Life Happens, formerly the Life Foundation, has carved out a unique industry niche: The 21-year-old organization coordinates campaigns designed to raise consumer awareness about the value of life, disability income and long-term care insurance. The not-for-profit also serves as a resource to agents and brokers who sell these products.
What many of those producers don’t know is that Life Happens will be soon be unveiling a website where all of its marketing and education tools will be available online. To learn more about the portal and other initiatives underway, LifeHealthPro Senior Editor Warren Hersch recently spoke with Life Happens President and CEO Marvin Feldman. The following are excerpts.
Hersch: How did you come to Life Happens? What skills and expertise do you bring to your position?
Feldman (pictured at right): After completing my term as president of the Million Dollar Round Table in 2002, I arrived at Life Happens, and thereafter joined the organization’s Executive Committee. While serving as chairman of the board, a volunteer position, the current CEO retired. The Executive Committee’s Search Committee asked that I serve an interim CEO for a temporary period until a permanent replacement could be found.
That was 8 years ago. After 6 months on the job, the committee asked if I would join as permanent president and CEO, and I agreed. So I’ve held this position since 2007.
Hersch: How is the organization’s mission and, in particular, its focus on helping agents and brokers educate consumers about the value of insurance, evolving?
Feldman: Much has changed since I joined the board, when our focus was print advertising. The problem with print is that it’s very hard to collect metrics indicating how effective an ad campaign is.
We no longer do print advertising; we’re now an all-digital organization, one with a dual function: We’re outwardly focused on consumer education and motivation to get the public to use our industry’s products and services; and we’re inwardly focused on educating industry professionals on how to use those resources.
We’ve also revised our marketing resources, including our Real Life stories. These videos — true stories that show why it’s so crucial to include insurance in financial plans — may be viewed in both a traditional 3- to 5-minute format and in a shorter, 15- to 30-second version.
The transition to digital from print has also empowered our consumer outreach efforts. Last year, we connected with over 611 million consumers — the highest number ever.
And because of the enhanced industry input we’ve been receiving following changes to our governance structure, we’re able to generate metrics — the number of people contacted through an awareness campaign, the effect of the initiatives, what works and why — the companies need to help make marketing and product decisions. So by going digital, we not only have enhanced the ability to educate and connect with consumers; we’re also much better positioned to understand and address their concerns.
Hersch: How many advisors does Life Happens reach? How do you stay in contact with them as they transition in their careers?
Feldman: On the advisor side, about 40,000 life insurance professionals out of more than 300,000 nationwide are in our database. Half of them are employed by an insurer and half are independent.
What we don’t always know now is who is affiliated with which company. An advisor may, for example, be a Prudential Financial agent but use John Smith Financial as his dba. But with the new digital platform we’re getting ready to release, we expect to be able to better address this issue.
Hersch: How would you grade the organization’s performance under your tenure? What would you identify as Life Happens’ chief accomplishments?
Feldman: I think we’re doing very well. As part of a strategic plan implemented in 2012, we restructured our 18-member board of directors. The members include representatives from 7 of the insurance industry’s producer organizations and five Life Happens member companies.
Because we now enjoy a wider diversity of perspectives in board meetings, we’ve become a more effective organization. We’re better able to educate consumers and provide the marketing tools and resources the companies, agents and advisors need to reach to consumers and generate sales.
Hersch: Do you measure organizational gains chiefly in terms of heightened consumer awareness or sales of life, disability income and long-term care insurance? What results have you observed from Life Happens’ signature initiatives: September’s Life Insurance Awareness Month and Real Life Stories?
Feldman: As I mentioned before, we can now track how many consumers we’re reaching through different programs. But correlating increased product sales to our consumer outreach initiatives depends on the companies’ willingness and ability to provide us with sales figures, such as those connected to September’s Life Insurance Awareness Month.
And this remains a challenge. In part for competitive reasons, insurers are hesitant to give out sales figures.
What we want to do is show the companies that, as a result of our combined efforts — the delivery of our resources and advertising programs in conjunction with the companies’ distribution initiatives during a specified period — certain objectives were achieved. We do have some metrics to draw conclusions about campaign effectiveness, but not yet enough.
Hersch: Sales metrics aside, what continuing challenges does Life Happens face? What obstacles are preventing or slowing progress towards meeting objectives?
Feldman: One advantage of Life Happens is that we have a small, fast and nimble team. But whereas we can spearhead initiatives quickly, the companies have a slower decision-making process, and so there often is a lag time in adopting new programs.
When the companies do, they see results. And a big reason why is the unique role we play in the industry.
Because we’re an independent, 501(c)(3) non-profit, our resources carry great weight with consumers. We don’t brand our education materials. Nor do we endorse specific companies or products.
As a neutral third-party, we put a humanitarian face on education and the industry through public affairs and corporate responsibility. So what we do is a social good: educating consumers about the benefits of our industry’s solutions; and motivating them to work with an agent or advisor to fulfill their protection needs.
Hersch: Regarding your point about Life Happens as small, fast and nimble, who all do you have on staff?
Feldman: Internally, we have nine people, but we also work with PR agency and ad agencies, a web development firm and a research team.