Educating participants about the specifics of a retirement plan may not be enough. What is often needed is a more comprehensive communications strategy. There is no one formula for success. Every plan has its specific terms and participant priorities.
Yet, there are six steps plan sponsors should keep in mind when creating any plan communication program:
1) Set goals, objectives and time frames. Document broad goals, specific objectives that will contribute to the achievement of each goal and time frames for each. This provides the framework for the overall program.
2) Gauge your audience. Marketing communications professionals utilize a myriad of tools. For an individual plan sponsor, an ideal way to get to know your audience is to interview employees or have them complete a survey. Identifying their needs and concerns should drive the type, nature and frequency of plan communications.
3) Tailor the message. Participants must be able to relate to the message in order to understand it. Communications need to be as personally relevant as possible. For example, income tax reduction generally is not a motivating message for low and moderate income earners, but ease of saving and the effects of long-term compounding are. For this reason, the most effective communications programs are also the most easily modified for different audiences. An ongoing educational campaign, for instance, may include an online newsletter that has different content for various age groups.
4) Keep it simple. Employees today are looking for help. Keeping the process for enrollment or increasing participation from becoming too complex is critical in helping them to the end goal.
5) Measure success. This is perhaps the most commonly overlooked step in any communications campaign. Plan sponsors need to measure levels of participation at the onset of a program and then monitor changes throughout its implementation phase. This is again where flexibility becomes important: If participation is not improving, alterations may be needed to better target employees engaged at a low-level and non-participants.
6) Choose your format. Finally, when developing a communications program, one must consider whether or not Internet delivery is the best medium. However, once again, this is an area where the plan sponsor needs to understand his/her audience in order to reach them in the most effective manner. Unless the entire audience has access to the Internet, even the most creative, targeted, well-conceived communications program will produce limited results.
Personalize wherever possible
Despite the ongoing debate, most industry observers believe that personalized communication is clearly the best option for employees - one-on-one advice being the ideal. But for most plan sponsors, this is a cost-prohibitive benefit to extend to anyone except the most key employees.
The next-best option that likely fits most communication budgets is simplified, personalized recommendations such as asset allocation models that use a series of easy-to-answer questions in an interactive worksheet that takes into consideration an employee's larger financial picture.
Securities and advisory services offered through LPL Financial, a Registered Investment Advisor, Member FINRA/SIPC.
Ludwig, ChFC, AIF, CRPS, is a financial adviser with LHDretirement. Reach him at email@example.com.
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