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Never Be Afraid to Give 'em Hell

When he was running for president, Harry S. Truman was on a whistle-stop tour across the country. At one stop, somebody yelled to him,...
September 1, 2005

PIA is an Activist, Aggressive Organization That Speaks Truth to Power

PIA National Executive Vice President & CEO Leonard C. BrevikBy Len Brevik
Executive Vice President & CEO
PIA National

When he was running for president, Harry S. Truman was on a whistle-stop tour across the country. At one stop, somebody yelled to him, "Give 'em hell, Harry!" Truman replied, "I never give 'em hell. I just tell the truth and they think it's hell."

Those of you who have read the history or who were alive at the time know that everybody was predicting that Truman would be badly defeated in the 1948 election. Everybody, that was, except for Truman himself.

In the end, Truman won. Why? Because he believed in himself, he took his case to the people and he wasn't afraid to fight, and fight hard.

That has been our philosophy at PIA ever since the twin issues of mega-broker compensation and disclosure came to the forefront starting in October 2004.

The Spitzer controversies provided a textbook example of an instance in which merely "working behind the scenes" is not sufficient.

From the moment New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer issued his initial press release with a headline proclaiming he had uncovered "widespread corruption" in the insurance industry, PIA has been clear and steadfast in defending the integrity of our members.

The owner of an independent insurance agency that is not (yet) a member of PIA recently sent this message to us:

"It's not enough to work 'behind the scenes'! Our association's leaders have to get out front, and get headlines telling the world that their clients should be looking to their locally owned insurance agents, who - in most cases - can provide the same coverages as they are buying now, and a hell of a lot better chance of being honestly dealt with! Congrats to the PIA!!!  Give 'em hell !!!!"

Advocacy for Agents

As this agent noted, PIA has indeed been giving them hell and will continue to do so. And the good news is, our message is having an impact. When all of this started, PIA went public and made our position known - clearly, forcefully and unambiguously.

Our strategy got an unexpected boost from an unlikely source when New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer started defending the integrity of most agents and brokers, and advising that people should not paint participants in our industry with a broad brush.

During the first half of 2005, PIA emphasized - again and again - the distinction drawn by Spitzer himself between those accused of wrongdoing and those who are honest. We repeated this message in press releases, media interviews, opinion articles and speeches by PIA officers and National staff.

As the year went on, our theme of "Local, Main Street Agents" not being the focus of suspicions or Spitzer investigations began to be echoed in the press and, more importantly, by state legislators and regulators.

Defining the Debate

The communications strategy adopted by PIA succeeded in defining the terms of the public debate on the issues of compensation and commission disclosure. This represents a major victory, in that it aided in shifting the perception of the problem that policymakers needed to address with their reform efforts away from independent insurance agents.

In insurance associations, there is often a temptation to equivocate in order to bring about agreement. The philosophy of some is that everything is negotiable. This view places far too great a value on the association being perceived as having "a place at the table." The problem with this is that having a place at the table does not guarantee that others at the table won't consume all the food and leave you with the crumbs.

At PIA, we take a different approach. To us, our core principles are never negotiable. Rather than compromising our members' interests in order to curry favor with powerful lawmakers, PIA speaks truth to power. This is a more effective strategy. Those who may oppose you will respect you more if you stand firm for your principles.

PIA is an activist, aggressive organization. PIA will always stand up for the interests of the members of our association. On matters of less importance, compromise is always an option. But when our members interests are threatened, we will not compromise. We will give 'em hell.

Len Brevik lenbr@pianet.org is Executive Vice President and CEO of PIA National.

PIA Connection

This article originally appeared in the September 2005 PIA Connection.

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