Paul Holmes 27 Jun 2001 // 11:00PM GMT
There is approximately $50 billion in unclaimed property across the country. Unclaimed property includes forgotten savings and checking accounts, stock, utility refunds, old life insurance policies, dividend checks, taxes and other neglected financial instruments. In the past, the only way to find this unclaimed property was to pay money to a Web search site, or to navigate the Byzantine claims process of each state, which often posts the information only twice a year in newspapers.
Schwartz Communications, Inc. was retained by electronic billing and payment company CheckFree Corporation, to promote awareness of CheckFree and its divisions. As part of its work for CheckFree, Schwartz helped launch its MissingMoney.com division. MissingMoney.com is the only state-sponsored Web search engine listing the national unclaimed property records and is the only site that is free for both consumers and states.
After the initial launch, the second phase of the campaign began—state-by-state follow-up to help consumers reclaim their missing property. As individual states’ unclaimed property was put online, Schwartz worked with the state treasurers to conduct a mini-media campaign in each state. Additional media coaching was conducted before each interview. Through his statewide mini-media campaigns, Schwartz was able to secure nationally syndicated coverage with the Associated Press in Oklahoma and with Knight-Ridder Business News in South Carolina. Schwartz also focused upon reaching the national consumer media to broaden consumer awareness of MissingMoney.com’s services. In the past year, Schwartz secured coverage in Parade Magazine, Money Magazine, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine, Woman’s World, on CNN Headline News, CBS MarketWatch and Bloomberg TV, and in nationally syndicated articles in The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times and a positive review by Jane Bryant Quinn.
The campaign’s success depended on overcoming major strategic and tactical obstacles. Schwartz operated under severe constraints—juggling conflicting schedules; dealing with the tight schedules and the political needs of state treasurers; and ensuring that the head of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators was involved in the entire process.
During the research phase of the campaign, Schwartz conducted an audit with State Treasurers and the unclaimed property administrators to gain knowledge of the challenges consumers and states faced in claiming, distributing and maintaining lost assets. Schwartz also conducted Internet research on other sites that offered this service for a fee to better understand the market and to develop differenciators that could be used in creating messaging.
Once the initial research was completed, Schwartz began planning the campaign to maximize coverage in two distinct areas: key national publications and media outlets, and the regional press in statewide launches.
Schwartz worked with State Treasurers and unclaimed property administrators in each state to ensure their availability on the day of the announcement and provide coaching on key messages. Schwartz worked with the public relations professionals at the State Treasurers’ offices to create target media lists that would reach the appropriate reporters.
Schwartz drafted a news release for each state announcing the Web site’s live date and the impact it would have for that state’s citizens and government. A comprehensive set of media materials, including a news release and Q&A, was designed to answer questions about the site and unclaimed property. Targeted editors were pre-briefed on the news in order to secure articles that would appear when the Web site was announced in the state.
The objective of the MissingMoney.com campaign was to target both national and regional media in a campaign to educate consumers about unclaimed property, encourage individual states to enroll with the site, increase public awareness of MissingMoney.com and drive traffic to the site.
During the research phase of the campaign, Schwartz interviewed state treasurers and the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators to develop key messages. Schwartz also conducted Internet research to determine other sites that offered this service for a fee to better understand the market and to determine unique qualities to MissingMoney.com.
Schwartz Communications planned to maximize coverage in two distinct areas: key national publications and media outlets, and the regional press in selected states across the country. Coverage in the national media would increase awareness of the site and the issue, and drive traffic to the site. Coverage in the regional media would give MissingMoney.com the ammunition it needed to secure enrollment from other states as well as to drive traffic to the site.
This past year, Schwartz successfully launched MissingMoney.com in 22 states. Schwartz coordinated interviews for local press with the respective states’ unclaimed property administrators.
The result was continued widespread coverage of the launch of the MissingMoney.com Web site. Regional campaign coverage of MissingMoney.com included Associated Press, Knight-Ridder Business Tribune News, Los Angeles Times, The Miami Herald, Daily Oklahoman, St. Petersburg Times, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Arizona Republic, Pittsburgh Sunday Tribune-Review, Tulsa World, Star Tribune, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Post & Courier, Tallahassee Democrat, Green Bay Press, WABC-TV (ABC-New York),
WJLA-TV (ABC-Washington), WUSA-TV (CBS-Washington), WTTG-TV (Fox-Washington), KENS-TV (CBS-San Antonio), KTVI-TV (Fox- St. Louis), WJET-TV (ABC-Erie), WAND-TV (ABC-Springfield, IL), KMGH-TV (ABC-Denver), WFTV-TV CH 9 (ABC-Orlando), WTVG-TV (ABC-Toledo), WBFF-TV (Fox-Baltimore), KPHO-TV (CBS- Phoenix), WIAT-TV (CBS-Birmingham), WTVT-TV (Fox-Tampa/St. Petersburg) and WLOS-TV (ABC-Greenville).
Schwartz also worked to gain national consumer coverage of the MissingMoney.com site. Results included, Parade Magazine, USA Today, Money Magazine, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine, Woman’s World, on CNN Headline News, CBS MarketWatch and Bloomberg TV, and in nationally syndicated articles in The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times.
Schwartz Communications and CheckFree determined three metrics to use to determine the success of the campaign: site traffic, number of claims processed and the number of new states enrolling in the program. This campaign exceeded the goals that were established in all three categories.
Since its launch, MissingMoney.com visitors have performed 15 million lost asset searches. It has registered 85,000 subscribers who have generated more than 362,000 claims. The estimated money returned to users is $78 million. The national coverage the campaign generated helped convince states to enroll more quickly then expected, and MissingMoney.com now has 28 states enrolled in the program, up from five at the time of the launch—a growth rate of over 500%.
From both a quantitative and qualitative perspective, CheckFree stated that its MissingMoney.com campaign was a resounding success. Through national print, radio and television coverage, its target audiences learned of the benefits of the site and increased their awareness of the problem.