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C-Suite: Interviews with Industry Leaders

We discuss the state of the economy, programme costs and dwindling budgets with some of the best minds in the business.


We discuss the state of the economy, programme costs and dwindling budgets with some of the best minds in the business. By Sandra Eagle and Don Douloff, with files from Alanna McQuaid, Market Report, January/February 2009

 

Bob MacdonaldBob Macdonald
President & CEO, Maritz Canada Inc.
Mississauga, Ont.

How do you keep your people motivated to work to their potential with so much uncertainty and turmoil in the market?
Over-communicate. We are having lots more interaction, with lively discussions, at our monthly All Employee Meeting. In addition to encouraging openness, we have given a number of avenues for our employees to have a voice. “Ask Bob” –  employees send input and questions anonymously to me and I address each one. “Bob Asks” – I ask questions online, to encourage employee’s input and active discussions. Even with 430 employees, we come together like a family, particularly with our charitable work, and this year, even in such difficult times – we are more united now than ever.

For the past 12 years, Maritz Canada and its employees have donated over $250,000 to Parents for Better Beginnings (PFBB), through various fundraising activities and payroll deductions. With donations and volunteer work, we purchased a bus for transportation, sponsored lots of educational field trips and summer camps, sporting events with kids in Regent Park and the local police, a computer lab, furniture, food and clothing drives, holiday gifts and other great volunteer services.

This year again, we were pleased with our holiday gift donations for kids enrolled in the PFBB programme and we were thrilled to donated almost 500 presents to the kids in the Regent Park community.

How do you keep your clients engaged in the development of, or even discussions about, future incentive-travel programmes, when so many new and urgent issues take priority?
Our focus is on our customers at all times. We must be relevant to their business and tie incentives to their business objectives, and incentive travel remains a key element to ensure our clients meet their business plans. We practice what we preach and we will be with them in good times and bad times. Often, missing information can be filled with negativity, so we over-communicate with our clients, to keep them informed and engaged.

Obviously next year is not business as usual.  What type of strategies can you employ to keep your clients and your company together?
I am pleased to say that this year was Maritz Canada’s biggest year ever. The growth we have seen in all lines of business comes from our client’s need for solutions to selling their own products and services – which require effective incentives for their employees to stay focused.

Where do you expect to see some compromise in the marketplace: Hotels? Space? Transportation?  What area of your business do you see the biggest downturn?  Is there any area of your business that you expect to maintain or see growth in?

We see a compromise with hotels – absolutely, with space availability and more concessions for sure and shorter haul programmes.
 
Our events product continues to show growth: sales and marketing events, road shows, product launches, meetings and events. Creative incentives.

What type of challenges will your company face over the next two years?  What type of a landscape will meeting planners and incentive houses be facing if and when this financial crisis is over?  
There is, of course, price pressure. We will continue to look for ways to sell value. We will continue to hire, develop and nurture new talent. We have increased our employee base from 375 to 430 this year, with new positions created in sales and marketing, instructional design and experiential marketing. We recognize that our people are the key to our success. With the changes and diversity in the marketplace, we are committed to “re-skill” our employees to learn and do other things, to grow their careers and retain the best within our organization.

 

Paul SalvatorePaul Salvatore
President, HRG Worldwide North America
New York, New York. U.S.

How do you keep your people motivated to work to their potential with so much uncertainty and turmoil in the market?
Consistent, realistic, yet positive internal communication. Also, we are fortunate to have many veteran professionals who understand the current turmoil in the marketplace. These people have soldiered on through many downturns – from air commissions being eliminated to the aftermath of 9/11 to name a few. They take it upon themselves to support and mentor less experienced staff in helping them to cope with the peaks and valleys – especially in a tough economy. We still conduct normal evaluations and training programmes, as well as our recognition programmes for those who meet and exceed expectations, such as the monthly “HRG CHOICE” Award.

Ours is a very self-motivated, resilient team whose focus is customer-centric. They know that within each challenge, there lies an opportunity. Nothing lasts forever; those who keep doing their best to service our clients, who help us retain those clients, are those who will enjoy the rewards when the economic environment turns around.

How do you keep your clients engaged in the development of, or even discussions about, future incentive-travel programmes when so many new and urgent issues take priority?
When you create an open and interdependent relationship with your clients, it is that relationship that sustains you through adverse times. Once again – taking a realistic approach; making your client’s objectives your objectives and not taking a “reactionary stance.” Successful companies understand that incentives are critically important to not only keeping their salesforce or clients motivated in a tough market, but also the important role these programmes play in retaining the best performers.

