2004 WAS A STRONG YEAR for insurance and financial services meetings, according to the results of our biennial reader survey of ICPA planners. The average yearly incentive program budget grew to just over $3 million, up more than $1 million from two years ago. As well, 92 percent of respondents said they expect to plan more or the same number of incentives in 2005. Average annual training budgets saw a rise of $160,000 to more than $790,000, with 85 percent of respondents anticipating more or the same number of training meetings in 2005.
Nevertheless, planners' jobs are getting harder. With only 20 percent of respondents gaining meeting department staff last year, and more than 50 percent expecting budgets to remain flat in 2005, it's clear that the struggle to do more with less continues. And, 19 percent of planners surveyed reported that they are now required to work with their company's procurement department on sourcing decisions — a question that wasn't even asked in the 2002 study.
Read on for detailed survey results and the inside scoop on 2005 trends from four leading ICPA planners.
WHO YOU ARE
- Director/Manager: 46%
- Meeting Planner: 37%
- Average annual salary: $65,964
- Female: 80%
- Male: 20%
- Average age: 44
- Average years of experience in current position: 10
- Average number of people in your meeting department: 4.7
HOW YOUR DEPARTMENT WORKS
- The meeting department is a centralized function within your organization: 69%
- You are required to work with your company's procurement department on sourcing decisions: 19%
- Your meetings fall under NASD guidelines: 17%
- You use meeting-specific software to plan meetings: 28%
- You use a third party for site searches, always or occasionally: 46%
- You use a third party for functions other than site searches, always or occasionally: 46%
V.P., Conference and Travel Services
American Fidelity Assurance
FOUR YEARS AGO, Brett Barrowman's department at American Fidelity Assurance managed four incentive programs annually. Two years ago, they managed six. In 2005, they will manage 10. This is partly the result of new market penetration caused by corporate acquisitions, says Barrowman, vice president, conference and travel services, for the Oklahoma City — based company. He also notes, “More than any other method of motivating, travel incentives work.”
The increased workload for his two-and-a-half — person department — which helps plan about 65 corporate and training-related meetings a year — has been his greatest challenge, says Barrowman. “An experienced staff helps a lot,” he says, “and so do experienced people at the hotels. We select properties that we know work efficiently.” Barrowman streamlines the workload with an intranet site that provides online registration and links to properties and destinations. “Our print materials haven't disappeared, but they've been significantly minimized,” he says.
International destinations have always been part of American Fidelity's incentive program mix, even after September 11, 2001. “We're aware of terrorism but it didn't stop us from going to Hong Kong or Madrid,” says Barrowman. But now “the exchange rate between the euro and the dollar is starting to influence our choice of international destinations,” he comments. “I budgeted a 2004 program at $1.04 euro to $1.00 U.S. dollar, and by the time the program took place, the ratio went up nearly 20 percent, to $1.25 euro.” Instead of Europe,Barrowman is looking to the Caribbean and Latin America for top-tier 2005 and 2006 programs. And, he says, “Hawaii is always an easy sell.”
Active is the new buzzword for incentive program activities, says Barrowman. For example, kayaking, ATV rides, and surfing were popular choices at his 2004 incentive at the Grand Wailea in Maui. The number of golfers has dropped from 60 percent to 40 percent, he says. “In some cases, golf has priced itself out of the market. But our attendees are also getting younger, and they want to do different kinds of active recreation with spouses and friends.”
SHARON CHAPMAN, CMP, CMM
Berkshire Life Insurance Co. of America
SHARON CHAPMAN, CMP, CMM is a one-person department handling travel and corporate events for Berkshire Life Insurance Co. of America in Pittsfield, Mass. In 2004, Chapman (a new ICPA board member) planned about 20 training meetings. She expects to manage five to seven more in 2005 due to a new multi-life product being rolled out by Berkshire, a disability income company that became a subsidiary of Guardian Life in 2001.
What helps her to work efficiently, says Chap-man, is a meeting management software program from Peopleware Pro that tracks her spend and manages everything from flight manifests to rooming lists “at the click of a button, without having to physically type everything into an Excel spreadsheet.”
Chapman also cites hotel chain national sales offices as “a real time saver. I can go through one contact rather than call each individual property, and the NSOs understand my business. They can tell me if a property I'm thinking about will fit my needs, make other recommendations, and find the best value.”
Reflecting an emerging trend of using educational content as a competitive marketing tool, two of her large training meetings have sales qualification requirements. “These aren't incentive meetings,” she stresses. ”We have at least five full hours of training seminars a day, and we don't give room gifts, sightseeing tours, or other typical incentive perks. But we have a really solid agenda and we make our attendees feel like family. For example, we always have an open forum with our senior management team and everyone is appreciative of that. There's no doubt that our meeting content motivates attendees to sell more so they can qualify to attend next year.”
