Editors and hosted by the Insurance Institute. Much of what was discussed was the issue of training younger generations, who, as one participant put it, leave school in a state of "permanent partial attention."

This is the first true television and Internet generation and they live, he remarked, in a state of perpetual multi-tasking. (He then joked that some of us on the teleconference were probably multi-tasking. Yes, I was guilty of it, I was checking my e-mail at the time.)

In addition, he believes some members of this generation learn only what they need to learn then discard the knowledge, bringing their test-cram college mentality into the workforce. What can trainers do to help Gen Xers and Ys retain knowledge? One good tip was to set some training ground rules. Insist students to turn off cell phones, PDAs, and yes, their laptops if they have access to wireless Internet.

Next, since class participants often leave classes using 25 percent of what they learn, one trainer asserted that you can improve that rate to 90 percent if you involve supervisors who will reinforce, coach, reward, and encourage trainees in their newly learned skills. Supervisors must reinforce what is taught in the classroom or, no matter how sophisticated the training, it will fail.

Training, they insisted, must come from trainers who understand the cultures, the practices, and the processes of the insurance industry. Real-world examples are critical to learners, because if they cannot contextualize what they hear, no matter how smartly packaged the information, it is virtually useless.

It's also useful to provide access to experts in the subject whom students, post training, can email or call for additional help when they need it. This allows students to put their knowledge into practice with the help of an expert mentor and without fear of ridicule for asking questions.

Finally, they believe, you must instill in insurance students that their insurance education is lifelong to ensure their success. I know when I earned my professional designations I was making a statement: That insurance wasn't my job, it was my career.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Top 10 reasons to hire Insurance Writer

  1. Not many writers are enthusiastic about insurance. I am! An enthusiastic copywriter delivers great copy on time.
  2. Few writers understand insurance and risk management. As a second-generation insurance professional with over two decades of experience, I do.
  3. I have almost two decades of copywriting experience.
  4. I have strong grammatical and writing skills.
  5. I am dependable and a “solution" to your marketing problems.
  6. I work well under tight deadlines.
  7. Because my overhead is low, my rates are affordable.
  8. I make your life easier by taking writing out of your busy schedule so you can concentrate on your bottom line.
  9. I understand your business, which means working with me takes less time.
  10. We never have to meet if you don’t want to. 90 percent of my work is completed by phone and electronic mail.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Society of American Business Editors and Writers

I'm pleased to say that I recently won a scholarship to attend the Society of American Business Editors and Writers annual conference in Anaheim. There were only four scholarships awarded throughout the nation and I was the only freelancer selected.

I've been blessed throughout my life to win quite a few scholarships, in fact, most of my college education was paid for by various academic scholarships.

Each step I've taken to improve my training and my professional education has paid big dividends. If you've never considered obtaining a professional designation like the Associate in Claims or the Associate in Reinsurance available through IIA, I'd encourage you to consider it. You feel great the day you can put those initials after your name.

What better investment is there than to invest in our own education?

Monday, May 7, 2007

Risk management at its finest

The elk here have their own crossing. This is the turnoff from Banff to the Highway 1 near Calgary, I'm told. This was a natural elk crossing, and with so many accidents, they finally built the animals (these may actually be caribou, I'm not sure) their own access.
It's a great idea and as insurance carriers wrestle with deer and other claims resulting from animal strikes, perhaps they'd want to chip in. Or not.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Writing coaches

An interesting editorial in Business' Insurance's April Industry Focus touched on an issue I'd blogged about a few weeks ago. Big changes are heading our way as Generation Ys enter the workforce.

Editor Ronn Zolkos (he's obviously a Gen Xer; notice the spelling of his first name!) commented on a problem discussed at the Finance and Insurance Workforce Summit recently in Chicago. That problem is the poor writing ability of Gen Ys.

Apparently, constant instant messaging and e-mailing has enabled a generation to skip grammar almost entirely. Although highly competent technically, members of this generation may lack even rudimentary writing skills.

Zolkos recommends hiring writing coaches for the Yers who struggle with writing' write. He called hiring a writing coach a "perk." Others managers may, as they struggle with this critical issue, call it a "necessity."

Monday, April 30, 2007

Speaking --------- like a native

I spent last week in Phoenix, the city where I was raised, and was able to talk with my brother, who owns Northwest Insurance Agency. The agency was started by my parents and has been in business for 33 years. I'm very proud of the legacy my parents left us and proud of my brother's achievements since taking over. (Why aren't I an agent, you might ask? Because my mother warned me never to go into claims, so of course, I did.)

When we moved to Phoenix in 1957, the population, he estimates, was about 100,000. Today the population of Maricopa County only, according to the 2005 census, was 3.9 million. Of that number, 1.3 million are Hispanic. The demographics speak loudly. Mainly in Spanish.

