Aeramy K. Paulseen was about seven years old when she went on her first incentive trip. Her father was (and still is) an agent for New York Life in Wichita, Kan. Paulseen, 27, is still going on New York Life incentive trips — but now she earns them through her own efforts as an agent, as does her brother Brandon, 25.

Over the years of incentive trips, the Paulseen siblings became part of a network of agents and their kids that stayed close. “If you have a connection with New York Life, anywhere in the world, you have family,” says Aeramy Paulseen.

Why Welcome Kids?

Even in these uncertain times, family incentives can be a pretty big carrot for top producers — who often sacrifice family time to sales goals. Three recent examples: Approximately 90 attendees and 49 children attended New York City-based Guardian Life's President's Council Conference at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cayman, March 30 to April 3. The Merrill Lynch Credit Corp. in Jacksonville, Fla., brought 45 producers and 25 children to Walt Disney World for its Southeast district financial advisors annual incentive in early March — a program that has met at Disney World for four years in a row due to popular demand. And New York Life's Partner's Meeting, March 9 to March 13 at the Fairmont Orchid, Big Island, Hawaii, had 254 delegates and 147 kids ranging in age from infants to college students.

“In my opinion, offering a great children's program can be an important motivational factor for producers,” says Jane Conti, vice president — agency for New York Life, headquartered in New York City. “Many agents have told me, ‘I've got to qualify because my children say I have to.’” Four years ago, Conti started a program for New York Life called the NYLIC Family Program that formalized and expanded the company's 100-plus — year tradition of family-friendly incentive programs. (See sidebar, p.44.)

“The majority of qualifiers for New York Life's incentive programs bring their children,” adds Jules del Vecchio, vice president, meetings, New York Life. “Sometimes we even have people who bring their grandchildren.”

Tips on Designing a Children's Track

Usually, kids are included in an incentive travel program because that's what the producers want. And usually, kids' programming is provided so those producers are free to do what you want them to — participate in training and motivation sessions, awards banquets, and networking events.

Designing a children's track is very different from putting together a spouse schedule. If a spouse misses the bus from the outlet mall back to the hotel, he may be late for dinner but most likely he can call in his whereabouts, or hail a cab. If an adult is allergic to shellfish or peanuts, chances are she'll tell you about it, ask about the entrée, or avoid the offending food. You've got no such guarantees with children. In addition, there may be special legal and liability issues that require both special expertise and special insurance.

Some planners use consultants experienced in children's programming to design and manage the kids' programs. “We can come in from the outset, create the registration form on our Web site that allows parents to register their children online, and be the people who answer all the parents' questions,” says Diane Lyons, president of Accent on Children's Arrangements Inc., in New Orleans. “If you've never done this, you don't realize how many parental concerns there are. Parents will ask, ‘Are you going to cut my kid's sandwich?” Consultants like Lyons and Rose Marie Belo of Event Solutions in Waterbury, Conn., who helps plan the NYLIC Family program, also manage on-site details.

In other cases, planners rely on the services of the host hotel. Camp Hyatt, one of the most comprehensive and well-known hotel children's programs, did a great job taking care of and entertaining the kids at Guardian Life's recent incentive at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cayman, says Moira Hernandez, project manager for McGettigan Partners in Philadelphia, a division of Maritz Travel Co., who planned the meeting.

Thomas Smith, CMP, director of meetings and events for Health Net, an HMO based in Woodland Hills, Calif., works with the hotel to find baby sitters, children's entertainers, and interesting places for off-site family excursions. He says that even a modest program can make a big difference. “Start out small,” he advises. “Don't try to put on the world's greatest family experience the first time. Just including child care might be a really great first step. Step two might be to keep a list of the children, their names and ages and genders, and have a gift for each of them. At some programs, at the closing [event], I'll have baskets of individual gifts. And while the families are seated, my senior executive will walk table-to-table, thank the children and their families for participating, and give each child a gift. I'll tell you something — it makes the parents think the world of the company.”

For Susan Caruso, meeting planner for Merrill Lynch Credit Corp., nothing beats the built-in infrastructure of Disney for family incentives. “In our little department alone, we've done about 10 incentive programs at Walt Disney World in the past two-to-three years,” she says. “Our financial advisors love bringing their families, and they request Disney year after year. My [Disney resort] convention services manager helps me to come up with new ideas for each program.”

You also need to decide when to include kids in the main programming — and when not to. Smith, at Health Net, likes to bring children to the awards banquets, and he arranges the events so they'll be fun for both kids and their parents. At a recent banquet, for example, he provided a special buffet table for the children, low enough that they could serve themselves, rather than inflicting a five-course plated meal on them.

