If you're like most of the readers who responded to the 1996 Insurance Conference Planner Salary and Practices Survey, you received a raise last year, your department has not been downsized in the past 24 months, and you have a solid ten years of meeting planning experience.

You believe that the number of incentive and national sales meetings your company holds this year will match the number it held last year; and you predict that the number of training meetings will remain steady next year as well, if it doesn't increase.

In addition to that healthy forecast, your survey responses revealed a median 1996 incentive budget ($554,500) that is more than double 1994's median ($247,000). Budgets for sales and training meetings also are up dramatically.

Still, you're making those extra incentive dollars work their magic for even more qualifiers-median incentive trip attendance jumped to 381 persons in 1996 from 200 in 1994, resulting in a per-person median expenditure that was up 17 percent-to $1,455 per person from $1,235 per person in 1994.

Where things are really looking up is in the executive suite: In 1994, 37 percent of marketing executives/vice presidents responding to our survey reported annual salaries of more than $79,999; in 1996, that number leapt to 65 percent, with more than half of those reporting salaries of more than $100,000.

As for the movement of women up the ranks, the news is mixed. In our 1994 survey, one third of the respondents in the "executive" category were women; this year that figure is down to about 25 percent. However, women now outnumber men (58 percent to 42 percent) as directors of meeting departments; in 1994, it was an even split. In the meeting planner category, almost nine out of ten respondents are women, a slightly higher percentage than in the 1994 survey.

The charts and text on the following pages tell the rest of the story. Thanks to all the readers who completed and returned their surveys.

About You as noted in the introduction, marketing executives reported much higher salaries than in our 1994 survey. Salaries for directors of meetings jumped significantly as well. In 1994, one quarter of directors reported a salary between $40,000 and $49,000; in 1996, almost that many reported a salary between $60,000 and $69,000. Meeting planners made gains: In 1994, more than half the meeting planners reported an annual salary of between $30,000 and $39,999; in 1996, some 27 percent earned $40,000 to $49,999 while about one third of meeting planner respondents earned $30,000 to $39,999. It should be noted as well that the portion of meeting planners earning less than $30,000 shrunk from more than one quarter in 1994 to 17 percent in 1996.

Increased salaries across the board may reflect growing levels of experience among meeting executives. The 1996 median number of years in meeting planning is ten overall (8.25 for meeting planners, 12 for directors of meetings, and ten for marketing executives).

Women dominate meeting planning. However, they remain under-represented at the marketing executive level: Even though 60 percent of our respondents overall are women, almost three out of four of the marketing executives who responded to this year's survey are men.

Marketing executives are getting younger: In the 1994 survey, more than half were over 50; in 1996, 43 percent had passed the half-century mark. The number of marketing executives between the ages of 36 and 40 increased from 14 percent to 18 percent, while those between the ages of 46 and 50 showed an even bigger jump, from ten percent to 19 percent. A similar shift is happening among the ranks of directors: Some 40 percent of our 1994 respondents were over 50 years of age, down to 30 percent in 1996. Meeting planners, meanwhile, are all over the map, a change from 1994, when more than half were thirty-something.

Our survey listed nine areas of meeting responsibility and asked respondents about their authority to make final decisions in each of those areas. Marketing executives are far more likely to have final approval for big picture items like destinations, meeting properties, and speakers than are directors of meetings or meeting planners. However, equal numbers of directors and marketing executives (about half of each group) reported that they have final approval on budgets.

Meeting planners and directors of meetings are more likely to have final approval authority for operational details (room rate negotiation, entertainment, ground operators, and menus) than are marketing executives.

About Your Meetings The vast majority of companies run incentive programs on a yearly cycle. (Among those who answered this question with "other," the time frame ranged from every three months to every five years.)

After a big dip in 1994, the median incentive travel budget cruised up to $554,500 in 1996, also surpassing 1993's median of $500,000. But attendance took a corresponding leap, with median total attendance at incentive programs up to 381 from 200. That means the per-person expenditures did not increase in direct proportion with the budget increase. Rather, median per-person spending was up about 17 percent to $1,455 in 1996 from $1,235 in 1994, its all-time low. With the seller's market now firmly upon us, those per-person expenditures may have to keep moving upward by the time our next survey comes around.

Calculating averages instead of medians (mid-points) boosts the incentive budget figure: The average incentive travel budget for 1996 is about $1.43 million (up from $1 million in 1994). Average attendance also is up to 765 in 1996 (from 457 in 1994), resulting in a per-person average of $1,874-a slight drop from the 1994 average of $2,161.

Let's consider the per-person figures of some individual respondents: One company held three incentive travel programs in 1996 in Australia and California, with a total budget of $2.5 million and a total attendance of 530. That's $4,717 per person. Another of our respondents reported holding three programs in Asia and South America, with a total budget of $1.6 million and total attendance of 570. That works out to $2,807 per person.

A third respondent reported spending $300,000 on three programs-Europe, South America, and a cruise-with a total of 200 attendees, for a per-person expenditure of $1,500. And a fourth held two domestic incentive programs with a total budget of $300,000 and total attendance of 480, spending $625 per person.

Budgets for national sales and training meetings also recovered from their just-getting-by lows of 1994. Both medians more than tripled in 1996 compared with 1994, with the national sales budget median way up to $188,000 from $50,000, and the training budget median jumping to $100,000 from $30,000. Attendance increased at both types of meetings, too. The median attendance at national sales meetings was 250, up from 105 in 1994 (with per-person expenditures nevertheless moving up to $750 from $476); the median total attendance at training meetings moved up to 300 from 200 in 1996 (and per-person expenditures moved up to $333 from $150).

About Your Departments Another interesting survey finding: Almost three quarters of respondents never work with incentive houses. In fact, only eight percent of the total number of respondents hand off all meeting planning tasks to a third party.

So what are the rest of those who use incentive firms getting from them? According to our survey, most use them to book air travel (75 percent) and provide on-site coordination (61 percent). Just over half use them for theme-party ideas; almost 25 percent use them for site selection.

The well-established meeting departments of insurance companies, it would seem, focus their full attention on meetings: Most respondents (59 percent) said they do not coordinate business travel as well.

Just over half of our survey respondents work within centralized meeting departments. And almost half are shouldering most of the workload themselves: A full 47 percent report meeting departments consisting of only one or two staffers; 30 percent have meeting departments of three to four staffers; 17 percent have five- to eight-member departments, while only six percent report more than eight members in their departments.

n Are we finally done with downsizing? Maybe, if our survey is any indicator. We asked if respondents' departments had been downsized in the past 24 months. More than four out of five respondents said no.

Of those whose departments were downsized, the vast majority said the workloads of the fired employees were simply absorbed by remaining staff. About one fifth said meeting planning was decentralized after the department was downsized. Fewer than one in five said that meeting planning functions were outsourced as a result of downsizing, and fewer than one in ten said meetings were canceled.

How This Survey Was Conducted We mailed 1,000 surveys to a random sampling of our readers-insurance meeting planners and executives-asking them about their salaries and responsibilities, their departments and companies, as well as their meetings.

We received 259 usable responses, a response rate of about 26 percent. The database of responses was analyzed as a whole and by job description (meeting planner, director of meetings, marketing executive).

Readers should note that our Agent Preferences Survey, which was analyzed in the January/February 1996 issue, will return next year. Look for the results in the January/February 1998 issue of Insurance Conference Planner.