Business leaders profiles: Marcus Atkinson

Hagerty is one of the most renowned car insurers in the world, known for insuring some of the finest classic cars on the planet. The Executive Magazine meets UK Managing Director, Marcus Atkinson, to find out more.
Elizabeth Jenkins-Smalley

Elizabeth Jenkins-Smalley

Editor In Chief at The Executive Magazine


How do you ensure Hagerty stands out amongst other classic car insurers?

Standing out in a crowded market is always a challenge, and it’s not a simple as upping Google AdWords spend or placing larger adverts in magazines. Today you need to be smarter and find unexplored avenues. At Hagerty we sometimes don’t mention we are an insurer at all. Seriously.

Let me be clear, we do place adverts in magazines, but our adverts are recognisable without having to see our brand name thanks to their creativity and familiar style. We create copy that appeals to the enthusiast and captures their imagination – one of the most memorable being our colours series, where we covered most of the page in a single colour with the caption ‘this isn’t yellow, this is Ferrari Fly Yellow’ so named after Enzo’s stallion ‘Fly’.  Fly Yellow is the colour that always sits in the Ferrari badge behind the Prancing Horse icon.

Each colour depicted an exact colour from a well-known classic car and created a campaign that was great fun, recognisable to Hagerty, inspired debate, shown we had knowledge of the sector and stood out from the rest. The call to action was small, the impact it had was huge. Less is more, just add knowledge, passion and have some fun.

We prefer to reach clients through entertaining, knowledgeable engagement instead of a busy advert full of text. Our clients are out enjoying their cars, it would be foolish to expect them to come to us, that’s why we go to them…or, give them a very good reason to come to us via our shows and events.

That’s an unusual approach in a competitive sector. How do you come up with such concepts?

Hagerty has never used a recruitment agency or placed a wanted advert for staff. We are fortunate in that car enthusiasts want to work with us and approach us asking for a job. While many don’t have experience of insurance, that can be taught. What can’t be taught is passion for the sector, knowledge of the subject matter and the ability to discuss cars with like-minded clients.

It would be unacceptable for us to follow a script during a conversation. We cannot be called by the owner of an Aston Martin DB6 to then ask them, ‘and how many doors does that have?’. Our staff need to have good knowledge so they can ask the right questions. They need to know what the car to be able to have a proper conversation about it. We need to understand the love an owner has for a cherished car (regardless of value) and we need to have absolute empathy should anyone need to make a claim.

Having a room full of enthusiasts makes our creative sessions free-flowing and enjoyable. We come up with ideas that would not be thought of at any agency, can react fast to current trends and if it gets us excited, we can be assured it will be appreciated by the market.

Ask yourself this. Would you rather deal with an uneducated, disinterested company in the hope of a cheap deal, or to be a part of a family who mirrors your passion, understands the importance of your vehicle, provides engaging content and events and leads in global market valuations, therefore, understanding the true value of your cherished car?

You mention events, valuation and content. Tell us more…

Hagerty UK is part of a global Hagerty empire. Founded in the US by the Hagerty family, who remain involved to this day, they were the first insurer to truly embrace car culture. They published a glossy magazine sent free of charge to policyholders, they arrive early at events such as Pebble Beach to provide breakfast and coffee to bleary-eyed owners who needed to arrive early to display their cars.

Why?  To be visible, that was the key element. Later Hagerty created market reports that told owners openly about auction results, individual car values and market trends. Now we publish market leading data, freely and openly, for all.

It was important for Hagerty UK to take these elements and develop them for a UK audience. Valuations and market data now cover the UK and European markets as well as the U.S. our website publishes content and video which helped to create a destination website people actually want to visit. We run a year-round event calendar offering everything from free valuations at existing events to partnerships with major auction houses. In addition, we also created our own, ground-up event calendar which has proven to be incredibly popular.

We deliver our clients exceptional levels of service, we keep in touch with interesting and engaging content they want to read, and we create activities that encourage the use of their classics in a relaxed and fun atmosphere. We know client engagement goes beyond winning business and then courting once again at renewal time.

Classic cars are all £multi-million cars that are stored more than driven, right?

It’s a common belief but, while it may be true for some, it’s not the case at Hagerty. We reach all enthusiasts, value their cars properly, insure it properly and give each client the same levels of service regardless of the car’s value.

I mentioned our events a moment ago, one of which is the annual Festival of the Unexceptional. FOTU, as some call it, celebrates cars that were once commonplace but can now be classed at rarities. The type of car your parents used to drive you to school in. Thousands of people come along every year and hundreds nominate their vehicles for display. Its relaxed. People eat picnics and leave their car doors open, they share stories and walk for hours looking at the display cars.

We argue that if you cherish a car, be it a Bugatti Royale or a Vauxhall Royale, then you are an enthusiast and your car is special. They may be cared for in different ways, and their values may be at opposite ends of the scale, but each owner shares that same passion and is in love with their vehicle.

Sure, some classics are stored but we always encourage our clients to get out and drive, and it is our job to create events and reasons for owners to do just that. That said, we don’t frown upon a client storing a car, for some their passion is polishing and protecting and who are we to argue how an owner may get enjoyment from their car.

Hagerty collates world-class data on the classic car market. Why? It’s a lot of effort for an insurer…

It’s a huge effort, from a team of in-house experts around the world.

Why do we do it? Firstly, we want to understand the market, to predict trends, spot falls, to know what is selling and where they sell well. It ties nicely in with our valuations as, knowing the market as we do, we are able to accurately value a car at the time a policy is taken out. We are also able to update that information, as required, to ensure our clients vehicles are always adequately insured.

Like the stock market, car values go up and down. Cars that were once in favour fall from grace, likewise forgotten cars can rise from the ashes. What sells well in Europe may be unloved in the U.S., sometimes auction houses sell for record breaking amounts, sometimes not. It’s an interesting market and not as simple to record and analyse as many expect.

We lead the way because we understand the market. How can any business offer a service to a market they don’t fully understand?

What is the next big thing in the classic car market?

What we are seeing more of is the progression of the ‘bedroom wall’ classic. Cars that were lusted after not long ago, the 205GTI, Escort Cosworth and the like, have all started to sell for large amounts. Those who wanted to own them when new, now have the disposable income available to make dreams a reality.

A few years ago, we saw the Youngtimer movement, where cars like the E30 BMW 3-Series and the Mercedes-Benz W123/4 E-Class were in demand. Disillusioned with the bland choices in the showrooms, buyers sought out modern classics which offered an increasingly rare blend of comfort, style and performance and allowed the driver to express their individuality.

Now we are also seeing a shift into cars that are eligible for our own Festival of the Unexceptional, where the cars may be mundane but are often rarer on the streets than a supercar. Classics are getting younger; the market is becoming broader.

There will always be a market for halo cars such as the Ferrari 250GTO, and there will always be magnificent car collections that lay hidden for many, many years before coming to light. The term classic car is perhaps better phrased as an enthusiast car in today’s market. A market where serene concours shows can exist alongside more attainable, grassroots events.

Bear in mind that the earliest Audi R8 is now almost 14 years old, a Ferrari 360 20 years old and the Porsche Boxster launched 24 years ago. Classic cars are now more contemporary than you might imagine.

What’s the next big thing? A more inclusive, open sector with younger cars and you can be assured that Hagerty will be the first to welcome them.

To conclude, can you offer any advice to a business trying to break into a busy sector?

Offer the best service you can, then constantly improve it. Understand your market inside out and live it for yourself. Don’t do what everyone else does, carve your own path.

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