INTERACTIVE: PROFILE NEETA PATEL - New-media enthusiast kick-starts online success for Legal & General - Neeta Patel has revitalised the insurer’s online output, Gordon MacMillan writes

Legal & General doesn’t immediately strike you as a company at the forefront of online developments, but that is exactly where it now finds itself.

Legal & General doesn’t immediately strike you as a company at the

forefront of online developments, but that is exactly where it now finds

itself.



Recognition of this came at the annual online awards held by Campaign’s

sister title, Revolution, in February. It was there that Legal & General

was honoured not only for producing the best online advertising of the

year, but for developing the best online work of any company,

anywhere.



There were more than a few gasps when Legal & General was announced as

the winner of the overall Grand Prix. They came from two areas. There

were those at the event who were amazed that an insurance company was

winning the top new-media award; and then there were the gasps from the

Legal & General table.



Even the woman who takes most of the credit for turning the company into

an award-winning pioneer admits to having emitted a few of her own.

Neeta Patel, the insurer’s new-media director, says: ’I have to say I

was completely staggered. An old-fashioned insurance company winning the

Grand Prix award?’



It might be an old-fashioned insurance company, but it is one that has

produced some online firsts: the first insurer to launch a website, now

in its third incarnation; the first to launch an extranet for

independent financial advisers; and the first to integrate its website

with its back office systems.



Patel has what she describes as ’total immersion’ in new media - an area

in which she has more experience than most, having spent her entire

15-year career working online. After all, this in an industry where a

five-year career qualifies you as a veteran.



’I drink, eat, think, sleep, dream and breathe new media,’ she enthuses.

’I have four e-mail accounts that I actively use.’



It’s not hard to see why Patel has been so successful at Legal &

General.



More instructive for the rest of us, however, is not why but how.



For a start, it’s interesting that most of the work has been done

in-house, with only design handled externally by Black Sun.



’For us, it’s historic,’ Patel explains. ’We have had people in our IT

department who have been very interested. Initially, it was on an ad hoc

basis. But when emerging media was set up, we had a dedicated resource.

We have five full-time web developers. We tend to work well as a

unit.’



Legal & General has been on the web since November 1995, which is also

the year that Patel arrived, fresh from her MBA.



Although she joined as a marketing communications manager, one of the

first things she did was track down who was responsible for Legal &

General’s website, which was then little more than a corporate

brochure.



’Once I had found it, I just took it over,’ she recalls. ’I muscled in.

The person who’d set it up was delighted someone was interested.’



In the beginning, money was a problem. But unlike many organisations

where failure to demonstrate a return on investment is likely to kill

any development, Patel was able to get budgets approved from the highest

levels.



And that’s the real secret of her success, according to Danny Bowers,

the managing director of moneyworld.co.uk, who knows Patel quite well.

He says: ’She’s a player.



She is a clearly focused, tenacious manager who has achieved an enormous

amount. It takes more than your average manager in new media to get them

to commit and make it work.’



Patel admits: ’I was asking for large sums of money and I could not put

down an ROI, as I didn’t know what it was and I still don’t.’



While ROI is difficult to gauge in pure monetary terms, Legal & General

has profited in other ways such as an increase in the number of visitors

to the site.



Moreover, Legal & General’s new-media activity has changed the way that

the organisation is perceived. People are starting to see it as an

innovator.



More innovation is planned this year with the goal of making customer

accounts self-servicing. Patel says: ’We’re looking at small things like

changes of address. You don’t write in, you don’t call, you do it

yourself. It may be small but it is significant.’



It’s hard to imagine there being room in Patel’s life for another great

passion. She cites travel, but you can imagine that if you put Patel on

a desert island, the first thing she’d look for wouldn’t be a bottle to

put a message in, but an ISDN line. And she’d find it, too.



The Patel file

1981 Oxford University, Masters

in Chemistry

1984 BT Telecom Gold, account

manager, then marketing

communications manager

1987 Datastream International,

corporate communications

executive

1993 ISO Group, marketing

consultant

1994 City University Business

School, MBA

1995 Legal & General, marketing

communications manager

1996 L&G, group head of brand

advertising and

communications

1997 L&G, head of emerging

media unit

1998 L&G, head of electronic

commerce futures

1999 L&G, new-media director



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Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).