Advisors surveyed for the 2011 Insurance Advisors’ Report Card stress that consumer advertising and marketing support for their practices is becoming more important than ever to their businesses, but insurance firms are falling short on meeting their advisors’ expectations in these areas.

This is evident in the ratings, as the overall average importance ratings advisors gave to the “firm’s consumer advertising” and “firm’s marketing support for advisor’s practice” categories rose year-over-year to 8.5 from 8.0 and to 8.4 from 7.8, respectively. In contrast, the overall performance average for consumer advertising fell to 7.1 from 7.4, while the overall average performance rating for marketing support rose slightly to 7.9 vs 7.8.

Advisors with London, Ont.-based Freedom 55 Financial were particularly unhappy with their firm’s advertising efforts, as they rated it at 5.7 in the category — the lowest among all firms and much lower than its 2010 rating of 6.8.

“They hardly do any advertising,” says a Freedom 55 advisor in Atlantic Canada. “There’s no brand support, no local advertising or corporate support [for special causes], and no continuity.”

In response, Mike Cunneen, senior vice president of Freedom 55’s tax and estates planning group, says the frequency of advertising varies from year to year. He stresses that in the past year, the firm had run a national advertising campaign in both English and French — in addition to doing local community sponsorships and personal advisor advertising. “Freedom 55 reviews its advertising annually,” Cunneen says, “to ensure its messages remain relevant to its target markets. As you can imagine, budgets fluctuate from year to year.”

Meanwhile, advisors with Mississauga, Ont.-based RBC Life Insurance Co. have noticed an increase in the amount of consumer advertising, but they say it’s not prominent enough and the advertising is not having a direct impact. Says an RBC Life advisor in Ontario: “They do a lot of ads. But the leads go to call centres, and they give them to top producers — so, it doesn’t help me. But the name [recognition] helps.”

Ernie Murdoch, senior vice president of career sales with RBC Life, says the dedicated sales agency is currently working on a campaign to get clients to come into branches: “A lot of clients don’t really even know we actually sell life insurance at this time, so we’re looking at ways to promote that.”

The firm is running an advertising campaign in which potential customers are given a $25 gift card for Toys ‘R’ Us just for going into a RBC Life branch to get a 20-minute “needs analysis” completed with an advisor.

Advisors with Waterloo, Ont.-based Sun Life Financial (Canada) Inc. are the most satisfied when it comes to their firm’s advertising as a result of its frequent, attention-grabbing campaigns. “I like that [the ads] are fun and non-traditional,” says a Sun Life advisor in Ontario. “They get people talking about us.”

From September 2010 to April 2011, Sun Life ran a national advertising campaign with musical television commercials that focused on how to start a financial plan with a Sun Life advisor. The TV ads were supported by print advertorials and webisodes. “The overall reaction to the campaign was positive,” says Vicken Kazazian, Sun Life’s senior vice president, career sales force, “with a positive perception of the brand.”

In addition, Sun Life has struck up numerous sponsorship partnerships with well-known brands, such as the Toronto Maple Leafs, and for events such as the Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival. Not surprisingly, Sun Life saw its rating in the consumer advertising category increase to 8.5 from 8.1 last year.

In terms of marketing support, Toronto-based PPI Advisory outshone its peers. As well as tying for tops in the category, its rating increased to 8.9 from 8.2 in 2010. “They focus on distinguishing the capabilities of the advisor,” says a PPI Advisory advisor in Quebec. “They help me with [preparing] presentations and seminars.”

PPI Advisory gives advisors software and sales-related support to help them create personalized presentations for clients. In addition, the firm has accountants, lawyers, actuaries and underwriters that will join advisors for seminars as needed.

Advisors with Winnipeg-based Great-West Life Assurance Co. also reported being happier with their firm’s marketing support this year, rating the firm at 7.5 — a half-point increase from 7.0 in 2010.

GWL helps advisors with their marketing strategies through its business solutions consulting group; top advisors receive additional marketing support from in-house experts.

Still, GWL advisors see room for improvement. “We’ve tried to have [GWL’s BSCG] design our ads,” says a GWL advisor in British Columbia, “but they weren’t as good as the competition.” IE