What we endeavor to do is to bring our client’s alternatives – “different takes” on the traditional incentive trips that will appeal to their target audience without forsaking the bottom line or losing sight of the exceptional service levels required for an incentive programme. We welcome the opportunity to be innovative and creative with a reduced budget! More times than not, non-traditional incentive trips leave the greatest lasting impressions on attendees.

It all comes back to communication, collaboration and an honest relationship between the client and the events and meetings management company. It is so important to bring clients opportunities – whether a great deal on cancelled space, a new destination that is willing to give great rates and concessions based on a multi-year contract, an “experiential-style” trip or perhaps the flexibility of individual incentive redemption. Whatever the case, the consistent sharing of what is available and what is possible is the key to keeping clients engaged.

Obviously next year is not business as usual.  What type of strategies can you employ to keep your clients and your company together?
One of the things that became eminently clear in the second half of 2008 is that some clients were reticent to change providers for reasons that included the

time and cost involved with a new implementation. This can obviously work to one’s advantage or disadvantage, depending upon where you sit.

Strategically, we need to continue to be both competitive in pricing and aligned with our client’s objectives. We can never rest on our laurels. To retain our clients, we must continue to focus on customer intimacy, to listen to what is important to them and then provide sound ideas and reasonable solutions in response to them.

Where do you expect to see some compromise in the marketplace: Hotels?  Space? Transportation?  What area of your business do you see the biggest downturn?  Is there any area of your business that you expect to maintain or see growth in?
We believe that 2009 will be a year of compromise for all parties involved. Someof the pie is better than none of the pie. We will need to work together to manage costs and expectations. We do see growth in the area of training, especially in cross-training programmes, where client companies have been forced to reduce staff.

What type of challenges will your company face over the next two years?  What type of a landscape will meeting planners and incentive houses be facing if and when this financial crisis is over?
In our experience, business, in and of itself is fluid and thus ever-changing. Over the last decades, we have been witness to many changes, and certainly, there will be profound changes yet to come. While we do not believe that face-to face meetings, incentives and events will ever go away, we believe that there will be a marked increase in virtual meetings and other alternatives to extensive travel.

We are in a global marketplace and organizations are looking for solutions that will enhance their own quality of service, reduce their costs as well provide innovative solutions that will transcend borders and nations. Technology connects organizations globally and it is what will eventually connect them in their meetings and event management in a more effective and robust way. Changes in this area are inevitable over the next three to five years.

As corporate travel has been consolidated over the last 20 years, there will be meeting and event travel consolidation in varying degrees. This is the foremost emerging trend that we see happening. We believe that meetings consolidation will eventually increase, as companies find a way to get their arms around capturing the information that is needed to effect this change, and to also be in a position to mandate compliance and set stricter events and meetings policies.

As for outsourced events and meetings management, we find that to be as cyclical as, and contingent upon, the economy and changes in client management personnel and styles. Companies go through periods of centralization of control and decentralization, which has an impact on the decision to keep an internal meeting planning staff or outsource the function.

In the long run, there isn’t much we haven’t encountered in over four decades of experience in events and meetings management. HRG will, as always, evolve with the times, reinvest in the right people and technologies and retool its products and services as warranted by the needs and expectations of our clients.

 

Bernie KothBernie Koth
Deb NivenDeb Niven
Presidents, Wynford Motivates
Toronto, Ont.

How do you keep your people motivated to work to their potential with so much uncertainty and turmoil in the market?
Truthfully, we have to say that the people working at Wynford are intrinsically motivated.  Ours is an organization that offers a true understanding that people do have lives outside of work combined with commanding an extremely high standard of customer service. Our culture is an attractive one that makes coming to work fun and enjoyable. 

We interact and communicate in organized monthly town halls and bi-annual meetings, but more than that, Bernie and I walk the halls and work in the trenches constantly, conversing with our team. We obviously walk our talk with our own Reward and Recognition programme and we recognize our peers on a daily basis in what we call “The Living our Values” awards.

What we did notice, however, was that a renewed sense of enthusiasm and excitement was created quite unwittingly and definitely unplanned. We had refocused our charity work this year, to concentrate in “our own backyard” and have partnered with a school in Flemingdon Park. We decided to raise funds to help them raise a new gym floor and invited all of our Resource Centres to participate. It was amazing! The creativity and effort that arose from this was exhilarating, proving unequivocally the best RX for self motivation is in being of service to others.

How do you keep your clients engaged in the development of, or even discussions about, future incentive-travel programmes when so many new and urgent issues take priority?
On the contrary, motivational programs are a priority. The incentive programme and the corporate meeting in the current reality of ESAT (Employee Satisfaction) = CSAT (Customer Satisfaction) are not really disposable items. More than ever, corporate Canada understands that motivating their people through education, reward, recognition and celebration is as necessary as the products they provide. We all better understand that motivating people and ensuring employee engagement is tantamount to success.  

