At the beginning of every year the industry trade organizations are asked to weigh in about upcoming trends for the year — what’s new and different, and what planners should be doing to hone their skills.
As I reflect on answering this question for the past dozen years, I sometimes feel like a broken record (apologies to readers who have never seen a record let alone a broken one). It is sometimes said that the more things change, the more they stay the same. There is some truth to this statement, but we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t keep up with what is happening in the industry — if simply to remain as informed and credible professionals.
My elevator speech has been, “Budgets are tight, planners need to do more with less, there are increasing expectations to produce better events, there is an increased focus on technology, but at the end of the day it’s all about making sure to deliver a memorable and rewarding customer experience.”
With that said, the remainder of this article focuses on conversations that occurred during two sessions at Financial & Insurance Conference Planners’ Winter Symposium, January 24–26, 2016 at the Omni Parker House in Boston, Massachusetts.
This session included panelists: Luann Edwards, strategic communications consultant, social media marketing, marketing division, FM Global; David Reiderman, CAE, director, global accounts, Hyatt Hotels Corporation; Scott Eames, SMMC, global sales director, AlliedPRA; and was moderated by Jennifer Squeglia, CMP, independent contractor, Boston Private.
It’s important to distinguish between a trend and a fad. A trend is something that extends in a general direction, follows a general course, veers in a new direction or shows a tendency, while a fad is something that is very popular for a short time. The challenge is determining if something that is currently popular will eventually turn into something more sustaining over a period of time.
Mood rings, Rubik’s Cube and Beanie Babies were fads. Lifestyle trends include healthier eating, an aging population, etc. What trends will transform meetings in 2016 and beyond? Fads are cool now but will soon pass. It’s important to be both trendy and fashionable in our business, if anything, to keep things fresh and different for those attending the meetings and events.
In the end, whether a trend, fad or way of life, it’s all about the customer experience. That is the focus of the planner.
— Steve Bova CAE
The trends vs. fads session started by experimenting with a technology called CrowdMics. This is an app whereby attendees use their smartphones as microphones. It worked great, but human nature prevailed. People are inclined to ask their questions the old fashioned way — by blurting out during the session. Whether a trend or fad, using technology often requires changing one’s behavior, which is hard to accomplish in a single session. We’re not giving up on the idea. Some things take time to take hold.
Food & Beverage. Serving food from farm to table looks to be a keeper. Healthier lifestyles are important to all generations. It’s not only the rock star chefs who are stepping out of the kitchen and into the spotlight; more chefs are becoming involved with food service by speaking to attendees about what they have prepared for them. As a result, attendees are more educated about the food they are eating. At the same time, there is an increasing awareness of food sensitivities, such as allergies, staying healthy, keeping menus simple and comfortable, paying attention to pairings and ensuring the offering has a local, regional or seasonal flavor.
Infographics. Data is growing increasingly important, especially big data. But all the data and information needs to be simplified into a digestible, understandable and relevant manner. The increased use of infographics speaks to people’s need to see things visually. They are simple, clean, understandable and sometimes even fun!
The Seller’s Market. At industry events there is always plenty of discussion about selling cycles and who currently has leverage. Although the current hotel seller’s market has a relatively long run, and has been trending for the past few years, markets will always change. Like the stock market or the economy, what goes up must come down. Nothing lasts forever. Clients are realizing that hotel inventory really is limited. Planners need to reach out farther ahead to secure the space they need. Booking windows are tighter; there are tight turnarounds. A tip to planners is to let your suppliers know up front if you have date, pattern or rate flexibility.
Airbnb. I consider this a fad until it proves itself in a down market. There was no question to the FICP group that Airbnb is impacting group blocks. Some found it positive; others not. Session participants discussed liability concerns related to the service, and loss of control regarding blocks and where attendees stay. It was mentioned that condo associations are not allowing people to rent out for less than six months. Others felt that Airbnb is actually a good alternative to the tight space and seller’s market they are experiencing.
Transportation. Discussion transitioned from Airbnb to Uber, which seems to be more than a fad. Many attendees said their clients are using Uber for their airport to hotel transfers.
Décor. Themes and colors are constantly changing, which puts them into the fad category. Nonetheless, one needs to pay attention to these changing patterns in order to remain current and relevant in the delivery of events.
Some things are neither trends nor fads, but are a way of life in our industry that must be considered.
Social Media. This is no fad, folks. Social media is here to stay. Nobody attending the FICP session thought that social media was a fad. While it will never replace face-to-face meetings, social media is a quick and easy way to stay connected. Of course, they reminded that etiquette is important. It’s getting better, but there’s still a way to go. The group discussed that there are negative consequences for planners who fail to use social media as a marketing tool. With so many different platforms available, it is important to identify your goals for social media.