Arizona isn't the only state with this trend. However, working with non-English speaking clients is fraught with liability for any insurance agent. While translators generally, according to linguists, operate on a "good-faith basis" and usually don't carry errors & omissions insurance, agents who work with clients who speak other than the agent's native language must be extremely careful when servicing populations speaking languages other than English.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Topic sentences

Remember the power of topic sentences? Usually the first sentence in a paragraph, the topic sentence tells readers what you are going to tell them.

Here's an example of a topic sentence.

With computers in most homes in America, consumers are much more sophisticated buyers than they were.

The topic sentence should be the skeleton on which hangs your paragraph. The rest of this paragraph, each sentence, should relate back to that topic sentence.

Does the topic sentence always have to be the first sentence in a paragraph? Not necessarily. Take this example.

They crash; errors mysteriously appear and reappear; data is lost; hours are wasted finding bugs for which there are no clear-cut cures. That is why I hate computers.
The topic sentence, of course, is "That is why I hate computers." The balance of the paragraph, at least if I wrote it, would be a gripe session.
You can easily edit your writing by reading each paragraph, ensuring you have a clear topic sentence, then confirming that each sentence in the paragraph relates to that topic sentence. If it doesn't, simply circle it then look for another paragraph that the information in that stray sentence better relates, or delete it.
Good writing takes more than the putting pen to paper. Strong writing takes as much time to edit as it does to write, sometimes more. One good place to start honing your writing is ensuring your topic sentences act like organizers for each paragraph.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Spend a little to make a lot!

Do you think your ad will pull? Would you like help refining your advertising? Do you have several versions of the same mailer and want assistance deciding which one to send? Are you sending an important proposal and want to ensure it's highly readable?
We offer editing services.

Because editing takes much less time than creating, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the low cost of this service. Would an extra few dollars invested in your mailing be a good decision if it doubled your return rate? Would spending a few extra dollars on an important document be a good investment if it gave you a solid competitive advantage?

If you were just starting your business, wouldn't you consider hiring a business consultant to assist you in your business? Then why shrink from paying an advertising specialist to ensure you get the best return on your advertising investment?

If you budget a few extra dollars for editing to receive professional input on your ads or other important copy, the money you spend can increase your response rate greatly. We offer quick turnaround, but don't delay! Call today, (573) 638-3738.

The eye likes white space

With information coming in at warp speed, people often glance at incoming mail and instantly decide whether they'll read more or discard it. Therefore, copy design is as important in good advertising as ad copy, because dense copy overwhelms most readers.

No one likes clutter, even if it's in their own house. The eye likes white space, so don't bury your message. Your copy must be easy to read or you'll quickly lose your readers, and with it your advertising dollars.

There's more to writing copy that sells than the words.
Good advertising thinks big picture, including ad design and knowing when to follow the rules and when you'll get more mileage by breaking them.

White space management is critical in good advertising, whether it's an ad in your local newspaper or a direct mail piece. Why write copy your target audience won't read because it overwhelms the eye?

While it may seem cost prohibitive to hire an agency to produce and lay out your copy, the results will normally be far better than you'll get yourself. In the long run, it will be money well spent.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Sell the sizzle, not the steak

You've probably heard the saw, "Sell the sizzle, not the steak." What this means is that most consumers buy a product not because of what the product is, but what the product will mean in their lives. People don't buy insurance, they buy its benefits such as freedom from economic ruin and peace of mind.

There are a few exceptions to this rule, like when you're selling to experts.
For example, if you're pitching a commercial auto policy to commercial dry cleaners with a small van fleet, describing trailer interchange coverage may not be necessary. But if you're pitching a trucking firm, experts at switching trailers, the trailer interchange coverage becomes a policy benefit and you'd better be able to talk about "dead-heading," "pigs," and "gross vehicle weight."

Your direct mail attempts to the general public must focus on benefits. There are several ways to do this creatively and good direct mail copywriters can help you through the process. If you aren't specific about what benefits you offer in your copy, you'll end up with "puffery." Puffery is overblown phrases like "We provide the best customer service" or "We offer the fastest claims service." Wikipedia offers a great definition of puffery.

Puffery is a waste of copy space. It's always better to state a specific benefit. "Because of our outstanding customer service, last year, 95 percent of our customers renewed with us," speaks to readers more than phrases like "the best customer service."

Top direct-mail copywriters agree: The best direct mail copy is written by writers familiar with the product you are trying to sell. I'd love to help you with your direct mail projects. Contact me via my website, Insurance Writer.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Generations require different training approaches

When designing and presenting training, it would be great if a one-size-fits-all approach worked every time. In today's drive-through world, cookie-cutter training just won't work. Younger workers often enter the workforce with sophisticated computer skills and a healthy dose of skepticism. Training a forty-year old with two kids and a mortgage is very different from training a young employee who may work only to finance that next trip to South America.