Our business is about designing effective motivation in good times and in bad. The look and feel may vary, but the concept and execution remain.

Obviously next year is not business as usual.  What type of strategies can you employ to keep your clients and your company together?
For Wynford, it is business as usual. Our solutions to client needs will vary. We may need to buy Aldo over Manolo, but the work to motivate and engage will continue.

We must continue to pursue new opportunities in sales. We must continue to create new ideas and products and introduce these new ideas and products to our clients as we would have in less tumultuous times. Tune out the bad press. Our reality is what we make it, not what we read it is.

We know that the need for physical human interaction will never go away, no matter what technological solutions exist. We will need to be deft enough to be able to offer solutions that combine both, that help to mitigate budget, but continue to promote effective communication and interaction.

Where do you expect to see some compromise in the marketplace: Hotels? Space? Transportation?  What area of your business do you see the biggest downturn?  Is there any area of your business that you expect to maintain or see growth in?

We think there will be compromise across the industry. This will not only be on the part of hotels, transportation, etc. but the expectations from our clients on the size and scope of their meetings. More time will be spent developing our client’s message in a simple and effective format and less on the bells and whistles or ‘nice to haves’ that are present in better times.

We expect to see downturn in the area of “exotic” travel. We anticipate that most of our clients will continue to travel, but will bring those events closer to home. We will see a downturn in Asia, South Pacific, Africa and some European destinations. Canada and the U.S. will see an upswing from our market.

We believe that out of adversity comes greatness. It forces us

to think of new ways of doing things and new ways become new products and new products provide growth. Our prediction is that we can grow – but check with us next year.

What type of challenges will your company face over the next two years?  What type of a landscape will meeting planners and incentive houses be facing if and when this financial crisis is over?  
It is part of the economic cycle. Well-managed motivated businesses succeed in good times and in bad. Businesses that put their client’s needs first, win. Businesses who put their employees – needs at the top of the pile, win. This has always been our philosophy and it will continue to be; in fact, it would be a crisis if it was not. 

 

Anthony ByronAnthony Byron
President, Meridican Incentive Consultants
Markham, Ont.

How do you keep your people motivated to work to their potential with so much uncertainty and turmoil in the market?
We cannot control the markets and the negative effects that it is having on so many people, but we can hopefully influence our people to stay focused on what they can control - which is their personal contribution to a programme and to the office environment they work in. We have both team and individual incentives in place and we continually look to ways to maintain positive office morale. My business partner and executive vice-president, Terry Manion, and I strive to treat our employees as though they are family, and as such, we try to face these challenges together. We value our people above all else.

How do you keep your clients engaged in the development of, or even discussions about, future incentive-travel programmes when so many new and urgent issues take priority?
When times are tough, companies rely on their employees to an even greater level. The additional demands that trickle down through an organization is what makes motivation of staff so critical during these times. People are a company’s greatest resource. Recognizing and rewarding your people, in some fashion, is even more powerful when so much has already been cut away.

Obviously next year is not business as usual. What type of strategies can you employ to keep your clients and your company together? Creativity will be tested as we work in conjunction with our clients for new and economical ways to incent. The need to motivate will not disappear, but the ways we do so, may change. We will endeavor to stay in close contact with our clients as they adapt to the changing business environment. That will allow us to offer solutions through a strong understanding of their particular challenges.

Where do you expect to see some compromise in the marketplace: Hotels? Space? Transportation? What area of your business do you see the biggest downturn? Is there any area of your business that you expect to maintain or see growth in?
All areas will need to adapt to a changing marketplace - there is no other option. I’m not sure if there is one specific area versus another, we would assume that higher end rewards will fall because of cost and corporate and public perception. Instead of Tahiti, a company will select Tucson as a venue.

What type of challenges will your company face over the next two years? What type of a landscape will meeting planners and incentive houses be facing if and when this financial crisis is over?
Like most industries, we are not likely to know the crisis is over until a few months after it is actually over. I believe that there will be a rebound, as companies begin to turn to their people for more effort or results. That’s where the need to motivate will result in a return of business to the incentive houses. Those incentive houses that can get through the tough times will be extremely well-positioned to service their clients as their businesses ramp back up.

 

Cynthia RichardsCynthia Richards
President, Event Spectrum Inc.
Toronto, Ont.

How do you keep your people motivated to work to their potential with so much uncertainty and turmoil in the market? 
We have a philosophy at ESI of ‘no fear.’ No matter what the media says around the negative economy, we work every day to focus on all of the positive things that continue to happen. The day that GM announced possible layoffs in Oshawa, all the papers focused on a full page. That same day, Toyota opened a new plant in Woodstock offering up to 5,000 new jobs – this story got a smidgen of press. There is still positive news everywhere.

