IT'S CRAZY THAT some insurance and financial services companies would entrust their meeting departments with million-dollar budgets to plan incentive programs for their most valued producers, but not pay a small fraction of that cost to send their meeting planners to industry events. That was reportedly the case for a few long-time members of the Insurance Conference Planners Association who didn't make it to this year's annual meeting in Orlando in November.

For insurance and financial services planners, ICPA meetings are the best opportunity to network and learn from peers and hospitality partners, not to mention get the skinny on the most pressing issues of the profession. Crossing such meetings off the list is penny wise and pound foolish. It's tantamount to telling the planner that it's okay to work in a vacuum.

Of course, we all know that corporate America is on the hot seat right now, and bean counters are looking at every expenditure for its bottom-line worth. But we're talking about an industry meeting, not a $2 million birthday party a la Dennis Kozlowski. And for those who can't attend ICPA's two national meetings (the annual meeting and the summer educational forum), there are increasing numbers of lower-cost, regional chapter meetings. (Go to www.icpanet.com for a complete listing of national and regional meetings in 2004).

It goes without saying that the educational content of industry meetings is important for professional development. But the social events have value, too. Who should know better than insurance and financial services companies that letting your hair down and networking with colleagues leads to more loyal and productive employees? Isn't that the foundation on which insurance incentives are built?

What Top Producers Want

Speaking of insurance incentives, the results of our exclusive 2004 Agent Incentive Trip Study reinforce the fact that top producers are undaunted about travel post-9/11. But, despite their willingness to travel, cash is the preferred reward for the majority of the insurance agents who completed our survey. Over the years, cash has historically garnered the greatest number of votes in this study (conducted every two years) and it ticked up 7 percent in the current survey. This doesn't mean that companies are going to cancel their incentive trips, but it does mean that planners have to work more creatively than ever to pull off programs compelling enough to play a significant role in retaining and motivating top producers. The best place to start is by trying to reach agents with what they want. Hint: They're getting younger and more adventuresome. Turn to page 20 to find out more.

Meet Our Special Sections Editor

Also in this issue, check out our Premium Circle Award winners: the properties picked by you, our readers, as the best places to meet (page 49). This and other special sections are managed and written by ICP's indefatigable Special Sections Editor Vicki Stiefel, who says that she is “privileged to visit the finest resorts and hotels, and travel the world, right from my desk in New Hampshire.” Vicki has been creating special sections for the Meetings Group family of magazines for more than seven years. An avid mystery buff, she will soon have her first novel published, called Body Parts, which will arrive in the bookstores in February. Congratulations, Vicki!