Risks of Celebrity Sponsors
Companies are using actors, prominent sports figures and other celebrities to endorse their products more than ever before.
However, while they may generate lots of publicity around a product or service, not all of it is good publicity.
You only have to open up a copy of the newspaper to read about scandals engulfing stars such as Bill Cosby, Brian Williams or Tom Brady with the New England Patriots’ ‘deflate-gate’ saga.
Sponsors have reacted by withdrawing their support, most notably in the NFL, where domestic violence allegations hanging over the sport prompted Procter and Gamble to pull the plug on a deal to supply players with pink mouthguards during Breast Cancer Awareness Month and cancel all on-field marketing.
The risks for any sponsor associated with this type of negative publicity are infinite, said experts, often resulting in the cancellation of lucrative advertising and marketing contracts, ultimately costing the company millions of dollars in lost revenue.
Worse still, the sponsor may be forced to pull its product from the market altogether, with the end result that millions of dollars are wiped off its share value.
The main risk of hiring a celebrity to endorse a product is the unexpected or disgraceful behavior of that individual, or unforeseen events such as death. — Lori Shaw, executive director, entertainment practice, Aon Risk Solutions
Lori Shaw, executive director of Aon Risk Solutions’ entertainment practice, said the main risk of hiring a celebrity to endorse a product is the unexpected or disgraceful behavior of that individual, or unforeseen events such as death.
“The first step is to analyze the potential risks, discuss ‘what if’ scenarios; outline the financial consequences; and to be aware of the risks that can be avoided, those that can be transferred contractually to the celebrity or talent, those that can be transferred to insurance and the risks that must be retained,” she said.
Shaw said that companies need to take a holistic approach to their branding and marketing activities in order to assess the potential impact of any adverse publicity on their balance sheet.
Nir Kossovsky, CEO of Steel City Re, a corporate reputation measurement and risk management specialist, said another major problem of negative publicity is the damage to a company’s reputation.
“The primary risk is that an adverse behavior at an event or by a celebrity will be viewed by stakeholders as a reflection of that company’s culture, values or operational ineptitude,” he said.
“In this situation where the stakeholder holds the company culpable for any such action, often they will respond by altering their future expectations and exercising their financial clout, usually to the company’s detriment.”
Kossovsky said that, rather than calculate the potential risk, sponsors need to first determine the value gained from the sponsorship deal, and the costs of acquiring that value.
Then they must assess the costs of communicating to stakeholders the steps it took to mitigate against any adverse events and publicity that may occur, he said.
“There are two instances when a company should walk away from a deal,” he said.
“The first is if the costs of a parallel communication strategy coupled with the direct costs of sponsorship outweigh the value of the expected gain.
“The second is if, on objective reflection, there is a compelling case that the average stakeholder will hold management culpable for an adverse event no matter what the management says to the contrary.”
To mitigate against these risks, corporations are increasingly turning to specialized insurance plans and writing clauses into their contracts allowing them to cancel a deal if the celebrity is considered to have acted in an inappropriate manner that may damage the company’s brand.
Recently, AIG launched a new policy protecting sponsors that hire celebrities to endorse their product.
Celebrity Product RecallResponse is triggered by any “actual or alleged criminal act or distasteful conduct” from the celebrity that has a significantly adverse impact on a company’s product.
It covers certain costs incurred by companies to remove or recall those products bearing the celebrity’s name and image, as well as the costs of removing advertising.
“In this age of social media and instant news,” said Jeremy Johnson, president and CEO of Lexington Insurance Co., which provides the policy, “reports of indiscretions by celebrities or high profile athletes can spread worldwide instantly, with swift, adverse implications for products or brands associated with the individual.”
Unseen Costs of Measles Outbreak
By now, we have all heard about the measles outbreak in California. We have heard both sides of the vaccination “controversy,” even though all of the evidenced-based research findings are uncontroversial.
