Invest in Something Special: 5 Questions With Voya SVP Paul Gennaro


Voya Financial Invest in Something Special

Voya Financial is wrapping up a week-long social media campaign designed in partnership with the Special Olympics — Invest in Something Special. The campaign seeks to help Americans living with special needs and disabilities, and their caregivers, plan for the retirement they deserve.

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Voya is sharing the near-term goals and lifetime aspirations of Special Olympics athletes to raise awareness of their contributions to the community and amplify their voice on social media.

In addition to being a Special Olympics sponsor, the financial services brand is donating up to $500,000 for Special Olympics Programs across the U.S.

Voya - Invest in Something Special campaign Tumblr

The company is donating $1 to the Special Olympics for every “comment,” “like” and “share” for each athlete’s #InvestInSomethingSpecial story, which it’s also collecting on a Tumblr site. The campaign will be followed by donations to local Special Olympics Programs across the U.S., with details being announced in December.

As part of the campaign Voya released new research on the status of people with disabilities in the workplace in America. The research highlights the need for companies to think more inclusively about supporting employees with special needs or who are caregivers to individuals with disabilities.

“Families with special needs are often underrepresented and overlooked in the workplace,” its report states. “Voya research discovered that while 81% of working American adults believe their workplace is diverse, only 33% say their workforce includes individuals with physical or cognitive disabilities. Furthermore, 42% of respondents were unsure if their employer had organized hiring programs or offered financial and retirement planning tools geared toward this group of Americans.”

Voya hopes the campaign sparks a dialogue and shines a light on the issues that people living with special needs and disabilities and their families face, to help bridge the gap in resources available to them.

Paul Gennaro, SVP Brand and Corporate Communications, and Chief Communications Officer, Voya Financial“Invest in Something Special is very closely aligned with Voya Cares, a key driver behind launching this campaign, and one of the many ways Voya is addressing the needs of the disability community,” Paul Gennaro, Voya’s Senior Vice President, Brand and Corporate Communications and Chief Communications Officer (right), told us of a corporate responsibility platform that was just recognized by the Women’s Forum of New York for achieving gender parity on its board of directors.

“Nearly 21 million families in the U.S. have at least one member with a disability, and households where at least one family member has an intellectual disability have the highest poverty rate in the U.S.,” Gennaro added. “Voya Cares was created to address these challenges and help Americans living with special needs and disabilities, and their caregivers, plan for the retirement that they deserve.”

The YouTube spot promoting the campaign uses Voya’s signature orange to connect back to the brand, but it ties into the brand in other ways, Gennaro added. “We wanted to strike a nice balance of ’cause’ and ‘marketing,’ so we focused on Special Olympics and its athletes, relying on promoting across our branded social channels and other campaign assets to draw the connection to Voya. Throughout our Good Morning America sponsored segment, we had on-screen branding and subtle mentions of Voya, but our Special Olympics athlete, Danny, was the star—and it was inspiring to see the smiles and reactions of everyone on-set when he told his story.”

Gennaro shared more in a Q&A:

Marketing philanthropic efforts can be tricky—you want to generate participation and be clear about the call to action, but you don’t want to make it all about the brand—and not about your partner (in this case, the Special Olympics) and in particular, the people who will benefit. How did you balance that?

Voya’s Invest in Something Special Campaign was created based on our company’s genuine commitment—from our leadership team throughout our employee base—to serving people with special needs and disabilities as well as their caregivers. Through our partnerships with organizations like National Down Syndrome Society, the U.S. Business Leadership Network and Special Olympics, we know that inclusion is a key challenge for people with special needs and disabilities.

Voya Invest in Something Special - Special Olympics

Invest in Something Special is about amplifying the voices of Special Olympics athletes – and raising awareness of the many strengths and contributions made by the special needs community. We worked closely with Special Olympics to make sure that the primary focus is on Special Olympics and the athletes—with Voya’s commitment to serving people with disabilities and special needs as the backdrop.

You’re involved with the Ethisphere Institute—any learnings from your involvement there about how to make a philanthropic program stand out, but also connect to your other marketing and initiatives?

At Voya, we recognize that customers are increasingly seeking to do business with companies that are genuinely good. We see our culture – and the authentic character of the Voya brand—as a competitive advantage, and a differentiator, that will only become more important as we go forward. When we celebrate our corporate responsibility recognition and achievements, such as being named one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies by the Ethisphere Institute, it’s not a marketing campaign—it’s the genuine character of our brand.

Voya Invest in Something Special - Special Olympics

Companies can differentiate themselves over time by transparently telling a consistent story. Everything that a consumer sees about Voya, from TV commercials to social media content and news articles, forms a picture in their mind of who we are and what we stand for as a company. Our team looks across all of our content to make sure that the key themes of ethics, transparency and corporate responsibility are woven throughout our messaging, regardless of the channel or audience.

Many Cannes Lions award winners over the years tend to be in the philanthropic/cause marketing area. Any feel-good campaigns catch your eye as you consider how to ‘brand’ Voya’s philanthropic efforts?

I was a very big fan of the Always “Like a Girl” campaign—partly because I’m the father of a (now) 12-year-old daughter, but also because of the emotion that it elicited on a societal level. It drove a movement. We see Invest in Something Special as being similar to that campaign from an emotional standpoint – and we hope it elevates a dialogue around inclusion. From my work in support of Voya Cares, which focuses on serving people with special needs and their caregivers, I know firsthand that this is an emotionally powerful topic. I also serve on the board of the U.S. Business Leadership Network, which advances disability inclusion in the workplace, and it’s personally fulfilling to contribute to advancements in this area. Again, Invest in Something Special ties back to who Voya is as a company and brand.

What are the specific elements of the Invest In Something Special campaign from a communications and brand perspective?

Invest in Something Special is a multi-faceted marketing campaign integrating advertising, social media, public relations, celebrity engagement and employee communications. It’s a true social media campaign anchored heavily by promotion on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Tumblr also provided the perfect platform for us to collect hundreds of stories from athletes, in a variety of formats: video, photo, text and blog. It enabled visitors and our team to like and share the engaging content on other social media platforms. We have also integrated activities outside of social media to connect with as many of our key audiences as possible. For example, there was a segment on Good Morning America, featuring an interview with an award-winning Special Olympics athlete.

We had celebrity endorsers, including actors like Vanessa Williams and John McGinley, and athletes, like NBA star Andre Drummond and Chicago Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks, support the campaign as well. We also had media outreach keying on diversity in the workplace, which spanned local, national and trade media.

For example, a bylined article by our Chairman and CEO, Rod Martin, titled “This is Different: Advancing Retirement Outcomes for the Disability Community” was published in the Huffington Post, when the campaign launched on Nov. 13. And, we kicked off the effort in the same fashion as our previous major campaign efforts—by engaging our employees as our brand ambassadors.

How are you engaging employees, customers and partners in the campaign?

To help build excitement internally, we provided teasers and a campaign “sneak peek” to employees, our sales team and key customers. We invited our people to share their own stories for the campaign and to join us in participating on social media. Those efforts were supplemented with articles on our employee intranet, a motivational campaign video and posters around our offices. Our customers and partners were also engaged and mobilized to participate. We provided them with template campaign materials, such as customizable e-newsletters, to help them spread the word with their clients and join in our efforts to raise awareness and funds for Special Olympics.

Get more insights in our brand leadership Q&A series.