by Heather Beaumont
It can be hard to sell your manager on a FAM invitation. Especially, when the FAM involves a trip to an exotic destination or a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"It's important that planners, as well as their direct manager, see that it's a working trip. The manager must understand that this will be time well spent," explains Barb Finn, MICE Representative (Meetings Incentives Conventions and Events) with VOX.
Finn hosts groups of six to 10 planners in Las Vegas every six to eight weeks. The days are long. "We start at 7 or 7:30 a.m. with a hosted breakfast and don't get back until 5 p.m." She adds, "A bonus is the time difference. You can get up at 5:30 or 6 a.m. in Las Vegas and it's 8:30 a.m. in Toronto and deal with business." She continues, "If it's done right, you come home exhausted."
What may sound like a fun getaway needs to be backed up with a firm business case that includes a preliminary budget (if costs are involved) and itinerary, a detailed agenda of participating venues and itemizes the number of days away from the office.
Caroline Pidroni, Director of Sales & Marketing, Switzerland Convention & Incentive Bureau, organizes a cross-country rally for meeting and event planners from seven different regions around the globe. They may visit a chocolate factory, conduct a wine tasting, race on a boat or build a tower with local stones. However, "It's not a holiday," says Pidroni. "They experience the country and they're learning everything about the country on top of it." Planners who compete for the Switzerland Meeting Trophy start at 7 or 8 a.m. and go until 9:30 or 10 p.m. on a three-day event.
Lori James-Brownell of AZA Events in Scottsdale, Arizona, believes a FAM invitation provides an opportunity to "let the boss or client know this is an ideal time to gain education, insight and awareness of what the destination has to offer."
FAM hosts are constantly searching for innovative ways to introduce planners to new and interesting elements of a site or venue.
"We try to pack a lot of information in with a little bit of entertainment," states Suzanne Roy of Quebec City Tourism. "The entertainment is a sample of what they can organize for their group when they come, and they leave with lots of ideas."
Roy's organization hosts a speed-meeting trade show. In this whirlwind meet and greet, planners chat with all of the suppliers during a four minute conversation.
"It makes for some nice surprises," says Roy. "People tell us they would not have been to see a particular supplier. But after talking with them they realize they can work with that supplier for a small event."
When it comes to attending FAMs, some schedules work better than others. Francine Miller, Senior Manager, Event Planning at Scotia Capital reveals that May-June and September-October are her client's busiest times.
"If it's a busy time I'm just not going to go. I can't jeopardize work," declares Ann LeBlanc, a Meeting Specialist with Manulife Investments. LeBlanc agrees with Miller that fall and spring are not the best times for FAMs. However, she is willing to give up her weekends to attend a FAM if she feels that it's a viable consideration. "Some tours start on a Friday and you get some downtime for yourself," she explains. "I would normally not work on the weekend but will if needed."
Quebec Tourism's FAM schedule enables planners to take a half day off work on Thursday and they're back at their desks by Monday morning. "If we suggested mid-week, they would say, "I cannot be out of the office for three days," clarifies Roy. "This way, they can book a flight home for Sunday evening." If people can only attend half the program she suggests a one on one site inspection instead.
Competitors in the Switzerland Meeting Trophy event also sacrifice personal time to attend the three-day rally. According to Pidroni, they "fly out from the U.S. on a Wednesday, arrive in Switzerland on Thursday for a city tour, relax in the afternoon, have an early dinner and the official kickoff is on the Friday."
FAM participants are constantly aware of the delicate balance between the demands of the office and their need to focus on suppliers' presentations. "Make sure your calendar is free before you go," says Miller at Scotia Capital. She suggests delegating work to colleagues before she leaves, adding, "I have a Blackberry and the organizers have to realize that I must check in often."
While it's okay to check in during a FAM don't ever completely check out. FAM organizers understand that a planner may "need a quiet space to deal with the crisis at work for 10 minutes. But it's not acceptable to opt out of an event. You're in for the duration. These hoteliers are making a commitment to us," explains Finn, and it needs to be reciprocated. It's important to respect the time, effort and money dedicated to producing a FAM.
"I make sure I attend every activity and network with the other participants to get their point of view on venues or activities," says Miller. "Sharing experiences is very important and cannot be achieved when you have a private site visit."
LeBlanc ensures there's a back up person in place when she goes away. "If someone's on site for an event we cover for each other," she explains. "I try to be available as much as possible when I'm away." She checks her email during breaks. And she takes the time to prepare before she leaves. "I answer all questions before I go away. I usually do overtime before I leave."
James-Brownell of AZA events suggests that "it's important to prevent work overload when you return by working whenever possible during the FAM. "Ensure that the FAM agenda is not so full that it doesn't allow you to check emails or respond to critical and high priority work-related issues, conduct phone calls to your client or office, or allow time to work on open projects."
It can be a balancing act to manage the office workload and experience all that a FAM has to offer. But in the long run the hard work will pay off. You'll know a FAM is successful when you can leave a destination with fresh ideas, insights and knowledge about how it can help you in the future.