NEW YORK -- Plastech Corp., Huck International Inc., The Boeing Co., Newmont Gold Co., Solvay America Inc., American Stores Co., Toys `R' Us and State of California swept the top prizes in print at the 1999 Pensions & Investments' Defined Contribution Investment Education Awards.
Morris Communications Corp., Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, U.S. Industries Bath & Plumbing Products and Kmart Corp. took top honors in the video awards.
Twenty-two awards in nine categories were presented to 21 plan sponsors during the annual P&I Defined Contribution/401(k) conference in New York. One plan sponsor -- Kmart -- won in two categories.
Winners shone for their highly customized, graphically appealing materials and for their clear and thorough explanations of the investment information included.
Their education campaigns represented the best practices at a time when participant communications has evolved to key importance.
Boeing, Seattle, took top honors in initial education among large employers with more than 5,000 employees. State Street Global Advisors, Quincy, Mass., worked with Boeing.
Wells Fargo, formerly Norwest Corp., Minneapolis, came in second, followed by Xerox Corp., Stamford, Conn. Both Norwest and Xerox created their materials without the assistance of an outside vendor.
Huck, Tucson, Ariz., took first prize in the initial education category for companies with between 1,000 and 5,000 employees. PartnerComm Inc., an Arlington, Texas, benefits communications firm, teamed with Huck. Leo Burnett Co. Inc., Chicago, and Timex Corp., Middlebury, Conn., tied for second place. T. Rowe Price was Leo Burnett's vendor and Scudder Kemper Investments was Timex's.
Plastech, Forest Lake, Minn., was first in initial education with 1,000 or fewer employees, with materials prepared with the help of Communi(k) Inc. Second was Ansys Inc., Canonsburg, Pa., followed by Scott & White, Temple, Texas. Putnam is Plastech's service provider; Vanguard Group is Scott & White's.
The theme of Boeing's materials, "Going Places," is effective and identifies well with the aircraft manufacturer's core business. The submission was also impressive for its thorough approach and easy-to-read content. The materials were contained in just one book, executed with colorful graphics that made the pension education more accessible.
Huck's entry effective
Likewise, Huck International effectively and creatively used the theme and graphics of its education materials to link the pension plan with the company's core business. Judges thought the theme, "Planes, Trains & 401(k)s," was catchy, simple and perfect for Huck, which provides fastening systems to aerospace, rail and automotive customers. They were impressed with the gorgeous posters using faux 1930s-era color graphics to illustrate the theme. Judges also thought the wording was user-friendly and easy to follow.
Huck interviewed several vendors to find one that could communicate the benefits of the company's 401(k) plan to its diverse work force, said Francesca Friedenberg, human resources representative.
"We gave them a real flavor of our work force and impressed upon them the need to address on all levels," Ms. Friedenberg said. "We wanted the materials written so that someone with a ninth grade education could understand, but not so degraded that our engineers would think them too simplistic."
Huck executives also conducted focus groups beginning in March 1998 to discover what employees knew about the 401(k) plan and what the barriers to participating were.
"We apparently had not done a good job in communicating that this is free money that they are leaving on the table," she said.
As a result of the education campaign, which ended in mid-July, 401(k) there was an increase in plan participation at Huck to 81.3% from 66.4%, Ms. Friedenberg said.
This year Huck plans to extend its successful communication approach to participants' investment decisions.
As for Plastech, judges said the materials for its 378 eligible plan participants were of extremely high quality that matched offerings from larger firms. Plastech's information had a four seasons theme featuring beautiful nature scenes. The materials were presented in an attractive, easy to store folder, making it easy for participants to reference them and to add future educational materials.
American Stores, Salt Lake City, tied for top honors with Toys `R' Us for special projects in print for corporations with 5,000 or more employees.
Fidelity Investments Institutional Services Co. Inc., Marlborough, Mass. created American Stores' education materials, which used a "buried treasure" theme to educate employees about the employer match. American Express assisted in developing the materials for Toys `R' Us, Paramus, N.J., which won first place in the ongoing education category in 1998's competition.
This year, the Toys `R' Us theme was: "You are not a bug. This is a good thing." The theme colorfully illustrated pension savings concepts using different bugs for each idea.
"We wanted to get employees to know that it is good to have fun," said Connie Jacobs, manager, benefits services for the toy store chain. "The biggest obstacle was to get the people at the top to say it's OK to have fun with the 401(k)."
As an added incentive to talk about the 401(k) plan, Toys `R' Us executives handed out T-shirts featuring a smashed bug to team leaders.
"We got some calls," Ms. Jacobs said.
Coming in second place was Kmart Corp., Troy, Mich., with materials prepared by Prudential Investments and William M. Mercer. Sony Music Entertainment Inc. took third place with a campaign designed by Northern Trust Retirement Consulting.
Newmont Gold Co., Denver, tied for first place with Solvay America of Houston in the special projects in print category for corporate plan sponsors with fewer than 5,000 employees. The Vanguard Group helped prepare Newmont Gold's materials; PartnerComm Inc. assisted Solvay.
Crown Vantage, Oakland, Calif., was in second place, with materials prepared by Vanguard.
The State of California won first place in the special projects category for public funds. Arnerich Massena & Associates Inc. created the investment guide for California's Savings Plus Program.
Morris Communications, Augusta, Ga., won top honors in initial education for its video full of fractured quotes from historical figures. INVESCO Retirement Plan Services was the vendor.
Second prize winner was IBEW Local 134, Chicago, with the help of Putnam Investments. The judges rocked to the guitar music in the background while union members talked about the "power of the plan," with Chicago scene backdrops. The video used real people to ask and answer questions about the retirement plan, a feature the judges felt was highly effective.
Tied for first place in the video enrollment category were the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, Washington, and USI Industries Inc., Addison, Texas.
Marjorie Gross & Co. produced Federal Retirement's charming video with a cartoon format; PartnerComm Inc. assisted USI Industries with its award-winning entry.
The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which has only a small office in Washington, D.C., needed a way to communicate the value of its plan to all the agencies in the federal government, explained Veda R. Charrow, director of the office of communications.
"We have everything from the very young and relatively poorly educated to literally rocket scientists," Ms. Charrow said. "We thought a cartoon was the best way to reach people without talking down to some of them.
"We thought it would pique their interest and would be fun."
The U.S. Industries video was filmed at a genuine employee education meeting. But unbeknownst to the employees, the speaker, "Dr. Payne," was a master at doublespeak. At first, audience members listened raptly. Then they looked puzzled and confused and, eventually, they dissolved into laughter.
Jackelyn E. Werblo, director of compensation and benefits at USI, said her biggest problem was that she had to "become a pathological liar" because only four people knew the real identity of Dr. Payne.
Not only did the video boost participation by 29% in three months and by 50% for the employees over 30 years old, but it also helped employee morale, Ms. Werblo said.
Kmart won first place in the video special project category with its "Needs and Wants" entry, co-produced by Prudential Investments and Mercer. The video features a wry female narrator explaining 401(k) concepts with funny asides. The judges thought the clever and quirky but simple graphics effectively explained difficult ideas while moving so quickly the viewer doesn't have time to get bored.