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Rough Notes Marketing Agency
of the Year candidates

One of the agencies featured in a Rough Notes cover story during 2008 will be chosen Marketing Agency of the Year. The agency principals of the winning firm will be presented with the award at a dinner held in their honor this spring.

The winner will be selected by votes of the previous 19 years’ Rough Notes cover agents (from the years 1989-2007).

The nominees for this year’s award are described on the following pages. The winning agency will be announced in February, and a full story on the winner will appear in a future issue.


C.M. Meiers Company, Inc.

Woodland Hills, California

C.M. Meiers Company knows how to turn an opportunity into a value-added service backed up by expertise. Since its founding in 1934, the agency has immersed itself with its clients and provided service to its chosen niches in a way that the competition couldn’t duplicate. At the same time, the agency has focused on being a great place to work—happy employees mean happy clients. As a result, C.M. Meiers has grown into a “large, privately held player that can handle middle market and large accounts,” with some $12 million in revenue, 80 employees and numerous locations, according to President Jeff Kleid.

The agency’s expertise in handling the risk transfer needs of high net worth individuals has led to its developing a policy that provides coverage for all homes owned by an individual, subject to a single self-insured retention. Working with these wealthy clients has expanded the agency’s activities with the entertainment industry for which it has written coverage for some time. The agency is pursuing more film and TV accounts and is partnering with agencies in Canada, the UK and Europe to write coverage for film companies operating in those locations.

With a growing number of clients becoming more environmentally conscious, the agency is engaging in more green risk management activities, including involvement in The Green Hollywood Forum and the U.S. Green Building Council. Jeff says this “gives us the opportunity to do good business and be good citizens.”


Al Purmort Insurance

Sarasota, Florida

When Al Purmort, Jr. joined his father’s agency in 1993, he continued a tradition that spanned five generations and started out in the colder climes of Van Wert, Ohio, where the Purmorts were involved with starting up Central Mutual Insurance Company. When Al’s grandfather, Paul W. Purmort, retired from Central Mutual and moved to Sarasota, Florida, he started an agency along with his two sons, Al and Wells. Al left that agency in 1985 to start Al Purmort Insurance.

When Al, Jr. joined, it was a five-person agency with about $450,000 in revenue. Today, there are 19 people working in two offices, with revenues of $5 million.

Al brought with him some new ideas, including a commitment to technology that, fortunately, was supported somewhat reluctantly by a staff of excellent people who were committed to anything that could help them better serve the agency’s clients. “Everyone worked hard to make [a paperless environment] a reality. Technology has allowed us to actually spend more face-to-face time with our clients,” Al says.

As the agency grew, however, “we realized that we could not continue to manage by the seat of our pants.” So in 2007, the agency brought Patrick Del Medico on board to head up operations.

As Patrick explains: “Now we are monitoring service and managing it so we can stay on top of it.”


Helmer Risk Management

Phoenix, Arizona

Some people say entrepreneurs are born, while others say they’re made. Scott Helmer is both. He inherited his entrepreneurial spirit from has grandfather, a successful business owner in Chicago, and he’s used it to build an organization that in three short years has grown from $1 million in premium volume to more than $10 million— with just a two-person support staff.

Right out of high school, Helmer started his own pool construction company and sold it a few years later to begin a career in property/casualty insurance. He learned the business from the ground up with support and encouragement from mentors who were impressed by his strong work ethic and can-do attitude.

While working with his mentors, Helmer gained breadth and depth of knowledge in the complex field of construction insurance, and in 2006 he took both his experience and his $1 million book of business and established his own shop, Helmer Risk Management.

Sticking with what he knew best, Helmer decided to pursue construction-related risks in the $100,000 to $2 million range that he believed were not being well served by major brokers.

Helmer acquired his first big account simply by helping it set up effective loss control programs—something its previous mega-broker hadn’t done. Resolved never to sell on price, Helmer has built volume and referrals by providing services that positively affect his clients’ bottom line. Committed to the industries he serves, Helmer is active in several construction trade associations.

“I really enjoy what I do, helping people out,” he says. “This is a great business.”


Aloha Insurance Services

Kona, Hawaii

Within the first year of opening for business in 2000, Aloha Insurance Services had $551,000 in commission income and “business was coming in almost faster than we could write it,” recalls Principal Tad Nottage.

Aloha Insurance Services’s journey to maximize its talent and potential has included making producers owners of the agency instead of owning their book of business. As a result, the agency grew to more than $3 million in revenue and the number of employees rose from five in 2000 to 27 in early 2008.

