Best communications by a private sector organisation 2016

A storming success

Direct Line Group

Insurance companies are paid to expect the unexpected, but often there are predictable events for which planning is essential. Floods in Britain are occurring with more frequency, and each major incident provides new opportunities to finesse crisis plans.

Direct Line had been praised for its approach to supporting flood victims in 2013 and 2014, but it was determined to do even better if severe weather rocked the country in 2015. In the run up to the winter, Direct Line had media prepared additional claims staff so that, in the event a spokesperson was needed ‘on the ground’, there was a ready pool of people ready to step in. 

It had also sent claims staff to the National Flood School in Farnham, Surrey, where a purpose built house is regularly flooded with almost 7,000 litres of water, accompanied by Daily Mail journalist Victoria Bischoff. They were there to see how a building can be affected, but also to learn how to dry out a house, allowing them to advise affected customers correctly, and the science between what lurks in flood water. (The visit featured in a double page spread in the newspaper.)

When Storm Desmond hit Cumbria in early December, Direct Line was prepared. Weathernet had indicated bad weather was on the way, so the insurance company’s crisis plans were already in action while a special claims team was ringfenced to deal with customers.

Split into two groups, Direct Line’s PR team also drove the company’s severe weather vehicles all over Carlisle and the surrounding neighbourhood, distributing more than 100 #DirectFix ‘care’ boxes. Its mobile communications centre Charlie was also sent to the region offering on-site support and acting as a hub for affected customers.

Direct Line was the first insurance company to reach the area. Direct Line’s spokespeople were prepped with key messages and advice to offer customers, including measures to prevent secondary flooding, which they imparted during a series of broadcast interviews with BBC News, ITV News and BBC Radio 4 while chief executive Paul Geddes was interviewed live on This Morning.

Print interviews were also set up with the Independent, Daily Express, The Times and Daily Telegraph. A case study, featuring an affected customer, appeared in The Times, which said Direct Line’s £50 a month policy was ‘invaluable’.

The PR team liaised with the Association of British Insurers, feeding back information from the Government to its claims team, reassuring customers and seeding its key messages. Other work was scaled back to tackle the crisis, and even on Christmas Day and Boxing Day they dealt with customer queries.

Direct Line featured in 155 items of flood coverage, with 28 specifically mentioning its visibility and on the ground presence, while Geddes was praised for his robust and open approach. Sales of Direct Line insurance products increased in the first quarter of 2016, while brand preference rose 39 per cent.

‘Very good and comprehensive coverage,’ said the judges. ‘This was well planned and executed with learnings from 2014. It achieved good outcomes, both in the media and commercially. I like the confident approach.’