The other night on my way home from work, I got a flat tire while driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Of course, it was THE coldest day of winter this season.
As I maneuvered into the far right lane and put on my hazard lights, I debated whether I could make it to the next exit. My car was riding like a belly dancer on steroids, so chances were slim. And that’s when I spotted it in the dark, cold night: My light in shining armor, a white turnpike safety patrol truck (emblazoned with the red State Farm logo on its sides) on the shoulder, its flashing lights a beacon of security to me.
The driver of the truck was already assisting another stranded motorist, but he came right over to my car. Mr. Truck Driver (Andre Nadzieja) asked me if I was a member of AAA, and when I said yes, he said help was on the way. He said he would alert them that another driver was in need of assistance as well. He took my AAA card and other information and called it in.
Granted, I could have done this on my own. But since the truck driver handled it, this allowed me to call my husband and then various car repair facilities to determine what my options were. Ironically, we had just ordered a new set of tires online for my car earlier in the week, so I was praying the shipment had arrived.
Mr. Truck Driver stopped back periodically to check on me and give me status updates. He also suggested I keep my car running to avoid having the battery die (the temperature was in the teens) and so I could keep the heater on and stay warm (ya think?).
Now I know Mr. Truck Driver gets paid to provide this service, but the fact that he was there and seemed genuinely interested in my well-being, all under the auspices of State Farm, made me feel all warm and fuzzy (well, at least fuzzy) toward the insurance company.
Turns out that State Farm has teamed up with other state transportation agencies to sponsor motorist assistance patrols. What a brilliant public relations initiative. I guess you could say State Farm’s PR is on a roll. Besides Pennsylvania, other states/agencies include Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority. On the Pennsylvania Turnpike site, for instance, the State Farm logo gets top billing:
This service is free to the public and is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It brings to mind a tagline used by many State Farm agents:
I would assume that State Farm must pay a hefty fee to sponsor this service. In my daily commute, the trucks are like moving billboards; I see the State Farm logo numerous times as trucks are stopped to help drivers. Obviously, State Farm has determined that the positive PR — and potential new customers — it generates as a result is worth the investment.
Mr. Truck Driver handed me a pamphlet about the State Farm Safety Patrol. As I sat in my somewhat toasty car, I looked at the pamphlet not from the perspective of a stranded motorist but from that of a PR professional.
State Farm roadside pamphlet
As a public service, the pamphlet listed what to do if you’re in an accident, as well as safety measures. The pamphlet included a tear-off card that could either be handed to the driver or mailed in later. It asked if my perceptions of State Farm were much more favorable/slightly more favorable/unchanged/slightly less favorable/much less favorable/don’t know as a result of my experience. (Much more favorable? Check!) The pamphlet also included a windshield sticker with instructions to dial *11 for assistance (accompanied of course, by “State Farm” in large white letters on its familiar red background). And the pamphlet included short promotional copy — “State Farm® is the number one insurer of cars in the United States.” — followed by five bullets, its URL and tagline.
The pamphlet also said I could share my comments online. Several people have already done so, making this PR promotion a great source for testimonials. Here’s one driver’s story:
“I had just dropped my cousins off at the airport. They were in NY for my father’s funeral. I was feeling emotional and heard a pop and my tire was flat. I was alone and scared. Joe LaBella calmed me down and got me on my way. He was amazing. Thank You State Farm. Now I truly believe ‘like a good neighbor….State Farm is there.’” – Deborah R., NY, Assisted by Joe L., NYSDOT H.E.L.P. – Long Island on Aug. 28.
By the way, Mr. Truck Driver stayed with me, his truck’s lights sending a warning to other drivers, until my spare tire was installed and I was on my way. While I was waiting, the jingle kept repeating itself in my head, over and over: “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” Yes, this PR campaign dovetails with State Farms branding, advertising and marketing strategies.
Staring at the truck’s flashing lights in my rear-view mirror, I couldn’t help but draw a few PR analogies. Let’s face it, many PR efforts are like a flashing light, designed to attract attention to a company, product or cause. Or, in the case of crisis PR, efforts are made to distract the public’s attention, steering them away from the “glaring light” of inquiry. In this case, however, State Farm brings to light the fact that it simply is good business to help others in need, no matter what the circumstance. And State Farm comes out shining.
Will I switch my auto insurance to State Farm? Possibly. Will I at least consider State Farm when I’m comparing auto insurance rates? You betcha. And that may be all State Farm hopes to gain from this community program.
But wait… there’s more! See Part II of my love fest for State Farm.
Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.