To keep younger trainees' interest, training must be innovative, with less reliance on lecture and more reliance on computer-based approaches and trainee interaction. The younger generations, our Gen Xers (roughly 1965 to 1976) and the Gen Yers (roughly 1977 - 2002) require more interactive learning and the opportunity to shape the direction of the training module. These generations grew up with computer, the Internet and sound bites. They turn you off quickly if you don't catch their interest early.

The more technology used in training for Xers and Yers, the better. Including visuals and letting learners voice their problems to seek solutions will increase the interest of the younger generation. Awards and prizes, even if they're token, increase interest and participation and hence, retention. A break every hour is good advice for any class, but imperative for Xers and Yers.

While one training module may be applicable to all generations, for example in customer service training, it's important the trainer understands his or her audience. Use examples that will reach the target audience. If you refer to Ozzie and Harriet, for example, you'll get a blank look and eye rolls from the under-50 crowd.

Working across generations complicates training. When developing training, make sure you tailor material to the generations you are trying to reach.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

For example

Many writers use the Latin abbreviations "i.e." and "e.g." incorrectly. "I.e." means "that is," and is used when the example you are citing is the only example that will work for what you are describing.

For example (and here you could use "e.g." because there are many examples we could use), if you say "Your dog, i.e., a chow, is specifically excluded from coverage if it bites someone because the company excludes all chows," "i.e." is correct.

Use "e.g." when you could say "for example." For instance, suppose you were describing the types of liability losses a client's homeowners policy covers. "Your homeowners policy covers many types of liability, e.g., if your dog bites someone or if your child breaks the neighbor's window." In this case use "e.g." because there are more than one type of loss excluded under the homeowners policy.

After using "i.e." and "e.g." in writing, use a period after each letter and always use a comma after the final period. If using either "i.e." or "e.g." in the middle of a sentence, use a comma before and after them.

While this sounds like a lot of information to digest, the correct use of "i.e." and "e.g." can add formality to your writing.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

All things to all people

I'm developing a coverage training program for agents in PowerPoint using a master slide that the carrier designed, which they are going to put into their own computer-based program once I've completed it. I ran across a technical problem with the master that I couldn't solve. When I have technical problems, I call my website designer, who is not a PowerPoint pro, and he couldn't solve it, either.

"Call the client," he said. "Describe the problem you're having and ask for their help. They're paying you to write, not to be a techno-geek."

I ultimately solved the glitch, paying what I call a "stupid tax," because the solution was so simple that I complicated it too much to see it. But here's the point. I can't be all things to all people and there's no shame, when I can't do something, to admit it.

I taught ARM and AIC classes for a few years and I learned a valuable lesson from the instructors who'd taught me when I was earning my designations. If they didn't know the answer to a student's question, they'd take a note, promise to get back to the student, and the next week they followed through.

There is no shame in not knowing the answer to a question. The shame is bluffing your way through. In today's instant society, we want answers now. Don't fall prey to pressure from clients who want answers you don't have. When we answer questions without thinking them through, quote prices off the top of our heads because we're pressured, guesstimate the cost of coverage, say "you've got coverage for that loss," or assume because the underwriter liked flooring contractors last month they still like them this month, we're heading "up fool's hill," as my grandmother used to remark as she watched her 16-year old grandkids drive off in cars.

It's better to say "Let me do some checking and get back to you with an answer" than to proffer an answer you're going to be forced to defend.

BNet a great resource

I preview a lot of business blogs to make my blog sharper. Let's face it, today, blogs proliferate, many with little content. One that I am impressed with is BNet.

BNet bills itself as "the go-to place for management." You can either surf the site or sign up for newsletters, which I prefer since the day usually evaporates before I have time to search the sites I enjoy. You can manage the types of newsletters you want to receive, such as marketing, enterprise spotlight, or the BNet report. The marketing blog is one I highly recommend.

BNet's marketing blog just had an article called the Marketing ROI Calculator. It's an Excel spreadsheet that you can download that allows you to plan your marketing campaign by quarter, calculate your response rate, which can be adjusted each quarter after you track how your leads are discovering you, and then calculate the return on investment projected or received from your advertising efforts.

Here's the link to the marketing calculator:

As we all know, it's imperative that we track our advertising efforts so we can figure out how to best spend our advertising budget. You'd be surprised how many advertisers fail to do just that. Even a simple check sheet that asks potential clients where they found you provided to all employees who deal with the public is a start toward managing your advertising efforts.

If you're interested in BNet, spend a few minutes searching the site by topic or just cruising through its many articles. I'm not easily impressed and BNet impresses me.