Direct Line attracted more than twice as much good publicity as any other insurance company in the national press last year, finds the annual Presswatch Financial Products report.

The UK's biggest direct writer featured in 261 articles in the national press last year, and most of it was good reading for the board of directors.

Not only did the insurer receive double the number of mentions in the press that its nearest rival, Screentrade, had. But it also received double the number of points awarded for the type of coverage, rated on a scale from negative to positive.

Direct Line had the highest overall score, with a positive rating of 542, reflecting the high volume of coverage it received and a series of low but positive scores.

Screentrade, part of Misys Interactive Trading, was the next closest rival, attracting 132 references and an overall score of 263, followed by Churchill's 103 and 228, and Norwich Union's tally of 124 and 225.

In most cases, coverage of the insurance sector came in the form of comparisons, often contrasting direct insurers with banks and building societies and travel agents.

Propping up the bottom of the 389-strong table are the travel operators Lunn Poly and Thomas Cook.

Both suffered from charges that their policies sometimes cost double the amount direct writers were charging.

Lunn Poly was mentioned 16 times and was awarded a negative score of -23.

Thomas Cook sunk even deeper in the press's estimation, clocking up 42 mentions and gaining a miserable -31 score.

The severe autumn floods thrust the insurance sector onto the front pages for several weeks but, surprisingly, also proved a boon to many of the big household names. Media coverage concentrated on publishing insurance helplines for those affected and outlined what household insurance policies included.

Presswatch said Direct Line gained highest spot in the annual insurance table because of its strong publicity team and good links with the media. An added strength was its wide range of cheap insurance products. Over the past 12 months of monitoring, Direct line has finished top on eight occasions and never been out of the top three.