For meeting executives, it's not whether unexpected challenges will arise, it's when--and how well can they be managed once they do. At the outset of a recent promotional campaign, Carol Rice, manager, recognition and conference planning for Minnesota Mutual in St. Paul, proved her mettle when the launch date of the campaign changed at the last minute.

The last week in September, senior executives decided to begin the program October 1 rather than November 1 in order to stretch the Leaders Conference qualification period to 16 months. Unflappable, Rice quickly printed up a note card that went out that week. "In April of 1997, follow the footsteps of poets, artists, and Indiana Jones," the card teased, giving just enough information to start agents guessing about where the conference would be held.

Throughout October, she kept up the game by sending agents clues, via e-mail, until their November 1 mailing arrived--the original announcement packet--which included a high-quality booklet that highlighted the charms of Venice, qualification requirements, and a silver mask foreshadowing the group's final-night gala, a Venetian masked ball.

THE PROGRAM Company: Minnesota Mutual, St. Paul, MN

Event: 1997 Leaders Conference

Site: Hotel Excelsior, Lido Island, Venice, Italy

Dates: April 13 to 18, 1997

Qualification Period: October 1, 1995 through January 31, 1997

Qualifiers: 173, including agents, general agents, pension representatives, financial services representatives, and agency managers

Total Attendees: 350, including producers, spouses, guests, and home-office staff

Theme: Springtime in Venice

Design: Grigsby-Peloquin Communications

Promotion Budget: $40,000 for pre-trip promotion (That figure does not include the cost of the bookmarks or the more elaborate mask shown in photo, which were on-site gifts.)

Savings Ideas: Besides mass printings, the company saved money by using the stock photo of the Grand Canal in a number of ways--as a postcard, the cover of two booklets (one was screened for a different look), and for the bookmarks.

Departments Involved: Recognition and Conference Planning

Planner Comment: "I'm a real stickler for consistency," says Carol Rice, manager, recognition and conference planning. "When a promotional item comes in the mail, I want an agent to know right away that they're getting something from me."