IT'S NOT NEWS that 2002 was a challenging year for the insurance and financial services industry. Many of you struggled with shrinking meeting budgets and staff cutbacks. Yet, according to the results of a reader survey conducted in late 2002 by ICP magazine and the Insurance Conference Planners Association, the vast majority of your meetings and incentive programs held steady and have not been cut back for 2003. Ninety-two percent of you say that you will hold the same or more incentive conferences in 2003 as in 2002, and 82 percent will hold the same or more training meetings. Incentive travel budgets dipped from our last reader survey two years ago but are still impressive: Your median incentive travel budget in 2002 was a hefty $1 million (an equal number had budgets higher than this figure as had lower), and the average (mean) budget was nearly $2 million. And two thirds of you expect your incentive travel budgets to increase or stay the same in 2003.
What's helping you to streamline the meeting planning process? Without question, technology. The most significant uptick from survey results two years ago was in the use of technology as a planning tool. Eighty percent of you searched for meeting sites online in 2002, compared to 68 percent in 2000, and 59 percent said that attendees registered online for meetings, compared to 52 percent in 2000. Sixty-four percent said potential incentive qualifiers can track their qualification progress online or will be able to within 12 months (see “The Online Incentive Revolution,” page 51).
For more survey results, and the inside scoop from five leading ICPA planners, read on.
Director of Sales Promotions
American Family Insurance Group
AS DIRECTOR OF SALES PROMOTIONS for American Family Insurance Group, Dick Adler is scrutinizing the tiniest details in an effort to trim meeting costs for the Madison, Wis., multi-line insurance and financial services company without sacrificing quality.
Take bottled water, he says — please. At $2.25-$2.75 apiece, eliminating it from meetings has made a noticeable dent in the bottom line without significantly reducing attendees' comfort levels. Other expendable items include center-pieces or extra cookies at breaks. “Only the bean counters notice the changes,” he says.
Adler, whose nine-person department runs two incentive meetings and two to three sales meetings annually, says that he worked with the same total budget in 2002 as he did in 2001. Normally the figure grows from one year to the next, but due to losses in the property and casualty industry, Adler doesn't see meeting budgets growing again until the economy picks up.
Adler has found two additional allies in his efforts to contain costs: suppliers and technology. With constraints on travel spending, airlines have been more willing to offer discounted airfares, he notes, and he has found some resorts willing to aggressively cut rates.
“We've had a big push to leverage technology and to eliminate all paper processes,” he adds. So attendees register, book their airline and hotel reservations, and schedule meeting activities online. The process, launched a year ago, has saved time and eliminated some costs, says Adler. He is also using the Internet more to research properties. “All the big chains have their properties on the Internet now, so you can have a good base for what the property and the location offer, and you can narrow it down from there.”
Despite spending constraints, Adler says his biggest challenge is keeping qualifiers happy — because happy agents are more productive agents. They want to have fun, he says. But, he adds, security also became an increasingly important concern to qualifiers during the past year.
— Megan Rowe
Director of Conference and Travel Management
American Fidelity Assurance Co.
WE HAVEN'T HAD QUALIFIERS CANCEL because they didn't want to travel overseas,” says Brett Barrowman, director of conference and travel management for American Fidelity Assurance in Oklahoma City. His department handles approximately six international incentives annually. Every other year 350 or so top producers are rewarded with trips to places like Vienna and Hong Kong. “The insurance business is still driven by reward and recognition. The positive memories we instill with our international incentives live on.”
For the 2002 Hong Kong trip, Barrowman did increase his security initiatives: “We've flip-flopped our position on security: We used to do it behind closed doors because we didn't want to raise anyone's concerns,” he says. “Now we're making security and contingency plans more visible.” But American Fidelity never considered changing to a less-distant locale. “Our management said, ‘We need to keep these people safe, but they have been working hard for Hong Kong, not Chicago.’”