We communicate regularly. We hold more brainstorming meetings to come up with additional ideas. And we spend more money on training. This is the time to seize the opportunity with clients and our staff.

How do you keep your clients engaged in the development of, or even discussions about, future incentive-travel programmes when so many new and urgent issues take priority? 
Like our own internal staff, clients need to recognize that with the “recession” word looming, and “survivor” stories where companies have had to lay off – there is no more important time to continue to motivate and communicate to your very good people. Retention of good talent will continue to be a major driving issue in the years to come. We see a rise in national road shows for certain which tend to be more cost-effective.

Obviously next year is not business as usual.  What type of strategies can you employ to keep your clients and your company together?  
This is the time to work with your current client base in solidifying already good relationships and making sure we are there to help them in any way. It is also a time to investigate other complementary revenue streams, which we are currently doing.

And lastly, it is a fantastic time to attract great talent. At ESI, we have added three new staff in the past two months.

Obviously next year is not business as usual.  What type of strategies can you employ to keep your clients and your company together?  
Overall, we would say the tide has turned the most in hotel space. It has been a sellers market for a decade and hotels are now willing to offer a lot more concessions. What’s also good for us is the elimination of the fuel surcharge on air.

As for trends, we expect that national conferences will be replaced with regional meetings or road shows.

What type of challenges will your company face over the next two years?  What type of a landscape will meeting planners and incentive houses be facing if and when this financial crisis is over?
For ESI, our biggest challenge will be office space. We have almost outgrown our existing location, where staff and clients love to work and meet. This will also be a great opportunity, as the real estate market will be to our benefit.

When the “crisis” is over, it will be a great market for well-managed firms. This is absolutely the time that the not-so-well-managed companies will be forced to make decisions about their future.

 

Kerry ShapanskyKerry Shapansky
President & CEO, Pareto
Toronto, Ont

How do you keep your people motivated to work to their potential with so much uncertainty and turmoil in the market?
T

he incentive industry was invented in the Great Depression, as I understand it. In tough times, companies need to be more creative, to drive their sales people to sell more and their sales channels to buy their products.

We’ve increased our employee communications dramatically as this mess has unfolded; we hold monthly webcasts, where we share very honest feedback with our employees on the issues and opportunities we’re facing and how we’re responding.
People want to feel engaged and connected; they can cope with a challenging situation, but in the absence of facts, tend to make up things that are worse than reality.

How do you keep your clients engaged in the development of, or even discussions about, future incentive-travel programmes when so many new and urgent issues take priority?
We see our clients falling into two categories: those who are slashing their incentive spend as part of a cost-cutting exercise; and those who recognize that a well-structured incentive is more vital now than ever. I find the clients who are the best sales organizations are those that are protecting their incentive budgets in this environment.

Selling incentive travel in this market is less about the venue and the shrimp cocktail and more about the rule structure and communication strategy that will drive the business forward.

Obviously next year is not business as usual.  What type of strategies can you employ to keep your clients and your company together?

This market cries out for partner opportunity. We’ve been pursuing an outsourcing strategy; clients are looking for someone who will be with them through the twist and turns that will develop over the years, versus merely a group travel vendor.

Where do you expect to see some compromise in the marketplace: Hotels? Space? Transportation? What area of your business do you see the biggest downturn? Is there any area of your business that you expect to maintain or see growth in?

Our travel team is certainly seeing some great hotel deals.

We see the biggest downturn in the “feel good” glam events. Product launches and conferences are going regional, versus the big national show.

We anticipate growth across our business in 2009. We are in the business of “helping you sell more;” that’s never been more relevant.

What type of challenges will your company face over the next two years?  What type of a landscape will meeting planners and incentive houses be facing if and when this financial crisis is over? 
Planning is tough in this environment, it’s challenging to bank on growth when there is so much fear and negativity around. This tough medicine will be good for our industry; it will force us to sell relevant business solutions, versus flogging trips and toasters.

 

Ellie MacPhersonEllie MacPherson
President, Sunquest Meetings & Incentives
Toronto, Ont.

How do you keep your people motivated to work to their potential with so much uncertainty and turmoil in the market?
Open dialogue and communication with our entire team is tremendously important at all times, but particularly in this volatile market. We discuss challenges and possible solutions in our weekly status meetings and encourage ideas and feedback from all. People need to be engaged and know that they are valued. Our team is aware that doing their best work can make the difference not only in a bid situation, but also in retaining existing clients.

Remember to practice what we preach -



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