Moving out of a silo setup, the agency brought in industry consultant Emily Huling “to achieve better customer service, less stress, improved workflow and greater profits.” A service center/central processing unit was created to support staffers and to try out new hires to see if they have a good work ethic.

Tad says that the property market in Hawaii got difficult after Hurricane Iniki, then “really difficult” after Hurricane Katrina. With a mix of 40% commercial, 40% personal lines and 20% employee benefits, Aloha Insurance Services represents most of the P-C companies that write in Hawaii in the admitted market. “However, most will not write shoreline or wood frame, and that’s pretty much all of Hawaii,” he explains. “So, we work extensively with the excess and surplus lines market.…We also have bonding relationships with a number of mainland carriers since we write a large amount of construction business.”


TCOR Insurance Management

Beeville, Texas

Agencies evolve all the time, but rarely does an agency decide to sell off 210 commercial clients. But that’s what James Brooke decided to do, and it was those sold-off accounts that were the foundation for TCOR Insurance Management in Beeville, Texas. James sold the accounts to his sons, Brannon and Cory, and their business partners, Rick Dudney and Jim Stark, and in 2006, TCOR was formed.

The fledgling agency’s philosophy was to make the client’s interest a top priority, but in order to bring complete value to a new client, the agency expects to service the entire account. The agency meets with the client upwards of five times a year as part of its client relationship management program.

The TCOR management team draws upon outside resources such as the Sitkins 100 ™, the Insurors Group, LLC, and the Institute of WorkComp Advisors. Through its involvements with these groups, TCOR has dramatically increased revenues, consolidated carrier and broker relationships, and better manages clients’ experience mods and claims.

TCOR has outsourced its back-office processes with ReSource Pro which frees up the in-house staff to interact more with clients. As a result, production has increased.

To keep everyone in the agency striving for the same goals, there is a “state of the agency” meeting every six weeks. “We want the staff to know how what they do affects the clients and the bottom line,” Cory says.


Dawson Insurance

Fargo, North Dakota

The agency traces its roots back more than 90 years to 1917, when it was established by the grandfather of the current president, Tom Dawson. From its origins as a crop insurance general agency and small independent agency for other lines, Dawson Insurance has substantially diversified its client base and now has some $6 million in revenue and 40 employees.

The agency is part of a marketing area with an agricultural base, and it is home to three universities, a significant Microsoft campus, large health care providers, and several regional support facilities for national companies. “We’re expanding our marketing reach in North Dakota and Minnesota,” Tom says, “capitalizing on our areas of expertise, targeting new towns and prospects.”

Over the years, the agency has grown both organically and through a series of strategic acquisitions. It has brought in experienced specialists to spearhead the creation of life insurance and surety operations. As a member of MarshBerry’s APPEX group, Dawson Insurance has the opportunity to improve its financial and marketing performance by networking with peers and comparing itself with benchmarks.

The agency offers a variety of assistance programs for its employees, including contributing toward health club expenses, stop-smoking efforts and a $250 annual clothing allowance for the support staff to purchase business-appropriate clothing.

With a population of some 200,000, the Fargo metropolitan area no longer qualifies as a small town—but small-town values like loyalty and word of mouth remain relevant, and Dawson Insurance employees are committed to living those values.


The McCart Group

Duluth, Georgia

Founded in 1971, The McCart Group has undergone a number of shifts in the traditional paradigm as it learned to compete in the Atlanta market, which was dominated by all the major brokerage firms. “Our clients were telling us they needed help understanding what was occurring in the health care arena,” Jeff says. “We knew that we needed to listen to them and respond faster than our competition.” In 1992, the agency established its Employer Services Division and brought in Steve Needle to serve as its president.

That was the beginning of a theme that was to permeate the agency: cross-selling. “When we started the division,” Steve says, “Jeff and I visited every client as a two-man team” so that clients would know that the agency could serve both their commercial insurance and employee benefits needs.

Two years later, the agency added outsourced risk control and loss prevention services that included an engineering practice group that “responded to clients’ needs and made us unique in the marketplace,” Jeff points out. “The majority of our clients utilize this service.”

The agency has removed itself from bidding for clients. Almost all business comes from referrals. “We ask for a five-year commitment up front,” Jeff says. “In return, we provide an audit of risk management needs that is very comprehensive.” The audit serves to identify not only areas where gaps exist and additional coverages are needed, but areas where potential savings can be realized.


William B. Parry & Son, Ltd.

Langhorne, Pennsylvania

This service-intensive agency has been in business for more than 100 years. “We underwrite every risk before we write it. We go out and inspect every property,” says Lisa Parry Becker, a fifth-generation member of the family firm. A significant commitment to technology has enabled the seven-employee firm (not all full-time) to handle 1,500 accounts (60% commercial lines) and continue building on its loyal customer base.