With the responsibility for planning 50 to 70 business meetings in addition to the incentives programs, one way Barrowman streamlines the workload is by providing an intranet site where attendees can register online or click on the icon for a specific meeting and hotlink to the hotel, activities, and post-conference sites. “It doesn't necessarily replace the printed material, but it's always there in case attendees misplace their print versions.”
While he's all for technological advances, videoconferencing isn't one that's proven very successful for his meetings. “We do have an interactive online symposium, but that's more for the hardline training issues,” he notes. “We tried videoconferencing for our business meetings, but it left a lot to be desired. So much of the learning takes place during those sidebars and breaks.”
As for future trends, “I'd like to say that things won't get worse, but we just don't know. There's still a lot of shaking out from corporate mergers, and consolidation of meeting departments isn't over yet.”
— Sue Pelletier
STEPHEN CLARK, CMP
Assistant Vice President, Conference and Travel Services
CUNA Mutual Group
STEPHEN CLARK CMP, is riding a roller coaster these days. “We had a record high number of meetings this year,” says the assistant vice president, conference and travel services with Madison, Wis.-based CUNA Mutual Group. His seven-person department plans approximately 400 meetings annually. But 2003 is another story: “We're not going to drop off the map, but our meetings will be reduced, [possibly] up to 75 percent of what we did this year. While we're still a very profitable company, we're going through this reduction in meetings to help the long-term future of the company, and I hear [planners at other firms] say the same thing.”
While his department will continue to do training, Clark expects that more of these meetings will be held in the new education center on the insurance and financial services company's campus, instead of out in the field. “Training is necessary and required, but it's going to take a back seat to revenue production for now,” he notes.
In addition, says Clark, “We made a huge investment in videoconferencing.” Because CMG has offices in multiple locations and division offices in six different parts of the country, videoconferencing has been a boon for staff meetings, employee communications, and informational meetings. Registration for all CMG's meetings is 100 percent online, he adds.
No real changes are planned for the company's annual sales incentive. “During a difficult economic period, you want to do everything you can to drive production, so incentives are even more important because of their direct tie to production,” says Clark. And he plans to add a new type of meeting to the mix: customer-oriented, revenue-driven events. “We're looking to find new and creative ways to do business.”
Clark hopes to see the economy recover soon, “because I'm afraid the downturn is going to take a long-term toll on the meeting industry. If things don't get better, I think we'll see more changes in layoffs and restructuring for corporations that have large, full-service meeting planning departments in-house.”
— Sue Pelletier
Director, Recognition and Conference Planning
THE SPUTTERING ECONOMY has made a dent in the number of qualifiers at St. Paul, Minn.-based Securian. “And the financial services industry as a whole is so soft that it's more challenging for our representatives to qualify early in the qualification period,” says Carol Rice, director of recognition and conference planning at the financial services firm.
Rice, who spends about $2 million a year on incentives, says her budget has remained flat, and she expects more of the same in the coming year. Her four-person department plans about 40 training, management, and incentive programs annually.
Limitations on travel expenditures have forced some adjustments in Securian's meetings. Rice expects cutbacks in the monthly training meeting, and she says a class that has been offered four times a year will be scheduled twice. That way, the home-office staffers who teach can cut back half of their travel time. And the meeting department is spending travel dollars more efficiently by using the telephone more and going on fewer site visits.
At the meetings, small adjustments are allowing Rice's department to stay within budget. “It means anything from not having the bar open the entire evening, to offering more free time to the attendee versus having sponsored dinners every night,” she says. “We see the reduction, but hopefully the attendee does not.”
World events have had an impact on the logistics of international meeting planning for Rice. She has found herself monitoring the headlines more closely and being alert to the possibility of changing plans for a 2003 incentive in Rome in the event of a war with Iraq, for example. She's prepared with recommendations for alternative venues if necessary.
Rice regards firing up Securian's field organization as her biggest challenge for the coming year. Budget constraints will demand that she be more proactive and creative, she says. She expects the solution will involve more sales contests.
