See Inside: DC East and Eddy Awards special report
Eddy Award winners play to plan sponsors' brand strengths
That way, participants can link defined contribution materials with their employers
By Robert Steyer | March 18, 2013
From pet supplies to groceries, from wine and spirits to printing products, brand identity was a dominant theme among the winners of the 2013 Eddy Awards.
The winners were announced March 11 during Pensions & Investments' East Coast Defined Contribution Conference in Miami. The awards have been sponsored by P&I each year since 1995. They recognize DC plan sponsors and service providers for best practices in investment education for participants.
Capturing the true spirit of a corporate brand being used to educate plan participants was Southern Wine & Spirits, Miami, which won first place in the corporate ongoing education category with a mixture of business-related puns, charts and photographs.
“Learn to mix your investments” was the headline for a discussion of target-date funds and stand-alone mutual funds. “How to serve up a greater future” was the catch-all heading for several topics — including deferrals (“call the shots”) and the corporate match (“raise a glass to free money”). A video featured a “savologist” explaining investing the way a mixologist would describe mixed drinks.
“We wanted it to be a little fun but with a lot of substance,” said Michelle Toney, director of benefits. “We used all of the tools of the trade.”
Executives at Southern Wine & Spirits had been concerned about the plan's participation rate, and Ms. Toney said a focus group of participants revealed there wasn't much communication about the benefits. Focus group members wanted more graphics and charts, rather than text, in education materials: “People would understand it more with graphics,” she said.
The participation rate was 46% in June 2012, when the campaign was launched. By January 2013, it was up to 54% and by March 2013, it was 55%.
“There was no debate” about the 401(k) education theme at Petco Animal Supplies Inc., San Diego, said Julie Adamik, director of benefits planning and design. A quarterly 401(k) guide features the headline “Barking About Benefits” as well as Bennie the Bulldog, the mascot for the education campaign. (Bennie, it now can be told, is female.)
“The driving force” for the education campaign was the bond between people and pets, said Ms. Adamik, whose company placed second in the corporate ongoing education category. “My goal was to make the information entertaining and fun. It doesn't have to be intimidating.”
Heidelberg USA Inc., Kennesaw, Ga., used a multicolor presentation that linked the company's printing press, products and supplies business to its retirement plan. The campaign won first place among corporate plans with fewer than 5,000 employees in the conversions category.
The “Color Your Retirement” campaign featured a series of posters and postcards with 401(k) information, highlighted in various colors. The combination created a clear and colorful description.
“We wanted to align the 401(k) plan with what we do,” explained Susan Nofi, senior vice president for human resources and general counsel. “We've had a 401(k) plan for 29 years, and we always preached it to our employees. It was time for a reaffirmation of the 401(k).”
Participation rate rebounds
Participation had been greater than 90% 10 years ago, but it dropped to 82% immediately after the economic crisis, she said. The rate since has rebounded to 87%.
Grocery wholesaler Smart & Final Inc., Commerce, Calif., used several phrases, including Smart & Fruitful and Smart & Flavorful, plus several photos — including a bowl of fresh fruit and a plate of hot peppers — to highlight its 401(k) education campaign.
“We wanted something that would catch their eyes,” said June Wong, senior benefits manager, referring to the postcards and posters used to encourage participants to enroll in the 401(k) plan, to save more in the plan or to diversify their investments. “We wanted to send a message that the company cares about everyone.”
Smart & Final tied for second in the corporate special projects category for plans with more than 5,000 participants. The other second-place winner was United Parcel Service of America Inc., Atlanta. The first-place prize went to American Express Co., New York, for its virtual financial fair, an online approach to educating participants in remote locations.
American Express was one of three organizations to win both a 2013 Eddy Award and a 2012 Innovator Award. Five plan executives and their employers were named innovators last November in new awards co-sponsored by P&I and the Defined Contribution Institutional Investment Association. The others were the San Francisco Employees' Retirement System, which took first place in the ongoing education category for public plans for its explanation to employees in its deferred compensation plan about its new target-date fund options; and Deluxe Corp., Shoreview, Minn., which won first prize in the automatic re-enrollment category.
