How an Insurance Company Made a Hit Web Series About Taking Risks

Since insurance companies are in the business of avoiding risk, you might not expect one to teach you to face your fears by jumping into unpredictable situations. But that’s exactly what Hiscox Small Business Insurance is doing with its six-part docu-series, “Courageous Leaders.”

Last year, the UK-based company launched “Encourage Courage,” an initiative to motivate small-business leaders in the U.S. to take more chances. The campaign features the American Courage Index, which calculates a personal “Courage Score,” and also includes videos from the 2014 America’s Small Business Development Centers Conference. But going into 2015, Hiscox still needed a way to reach customers in tech, marketing, interior design, real estate, and fitness.

The solution? Set up candid interviews with the top entrepreneurs in those industries, film them with high-quality production value, and put them on YouTube. Hosted by actor and activist Hartley Sawyer, the series features insights from influential people like Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley, Thrillist co-founder Ben Lerer, and Lyons Den Power Yoga founder Bethany Lyons.

“Courage is such a universal equalizer in the context of starting a company,” said Wilson Cleveland, head of digital and content strategies at Prosek Partners, the company that produced the series. “Whether you’re a Fortune 500 CEO, a local flower shop owner, or a freelance graphic designer, everybody who chooses to build something, pursue a passion, or work for themselves has, at some point, searched within themselves for the courage to do so.”

To get the series in front of the right audience, Prosek and Hiscox developed a sophisticated distribution strategy. They partnered with Vox Media to spread the videos across relevant publications like The Verge (tech), SB Nation (sports), and Curbed (real estate). Together, these Vox properties generate 120+ million monthly visits.

“It couldn’t have made more perfect strategic sense,” Cleveland said. “In fact, we’d reached out to Vox Creative first and packaged them as part of our proposal to Hiscox. We facilitated the media buy and worked directly with the Vox Creative team to execute the campaign.”

With Hiscox on board, teams from Prosek and Iris MediaWorks completed the series in less than a month, taking just eight days to shoot the actual interviews. With this tight timeline, communication between parties was key.

“I think it’s important [for the brand] to set the general direction for the content but not micro-manage the filming to the extent that the creative teams feel like they’re just order-takers,” said Hunter Hoffmann, head of U.S. communications for Hiscox. “That will sap their creative inspiration pretty quickly.”

But since Hiscox and Prosek had already collaborated before, that was never an issue on this project. Back in 2011, the two came together to launch “Leap Year,” a scripted comedy series on YouTube and Hulu about a group of people trying to launch a startup. The series garnered a Streamy Award nomination and, according to Global News Wire, received 10 million views over its two-season run.

“We’ve established a reciprocal trust and respect working with Hiscox over the years,” Cleveland said. “They have a better firsthand understanding of what makes effective sponsored content than most brands I’ve seen.”

Hoffmann told me the entire “Courageous Leaders” campaign performed well above Hiscox’s benchmarks. The series received 1 million organic views in about two months, referred more than 10,000 users to the Hiscox website, and produced a remarkable eight times the value of the project’s original cost.

For any brands trying to invest in video and drive similar engagement, the creators of “Courageous Leaders” have straightforward advice: Don’t wait. Give in now.

“Brands now have the same access to customers as TV and cable networks,” said Noah Workman, partner at Iris MediaWorks. “This ability to speak to consumers directly, to entertain and inform with video, is unparalleled. Get started now to build the trust and experience needed to adapt and create quickly in the future.”

Most importantly, find the thing that makes your brand human and flesh it out into a compelling story. For Hiscox, that was courage. For your brand, it might be something else.

Or, as Cleveland put it: “Don’t make a show only accountants will get. Make a show anyone who’s ever met an accountant will get.”

Image by Michal Bednarek/Shutterstock

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