Published: Wednesday, September 10, 2008 at 10:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 10, 2008 at 11:35 p.m.
LAKELAND | Progressive Insurance is breaking out the checkbook for a campaign to lure Hispanic drivers in Polk County.
PROVIDED TO THE LEDGER
PROGRESSIVE INSURANCE has installed two billboards in Lakeland written in Spanish, with plans to put up seven more to draw more Hispanic policyholders.
Gary Garland, an independent insurance agent in Lakeland, says Cleveland-based Progressive has given him a budget worth thousands to place Spanish-language radio ads and billboards in the Lakeland area. A Progressive spokeswoman said the local campaign is part of a much larger effort to draw Hispanic motorists nationwide.
"This is an idea to associate the name Progressive with the Spanish market," Garland said. "It's something most companies are trying to do - changing their marketing because of the population growth."
The first two billboards were installed this week at high-traffic intersections in Lakeland and Garland plans to follow with seven more, running them for a six-month stretch. He also is advertising on La Raza 1570 AM, a Spanish-language radio station in Auburndale geared toward Mexican audiences.
Progressive spokeswoman Leah Knapp said the firm - the fourth-largest auto insurer in Florida by market share, according to A.M. Best - is conducting similar efforts through independent agents around the country but would not disclose details, citing competitive reasons.
"Progressive has had Hispanic-focused advertising campaigns for some time. What makes this year's campaign unique from previous years is our focus on advertising meant to drive traffic to our local independent insurance agents," Knapp said in an e-mail to The Ledger. Garland said he knew of two independent agents in Tampa and South Florida who also are participating in the campaign. The Lakeland billboards are in Spanish and one promotes an auto policy that covers tools stored in contractors' work vehicles. They are part of an ongoing push by insurers to capture market share in one of the state's fastest-growing demographics. According to the U.S. Census, Hispanics comprise 14.5 percent (about 82,000 people) of the population in Polk, making them the county's largest minority group.
"There's a tremendous opportunity for growth not only in Florida, but the nation," said Kirsten Palacios, who was recruited by State Farm two years ago to become the Illinois company's first multicultural director in Florida. Palacios said State Farm - Florida's largest auto insurer - has utilized Spanish-language ads on billboards and various media to reach Hispanic drivers.
Elizabeth Olivares, a sales director at La Raza, noted that both State Farm and competitor GEICO are station advertisers and sponsors of the Sept. 20 Hispanic Heritage Fest in Eloise. Olivares said the attention and ad dollars flowing from major insurers has been a welcome surprise for La Raza, which has been on the air only three months.
Garland, too, has welcomed Progressive's backing, and estimates that a quarter of his business is generated by Hispanic policyholders.
Garland Insurance has increased its business among Hispanics by hiring bilingual agents, he said.
[ Kyle Kennedy can be reached at email@example.com