The story of meetings at Colum-bus Life Insurance Co. in Cin-cinnati is a story of continuity. There are general agents and agents qualifying for the National Convention who attended the meeting when they were kids. There are teenagers at the conventions today who talk about qualifying in the future

The National Convention and the annual President's Club, Columbus Life's major meetings, demonstrate the company's focus on its producers and their families--a focus that has never been sharper than now, with companies throughout the industry on the brink of major growth or possible obsolescence. Put Columbus Life, a subsidiary of The Western and Southern Life Insurance Co., firmly in the former category. "We think what's going on in the industry, with competition heating up, is exciting," says President Paul Amato. "The industry has been a little too complacent. With the changes now, there are no spectators allowed on the playing field. The players are going to play. And we're players."

Amato has a passion for life insurance. It's a passion that needs to be reignited throughout the industry, he says. "Life insurance is for the living. It's the only product that can fulfill dreams that need to be fulfilled. We need to get back to the passion of what our role really is."

Meetings let executives like Amato and Mark Wilkerson, chief marketing officer, share that passion with producers. For a company like Columbus Life, which works with independent agents, this goal is critical. "Incentive meetings are where people come to recharge themselves, emotionally and intellectually," Wilkerson says. "We put together a program that differentiates us from other companies. A lot of the producers have three or four [incentive meeting] choices a year. When they choose you, that's a good measuring stick for the success of your convention."

Part of that success comes from the personal attention the company gives its qualifiers. "We individualize every piece of our convention based on the field force," says Wanda Bowling, meeting and convention manager, Columbus Life and The Western and Southern Life Insurance Co. "Every year we have new people. We want to know as much about them as possible to be sure this is a positive experience for them.

"With all the changes in the industry, meetings such as the President's Club are more important than ever," she adds. "The objective of our meeting is not only for producers to meet with each other, but also to further their strong relationships with the president, CMO, and other senior management."

Amato agrees. "We view our field force as our clients," he says. "We have to continue to earn the right to their business."

The Scoop on Third Parties When we asked about the use of incentive houses in our last survey, we thought the response was pretty overwhelming: 73 percent of respondents said they do not use incentive houses. Two years later, the number is even higher: 79 percent of respondents do not use incentive houses. Of the 21 percent of respondents who do work with incentive houses, 78 percent use them for air ticketing; 53 percent use them for on-site coordination of programs; 50 percent use them for theme events, and 25 percent use them for "everything." One meeting manager says she has worked with an incentive house successfully for 15 years. They know her people; they know her program, and she finds her account representative indispensable.

A somewhat larger number of respondents--almost one in three--said they use so-called third parties for site searches. Of that number, 34 percent use the Krisam Group, 18 percent use Hinton & Grusich, and 11 percent use Helms-Briscoe. Lynette Owens & Associates and Maritz each are used by seven percent of respondents. Also mentioned: Ann Levan, David Green, and the Insurance Meeting Network.

While a significant number of meeting executives use third parties, others have questions about how these intermediaries work: Who pays them and how to they make site choices? Look for an article in the next issue of ICP that addresses those questions.

Where Are You Headed? For the first time, in our Reader Survey, we asked whether or not respondents had ever held an international meeting. Some 57 percent said they had. Of those who had not, one in five said they are considering an international meeting or incentive trip.

Here is a sampling of where respondents held their 1998 incentive meetings:

Florida - 27.2 percent (Note that Orlando, with nine percent of the total meetings, was the most popular individual city for incentives in 1998.)

Hawaii - 17.3 percent

California - 13.6 percent

Puerto Rico - 10 percent

Arizona - 9.1 percent

Destinations outside the usual incentive circuit: Nantucket, Mass.; Louisville, Ky.; Marbella, Spain; Athens, Greece; and Istanbul, Turkey.

About You Years with meeting planning responsibility 11

Number of people you supervise 3

Number of people in your department 4

Your age 44