— Megan Rowe
JOHN TOUCHETTE, CMP
General Director, Meeting Management and Administration
John Hancock Financial Services
EVERY MONTH IT SEEMS LIKE another new training meeting pops up,” says John Touchette, CMP, who heads up the meeting management department at John Hancock Life Insurance Co. “We're doing a lot more short-term training meetings for our managing directors and sales managers, as well as our brokers. We have an even greater initiative than before to keep them competitive with the product line and to keep educating producers on the products and services of John Hancock.”
While many of these meetings are held at the firm's conference center at its headquarters in Boston, this year John Hancock added something new: East and West Coast meetings held at gaming facilities in Connecticut or Atlantic City in the east, and Las Vegas in the west. “The airfare, sleeping rooms, and meeting rooms are reasonable and these destinations offer built-in entertainment,” Touchette says. “We can offer eight or 10 hours of training during the day, then set people free at night.”
However, Touchette has seen a drop-off in incentives, which used to make up a larger proportion of the 50 meetings his seven-person department plans annually. “We've seen a shift away from the traditional life agent distribution channel to more bank, broker, and Internet channels. We can't motivate bankers and brokers the same way, so we are seeing fewer qualifiers for our incentives programs.”
Hancock still does two major incentives annually for its career distribution channel: one domestic, and one two-tiered international trip. This year, Hancock's top agents will be going to Beijing and Hong Kong, or to the Grand Floridian at Walt Disney World. “Only one or two people canceled because of concerns about traveling overseas in the spring of 2001 when we held our international incentive in Rome,” Touchette says. “I don't anticipate any concerns about going to China.”
Touchette's department also keeps busy planning the hospitality programs for John Hancock's Olympic Sponsorship.
— Sue Pelletier
WHO YOU ARE
- VP title: 15 %
- Director/Manager title: 49 %
- Meeting Planner title: 29%
- Your median age: 45
- Your annual salary: $63,000 (median)
- Female: 75%
- Male: 25%
HOW YOUR DEPARTMENT WORKS
- You are mandated to use a centralized booking and registration system: 30%
- You use a third party for site searches, always or occasionally: 55%
- You use meeting-specific software to plan meetings: 34%
- The meeting department is a centralized function withing your organization: 65%
- The meeting department has a home page or site on your organization's intranet: 41%
INCENTIVE MEETING PROJECTIONS
- We'll hold more incentive meetings in 2003 than in 2002: 14%
- We'll hold the same number of incentive meetings in 2003 as in 2002: 78%
- We'll hold fewer incentive meetings in 2003 than in 2002: 8%
TRAINING MEETING PROJECTIONS
- We'll hold more training meetings in 2003 than in 2002: 16%
- We'll hold the same number of training meetings in 2003 as in 2002: 66%
- We'll hold fewer training meetings in 2003 than in 2002: 9%
- We don't hold training meetings: 9%
ACTIONS AS A RESULT OF 9/11
- Added or re-defined clauses in hotel : 60%
- Updated cancellation and/or clauses in hotel contracts: 58%
- Increased security: 23%
- Planned fewer international meetings for 2002: 20%
- Planned fewer international meetings for 2003: 13%
- Added more “drive-in” meetings: 19%
- Added more family incentive programs: 10%
WHICH ONE METHOD DO YOU USE MOST OFTEN TO SEND RFPS TO POTENTIAL MEETING PROPERTIES?
- E-mail to individual properties: 30%
- E-mail to national sales contacts: 38%
- Fax to individual properties: 10%
- Fax to national sales contacts: 3%
- Through a hotel chain's Web site: 2%
- I don't use RFPs: 16%
METHODOLOGY: The e-mail study of 448 ICPA planners was conducted in September and October 2002 by the Primedia Business Marketing Research Department and generated 136 completed surveys, a 34.1 percent response rate.