Private mortgage insurance (PrivateMI) is a product that allows homebuyers to purchase homes with less than the traditional 20 percent downpayment by providing an extra measure of insurance to the lenders. The value of this product in helping millions of Americans buy homes sooner, for less money down, was not widely known or appreciated by Congress, opinion leaders, or the general public. The Mortgage Insurance Companies of America (MICA), the trade association for the private mortgage insurance industry, sought to establish and communicate the value of PrivateMI to these audiences so that legislation harmful to the industry would not pass. The MICA public relations team created an integrated outreach program, including background research, materials development, Web site upgrade (creating a whole new Web site and upgrading the existing one; also translating part of one entirely into Spanish), press meetings and Op Eds. The campaign was followed by a comprehensive research initiative that indicated the MICA’s favorable rating increased 15 percent. In fact, Realty Times awarded MICA “Best New Image” of 2000.
Challenge: Prior to MICA’s campaign, many Capitol Hill legislators and consumers were either unaware of private mortgage insurance or viewed the product negatively. Without strong support on Capitol Hill or broad understanding of the value of the product’s role in increasing American homeownership, the legislative climate was ripe for the enactment of legislation harmful to the private mortgage insurance industry. At the same time, competitors such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, attacked the industry in the press, and HomeGain, an online service that charges consumers to cancel private mortgage insurance, was also taking potshots at the industry. The MICA team had to communicate value to key audiences – the Hill, 1st time homebuyers and thoughtleaders – and create a favorable legislative climate.
Solution: The MICA public relations team worked on message development, first by convening a message summit with MICA leadership and refining the message with consumer focus groups. The MICA consumer Web site was revamped and relaunched while, at the same time, a Web site tailored especially for Capitol Hill and the media was developed. Because Hispanic Americans are an important emerging market for the industry, the consumer web site was translated into Spanish, named www.PrivateMI en Espanol, and relaunched. Press releases in Spanish were distributed to Hispanic newspapers and radio outlets. A lobbying kit included a description of the history of the industry, the benefits of PrivateMI, the homebuying process and PrivateMI’s role in it, and the industry’s community outreach activities throughout the country. That kit is used by MICA lobbyists and the extensive lobby team employed by the trade association when they meet with Members of Congress and Administration policymakers. A quarterly newsletter was created for distribution to Senators, Representatives, key staff, and housing leaders throughout the country.
Tactics: A meeting was set up with industry executives to determine the attributes of private mortgage insurance that distinguish it from other products. This intelligence was used to develop core messages that were tested and refined in focus groups. Print and radio advertisements and public relations materials communicated these messages.
These messages and materials were also in an information packet about private mortgage insurance for legislators and legislative staff. The packet has been used by the lobbyists and MICA staff to communicate information about private mortgage insurance to Capitol Hill. It includes a chart about the homebuying process and the role of private mortgage insurance, a Q&A, and industry fact sheets.
At the same time, the MICAA Web site (www.privatemi.com) was revamped and a second site (www.micanews.com) created for policy makers and the media. The former was rich with information for consumers, including five different online calculators to help them make informed decisions about home financing. For example, one calculator allows homebuyers to determine how much sooner they could buy a home using private mortgage insurance rather than saving up a 20 percent downpayment. The relaunch of both sites was promoted with a media outreach campaign. The team also set-up a series of press meetings for industry CEOs and communications directors with regional reporters.
A series of talking points was developed to respond to attacks on private mortgage insurance in the media from competitors Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and attacks from HomeGain. Bylined articles created for Suzanne Hutchinson, MICA’s executive vice president, explained how private mortgage insurance has helped million of low and moderate-income families buy homes sooner, for less money down.
The team developed print and radio and online ads communicating the core message that with PrivateMI, you can get into a home sooner, for less money down. In three print executions and several radio ads, we translated some of the benefits of “sooner”—more time to enjoy life and create memories in your home, more time to build up equity, and the ability to free up some cash. To reach legislators and decisionmakers in Washington D.C, the team ran the ads in major Washington print vehicles such as The Washington Post and the Washington Times, in Capitol Hill publications such as Roll Call, National Journal and CQ Weekly, and on national radio programs such as Rush Limbaugh, The Osgood File, Dan Rather Reporting and In the Marketplace. A quarterly newsletter was sent to members of Congress, administration officials, Washington influentials, mortgage lenders, realtors, and housing activists. The team also sent out a series of Spanish news releases on Hispanic PR Newswire, to reach the Hispanic homebuying audience, and created a Web site especially for this audience.
The impact of the communications campaign for MICA was assessed with a national telephone survey of 1,015 adults and a detailed audit of newspaper coverage of private mortgage insurance over the past 18 months (ending June 2001). The data from both reveals a number of significant improvements in public attitudes toward private mortgage insurance. Highlights of the results include an increase in the favorability rating in 2001 of 15 percentage points over 1999 among people who had heard of private mortgage insurance, and a drop in the unfavorable rating of 7 percentage points. Also, more than 70 percent of the public believe that the industry’s various community activities are important. There has been no legislation passed that negatively impacts on the industry, and, finally, coverage by one of private mortgage insurance’s harshest media critics, columnist Bob Bruss, has become much more positive in the past six months. At year end, the Realty Times awarded MICA “Best New Image” of 2000.