Taking a Bite Out of Financial Illiteracy
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report
CEO

Taking a Bite Out of Financial Illiteracy

GE Financial Assurance came to PepperCom with a major challenge: how does a company best known for appliances and light bulbs establish itself as a credible source and leader in the highly competitive personal finance industry?

Paul Holmes

 

GE Financial Assurance came to PepperCom with a major challenge: how does a company best known for appliances and light bulbs establish itself and build visibility as a credible source and leader in the highly competitive and saturated personal finance industry? Our solution: create a first-of-its-kind online learning center where a host of experts could provide basic, intermediate and advanced financial education to consumers at every stage of their lives. The name for this online initiative? The GE Center for Financial Learning.

CHALLENGE/OPPORTUNITY:  

The Center for Financial Learning faced a number of daunting challenges even before it began. First, GE had only a modest budget to utilize in building and promoting this initiative; so being cost-efficient in all efforts (and actually saving money) was a priority. Also, to be deemed credible and taken seriously by media and all other constituents, GE had to develop a site that was totally objective and non-commercial (selling no GE products) -- a strategy that runs counter to almost everything GE (and most other corporations) believe in.

Both of these hurdles were overcome though the creation of a high-level 12-person advisory board and by striking partnerships with up to 24 organizations such as The Wharton School of Business, Women’s Institute for Financial Education (WIFE) and the National Institute for Consumer Education (NICE). The members of this inner circle provided credible advice to the site, as well as teaching, class curriculum, site content and technical advice and direction, while GE literally "stood in the background" and played host. Dramatic cost-savings were also achieved as a result of what the partners provided to the site and because the advisory board and partners didn't need to be compensated (instead they received the benefits of being associated with GE and such a worthy initiative).

As a pure education initiative, the GE Center for Financial Learning established critical visibility for GE in this arena. More importantly, it created a bridge in the minds of consumers between GE and financial services. It also clearly differentiated GE from all industry competitors.

OBJECTIVES:

  • Create a bridge between GE and financial solutions in the minds of consumers.
  • Develop a publicity vehicle that could exponentially increase GE's visibility in this arena.
  • Achieve dramatic cost-savings in our efforts.
  • Create a greater reputation for GE as an education company.
  • Drive traffic to the Web site.
  • Ultimately, generate more sales among consumers.

STRATEGY:

Establish the Center as a totally impartial third party source of information and ensure the site’s quality and cost effectiveness by leveraging partner organizations such as NICE and Wharton School of Business as content providers.

Create a first-of-its-kind advisory board to be in the forefront of this initiative, as well as serve as sounding boards, provide input and “tell” the CFL story.  

Conduct innovative research on the subject of consumer financial illiteracy and quantifiably demonstrate that a clear problem exists with consumers and how they manage their finances.

Leverage seasonal events and news items to position the Center for Financial Learning as the leading online financial literacy tool.

Through our partners, provide best-in-class content and create THE premier site in this category.

Launch a major media relations outreach to create immediate and ongoing awareness for the CFL.

EXECUTION/TACTICS:

Reinforced key positioning/messages of GE Financial Assurance throughout all efforts to build a consistent reputation.

Executed an all-encompassing Web-based and traditional media relations campaign that included:

  • Sent electronic invite to all broadcast and print reporters, inviting them to visit the GE Center for Financial Learning and speak to one of our Advisory Board members during day/week of launch.
  • Supervised filming of the VNR and monitored distribution and pick up during launch day.
  • Scheduled and accompanied Advisory Board members to print and satellite media tour interviews in New York.
  • Submitted GE CFL for Web site awards.

Strategic and Ongoing Media Outreach:

  • Conducted proactive media outreach to both online and offline national consumer media, financial planning publications and GEFA trade media to ensure a steady stream of media coverage.

Bylined Articles:

  • PepperCom developed bylined articles based on specific issues outlined by the Advisory Board Member sub-committees.  Results included:
  • Natural Entrepreneurship: Starting a Business from a Minority Perspective – Bylined article for Minority Opportunity News.
  • The Future of Retirement Planning – Bylined article by Chris Hayes for The Journal of Retirement.

Available to Comment Today (ACT):

Monitored breaking news and trends to leverage the expertise of GEFA and Advisory Board members.  Specific Advisory Board members quoted included:

  • Financial Awareness Day – Fred Waddell; The Post Standard Syracuse, NY
  • Students and Credit Card Debt/Back to School – Gwen Reichbach; The New Haven Register and CNN “Your Money”, The Associated Press and other national publications.

RESULTS:

Day of launch highlights included The New York Times, CNBC and satellite media coverage in Philadelphia, Dallas, Denver and Salt Lake City.  Since day of launch GE CFL coverage has included:

[email protected] Week, Business Week Online, CNNFN “Take It Personally”, Physician’s Financial News, Business 2.0, CNN “Your Money” and up to 30 affiliate stations, Smartmoney.com, National Post, About.com, The Associated Press and coverage in over 60 regional print newspapers around the United States.  VNR coverage on 15 stations including San Francisco, Houston, Santa Barbara, Cincinnati, Nashville and Philadelphia.

Generated Web Awards: CNBC Cool Site of the Day, Cool Site of the Year (finalist), Daily Website, Surfers Choice Awards (finalist for site of the year), Learning Fountain, USA Today Hot Sites, Yahoo! Picks of the Day, Yahoo! Incredibly Useful Site of the Day.

Site Traffic:

The following numbers far surpassed GE CFL’s initial expectations:

  • Day of launch: 6,600 visitors to the site.
  • First week of launch: 20,000 visitors to the site.
  • First month of launch: 110,000 visitors to the site.
  • Average number of monthly visitors to the site: 90,000.
Cost Savings:  Due to free content, curriculum, teachers and technical counsel we received from our partners and advisory board members, GE achieved cost savings of approximately $1 million.  GE also has recorded increased sales volumes through GEFN (a for-profit retail site) and traditional channels.
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