Winners of this year's Pensions & Investments' Defined Contribution Investment Education Awards targeted messages to their employees with originality and flair on paper, in video and on the small screen of the computer terminal.
Once again, a number of union and public plan sponsors captured honors with ready-for-the-big-time education campaigns. Among these were the City of Los Angeles Deferred Compensation Plan's brochure announcing substantial plan changes that judges said "was ready for the real world," New Jersey Transit's train-themed print campaign and IBEW Local 357's award-winning video featuring union electricians discussing their new member-directed plan like finance pros.
In the initial education print category, first-place winners were Flint Ink, Wegmans and City of Los Angeles. Devro-Teepak Inc., O.C. Tanner Co., Qualex Inc. and New Jersey Transit captured first-place honors for special projects.
In videos, IBEW Local 357's entry was first. In new media, General Motors Corp. and IBM captured first places.
In all, 21 plan sponsors received awards in 10 categories during P&I's Defined Contribution/401(k) Conference in Florida. For the first time, P&I gave awards in a "new media" category for campaigns using an intranet, Internet or e-mail to educate defined contribution participants on sound investment practice.
Winning entries in all categories were those that were identified strongly with the plan sponsor, were presented creatively (although not necessarily expensively produced), and imparted the investment information clearly. In the opinion of the judges, the winning plan sponsors had done a superior job of educating their employees and had submitted best-of-class campaigns that represent the best practices in the investment education field.
The flavors of Wegmans
First prize in the more than 5,000-employee category was Wegmans, a Rochester, N.Y.-based supermarket retailer. Wegmans eliminated a discretionary defined contribution plan and combined it with its 401(k) plan. The combined plan has about $273 million in assets, according to the Money Market Directory. Wegmans had the sticky job of communicating this change, garnering goodwill among participants, raising participation rates in the revamped 401(k) plan, and informing employees of a switch in late summer to Fidelity Investments as its new service provider from an in-house administered plan.
Wegmans officials did all of that and more with a campaign that tied each communication piece to Wegmans' business. The campaign theme "The Many Flavors of Your Wegmans Retirement and 401(k) Savings Plan" raised participation in the 401(k) plan to 67.1 % from 62.6%, and the rate of average deferrals to around 7.5%. Education campaign materials were further tied to Wegmans' business with statements: "Getting a taste for your investment needs" and "Catering to your individual account."
One of the goals of the campaign was to promote account access on the Internet and through the voice-response system. Some 47% of employees now access their account information on the Internet, said Lorri Jo McCoy, rewards manager. Unless participants instructed the Wegmans plan executives otherwise, their balance from the prior employer-directed plan was invested in Fidelity's Asset Manager, a blend of stocks, bonds and short-term investments in a single fund. Within two months, participants moved 25% of assets from the previously employer-directed plan from the Fidelity Asset Manager to some of the other 10 investment options in the plan, Ms. McCoy said.
Judges complimented Wegmans' campaign for the tie-in with employees. They also liked the use of real employees in the pictures and the easy-to-understand presentation of the information.
Flint Ink's win
Flint Ink, Ann Arbor, Mich., took top honors among corporate employers with fewer than 5,000 employees. The Northern Trust Co. was the service provider. Flint Ink's campaign featured a plan mascot, "Inky Morebucks," on all communication materials. Inky is a paint-can cartoon character with eyes peeking out of the can and red-gloved hands. Inky wears a hat with a Flint Ink insignia. Posters and mouse pads also were distributed to employees with statements such as "Get more bang for your bucks with Flint Ink Profit Sharing Plan" and "We help make print happen." The plan has $290 million in assets.
First prize in the Initial Print category for Public Funds went to the $1.1 billion City of Los Angeles Deferred Compensation Plan. The original goal was to communicate a change in plan administrator to Great West Life & Annuity Insurance Co. from First Financial Administrators and a reduction in the number of investment options, to 19 from 29, said Steven Montagna, plan manager.
"We wanted a new look that would represent the comprehensive changes we made to the plan," Mr. Montagna said. "It was a joint project with members of the board, staff and Great West representatives who came up with the package."
The brochure for eligible non-participants features the theme "Invest in your dreams," with bold colors and a door opening to the sun. Inside, the brochure proclaimed, "Dream without limits," with colorful shooting stars. The campaign included pay stuffers stating, "choosing investments for your dreams."
In addition to the brochure, plan officials conducted 182 meetings, attended by 4,300 people.
"We had a much larger number of enrollments last year than Great West thought there would be," Mr. Montagna said. "It was 200% over expectations."
