The choice of destination was not a concern for Ken Pickle, manager of incentives and conferences at Seattle-based Safeco. "We go to Hawaii on a regular basis," Pickle says of his company's annual four-day incentive for agents, usually held between April and June. Rather, Pickle has found that creating a unique theme for the event keeps Hawaii interesting for agents who have been there many times.

It's also "the icing on the cake" for business sessions and helps in designing creative promotion materials. "It is a tremendous vehicle for catching agents' eyes," notes Pickle, who believes that a well-chosen theme frames the way attendees perceive the site--even a site they've visited before.

After a 1993 program in Maui and a 1995 trip to Kauai, Safeco's annual incentive hits the Big Island this spring. "We're always looking for new approaches," Pickle says. The 1993 theme, CrossRoads, suggested the location, at the crossroads of the Pacific, as well as the state of the insurance industry, Pickle says. In 1995, a Partners in Paradise theme reinforced the company's goal for that meeting: partnering with its independent agents.

For the Big Island, Pickle and his staff had already come up with a theme called Legends--to relate both to the Hawaiian Islands' many legends and to the company's own legends in this, its 75th anniversary year--when Pickle saw the first of the six-part "Origins of the Universe" series on PBS. He decided it would be particularly effective to incorporate an astronomy twist to the Legends theme for a meeting held on the Big Island, home to the Mauna Loa Observatory.

The Legends/Astronomy theme will tie the incentive together in several ways, and run through both the business and social aspects of the gathering. It will be the basis of Pickle's "opening modules," the quick slide or video presentations that precede each morning's business session and maintain the continuity of these sessions throughout the trip. And a highlight of one of the outdoor evening events will be a visit from six astronomers--and their telescopes--who will help attendees gaze up at the stars over the Pacific.