Case Study

By The Drum | Administrator

April 9, 2003 | 5 min read

Client: BUPA

Project: Business Paid Private Mediacl Insurance

Agency:Red C

BUPA is the UK’s leading health and care provider – dominating the Private Medical Insurance market, both consumer and business paid. Although BUPA protects around three million people in the UK, new entrants in the market compete for its audiences, so active consolidation and strengthening is vital to maintain its stronghold.

Small business –

big opportunity

In 2000 BUPA identified further potential within the smaller end of the business market. Currently under 70% of companies with less than 100 employees provide Private Medial Insurance (PMI) to their employees as part of a benefits package. Red C was employed with the core aim of targeting the SME market and maximising the penetration of business paid PMI. BUPA already had over 32,000 business customers, 30,000 of which were classed as SMEs.

Up until this point, BUPA business activity had largely focussed on corporate client accounts, which by the very nature of their size and needs require a direct sales relationship. SMEs on the other hand, are account managed by telephone and thus provided the ideal opportunity to employ integrated direct marketing techniques.

PMI – placebo or panacea

The benefits of PMI for a business are fairly universal. As part of an employee benefits package, health cover is a valued element in the salary package – and important for both recruiting and retaining staff. As a means of reducing sickness absence, again PMI plays an important role, often speeding up the back to work process.

These benefits were well known and accepted within larger businesses. Within SMEs, PMI was often perceived as a ‘luxury’ and an extra burden on commercial overheads. In reality the negative impact of sickness absence to a small business is often greater than that within a larger corporation. A company of say 20, with two people off sick would certainly feel the effects of a 10 per cent drop in its workforce.

The Challenge

Alison McMurray, Red C’s planning director, says: “Industry research highlights a gap in the knowledge about the impact and cost of sickness absence within smaller companies. Many organisations have no real feel for the levels of sickness absence, let alone how much it costs their business.”

In fact the direct cost of sickness absence in the UK equates to nearly £500 per employee per year and costs the UK economy an estimated £12 billion a year.

BUPA set Red C the challenge of hitting ambitious new business lead targets for its small company division.

The Solution – ‘know’ your audience

Fundamental to the solution was Red C’s understanding of the PMI decision-maker within SMEs. With smaller businesses, this was not part of the HR remit. Invariably the decision would be the financial director’s or managing director’s – both likely to be ‘hard nosed’ financially driven decision-makers. To motivate these prospects the solution had to be equally ‘hard nosed’. No flannel. No marketing speak. Just the hard-hitting facts.

Cold hard stats

As Alison McMurray explains, “Armed with information and statistics from independent research, the leap was to use the facts as the main message in our recruitment activity.”

Using a one-piece mailer format that allowed for extensive use of personalisation, the resulting recruitment pack’s messaging led on levels of sickness absence and the true cost to the recipient’s business. What’s more, by linking to post code the fact became specific to a region. So much more powerful and personal than a generic headline.

Throughout the pack key facts take the prospect on a journey that highlights the problem, establishes the need for PMI and provides the solution:

ï ‘Over 176 million days are lost each year in total through illness’

ï ‘62% of small and medium sized companies believe that sickness absence represents a significant cost for their business’

ï ‘BUPA pays out over £2m in claims to small companies every week’

The creative test

We now had a banker pack, but in true direct marketing ‘test, test, test’ style, we wanted to run an alternative creative execution.

As part of the initial creative concept stage, one execution shone out as verging towards ‘off the wall’ in approach. Red C’s experience together with previous consumer research had shown that businesses prefer and expect business-like, professional looking creative, without creative gimmicks or gizmos. But then, Red C has never been afraid to push boundaries.

This concept broke all the rules and took the format of a personal ad using personalisation on the outer envelope. As BUPA’s company brand manager Bev Stag states: “We loved this concept from the outset and felt it was a worthy creative test that pushed the boundaries of what BUPA would normally do.”

The pack, although heavily themed, retained the strong ‘fact based’ messages throughout. “We don’t believe that hard-working direct marketing and creative innovation are mutually exclusive,” says McMurray. “This pack proves that you can marry the two,” she concludes.


Both packs are performing well and bringing in quality leads to BUPA sales consultants. The two vastly differing approaches give great scope for future campaign success. These packs are only a small part of Red C’s BUPA SME activity that targets both direct and intermediary business. The principals that underpin them, however, are carried through the whole conversion and retention programme.


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