“We utilize download for personal and commercial lines and are completely dependent on real-time connectivity,” says Lisa. “Last year, we went completely paperless in personal lines and small commercial.” Having pretty much exhausted the growth it can achieve via acquisitions, the firm focuses on organic growth, much of which is derived from referrals. “Oftentimes prospects are calling us after they’ve had a problem with their current carrier,” Lisa says. “We receive those calls, usually after a claim, from people asking for our help in dealing with their online carrier.”

William B. Parry & Son’s relationships of trust with clients are replicated with its carriers and in the community. Four generations of Parrys have served on the board of a local boarding and day high school, and other agency employees are involved in a variety of nonprofit organizations. Lisa is a director of ASCnet and co-chairs the industry Real Time Download Campaign. The agency was recognized by the IIABA as a Best Practices agency in 2007.


The Richards Group

Brattleboro, Vermont

This $10 million revenue agency with 65 employees has embarked upon an expansion plan—both geographic and product-focused—with a trio of 30-something principals. After college, the three young men had successful careers outside Vermont in investment banking and financial analysis but decided to “come home” to join the family firm. They continue to receive guidance from two family member owners from the previous generation.

The Richards Group owners surveyed their customer base, sought advice from agency owners in other states, and decided to expand beyond their Southeast Vermont territory, including opening an office in New Hampshire. They also began offering employee benefits (which now accounts for 20% of revenues) as well as investment and retirement services (which brings in 10% of revenues). These new revenue streams also have boosted their overall agency business retention.

Supplementing these efforts is a new venture, the acquisition of a benefits-only agency, which will provide both benefits revenues and property/casualty cross-sell opportunities. They also recently hired a CPA and an attorney to strengthen their retirement and benefits practices.

Drew Richards, one of the younger generation owners, points out that these ambitious expansion plans are guided by a careful blending of ideas from the two generations, which “allows us to spend time planning and determining the best way to grow. The older generation continues to be active in running the company and offering ideas. We greatly value their input and also the fact that they are willing to let us take some chances and learn by doing.”


Parker, Smith & Feek

Seattle, Washington

With some $30 million in revenue and 170 employees in its offices in Seattle, Washington, and Anchorage, Alaska, Parker, Smith & Feek’s success comes from teamwork that is rewarded by distributing profit back to employees at year-end. Inviting key employees to buy ownership on a book value basis puts the agency “in a position where we can remain independent and can focus on long-term strategies,” says President/CEO Greg Collins.

Commitment to quality control, quality management and cross-selling contributed to the agency’s 97% retention rate in 2007. The risk management process “starts with a thorough analysis of the client’s exposure to risk, coupled with an understanding of that client’s risk appetite…[to] determine not just what coverages are needed but the appropriate use of deductibles and self-insurance options as well,” Greg explains.

Value-added services include eight claims professionals in-house and three risk control experts, as well as two construction risk specialists who help clients with bid review and contract requirements and assist with project-specific insurance placements. Employees and clients alike take advantage of internal and external education offered by the agency.

Parker, Smith & Feek’s commitment to client service is especially evident in workers compensation. The agency is unique in that its main office is located in a monopolistic workers comp state, while its branch office is in a state with one of the most expensive workers compensation systems in the country. Both offices provide workers comp consulting to clients.


Stolly Insurance Group

Lima, Ohio

Much has changed in the insurance industry during the Stolly Insurance Group’s 100-plus years in business, but good relationships and superior service are constants. The 50 employees working in four locations share a “solid foundation of values” laid several generations ago.

Now in its fifth generation, half of Stolly Insurance Group’s $4.5 million in revenue comes from commercial lines, with another 25% from personal lines and 25% from life/health and employee benefits. Medical professional has been an important niche for the agency for more than 100 years. In fact, “Our great grandpa wrote the first medical malpractice policy for the agency in 1906,” Bill Stolly says.

Each Stolly came to the agency with a unique set of experiences and strengths. In addition to being a producer, Bill Stolly is in charge of marketing and develops programs. One of the agency’s leading commercial lines producers, Kevin Stolly “is the real go-getter,” working closely with young producers. Since its early years, the agency has placed an emphasis on employee education, and Kevin has created several in-house education programs for employees. In 2004, the agency started an education foundation for secondary education and has given out $7,500.

In addition to educating staff, Stolly believes in empowering employees so they can provide exceptional service. “Our goal is to maintain proactive contact with all of our clients,” Mark says, and “Service is what holds it all together.”

















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