Boston-based Jessica Crimmins is director of MetLife's Financial Solutions Group and the Business Strategy and Development Department. She is responsible for training, marketing, and communication in three areas: financial planning, estate planning, and MetDesk — estate planning for special-needs kids. She functions as an executive producer for her groups' events, including putting together teams for A-to-Z project management of two large annual meetings. She recently spoke with us about her thoughts on producer education and the role that it plays in her group.

Financial & Insurance Meetings What is your educational and professional background?

Crimmins: I studied business and hotel and restaurant management in college. I started working at MetLife 20 years ago, going through the company's management training program, and I've been in the investments, marketing, and recruiting departments. I am also on several boards in my community, where I have headed up major fund-raising events. These experiences all played into my ability to run multifaceted, technical, content-rich meetings. I joined MetLife's Financial Solutions Group two years ago.

FIM: Can you talk about the kinds of training meetings that you help to organize?

Crimmins: All of our meetings are for affiliated MetLife producers, not independent reps. We have two large education meetings: the Financial Planning/MetDesk Symposium and the Advanced Academy. The Financial Planning/MetDesk Symposium attracts about 400 to 500 producers, lasts three days, and was held in Atlanta, at the Sheraton Atlanta, in March 2007. The Advanced Academy is for our top, top producers — about 125 to 150 of them — and lasts two days. Our 2007 academy was held at Glen Cove Mansion Hotel and Conference Center on Long Island, N.Y., in late July. Attendees at both meetings earn continuing education credit. CE credit varies by state, but we typically offer five to six hours of CE credit per meeting.

We also put on a dozen smaller meetings — we call them schools — to help producers expand their knowledge in estate and financial planning in our three business areas. They run from two to three days, typically for 75 to 100 attendees, and are held all over the country. I spend about 50 percent to 60 percent of my time on meetings — including the two big meetings, the schools, and various webinars and internal meetings.

FIM: What is your specific role?

Crimmins: I'm responsible for driving the overall experience. I manage the senior officer presentations; work with all the supporting vendors; get involved with site selection; and handle workshop development, speakers, and the overall curriculum. In addition, I oversee all the communications pre- and post-event, as well as oversee the on-site execution of the meeting. For each large meeting, I put together a planning team of about 15 people who come from different departments within the company.

FIM: How do you put together the planning teams for your meetings?

Crimmins: I'm able to borrow folks from within the organization, who will spend about 20 percent of their time working on the meeting team. The idea is to attract people who are good at certain tasks — putting together workshops, working with producers, managing Web site details, coordinating speakers, and so on — and get them to buy in to the project. It enables them to help achieve corporate goals and objectives, and gives them great exposure within the company. We usually have a kickoff meeting to get organized and review who is doing what, followed by weekly conference calls. We follow a buttoned-up, detailed project plan.

FIM: What's your relationship with MetLife's Conference Planning and Events Services Department?

Crimmins: There's always someone from the department assigned to my team. They usually work on contracting hotel space and other hotel-related issues such as food and beverage. The role is well-defined, and everyone I've worked with from that department has been fabulous.

FIM: How do you choose meeting content?

Crimmins: First, we offer a lot of technical, concept-driven content and marry it with sales ideas. At the Advanced Academy, for instance, we'll have four different educational tracks over one 90-minute period. The keynote speaker is someone who gets the producers thinking on a big-picture level, perhaps speaking on broad financial topics and trends. There could be a point-counterpoint government relations session covering top issues of tax and estate planning and the latest information on tax laws. Attendees need to hear from the Street about what's going on — that will help them to become better advisers. And it's important to include producer-led workshops. Producers always want to hear from their own.

FIM: What type of hotel or conference center do you typically use?

Crimmins: For our Advanced Academy, I look for a rural setting, so there are fewer distractions from learning and sharing sales ideas. It makes for kind of a captive experience, which is good because it provides an environment for our producers to talk about best practices with other people who are at the same level. The symposium, which we book a year out, requires a different venue entirely. We need guest-room pricing that attendees can afford, about 400 to 500 rooms, double ballrooms, and the right amount of breakout space. We usually look for good midmarket hotels.

FIM: How do you measure the return on investment of your meetings?

Crimmins: We study all of the metrics surrounding the people who attend. We'll do an analysis 12 to 18 months afterward to determine levels of production. If a producer is spending more time at our meetings, my boss wants to see his or her productivity increasing. What we've seen in the last three or four years is that meeting attendees have become more productive through focused training.


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Career Training

Jessica Crimmins, director of MetLife's Financial Solutions Group, is a believer in continuing education. Her meetings offer CE credits, and the producers who attend, she says, appreciate learning about best practices from industry experts and their peers.

Crimmins also notes that her group's emphasis on training is a great recruiting tool. “Producers, whether they are new to the business or experienced, want to know how they will be continually trained throughout their career,” she says.