The 2010 Financial & Insurance Conference Planners Annual Conference is all about energy—a renewal of meetings industry spirit that may have been reduced to an ember during the darkest parts of the past two years, but which has been reignited this week among more than 625 attendees at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach. Welcoming the crowd November 18, John Rolfs, the resort’s president and general manager, noted that it was exactly two years ago that the iconic property reopened, after its $1 billion renovation and expansion.

Weathering the Perfect Storm
When FICP President Dan Young, CMP, of Thrivent Financial in Minneapolis, took the stage at the opening general session, he acknowledged the resilience of FICP during “the perfect storm” of economic upheaval and toxic public perception, as well as the importance of FICP members and hospitality partners to the ongoing recovery of the entire meetings industry.

Personally, Young said, he is busier than ever. “Our company is booking business through 2014 for our incentives, and 2016 for our national sales meeting. And I have to thank FICP for helping our department deliver value to our company that proves meetings mean business.”

That value is something he encouraged members and hospitality partners to talk about with current and potential members, as FICP works toward an ambitious membership growth goal in the year ahead. For the past couple of years, the association has sent the message to members to “Buy FICP”—that is, to support the suppliers who support the association. Now there’s a flip side to that message: “We need everyone to not only buy FICP but also to sell FICP,” Young said. “We have a great association. The value we provide to insurance and financial corporate event planners and their departments does not exist in any other association. We need more members and more companies as members. This benefits the planners and HPers. The bigger we are, the more power we have in the industry and in supporting and promoting the tremendous value of our industry’s corporate event planning departments. Help us do that. Help us sell FICP.”

And while full economic recovery may not be here yet, this year’s FICP conference looks like a great step in the right direction. “Our planner attendance is a significant rebound from last year and far exceeds the 2008 annual attendance,” Young said. “Many of the hospitality partners in this room report significant improvements in business. Planners have re-proven to senior management that meetings mean business and that incentive meetings work. And companies that canceled meetings are still regretting it, as they watched sales go down and members of their sales force leave.”

And although FICP saw membership decline because of the recession, Young reviewed the association’s significant progress on many fronts over the past year:

Regional Meetings Raise the Bar
Overseen by Regional Committee Chair Florine Edwards, CMP, CMM, of FM Global, this year’s six regional meetings served more than 450 attendees. “Going forward,” Young said, “Florine will lead these regions in developing a new meeting model that will deliver an even more consistent educational and sponsorship experience.”

Sponsorship Bridges the Gap Nancy Farmer, CMP, of The Hanover Insurance Group, FICP’s Sponsorship Chair for the past three years, has worked to “bridge the gap between the FICP planner and hospitality partner communities,” Young said. “She led the elimination of the annual meeting attendance lottery system and created higher quality opportunities designed to reward our most loyal financial supporters, and she introduced the Patron Recognition program, helping FICP demonstrate increased return on investment to the HP community and creating a fair and equitable platform for participation at our events.”

It was also under her leadership that FICP Executive Director Steve Bova this year took on an added role as relationship manager, with the goal of strengthening the association’s relationship with its hospitality partners, Young noted.

Membership Mission
If there’s a key strategic focus for FICP in 2011, it’s membership. Kelli Livers, CMP, of Forethought Financial Group, FICP’s membership chair, managed to minimize the membership hit this year by attracting 79 new members. But the mission continues. “We are still recruiting and encourage you to help us expand our network of planners in the industry,” Young said.

Consistency in Education
As FICP’s Education Chair, Jana Stern of ING has taken on the job of adding continuity and consistency across FICP’s educational outlets: the Annual Conference, the Education Forum, and the regional meetings, as well as webinars and talk radio events. Stern is now a permanent member of all design teams for FICP events.

First-Ever Annual Report
As treasurer and chair of the Finance Committee, Koleen Roach of Securian Financial worked with Executive Director Steve Bova to increase the association’s financial transparency and openness to the membership. Part of that project was the publication in September of FICP’s first Annual Report, available at www.ficpnet.com.

Tweets and Buzz:
For several weeks before the start of the conference, FICP posted “speaker spotlights” at its Facebook page, in an effort to boost the engagement of attendees and prompt interaction before everyone gathered on site. On site at the event, it’s all about Twitter, with the association tweeting agenda information and breakout session highlights.

This “socialization” of the conference was orchestrated with the guidance of redbutton.tv, which reprises its role in capturing the FICP event experience in photos that attendees can easily browse and share with friends, family, and colleagues, through e-cards created at on-site kiosks. This year, redbutton.tv added the social media component, including the pre-meeting posts, on-site tweets, and followup archiving of presentation materials.

Strength in Communications
In addition to his role as FICP President Elect, Todd Zint, CMP, CMM, of NFP also served as interim chair of the Marketing and Communications Committee. As such, he increased FICP’s use of social media as a marketing tool, developed a new look to the FICP brand in its NewsNet, Web site, and e-mail marketing templates, and worked on other areas of FICP’s online presence such as the Online Exchange and Resource Library.

After thanking the board for their efforts, Young also recognized the members of the Hospitality Partner Committee and its chair, Brent Centlivre of Disney Destinations. The committee, he noted, may be renamed Hospitality Partner Advisory Council. Why? “It’s what they do,” he said. “They provide insight and input into nearly every decision the board makes, because they are that important to our association.”

Finally, Young recognized the work and partnership of Steve Bova. ”One of the proudest moments of my presidency,” he said, “was renewing the SmithBucklin contract.” He noted that Bova’s role in 2010 has included focusing on external association matters in addition to leading the FICP staff, building association strategy with the board, strengthening relationships with hospitality partners and hotel global sales offices, industry advocacy, media relations, and industry association engagement.

“Steve and I started the year with the intention of keeping the board focused on strategy, goals, and achieving our plan of work,” Young said. “We implemented an annual planning cycle, including board sessions each month by either teleconference or regular meetings. And we never ran short of plans to work on. Because of this, as you have heard, the board and committee volunteers have accomplished much.”

Staff Realignment
Also in 2010, the former “vice president” titles of the board members were eliminated (though their committee chair responsibilities remain) so that the board members could work at a strategic rather than tactical level.

Taking over the tactical duties are FICP headquarters staff members including Mark Swets, now membership manager; Laura Greer, who has joined the team as operations manager, with oversight of all project management and responsibility for the regional meetings; and Chelsea Mitchel, who has joined as customer service associate. “I remind you, our staff also works for other associations,” Young noted, “which benefits us through exposure to other operations, best practices, and fresh new ideas. Our relationship with SmithBucklin gives us insight into more than 320 other associations and foundations with membership exceeding one million, including Site and the International Special Event Society.”

Giving Back
Dan Young got plenty of applause, but when FICP Past President and 2010 Annual Conference Chair Cindy Wheaton, CMP, of Nationwide Financial stepped out on stage, it was to a roomful of oohs and aahs. That’s because she was carrying a little white bundle of fur named Prissy, a Pomeranian/American Eskimo mix who was in attendance as a representative of the charity to which FICP will contribute proceeds from its silent auction this week: the Humane Society of Greater Miami.