What you probably haven’t heard much about is the immense time, effort and expense expended by health care providers and the public health department to respond to a known or suspected case of measles.
When a person begins to experience the signs and symptoms of measles, it is likely that they will seek medical care.
If the medical staff is aware that the patient may have measles they can take precautions like masking the patient and physically isolating them from others to prevent the spread of infection.
In reality, however, the health care providers might not suspect a patient is infected until a medical professional has performed a physical examination and taken their history.
A known or suspected measles exposure triggers a cascade of response activities.
Facility staff must identify the infected patient (the index case), interview the patient to determine where he or she has been, who they might have come in contact with, and whether or not they were masked, and at what point.
Any person who has shared air space with an un-masked measles patient is considered at risk of exposure.
The response costs to a potential measles exposure have been calculated at as much as $100,000 per event in lost productivity and remediation expense.
While waiting one to two days — or up to a week — to get results from measles serology and PCR analysis, facility or public health department staff compile a list of any patients who likely shared air space with the index case.
These are primarily patients who had appointments proximal to the time and location of the index case and for one hour afterwards, who may have shared a waiting room area.
Obviously, this is an incomplete list, as it cannot possibly include contact with individuals in public places like elevators, restrooms, etc.
If measles is confirmed, every patient who is at risk of exposure must be contacted. The clinic or public health department may offer prophylactic MMR vaccinations to any exposed patient who can’t produce documentation of immunity, but that is only effective for 72 hours post-exposure.
If an exposed patient can’t produce proof of immunity and can’t obtain a prophylactic vaccination within the 72-hour time window, the public health department may order them quarantined for 21 days.
The response costs to a potential measles exposure have been calculated at as much as $100,000 per event in lost productivity and remediation expense.
It introduces cost and inefficiency into the health care system, a system that many already criticize as being costly and inefficient. Measles is on the rise, from under 200 documented cases in 2013 to nearly 650 in 2014, and 102 documented cases in January 2015 alone.
An exponential increase in measles will tax the system to the point where it will not be able to respond effectively, leaving our most vulnerable at risk.
And unfortunately, those most at risk from an exposure are exactly the types of people most likely to be found in hospital and clinic waiting rooms.
Buyers Beware: General Liability Outlook May be Shifting
The soothing drumbeat of “excess capital” and “soft market” to describe the general liability (GL) market is a familiar sound for brokers and buyers. Emerging GL trends, however, suggest the calm may not last.
Increasing severity of GL claims may hit some sectors like a light rain at first, if they have not already, but they could quickly feel like a pelting thunderstorm in others. A number of factors could contribute to the potential jump in GL prices for certain industry segments or exposures, possibly creating “micro” or niche hard markets in the short-term, and maybe even turning the broader market over the longer-term.
“There are trends we’re seeing that will play out slowly. Industries that carry more general liability exposure will and have been hit first and hardest, but it won’t apply across the board initially,” said David Perez, Senior Vice President and Chief Underwriting Officer, for Liberty Mutual Insurance’s National Insurance Specialty operation. “There is ample capital in the market today, which allows a poor performing account to move its policy frequently from carrier to carrier. Poorer performing classes, however, will likely face increased pricing for GL policies and a reduction in capacity.”
The good news for buyers is that they can take action today to lessen the impact these trends and the evolving market may have on their GL programs.
David Perez on the state of the GL market.
Medical and Litigation Trends Drive Severity
One factor increasing claim severity is the rising cost of health care, driven both by greater demand and by medical inflation that is growing faster than the Consumer Price index.
The impact of rising medical costs on commercial auto is well-known. Businesses with heavy transportation exposures are finding it more difficult to obtain coverage, or are paying more for it.
That same trend will impact general liability, just on a slower and more fragmented basis.
“In light of these trends, brokers and buyers should seek to understand how effectively their current or potential insurers defend GL claims, particular in using evidence-based medicine to assess and value the medical portion of a claim, and how they can provide necessary care to claimants while still helping clients control their total cost of risk.”
