Kodak filed for Chapter 11, the US bankruptcy procedure, early in 2012. It left thousands of pension scheme members worried about their future and confused about what was happening.
The trustees came to an agreement with the company that would give them enough assets to set up an alternative scheme. While not as good as the old scheme, this would offer members better benefits than the Pension Protection Fund (PPF). But the scheme could only go ahead if the vast majority of members voted for it. The trustees were worried that an historic lack of engagement with the scheme and the mood of the members would make this impossible.
We put members in control. The strategy we developed addressed confusion and uncertainty, and presented a clear, consistent and trustworthy narrative. And it was suitable for everyone, even though members quite often had contradictory objectives.
The project was an extraordinary success. Contrary to the trustees’ fears, 80% of members took part in the vote, and 97% of those members voted in favour of the new scheme. Those members represented 92% of the plan’s liabilities, which was enough for the new scheme to be able to go ahead.
How we did itOpen
First, we developed the key messages for all communication. We created messages that were acceptable to everyone, even though many parties had contradictory objectives. We then used these messages as the basis for all member communication and all PR, so members began to hear a clear and consistent narrative about their scheme.
Next, we put in place a regular newsletter that gave members brief, straightforward updates, set out the timetable for future developments, and prepared them for the vote. We made it clear to members that they were in control, and that the trustees were on their side, doing everything possible to get the best deal for them. We also established the trustees as the source of communication, rather than the company, so members were more receptive.
Next, we wrote to members with a general description of the different ways the new scheme would affect different members. We were concerned that presenting everyone with every detail about the scheme was likely to alienate people and make them unlikely to vote. So we then produced a suite of letter templates that were tailored to each type of member. This made sure members were never confused by irrelevant information when comparing the new offer with the PPF.
- wrote copy for a new microsite for members
- helped Kodak executives to prepare presentations to members
- made a short film of members giving their impressions of the presentations
- wrote a phone script for call handlers
- trained call handlers
- designed and wrote the voting form
- created reminder postcards targeted at members who hadn’t yet voted
As communications were going out we talked regularly to the non-professional trustees to find out the sort of questions people at work were asking them. We also talked to the PR company about questions from the industry press. We used all these to produce and update Q&As for the website and to form the basis of a second short video we made, in which trustees talked about the new scheme and why it was a better option than the PPF.