By Jack Bobo
In September of 1996, long time friend Gus Cooper made a presentation about the “wheel of history” to the annual meeting of the Life Communicators Association (LCA). Gus, a past president of the organization when it was called the Life Advertisers Association (LAA), was also a senior officer of New York Life and for many years was in charge of its advertising program.
His presentation was not just another “what goes around comes around” speech. Rather, he chronicled his 50 years of experience in watching the industry evolve and how the message that communicators delivered had to mirror the changes.
In particular, Gus lifted up the rise in professionalism among agents in the aftermath of World War II and at a time when the business was rebuilding its sales force. Company communications supported this effort, thereby increasing the importance of professional designations.
The years 1950-1975 were, as Gus referred to them, “the golden years.” Policy language was simplified, sales literature was made user-friendly, internal communications improved, and communicators worked to make agents better known and accepted within their own communities. Major companies expanded their budgets for advertising ten-fold over the pre-war period.
The individual companies, according to Cooper, gained support in their efforts from the Institute of Life Insurance through its education, public relations and advertising programs. Business boomed and the life insurance business was respected as a premier source of capital formation for the economy of the United States and of the world.
Cooper continued in his presentation: “In June of 1988 came what many have termed the most disastrous decision in the history of life insurance. ACLI [American Council of Life Insurers], for all intents and purposes, abandoned its role in public relations and as the education arm of the insurance business. More than 20 communicators were replaced by attorneys adept at lobbying.”
As a sidelight, it is ironic, in the light of the foregoing, that a later president of the ACLI used to refer to the organizations public relations program as its fire prevention activities and its lobbying section as its fire department to put out developing legislative fires. And yet, the PR activities remained largely dormant for several more years.
Cooper raised the question, “Was it coincidence that life insurance companies soon began to engage in downsizing and outsourcing?” Additionally, he wondered if a lot of the ills that beset our business at the time were a matter of cause and effect as we let our guard down.
But in 1996, Cooper started to take heart as he saw what he termed “the mystical wheel of history” arriving at a hopeful point.