Quick-hitting investment information, delivered with humor and eye-catching graphics, characterized the winners in the Pensions & Investments 1997 Defined Contribution Investment Education Awards program.
The top winners were programs at Rank America Inc., Nash-Finch Co. and Parker Hannifin Corp.
Rank America, Atlanta, placed first among companies with 5,000 or more employees in initial educational materials for its entry on behalf of the 401(k) plan for Hard Rock Cafes, one of its operating companies.
The State of Illinois placed first among public employers in the initial education category and Highlands Insurance Co., Houston, topped the initial education category for employers with fewer than 1,000 employees.
In the ongoing education category, Nash-Finch was first among employers with more than 5,000 employees.
Parker Hannifin took the top spot in the video communications category among employers with 5,000 or more employees.
Heavy doses of humor
This year's winning investment education plans were largely characterized by quick-hitting investment information, delivered in many cases with a heavy dose of humor, and colorful graphics.
Judges were most enthusiastic about those programs that developed information regarding diversification and proper asset allocation planning efforts as well as specific information about the plan's matching contributions.
The best investment education and communication programs were selected by a panel of industry experts and senior P&I editorial staffers from more than 100 entries.
The Rank America materials were the most impressive overall, taking humor and color graphics to a new level using a restaurant theme - "Think of it as a 150% tip" - in describing the benefits of joining the plan. The material brought chuckles from all of the judges and was clearly the most eye-catching, illustrating that complex information doesn't need to be dry or boring.
While discussing the company match, one of the Rank America brochures said "Okay, for those who haven't gotten it yet, THIS IS FREE MONEY."
The materials also describe a summary plan description as "a boring book with lots of important legal stuff."
Anthony Amato, Hard Rock director of compensation and benefits, said the campaign was designed to provide information about the plan to several thousand West Coast employees who joined the Hard Rock group after an acquisition and to increase participation among all eligible employees. Current participation is about 46%; while officials expect that to increase, they don't have the new numbers yet.
The concept and materials for the campaign were developed and produced internally by the Hard Rock graphics and design group, with assistance from Buck Consultants, Atlanta. "We wanted to get peoples' attention with a bright and colorful package and one which related to their life," he said.
The entries were judged on a variety of criteria, but the judges were looking for completeness of the investment information and how clearly and creatively that information was presented. Most of the education and communications programs were designed with specific goals in mind, usually to increase participation, or to raise awareness of the plan following plan design or vendor changes.
Minneapolis-based Nash Finch was considering plan design changes in the spring of 1995 after benchmarking its plan against other outside plans. Ann Schleck, an independent consultant was retained to help develop the plan after holding focus meetings with employees in Lumberton, N.C., and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
"We asked them what they wanted to see. What you see is the outgrowth of that process. They wanted something they could look at quickly in break rooms and get the point across quickly. They wanted quick messages and quick things to think about," said Suzanne Allen, treasurer of Nash Finch.
The retail and wholesale grocery distributor launched the campaign in early 1996, and saw participation grow to 68% in June from 62% in 1995.
Some of Nash Finch's innovative approaches included placing printed materials - laminated to resemble placemats - in company lunchrooms. Each double-sided sheet covers an investment option on one side and one or more basic investment concepts on the other side. A cartoon character - an owl named Wiley - was used to unify all of the materials.
Norwest Bank, Minneapolis, helped develop the graphics and presentation concepts with consultant Jeffrey Slocum & Associates, Minneapolis.
Second City video a winner
Winning video productions used as part of a coordinated education and communications plan were lively, entertaining and professionally done.
Parker Hannifin's video production was one of the best ever, according to the judging panel, and other employers would benefit from a viewing for its presentation value, not to mention the production is more watchable than many television sitcoms.
Sandy Sheldon, manager-retirement and savings plan at Parker Hannifin, Cleveland, said the video was produced as part of a coordinated communications program to inform participants about plan changes and additional investment options. And different may be an understatement in the case of the Parker Hannifin video. Working with independent Chicago-based consultant Jan Burnham, now with Coopers & Lybrand, members of the Second City TV Comedy Club of Chicago were used as actors in the hilarious and entertaining, but informative, video.
"The video has been very successful because it was easy to understand and had the added element of humor, too," said Ms. Sheldon. "We continue to use it at employee meetings and new employee orientation. After employees see the video they seem to have picked up the essential points regarding company matching, investments and most of the important points have gotten across."
The campaign, launched in early 1996, was designed to increase participation rates and to bring the 18,000 participants in the Parker Retirement Savings Plan up to speed on new investment options and new plan providers. Ms. Sheldon said the current participation rate is around 75%, but the firm expects to see that grow to between 88% and 90%.
Science Applications International Corp., San Diego, won second place in the video category with its "Plan Previews" theme based on the widely recognized TV show "Siskel and Ebert at the Movies." Woolworth Corp., New York, was third in the video category with its musically oriented production called "The coolest number - 401(k)" built around an original song about the company's 401(k) performed by a jazz group.
A sporting theme
Vulcan Materials Co., Birmingham, Ala., tied for third place in the initial education, as well as the video categories for companies with more than 5,000 employees. Vulcan combined humor and cleverness with a customized approach designed to provoke thought and impart essential information about the plan's features.
Charles D. Lockhart, manager-employee benefits at Vulcan, said the company wanted to increase participation rates among shorter service employees, those with five years or less at the company, and encourage participants to diversify their plan assets.
Hazlehurst & Associates, Atlanta, assisted Vulcan in the development of its communications plan and developed a tie-in with a fitness theme. That theme was carried into the accompanying video, which was developed internally, he said. The program was launched in spring 1996 and, Mr. Lockhart said, participation among shorter term employees has moved into the 70% level from around 50%.
In addition to P&I staff, judges for this year's contest were Mary Willet, director of supplemental retirement plans, Department of Employee Trust Funds, Madison, Wis.; Karen Barnes, legal department, McDonald's Corp., Oak Brook, Ill.; Daniel J. Esch, managing director at Defined Contribution Advisors Inc., Minneapolis; and Deborah Milne, director of member relations and special projects at the Employee Benefit Research Institute, Washington.