Prudential's Siva Jayaraj: 'Enable your agency and let them go crazy'

Client-side marketers need to stop treating their agencies as vendors, said Siva Jayaraj, vice president, head of marketing and experiences at Prudential Assurance Company Singapore. Speaking at the Content 360 virtual conference, the former Nike marketer said, “When you hire an agency, you hire a partner. The agency isn’t there to just paint your house. When you hire an agency, you need to like what they do, and ensure it is in line with your brand purpose.”

Candidly elaborating on his selection process, Jayaraj (pictured) said when an agency is pitching for his business, his one question to them is always: “Tell me what you want to do, which no other brands have had the balls to do with you.”

In the same line of thought, he added,"Enable your agency and let them go crazy. Instead of being critical on the creatives, be critical on the purpose."

In Singapore, Prudential works with VaynerMedia as its creative agency. Elaborating on the dynamics, Jayaraj said the two had begun work even before the agency started to really get off the ground in Southeast Asia. He added that at the end of the day, he was looking for an agency that understood Prudential’s need to be purposeful. Moreover, founder and CEO GaryVee’s ideas on scale of content, and his courage and straightforward nature, was also what Jayaraj believes the company needed.

Prudential’s journey in becoming purpose driven

Jayaraj explained that while insurance in the past was primarily sold out of fear (for instance, customers were fearful of the financial strain a death in the family might have), Prudential has shifted this conversation to focus on living well and in the present. One of the ways it did so was  to educate Singaporeans that they are living longer than they think they are.

Although most Singaporeans think they will live until they are 75 or 80 years old, a study by Prudential found that an increasing number of people are living up to 100 years old now. Noting this discrepancy, the company then decided to educate consumers through content showcasing the important of living well in the present, and planning for the near future.

Prudential also decided to take the conversation further by tying it in with environmental issues. According to Jayaraj, if people are living to a hundred, one of the main concerns would be the environment they are living in. This spurred Prudential to create conversation around sustainability, highlighting the company's efforts such as reducing the use of plastic by getting its staff to use reusable utensils and containers.

Prudential also encourages its financial consultants to reimagine content and purpose as well. To do so, the brand scaled its content by investing in its own channel that delivers content to its 5000 financial consultants, as well as created a personal website for each of them. These sites are populated with content provided by the company.  Jayaraj said:

“When your purpose does not align with how your people conduct themselves, that's where you get a bit of a disconnect.”

Moreover, financial consultants were also digitally enabled and were further driven to innovate and think how they can use content and digital platforms to create experiences that are purposeful and aligned with the brand to their customers. According to Jayaraj, the move to open up new channels of purposeful engagements versus the more traditional ways of lead generation also unexpectedly helped reduce the negative impact brought on by COVID-19, as they were now better prepared to use social content, webinars and remote selling in a world where physically contact had to be minimised.

Convincing the stakeholders

While Prudential went through a fair bit of transformation in how it conveys its brand purpose and story, Jayaraj acknowledges that convincing internal stakeholders of such bold changes is not easy.

"This is a common problem for everyone," he said, adding "don’t talk about how much money you can make because a CEO won’t be happy on that alone, as there is always more money to be made."

"I believe that you can be successful in business if you do it with a purposeful brand. If your company is to last through generations, it needs to have a brand. You need to convince your CEO on how you are a customer-centric brand and how your campaigns will impact the brand," he said.

Leave numbers to the end. I always start my presentation with story, and end with financials when presenting to the management.

"Lead with the brand and customer at the centre on it. Nobody buys with their brain alone, they buy with their heart. And also as a brand be accountable for what your purpose is," he added. According to Jayaraj, the key to convincing leaders who do not believe or drive brand purpose is to be the agent of change and front all aspect of the business with the brand purpose. "Build it into every idea, deck, report, presentation, workshop, objective setting and one-to-one meetings. Be a broken record and trust me when things start to click, your stakeholders will give you the keys to drive this," he said.

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