Another training meeting trend, says Chapman “is a move away from motivational speakers and towards more industry-specific and personal growth speakers.” For example, the 175 attendees at Berkshire's January 2005 training meeting at the Westfields Marriott in Chantilly, Va., heard a popular underwriter speak on industry trends, and a business coach talk about selling techniques.
MORE ON SALARIES
- Average salary of respondents with Director/Manager title: $75,747
- Average salary of respondents with Meeting Planner title: $51,573
- Number of respondents who expect a raise in 2005: 89%
- Average raise expected in 2005: 3.8%
INCENTIVE MEETING PROJECTIONS
- We'll hold more incentive meetings in 2005 than in 2004: 16%
- We'll hold the same number of incentive meetings in 2005 as in 2004: 76%
- We'll hold fewer incentive meetings in 2005 than in 2004: 9%
- We'll hold an international incentive trip within 12 months: 55%
TRAINING MEETING PROJECTIONS
- We'll hold more training meetings in 2005 than in 2004: 31%
- We'll hold the same number of training meetings in 2005 as in 2004: 55%
- We'll hold fewer training meetings in 2005 than in 2004: 5%
PAUL EDER, CPA, CLU, CHFC
V.P., Life and Annuity Division
Protective Life Insurance Co.
PRODUCERS ARE INCREASINGLY selective about which meetings they choose to attend, says Paul Eder, vice president, Life and Annuity Division, Protective Life Insurance Co., Birmingham, Ala., and a new ICPA board member. Eder manages roughly five incentive meetings and 25 training meetings a year with a staff of four and a budget of more than $4 million.
Protective Life meetings always include content that focuses on company products, services, and overall strategic directions, says Eder. But, he adds, “it's also important to talk about key trends affecting the industry and address issues such as regulatory compliance. Our independent agents and regional sales managers get so many opportunities for meetings, and they are very cognizant of the time they have to spend away from their business.”
With experience as an accountant and a life insurance marketing officer before moving to the meeting planning side of the business 10 years ago, Eder's background helps him to bring a strong financial discipline to his job — and an understanding of what his company's field force is trying to accomplish. The hard part “is what everyone in the business is experiencing today: doing more with less. We're always looking for ways to be more efficient while still making the meeting memorable.”
For Eder, “less” translates not only into tighter budget management, but, in some cases, fewer and shorter meetings. “We've looked at types of training meetings,” he says, “and consolidated two meetings into one when appropriate. We've also gone from three-day to two- or one-and-a-half — day training meetings, with a more packed educational agenda and feweractivities.” As well, Eder foresees a trend toward using webinars instead of field meetings to supplement sales training in areas like new product launches.
As the balance of power in the hotel marketplace shifts from buyer to seller, Eder says his greatest challenge is convincing his internal customers “that we're in a new time of reality-based pricing and can't get the same deals. They think we can still book at the last minute and get a great rate. It's an educational process.”
JAN HENNESSEY, CMP, CMM
Manager, Meeting and Conference Services
2004 WAS A YEAR of change for Jan Hennessey, CMP, CMM, manager of meeting and conference services at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, Calif. “Our department took on three very large new meetings,” she says. One of these was due to a new internal client and two were due to a new sales strategy and ad campaign that created the need for additional business forums.
Kaiser Permanente's new branding “is having a huge impact on all our meetings,” notes Hennessey. Her 10-person department, seven of whom are planners, manage 250 to 300 meetings annually, and Hennessey has recently started to manage corporate promotions as well. “We need to carry the new brand image through everything we do,” she emphasizes.
In addition, a midyear restructuring of the sales department, Hennesey's biggest client group, ”affected about half of our meetings,” she says. “Players, priorities, and meetings themselves changed. We had different stakeholders making different decisions. It created more short-term planning needs. The good part is that our sales clients realized they needed to pull us in earlier. We are working strategically with them.”
Hennessey has already begun to experience the challenges of a new seller's market. “I've seen it in the rates and in the response time,” she says. “But there's a lot of new product in some destinations, like Scottsdale and Las Vegas, and those are markets I'll start looking at more.”
Asked to comment on the role of women planners in insurance and financial services firms — given the fact that 80 percent of the survey respondents were women, and their average salary was $26,573 less than their male colleagues — Hennessey suggests that “women don't have a collegial, boost-em-up buddy network for helping each other to get what they need, and we have to change that. I'm currently working with my boss to figure out where I want to be and how to ask for it. Too many of us [women] don't know how to ask for what we want.”
METHODOLOGY: The e-mail study of 388 ICPA planners was conducted in September and October 2004 by the Primedia Business Magazines and Media Marketing Research Department. It generated 169 completed surveys, a 43.6 percent response rate.