Severe rain and flooding swept through Tennessee last May, causing catastrophic damage which made the headlines around the globe. Lives were lost, people were separated, drinking water was rationed and the homes and businesses many residents were severely damaged.

A house is surrounded by floodwater Tuesday, May 4, 2010, in Nashville, Tennessee. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Chip Merlin posted details of the loss in Tennessee Floods and the Emotion of Disaster. The video in the post is worth watching a second time.

Now, some three months later, citizens of Tennessee continue to try to put their lives back together after this disaster. It is not an easy task. In an attempt to find out first-hand more details about the damage in Nashville and the surrounding areas, I contacted FirstCall, a public adjusting firm located in the heart of Nashville.

Many residents and business owners have realized the value of hiring a public insurance adjuster. This particular Nashville based firm was founded by Phil Breeden.

FirstCall has 20 employees and has been adjusting claims for policyholders since 1989. The company has gained a great reputation for helping folks with their insurance claims and has offered to share information about how they have been able to help the policyholders of Tennessee with their recent losses. FirstCall also explained the hurdles they face adjusting claims in throughout Tennessee (FirstCall is also licensed and practices in TX, OK, OH, MS, MI, LA, KY, KS, IL, GA, FL).

One hurdle facing FirstCall may be familiar to PAs all across the country. Stephanie Allen, the director of marketing for FirstCall explained:

Many people do not know the public adjusting profession even exists until after disaster strikes or after their claim has problems.

I have heard similar sentiments like this from countless public adjusters. Tennessee and its neighboring states have suffered extensive property damage recently and still insureds are not aware that adjusters are available to advocate for them. FirstCall is working to change the status quo.

To help people find out about public adjusting FirstCall has implemented the following business practices.

1. KISS– Keep it simple. The language used to advertise your services should be written in a way the average person can understand. Too often, those of us in the industry speak, write and advertise using the insurance terms. Instead of using the terms insurer and insured, use homeowner, policyholder, person, etc. Remember the searches your potential clients might be entering into search engines may be something as simple as “help insurance company wrong”.

2. Differentiate yourself from the insurance company. Many clients do not have a grasp on who is on their side. Many clients call the insurance adjuster “their insurance agent”. Many clients refer to the independent or company adjuster as “my adjuster.” Provide literature and information which explains who works for whom and explain the benefits of leveling the playing field.

3. People are more comfortable hiring a professional to assist them when they realize the matter is complex. You take your clothes to the dry cleaner, your taxes to the accountant, why not your insurance claim to a public adjuster? Sure, you can try a dry-clean product at home and you can prepare your own taxes, but you run a much higher risk of a problem–perhaps an irreversible problem– which could have been avoided if you sought professional assistance. Insurance policy provisions, exclusions and limitations are complicated. If this is explained to the consumer, they have a better understanding of the value of the service public adjusters provide.

4. Don’t wait until after the catastrophic event to educate the public. Billboards are less expensive than you may think and many people are visual learners. They have the ability to retain and recall information in a visual format more easily than auditory information. In addition, yard signs for current clients, community events, and advertising in trade association magazines are all ways to get in front of potential clients before they have a need.

To capitalize on these ideas, FirstCall has a marketing department devoted to showing the public that insurance claim advocates exist and are available to help policyholders reach advantageous results. While marketing departments may be out of the budget for smaller firms, the work done by the marketing team at FirstCall may give you an idea for your firm. FirstCall teamed up with local meteorologists in their area and sponsored events called “Surviving the Storm.” Nashville’s local NBC affiliate and FirstCall’s public adjusters put on live events where viewers were able meet their favorite meteorologists and learn about severe weather and how to prepare for it. The event occurred over a six week period and, coincidently, ended just days before the flood. FirstCall provided handouts and ‘Disaster Survival Kits’ to all attendees.

Almost exactly one year before this year’s disastrous flooding, tornados ripped through Murfreesboro, Tennessee, just 30 miles from Nashville. FirstCall was able to get free airtime on the local news to explain the need for adjuster advocates for homeowners. This saves on the cost of TV ads and reaches many potential customers at one time. Here is a look the media describing the work of public adjusters and explaining the benefits of hiring a PA.

Also, FirstCall was able to get positive news coverage when they helped an Iraq Vet and his family after a tornado loss.

Such a refreshing news stories compared to the article I posted last week in Public Adjusters and Sinkhole Claims.

FirstCall’s founder, Phil Breeden, was also interviewed in the Nashville Business Journal. Here are few of my favorite quotes from his interview:

Most important lesson learned:

You can always say something . . . you can never “un-say” it

Professional pet peeve:

Passivity. Doing nothing is almost always the wrong choice. Scott Jamison, our operations manager has coined the phrase: “Do the hard thing”. If you do, you will get ahead of the crowd, because most choose to NOT do the hard thing.

We look forward to following up with Phil and others in Tennessee to learn more about the outcomes of the insurance claims arising from the recent losses. Stay tuned.