Dawn Sly-Terp­stra, Grin­nell Mu­tual

Digital Insurance - - CONTENTS - By Elliot M. Kass

The phe­nom­e­non of a col­lege de­gree not ex­actly match­ing up with an ex­ec­u­tive’s ca­reer isn’t un­usual, but it makes for some in­ter­est­ing ori­gin sto­ries. Dawn Sly-Terp­stra, AVP for mar­ket­ing and cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence at Grin­nell Mu­tual, for ex­am­ple, is trained as an an­thro­pol­o­gist. That came in handy as the com­pany em­barked on an am­bi­tious re­brand­ing ef­fort, with her at the lead.

“An­thro­pol­ogy,” she notes, “is the study of cul­ture. Cul­ture is about a shared-be­lief sys­tem. Our shared be­lief at Grin­nell is all about trust and to­mor­row— that trust piece has been huge.”

When she first joined Grin­nell, Sly-Terp­stra ex­plains, “I had the priv­i­lege of writ­ing a com­pany his­tory book dur­ing our cen­ten­nial in 2009. And go­ing through all the ar­chives and dif­fer­ent pub­li­ca­tions over the years, the con­cept of trusted re­la­tion­ships was con­sis­tent.”

It was that sense of the com­pany’s his­tory and its cul­ture that led Sly-Terp­stra to put Grin­nell’s em­ploy­ees at the heart of the re­brand­ing ef­fort. “Our brand is fo­cused on trusted re­la­tion­ships, and that meant putting our em­ploy­ees at the cen­ter of our re­brand­ing ef­fort,” she says. “They hold the re­la­tion­ships with our cus­tomers. They are our brand am­bas­sadors.”

The ex­am­ple she gives is what’s known at Grin­nell as the “Our Voices” videos. These are taped con­ver­sa­tions be­tween em­ploy­ees and their cus­tomers talk­ing about the im­pact of a loss the cus­tomer suf­fered, and how Grin­nell was able to make the cus­tomer whole again. The dis­cus­sion might take place in an in­for­mal set­ting like the cus­tomer’s kitchen ta­ble, over a plate of brown­ies. Says Sly-Terp­stra: “That re­ally does paint a pic­ture of the kind of peo­ple we have on the front lines.”

But how does she un­leash her team’s creative en­er­gies to come up with these and count­less other orig­i­nal ideas?

“I love a col­lab­o­ra­tive en­vi­ron­ment,” she re­sponds. “I don’t like telling my team what to do, but would rather look to them to be the lead­ers. Maybe that comes with the fe­male lead­er­ship style— to al­low that kind of in­ter­ac­tion.”

To help her team serve as the strate­gic mar­ket­ing plan­ning group for all the dif­fer­ent stake­hold­ers at Grin­nell, she says she aims to give them the space they need to de­velop their own ideas within a creative and fun en­vi­ron­ment. But she also says that “while man­ag­ing a creative team is truly a joy — some­times it’s like herd­ing cats.”

In or­der to keep her staff on tar­get, Sly-Terp­stra en­cour­ages them to “know their au­di­ence” and do the re­search re­quired to pro­duce a good prod­uct. “We know that we’re the life and breath for our brand,” she says. “It’s in­cum­bent upon us to keep it alive in ev­ery cor­ner of the or­ga­ni­za­tion.”


Sly-Terp­stra grew up in the Quad

City re­gion of eastern Iowa, where both her par­ents were teach­ers. Early on she en­vi­sioned her­self be­com­ing a lawyer, but she also had a keen in­ter­est in ad­ver­tis­ing, mar­ket­ing and re­port­ing, and her first-ever job was as a free­lancer for the lo­cal news­pa­per.

While in high school, Sly-Terp­stra had the op­por­tu­nity to in­ter­view thenFirst Lady Ros­alynn Carter, and she de­vel­oped a passion for pol­i­tics. For more than a decade, she worked on sev­eral po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns, in­clud­ing one that took her can­di­date to the U.S. Se­nate.

“Af­ter sev­eral years of field work, my love for mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions was re­ally gnaw­ing at me, and then the op­por­tu­nity at Grin­nell came along,” she says. “That was a very happy ac­ci­dent.”

Her an­thro­pol­ogy back­ground has con­tin­ued to in­form her unique strat­egy for build­ing a suc­cess­ful cul­ture.

“I think it’s vi­tally im­por­tant that we model our abil­ity to lead on our own style and speak in our own lan­guage, as it were,” she says. “If my style’s a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent, that’s OK. As a mar­ket­ing per­son, I al­ways say, ‘Think dif­fer­ently.’”

Dawn Sly-Terp­stra AVP, Mar­ket­ing and User Ex­pe­ri­ence, Grin­nell Mu­tual Rein­sur­ance Com­pany

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