Along the same lines, mobile app adoption continues to grow in financial and insurance company meetings despite security concerns about downloading the apps. It’s important for planners to know what works best for the size and scope of their meeting.
Wearables. A healthier lifestyle has become a way of life, although many of us (author included!) have a way to go. The Fitbit and other wearable technologies are here to stay, according to our attendee experts. Having information at our fingertips (almost literally) is a convenience that makes it easier to monitor progress in many of life’s important areas. One planner from Travelers said her company has a program that rewards people for fitness and exercise.
Sustainability. Corporate social responsibility is neither trend nor fad. Companies have embraced this as something they do. It has become part of nearly every meeting, event or program in one way or another.
Crisis Planning. With all the safety concerns in today’s dangerous society, disaster preparedness will never be a trend or fad. The concern is not just over the threat of terrorism, but also includes natural disasters and other unexpected occurrences such as strikes and labor disputes. It’s essential for planners to have a communication plan and include a social media component to it.
In the end, whether a trend, fad or way of life, it’s all about the customer experience. That is the focus of the planner. Those that provide a good customer experience lead the market 4-to-1. Ask yourself: What is the result of my efforts? Do I know why my meeting or event exists? Can I define its purpose in less than 15 words? Are we easy to do business with? Do our attendees see us as being helpful and the event to be enjoyable?
Trends and fads will come and go, and planners will always need to adapt to them. At the same time, it’s equally as important to realize what’s most important, and focus time and attention on ensuring events have the essentials mastered.
Another relevant session at the FICP Winter Symposium was a panel discussion that included two senior financial and insurance company executives and an industry expert sharing their perspective on the role and value meetings play in the financial services and insurance industry.
Attendees gained valuable tips on how to build relationships with senior management and how to highlight the value meeting planners bring to their organization.
Scott R. Kallenbach, FLMI, director, senior research, LIMRA, spoke about the impact that shifting demographics and people getting married later in life have on the life insurance market. He said that 18.7 million people are “stuck shoppers,” and 28 million people are not prepared for retirement. The problem, he says, is that financials are complicated and people are afraid of the language. What are companies doing to make insurance and financial conversations easier and less intimidating?
One possible solution is that robots could be taking the place of humans. Robo advisor platforms are emerging where people can get investment advice from a computer. Other companies are implementing programs. He cited AXA advisor shield and the Sun Life program, and concluded that advice still matters. People are more likely to save and plan when they work with someone they know and trust. According to LIMRA data, 97 percent of LIMRA respondents say they receive good advice from their advisors.
Donna Marzo, vice president, marketing support, Prudential International Insurance, encouraged planners to take the time to really learn about the business, what drives it and what’s important to leadership. Meeting planners can leverage meeting resources to help improve company inefficiencies, encourage professionalism, and produce top-notch meetings and events. It’s a partnership atmosphere to leverage collective knowledge of producing other meetings to advance new meetings. Planners bring a lot of value to the table.
She reiterated the importance of the customer focus. She said that it’s all about the experience. That means being in tune with the details, such as cultural differences. She was not referring to the few days that represent the experience. She was referring to all year long: what attendees bring back from the conference and implement, the stories they tell to inspire others to perform and using your network to your advantage.
Jeff Duckworth, president of retail distribution for John Hancock Investments, said that salespeople are brutally direct to meeting planners about their experiences at their meetings, which is great for feedback but sometimes they can be a rough crowd. He offered that being siloed in an individual business unit could inhibit career growth, and he encouraged planners to extend within their companies and demonstrate their value throughout. Planners sometimes become pigeonholed, which creates the wrong perception of their immense talents and importance.
Companies such as John Hancock have embraced the partnership between meeting planners and company executives to the point where planners in the company are included in the company’s overall strategy. Duckworth emphasized that event planning is a big part of the company’s brand. “People are not coming to meetings, they are coming to an event that characterizes the brand,” he said.
When asked what executives have learned the most from meeting planners, Duckworth said teamwork. “What it takes to pull off an event requires amazing teamwork,” he said. “Planners within our company are seen as part of the overall sales effort. It’s a cultural thing here where planners and sales are one in the same.” Achieving this mindset doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, and everyone has to be all in. I&FMM
Steve Bova, CAE, is executive director of Financial & Insurance Conference Planners (FICP), an association that exists to strengthen its members through education, outreach and partnerships so that the positive impact and value of their work is recognized by both their organizations as well as the meetings and events industry. He may be reached at 312-245-1023 or firstname.lastname@example.org. www.ficpnet.com