IN MAY, Insurance Conference Planner and its sister magazines held a roundtable about the global pressures on incentive travel, bringing together corporate planners and incentive house executives for a discussion about how such forces were affecting their work. While participants said that terrorism, the war in Iraq, and SARS had affected international incentive programs, they agreed that it was the bottom line — the economy — that had the most dramatic effect on the types of programs, the number of qualifiers, and the destinations chosen.

It appears that some incentive programs have remained successful because they are able to prove their return on investment. Patty Sabo, buyer, relationship, travel & event solutions, Carlson Marketing Group, Minneapolis, noted that the key to proving ROI is setting measurable objectives. “When our CEO, Jim Ryan, talks to a potential client and asks them what kind of program they want, the client may say ‘We want to do an incentive program for these sales force channels.’ [Ryan] doesn't ask ‘Where do you want to go?’ He asks, ‘What is your measurable objective for that trip?’ It is incumbent upon any planner to make sure that these measurable objectives are in the forefront of his or her mind every step of the way. By tying the program back to corporate objectives, we are showing the value that trip provides. It's not just lying on the beach. It's not just going golfing.”

It's important to dig deep with the corporate execs to define these objectives, stressed Sabo. Ask lots of questions. For example, “If the goal is to reward salespeople, don't you also want to encourage them to do better next year?” Sabo added: “It's only by asking questions and getting to the root of what you are really able to accomplish, that you have measurable objectives. And they're different for every incentive program. There is no formula.”

The most obvious way to show ROI is through negotiated savings, said Sabo, but it's certainly not the only way. Documenting attendance, extending the post-trip “halo effect” when producers feel super-motivated, conducting attendee satisfaction surveys, and providing tools to measure post-trip producer sales, are some other methods to show ROI. Added Rick Mason, president, Incentive Innovations, Madison, Wis.: “Maybe there is a particular behavior that your company wants to change that is not sales-related. A lot of companies focus on certain types of [producer] behaviors and make adjustments there as well.”

One of the best ways to achieve ROI is to motivate those who failed to qualify to try harder for the next trip, suggested Pete Watson, VP, Orange County sales manager, LandAmerica Commonwealth, Irvine, Calif. “If the incentive is handled properly so it motivates another person to say ‘I want to do that next year too,’ then you can really measure [success].”

Measuring Planner ROI

In these uncertain times, more insurance planners are striving to prove the value of maintaining an in-house meeting department. Roundtable participant Dick Steph, meeting and event planner, Farmers Insurance, Portland, Ore., said, “While I haven't been asked to specifically detail my ROI, I am being asked to explain my purpose. It is becoming more of an issue. I am trying to find techniques to determine what my ROI is.”

Todd Zint, vice president, corporate relations and events, MetLife Investors, Newport Beach, Calif., advised, “The old way of booking meetings was for the sales executives to say, ‘Let's go to Hawaii: Now you go and make it a memorable event.’ The planner has received no strategic vision or objectives, so he or she has become an easy target if the event doesn't go off as well as anticipated. To avoid this, the most important item to do pre-meeting is to strategize with the sales executives by asking questions, beginning with, ‘Why are we having this meeting in the first place?’ It is the defining question that will lead to a successful meeting.”

Roundtable Participants

Betsy Bair, editorial director, Primedia Business, The Meetings Group

Connie Jalet, sales executive, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Las Vegas

Rick Mason, president, Incentive Innovations, Madison, Wis.

Patty Sabo, buyer, relationship, travel and event solutions, Carlson Marketing Group, Minneapolis

Dick Steph, meeting and event planner, Farmers Insurance, Portland, Ore.

Pete Watson, vice president, Orange County sales manager, LandAmerica Commonwealth, Irvine, Calif.

Todd Zint, vice president, corporate relations and events, MetLife Investors, Newport Beach, Calif.

New at IT&ME: The Beyond Borders Conference

Many insurance planners are telling us that they are moving forward with planned international incentive programs, albeit with concern for world events as they unfold. If you're one of those planners, we're here to help. Insurance Conference Planner and its sister Primedia Business Meetings Group magazines are pleased to announce the return of the Beyond Borders Conference, September 17, 2003, to be held during The Motivation Show at McCormick Place in Chicago.

This highly successful conference focuses exclusively on the nuts-and-bolts of managing overseas events in these uncertain times. Beyond Borders 2003 will feature in-depth, interactive educational sessions on such topics as security, insurance, contingency planning, and currency management.

Registration for this exclusive conference, which includes lunch and a fun networking reception, is complimentary for qualified meeting planners.

For a registration form, go to www.meetingsnet.com and click on the Beyond Borders button.