On the other hand, while New York Life does have many all-inclusive family events, its honors dinner is a lengthy affair not geared to young children. Instead, there are age-appropriate parties for the younger kids. “That way the spouse can join the agent or manager at the banquet, and know the kids are enjoying their own activities,” says New York Life's Conti.

Effective children's programming involves a lot more than baby-sitting services. Belo researches the destination to get ideas for children's activities, and she also uses feedback and direction from New York Life focus groups. The focus groups are made up of kids going through the program and agents who grew up with New York Life and now work for the company.

One interesting bit of feedback from the focus groups: Kids of different ages don't always want to be separated. “What we've found is that they really like is to be all together, and the challenge is having a wide range of activities that are interesting to a three-year-old but that a 16- or 17-year-old would also like,” says Belo. “Another issue,” she adds, “is scheduling enough things for kids to do within your timeframe, because their attention spans are short. Just keeping them busy with a wide range of activities can be a challenge.”

Worth the Cost?

Kids' programming doesn't come cheap, though this is an area where some economies of scale can kick in. “It may cost $16 to $25 a day to hire a hotel baby sitter,” says Lyons. “So an activity program that costs $15 or so per hour per child can be a bargain.” She says that if a company wants the children's programming to work as an additional incentive, “you have to make it almost free.”

Health Net's Smith agrees that it is short-sighted to shut kids out of incentive programs by making attendees coordinate and pay for their care. “At our events, parents know their kids are having a great time. It's worth every penny.”

New York Life also foots the bill for the children's program. It's a long-term investment says del Vecchio. The proof: Generations of kids like the Paulseen siblings have grown up with New York Life and chosen it for their career path. “One of the resources that's going to be scarce in the future is human capital,” del Vecchio adds. “There will be great demand for young people coming out of colleges and universities. And [with the NYLIF Family Program] we're positioning ourselves favorably with them now.”

NYLIC Family Program

New York Life has welcomed children to its incentive programs for more than a century. But it was just four years ago that the company formalized the children's program and gave it a separate budget. “The question was: ‘How can we enhance what we're already doing at incentive meetings?’ ” notes Jane Conti, vice-president-agency, who started up the program. The answer, she says, was to provide more structured activities for kids and spouses during the morning business sessions, when producers were in meetings. The children and spouse activities are timed to end when the business sessions close, so there are opportunities for the whole family to do things together in the afternoon.

To help plan fun, educational, and site-specific activities, Conti launched a focus group made up of kids currently participating in their parent's New York Life incentive trips, and young adults who grew up in the New York Life “family” and went on to work for the company. Informal focus groups are ongoing, providing input for New York Life's six agent incentive meetings and one partner's meeting, all of which invite families.

The nature of the children and family activities depends partly on the destination. “If the location is family-friendly, we'll go off property to do things like visit a historic waterfall or go on a safari. If not, we'll offer more activities on the hotel property,” says Rose Marie Belo, president of Event Solutions in Waterbury, Conn., who helps plan the programs. Either way, there's frequently an educational focus. “Quite often parents tell me that their children earn extra credit at school for submitting reports on what they've learned. They feel these [activities] are tremendous learning opportunities,” she says.

Promotional materials prior to the meetings and post-program follow-up keep the NYLIC Family Program front and center in the minds of the producers and their spouses. “Information is included in the registration packet, and we often mail separate reminder cards about signing up for family activities,” says Conti. “We also send qualifiers posters that show last year's events, including the children's activities.”

New York Life also sends a photographer on site to capture images of fun family times, and displays “photo walls” of these images during the meeting. Attendees love to look at the images, and they enjoy picking photos right off the wall and taking them home, notes Conti.

In addition, kids often return from New York Life incentives with gifts of photo albums and address books. “These kids are from all over the United States. Some-times they become pen pals, and even end up going to the same colleges and universities,” says Conti. “Many communicate with each other as they build their professional careers, often with New York Life. That's how we get generations of families that come into the business.”

Family Fun at Walt Disney World

Who knows more about what kids like than the folks at Walt Disney World? WDW has been providing children's programming in conjunction with business meetings at its resort since 1980. The Disney kids' programs now fall under the banner of the Disney Institute, which provides business programming based on Disney's strengths, and uses the theme parks for case study examples. (You may remember when the Disney Institute had its own facility; that's gone since 2002, but Disney Institute programs are now available to meetings held at any of the WDW convention resorts.)

Disney offers a menu of six three-hour kids' programs for a range of ages. Five of them are designed to meet educational standards set by the National Board of Education in Washington, D.C. — and one, a scavenger hunt staged either in Epcot or the Magic Kingdom — is just for fun. The educational offerings include Animation Magic; Millennium Cultures; World of Physics, Energy, and Waves; the Magic Behind the Show; and Synergy in Science. The price is $59 per child, per program, or may be negotiated as part of a complete meeting package.