Staff engagement is more than giving away 'free stuff'

When a PR colleague asked me the secret to driving staff engagement through internal communications at AA Insurance, I half-jokingly shot back: free stuff.

Normally a sunny, glass-half-full kinda guy, I’ll admit to feeling a tad bothered at that moment. Putting together our quarterly dashboard report on internal communications showed that, indeed, some of our most-read intranet articles were those giving away free stuff.

There were the 365 rugby match tickets we gave away, celebrating the first year of our partnership with national stadium Eden Park. Then the update on the $200 Wellbeing Allowance we give each staff member, to help with the cost of doctors’ visits, a gym membership or even something more ephemerally ‘wellbeing’, like a massage. (Yes, AA Insurance is a great place to work!)

Unsurprising, maybe, but potentially worrying too - was this, I thought, what we’d become? Like the beleaguered parent at the supermarket, relying on the promise of a Pinky bar at the checkout for good behaviour from the kids?

Well, no. Scratching the surface, it wasn’t only the “free stuff!!!!!” that had high engagement - thankfully!

There were the series of open discussions our Exec held on the future of AA Insurance, reflecting on our nearly 25-year history and how the fast-changing world might impact our mission and strategy going forward. There was our launch of AA Small Business Insurance. And then there was the comment thread asking what songs people wanted to hear the DJ spin at our annual staff awards.

These comms were well read and engaged with because they were meaningful, relevant and, above all, interesting to our staff.

Not rocket science, you may think. But there is an unfortunate tendency in internal comms to think of our audience, employees, as captive. We don’t have the market forces that focus other communication disciplines. If you’re a bad journalist, people won’t click your articles or buy your papers. If you’re boring someone at a networking event, they’ll eventually make excuses and walk away.

But staff, well! They ‘need’ to read our proclamations. They don’t have a choice, we reason. They’re paid to do it! How often have we heard someone say ‘oh, well this copy or such-and-such photograph isn’t good enough externally…but it’s fine for internal’.

Business leaders frequently find themselves needing to share, let’s be honest, pretty dry news or results with their people. The easiest route is often to bung it on the intranet, text unchanged, knowing there will be no repercussions for doing so - aside from it going unread, of course.

But our job, and our value, as communicators is to take this stuff, the stuff that’s superficially uninteresting but good for you - the ‘vegetables’ - and turn them into delicious smoothies. Chop it up, change it, curate, craft and plan. Make content that people want to engage with, not because they have to.

I’m happy to say that this is our approach to internal comms at AA Insurance. At our annual, company-wide ‘town hall’ meeting, we used to have our Exec run through the results with a deck of slides on our corporate template. They’d do their best, but IBNR, DAC and COR aren’t soul-rousing concepts for most. Now, we use short films. Last year, we riffed on James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke sketch and had our senior managers share a ride. This year, Keven Mealamu, ambassador for our Eden Park partnership, gets set for a game of rugby with our people.

When we employ time, effort and skill to explain that COR is actually nothing more complicated than us getting to keep this-many-cents for every dollar we spend, people get it - and can then apply that understanding to their role. Even if it would’ve been less work for us here in internal comms to just put the annual report on the shared drive.

Good communication does take time, effort and skill. That’s recognised from the top here, and it’s one of the many reasons why we rank amongst the best workplaces in New Zealand. And sometimes, yes, we fall back to free stuff to get a message across - it’s a tried-and-true method that works!

Image: Keven Mealamu (front, second from right) featured in AA Insurance's latest company video, alongside members of the 'team'.

Ben Campion

Corporate Communications Team Leader, AA Insurance

About AA Insurance

AA Insurance is an independently operated, New Zealand-based joint venture between the New Zealand Automobile Association (NZAA) and Vero Insurance New Zealand Limited (VINZL). Since 1994 we have demonstrated trusted expertise in home, contents and car insurance in New Zealand, and in 2018 introduced commercial small business insurance. We underwrite our own policies and sell direct to New Zealanders. Our 930+ staff look after over 480,000 customers with 970,000 policies.

We proudly partner with Variety NZ and Eden Park and have been consistently recognised by: Reader’s Digest Most Trusted Brands (since 2011) and Quality Service Awards for Car, and Home and Contents Insurance (since 2015), Kantar Customer Leadership Index (since 2019), Canstar Blue Most Satisfied Customers (2011-2018), and the Colmar Brunton Corporate Reputation Index (since 2015) that recognises New Zealand’s most successful companies. AA Insurance was also named Consumer NZ People’s Choice award winner for car, home and contents (2019 and 2020).

AA Insurance has an AA- (Very Strong) Insurer Financial Strength Rating given by Standard and Poor’s (Australia) Pty Ltd. For further information visit

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