The Bottom Line | Published in December 2013

Sending the Right Message

Targeting employee communications     Also in this article: "Data Visualization" 

By John Manganaro | December 2013
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John Hersey

When developing an employee communications and education calendar for a defined contribution (DC) retirement plan, experts say it is best for plan sponsors to think small. In fact, casting too wide a net is one of the most common mistakes committed by retirement plan sponsors during internal communications campaigns, says Linda Pophal, owner and CEO of Strategic Communications LLC, a communications consulting firm, headquartered in Wisconsin.

“Most often, organizations, regardless of their size, tend to take a very broad perspective in terms of the audience they’re hoping to reach,” Pophal says. “I see clients coming to us with goals as broad as ‘We want to communicate better with our employees.’”

Effective Messaging

Defining smaller target groups allows plan sponsors to select not only the right message content but also the right delivery pathways and follow-up schedules to ensure a campaign does not fall flat. This is especially true when it comes to a subject as convoluted as 401(k) plans and retirement readiness more generally, Pophal says. “The messages you deliver for Generation Y employees entering the work force are going to be very different from the messaging you use with late-career Baby Boomers. Messaging might also vary in terms of hourly, salaried and executive-level employees. Are there differences in terms of the departments or positions they work in? These are just some of the considerations plan sponsors must make.”

For example, whether a plan sponsor is engaged in raising awareness around the start of a whole new defined contribution plan or simply the addition of a target-date fund (TDF) to a plan’s investment options, it is crucial to consider what participants already know about a subject. Provide too much information to an uninformed group and you can cause confusion and frustration, Pophal says. Provide too little to well-informed employees and you risk future messages being ignored.