Willis Group Holdings: Challenging the Status Quo in Insurance


When business audiences think of insurance brokers, especially in the US, they think Marsh, Aon or their local broker in their community. Willis Group Holdings, the third largest global insurance broker, was enjoying strong financial success since going public in 2001 under the leadership of a dynamic Chairman and CEO, Joe Plumeri. However, the brand was not well-recognized, and there was no clear positioning despite its being the first to refuse to take contingent commissions. Contingents are the controversial year-end bonuses insurance companies pay brokers for increasing premium volume and profitability – an issue Eliot Spitzer brought forward in 2004 that rocked business insurance practices. How do you turbo-charge brand recognition in a traditional, conservative industry where most companies look and act the same?


The Willis Client Bill of Rights, the Willis Quality Index and the Willis Client Advocate Model were just a few innovative ideas already put in place to position Willis as the advocate of the business client. To unify current activities and to revitalize the brand in a dramatic way, several corporate communications strategies were executed:

– Reinvent the global brand with a bold new positioning, messaging, and look and feel that
will effectively differentiate the company.
– Position the CEO as a true industry champion around the themes of transparency and
industry pride via a proactive media and speaking campaign.
– Leverage major corporate events–$2.1 billion acquisition of HRH, a US broker; the building
of a new headquarters in London; the move to the Sears Tower in Chicago and renaming it
the Willis Tower – to enhance awareness.
– Increase employee engagement through better understanding of the company vision and
reengineering a company-wide recognition program.


– Develop and roll-out the Willis “Challenger“ Brand Promise: “Willis will always challenge the
status quo to create new and better ways to serve our clients’ best interests.“
– Design a new corporate identity system using bold, bright abstract images instead of the
usual staid people pictures found in insurance materials.
– Blow up the website and replace it will a more contemporary, interactive and
customer-centric one.
– Leverage the CEO’s thought leadership for major business and trade press and keynote
speaking opportunities around the world (US, UK, Europe, China, India and Australia).
– Promote the HRH acquisition as the largest insurance brokerage deal of the last decade
and execute an effective external and internal communications campaign themed to the
“Best of Both Worlds.“
– Launch a new employee recognition program, The Chairman’s Challenge, tied to values
associated with the brand promise.


– Increased positive media coverage, especially in the US. The Chicago Willis Tower
campaign alone resulted in more than 1000 TV and radio placements, the front pages of
Chicago Sun-Times and Tribune, front page CEO profile in the Chicago Tribune Sunday
Business section.
– Increased web traffic by more than 20 percent.
– Increased employee participation and involvement.
– Increased stock price following key events.