Participation rose to 52% from 45%, he said.
O.C. Tanner campaign
O.C. Tanner Co., Salt Lake City, took first place in special project print for 1,000 to 5,000 employees. O.C. Tanner's $100 million 401(k) plan has been overseen in-house before hiring Prudential Retirement Services last year, said Michael Tanner, director of compensation and benefits.
O.C. Tanner is a jewelry business and is the official Olympic medal supplier for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, Mr. Tanner said. So, the education campaign announcing plan changes used a "Go for the gold" theme. The campaign included a newsletter, posters, banners, postcards and an enrollment kit. In the kits were fuzzy creatures with little "Go for the gold" tags. One was on skis with a little Tanner sign, reminiscent of the Olympic rings.
"The campaign was very well received," Mr. Tanner said. "We wanted to assure employees that very little changes were being made, just the way records would be kept."
With the new provider, Tanner's plan went to daily from weekly valuation, and employees gained ability to make transfers on the Internet, Mr. Tanner said. And it worked. Participation rates rose to 82% from 80%, and the average deferral rate increased just shy of one percentage point, he said.
Tanner also added the large-cap Prudential Jennison Growth fund. But Mr. Tanner noted executives didn't want to make a lot of changes to the lineup, he said.
"We had such high confidence in the funds we had. We have an a la carte selection of fund families," Mr. Tanner said. "We tried to pick the best in class."
Qualex Inc., Durham, N.C., won the judges' admiration and first place for special projects in print for plans with more than 5,000 employees. Judges liked the effective use of the company's product in its campaign patterned after the popular television game show, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." Judges also said the campaign was "the best targeted to the audience."
New Jersey Transit, Maplewood, N.J., captured first place for special projects, public funds category, for its campaign: "Ride the Retirement Express." Other sentiments in the print materials - such as "A great way to get there" and "More mileage from every dollar" - successfully tied employees' workplace to their defined contribution program. The program consists of a 401(a), a 401(k) and a 457 plan that each provide 19 core options and a self-directed brokerage window run by State Street Global Advisors.
IBEW Local 357, Las Vegas, won first place for video. MassMutual Retirement Services is its service provider. The plan had just converted to a member-directed plan from trustee-directed. Trustees wanted to make sure workers understood the changes and their new investment options, said John Elliot, consultant with Chicago-based Marco Consulting Group. The video was just part of an onslaught of education and communication efforts that included an education fair complete with balloons, hot dogs and popcorn held at The Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, and a number of meetings. The videos were included in packets each member received before the changes were made, Mr. Elliot said.
"They were going from trustee to participant direction. It was a big deal for people," Mr. Elliot explained.
The video included actual union workers discussing the plan features while on job sites around Las Vegas. The theme of the video was "Make the connection," which tied into the electrician's trade. Slides making these types of connections were peppered throughout the video. Another of these slides stated, "Throw the switch on your future and make the connection between today and tomorrow."
Within the new plan's first four months, 40% of the union members moved from the default fund that mirrored the asset allocation of the trustee-directed plan to other plan investments, Mr. Elliot said.
"The fact that 60% stayed in the default options, in part, was an active decision," Mr. Elliot noted.
GM wins in new media
First prize in the new media, general category went to General Motors Corp., New York. GM's service provider, Fidelity Investments, helped plan executives provide a link between the company's web site and Fidelity's NetBenefits site. NetBenefits features a set of online education and modeling tools. Judges applauded the detailed and personalized investment information furnished on GM's web site. Moreover, judges liked that the site was targeted to GM's audience. For example, a car moves at the bottom of the screen indicating the route to gm401k.com.
IBM, Armonk, N.Y., won first place in the new media, special projects category. The Vanguard Group Inc. is IBM's service provider and helped the company launch its "Confident Investing Program." Judges liked the ease of navigation, the modeling tools and the detailed investment choice information.
IBM created the new 401(k) plan section for its web site before executives doubled the investment options in the plan July 1, adding 10 indexed and institutional mutual funds in its $20 billion 401(k) plan for U.S. employees, said Thomas L. Eng, program manager. The funds were added as a response to a comprehensive survey of IBM employees, he explained.
"We posted the new web site prior to the new rollout so people would understand the new funds and the funds' characteristics," Mr. Eng said. "We felt this is a big effort, and we needed to provide as much information as we could."
The new web site and changes have not materially affected the plan's participation rate, which has been in the 90% range for a number of years, he said. Still, IBM executives are considering enhancing the plan by offering investment advice, Mr. Eng said.