— David Perez, Senior Vice President & Chief Underwriting Officer, National Insurance Specialty, Liberty Mutual Insurance
“It takes longer for medical inflation to register through the tort system in general liability than it does in auto liability (AL) because auto claims are generally resolved more quickly,” Perez said. “But the same factors affecting severity in AL also exist in GL and as a result, it’s foreseeable that we will not only see similar severity trends in GL, but they may in fact be worse than we’ve seen in commercial auto.”
Industries with greater exposure to severity in general liability claims should be the first wave of companies to notice the impact of medical inflation.
“Medical inflation will drive up costs across the board, but sectors like construction and product manufacturing have a higher relative exposure for personal injury lawsuits.”
The impact of medical inflation on the GL market.
Beyond medical inflation, two litigation trends are increasing GL damages. First, plaintiffs’ lawyers are seeking to migrate the use of life care plans—traditionally employed only for truly catastrophic injuries—to more routine claims. Perez recalled one claimant with a broken thumb and torn ligaments who sought as much as $1 million in care for the injury for the rest of his life.
Second, the number of allegations of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in GL claims is growing. It can be difficult to predict TBI outcomes initially and poor outcomes can be expensive and long tailed.
“In light of these trends, brokers and buyers should seek to understand how effectively their current or potential insurers defend GL claims, particular in using evidence-based medicine to assess and value the medical portion of a claim, and how they can provide necessary care to claimants while still helping clients control their total cost of risk,” notes Perez.
Changing Legal Landscape
Medical inflation and litigation trends are not the only issues impacting general liability.
Unanticipated changes in court interpretations of policy language can throw unexpected pressure on GL pricing and capacity.
Courts sometimes issue rulings interpreting policy language in a manner that expands coverage well beyond the underwriter’s original intent. Such opinions may sometimes have a retroactive effect, resulting in an immediate impact on not only open, but also closed cases in some circumstances.
Shifts in the Marketplace
In addition to facing price increases, GL brokers and buyers will be challenged by slightly shrinking capacity due to consolidation and repositioning among carriers in the marketplace. “Some major carriers have scaled back their GL writing, resulting in a migration of experienced senior management. As these executives leave, they take their GL expertise and relationships with them, resulting in fewer market leaders and less innovation,” Perez said.
“Additionally, there are new carriers coming into the business that may not have the historical GL loss data to proactively identify trends or the financial strength and experience to effectively service their GL customers and brokers. Both trends make it important for brokers and buyers to work with an insurer that is committed to the GL market and has the understanding and resources to help better manage risks impacting customers.”
Last year saw a high level of mergers and acquisitions in the insurance industry. Buyers should take advantage of that disruption to re-evaluate their needs and whether their insurers are meeting them. Or better yet, anticipating them.
What’s a Buyer to Do?
Buyers—and their brokers— should look to partner with insurers that can spot emerging trends and offer creative solutions to address them proactively.
What should buyers and brokers do, given the trends facing the GL market?
“Brokers and buyers should value insurers that have not only durability and a long history in the general liability business, but also a strong risk management infrastructure,” Perez said. “Your insurer should be able to help you mitigate your specific risks, and complement that with coverage that works for you.”
Beyond robust GL claims and legal management, Liberty Mutual also provides access to one of the insurance industry’s largest risk control departments to help improve safety and mitigate both claim frequency and severity.
In addition, notes Perez, “Even if a company has a less than optimal loss history in general liability, there can be options to provide adequate coverage for that company. The key is to partner with an insurer that has the best-in-class expertise, creativity, and flexibility to make it happen.”
By working closely with their insurers to understand trends and their potential impacts, brokers and buyers can better prepare for the possible GL storm on the horizon.
To learn more about Liberty Mutual’s general liability offering, visit https://business.libertymutualgroup.com/business-insurance/coverages/general-liability-insurance-policy.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Liberty Mutual Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.