Out of sources and out of sorts? Here's an overview of the many types of outsourcing vendors for planning meetings and incentive programs, the basic services they provide, and where to find them.

Incentive Companies Also dubbed incentive marketing companies or incentive travel companies, these full-service incentive firms--there are about 60 good ones of all sizes--have carved a multibillion-dollar niche that caters to companies looking to motivate and reward employees, dealers, salespeople, and customers. There are even incentive travel departments within corporate travel companies.

Full-service incentive companies identify corporate or sales objectives; formulate budgets; select hotels and destinations; develop a theme, a logo, and promotional and collateral materials; develop intranet and Internet Web sites; negotiate and purchase hotel and cruise line space; provide registration services, housing, and ground transportation; select speakers and entertainers; and manage the event or program on-site.

Many incentive companies offer a wide range of merchandise awards and have expanded their services to include individual travel, gift certificates, and logo-branded debit and credit cards. Often they will also track and notify award winners.

Look for incentive companies that are members of the Society of Incentive and Travel Executives (SITE) as evidence of their ethics and level of professionalism. You can reach SITE at (212) 575-0910 or >

Meeting Management Companies These firms are virtual and vital extensions of a company's meetings/conferences department. Whether one-person shops or larger firms, they do just about everything from developing meeting or conference content to tackling logistical details. Services may include creating and executing the meeting's marketing plan, conducting site inspections and selections, overseeing registration, managing and troubleshooting programs on-site, and reconciling the final bills.

A new hybrid of meeting management companies, site selection companies, specializes in finding sites and negotiating contracts. They charge hotels a commission, usually 10 percent of guest room revenues, and may also charge a marketing fee. Some provide additional meeting planning services. For more information on site selection companies, see "The Lowdown on Third Parties" (March 1999 Corporate Meetings & Incentives, p. 65).

Look for firms that are members of Meeting Professionals International (MPI), which can be reached at (972) 702-3000 or >; or the Society of Corporate Meeting Professionals (SCMP), which can be reached at (404) 355-9932 or assnhq@mindspring.com

Destination Management Companies These local firms serve groups coming to their area and are right on the pulse of what's happening in venues and events. They can be your primary on-site contact for arranging and conducting site inspections, designing creative events and themed programs, overseeing activities, securing venues and services, developing schedules and contracts, and interfacing with your incentive company or meeting planner. Look for DMCs that are members of SITE or MPI.

Production Companies These companies produce high-quality events, entertainment, and presentations for a wide range of applications, from product launches to grand openings. Many employ their own technicians, writers, and graphic designers. Production companies often work closely with DMCs. For a reference, contact the DMC you choose to manage your event. Also look for production companies that are members of SITE or MPI.