Automatic re-enrollment was one of four new categories for the Eddy Awards this year, along with plan transitions, retirement readiness and mobile apps.
Providers Putnam Investments, Boston, and ING U.S. Retirement Services, Windsor, Conn., tied for first place in the mobile apps category. Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, Winston-Salem, N.C., placed first in the transitions category and International Business Machines Corp., Armonk, N.Y., was the corporate retirement readiness category winner.
The Eddy judges praised IBM for its interactive tools to assess retirement, encouraging participants to focus on more than savings — to include things such as health-care costs, for example — when figuring the cost of retirement. “We have a very holistic approach to financial planning,” said Monica DelBello, vice president of the human resources integrated services team.
For some contest entries, brevity was enough to impress the judges. The University of Wisconsin Medical Foundation, Middleton, Wis., won a first-place award in the special-projects category for not-for-profit plans with a single postcard.
“When Rita heard she could give herself the gift of a better retirement, she almost lost it,” said the postcard, which featured the photo of a young girl at a birthday party going face first into a cake, much to the amusement of her friends.
The flip side of the postcard explained how a one-percentage-point rise in a deferral could increase retirement savings over time. It provided a brief form that participants could complete and send to boost their deferral rates.
To Roth, or not to Roth
In the public sector, there's something about deferred compensation plans and Roth options that brings out creativity and puns. Last year, the City of Los Angeles won first place for special projects as its 457(b) plan used Hollywood references — like Roth Hudson — and assorted nest-egg puns to show the difference between a Roth option and the traditional 457(b).
This year, “I wanted something that gets attention like that,” said GayLynn Bath, deferred compensation manager for the Oregon Savings Growth Plan, Salem. She did. Her plan's Shakespeare-inspired entry won first place in the public plan special projects category.
Created to honor the annual Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Ore., Ms. Bath's bow to the Bard of Avon included a handbook “Much Ado About Roth 457,” punctuated liberally with pictures of costume-ball masks, swords and other symbols.
“I didn't want just a bunch of words on a piece of paper,” she said. “I wanted to get the attention of people (participating) in the plan and those outside the plan. I wanted somebody who knows nothing about Roth to understand.”
Possibly the most difficult task faced by an Eddy award applicant was the Rhode Island treasurer's office effort to educate participants about a pension reform law that replaced a traditional defined benefit plan with a hybrid system, for most public employees, that combined a smaller DB plan with a mandatory defined contribution plan.
“The scope of the job was huge because 32,000 people had never seen a defined contribution plan,” said Mark Dingley, general counsel and deputy treasurer. “The goal was to keep this as simple as possible.”
The state won first place among public plans in the initial investment education category. Its “Rhode to Retirement” campaign featured a plain-language document filled with charts and graphs to explain the new 401(a) plan and to remind participants that this change didn't affect their existing 403(b) or 457(b) plans.
Rhode Island used seven pie charts to illustrate allocations ranging from conservative to aggressive. It offered a one-page glossary of defined contribution terms as well as 27 concisely written FAQs about the new plan.
The law was enacted in November 2011, the education campaign started in April 2012 and the law took effect July 2012. The education campaign was conducted in a politically charged environment in which participant concern and anger hasn't completely subsided.
The campaign covered participants in large municipalities as well as in fire districts with a handful of participants, Mr. Dingley said. The effort “included hundreds of public meetings,” he added. “It was a full-time job.”
The corporate winner in initial investment education category, Sally Beauty Holdings Inc., Denton, Texas, promoted its 401(k) education with the phrase “Your Future Looks Good on You,” a logical choice for the retailer and distributor of professional beauty supplies.
Among providers, Hartford Retirement Plans Group won two awards in its swan song as part of Hartford Financial. The record-keeping unit was acquired by Massachusetts Life Insurance Co., Springfield, Mass., in a deal that closed at the beginning of 2013. As part of Hartford, the retirement group won a first- and third-place award for generic campaigns.
The first-place award backed up talk about reducing the use of paper with action — planting trees in the names of participants who signed up for electronic delivery of quarterly retirement statements. The tree-planting, called Project Re-leaf, was done in partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation.
This article originally appeared in the March 18, 2013 print issue as, "Award winners play to sponsors' brand strengths".