50 Years of Firsts

FICP celebrates its past while charting its future

FICP members


FICP members gatheredin Las Vegas in November 2006.

In 1957, Russia launched Sputnik, the first earth-orbiting satellite; Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story debuted on Broadway, and medical history was made with the invention of the pacemaker. It was also the year a handful of insurance executives gathered together to network and decided spontaneously to start an association. During that meeting, the Insurance Conference Planners Association, now known as the Financial & Insurance Conference Planners, was born, a full 14 years before a group called Meeting Planners International -- today’s Meeting Professionals International -- set up shop.

Over the course of the past five decades, FICP has continued to develop its mission and swell its ranks. Today, membership, which is strictly limited to meeting planners, stands at 500, a 15 percent growth over 2005, spread among six regional chapters. The organization has matured into a full-fledged, well-regarded meetings industry organization, capping several major professional milestones along the way.

* 1958. ICPA founding members meet in New York City for the association’s first official meeting.

* 1970. The association holds its first annual conference outside North America, with half of the 63 members attending at the Hamilton Princess hotel in Bermuda.

* 1974. The first female member joins.

* 1983. A newsletter is launched. That same year, the volunteer-managed association announces its changeover to nonprofit status, setting annual dues at $50.

* 1989. Thirty-five members gather at the Four Seasons Clift Hotel in San Francisco to attend the association’s first educational seminar, outside of the annual conference.

* 2003. The association moves its longtime headquarters in Vancouver, British Columbia, to Chicago, and SmithBucklin takes over management under Steve Bova, CAE, executive director.

* 2004. Jim Jones, an ICPA founding member, becomes the association’s first representative to be inducted into the Convention Industry Council’s Hall of Leaders. (Jones, who served as ICPA’s director in the 1960s, also was a founding member of both MPI and the Society of Corporate Meeting Professionals.)

* 2005. ICPA changes its name to Financial & Insurance Conference Planners, in acknowledgement of the growing number of members from within the financial services industries.

In 2007, FICP is celebrating its history while forging ahead. This past November, at its annual conference held in Las Vegas, the association released the findings of its first-ever Economic Impact Survey of the Financial & Insurance Conference Planning Market. Those findings, says Bova, validate the value FICP members bring to the meetings industry and elevate the association to a new professional level.

“The survey is the first benchmark our members have had that compares them in staff size and budget to the industry average, and that’s a tremendous benefit to have in negotiations and as a management tool,” says Bova. “It’s also a benefit to our hospitality partners, many of whom want to get involved with sponsorship. The survey shows the marketing value of being out in front of the FICP audience, and that even just being associated with our events lends credibility [to a sponsor].”

Survey highlights

Statistics from the survey, conducted last August and compiled by the Market Research & Statistics Group within Chicago-based SmithBucklin Corp., were based on the responses of 112 of the most senior meeting planners at member companies. Respondents had an average of 13 years of planning experience, and 73 percent had a four-year college degree or higher. The study covers several areas, including company demographics, meeting budgets, international meetings, size of meetings, services outsourced and professional challenges faced. Among the findings:

* Member demographics. The majority of FICP’s members work within the insurance industry. Indeed, 64 percent of member companies are in the insurance business, 13 percent are in financial businesses and 21 percent represent a combination of the two. A majority of member companies (71 percent) combined have fewer than 5,000 employees.

Overall, 32 percent of member companies have just one meeting planner, 50 percent have two to five and 14 percent have six to 10 planners. Only 4 percent have a meeting planning staff of more than 10. Perhaps of greater interest is the fact that financial-only companies employ an average of 6.2 planners, almost three times the size of the planning departments at insurance-only companies, where the planning staff averages 2.8 employees.

* What they spend. If suppliers weren’t paying attention to FICP member spend, they are now. An astonishing 67 percent of member companies have an annual meeting and event budget of $1 million or more, with 24 percent of U.S. and 17 percent of Canadian companies having $5 million or more.

“This was the one big ‘Aha!’ of the entire survey,” says Bova. “Right there, that tells us that our members pack a lot of clout. As a community, we generate $600 million annually in meetings revenue as a group, or $1 billion industrywide,” he says. (The $1 billion cited is a projected figure, considering that not all meeting planners employed by financial and insurance industries belong to FICP.) “That makes us more of a leader and not just another industry association.”

Not only do meeting planners in financial services companies have a bigger staff than their insurance industry colleagues, they seem to have bigger budgets and are expecting them to get even larger this year.

Some 57 percent of planners in financial member companies expect increased budgets for 2007. Overall, 70 percent of all respondents expect their budgets to remain the same in 2007. “The good news here is that few budgets are declining,” says Bova. “Planners will have to do more with less, but that’s because meeting costs continue going up in a sellers’ market.”

* Going abroad. Members typically plan one meeting or event per year outside of North America, usually an incentive event. In 2006, the number of international meetings stayed roughly the same as the previous year for 65 percent of respondents. That, however, is about to change.

Some 32 percent of survey respondents anticipate an increase in the number of international meetings and events planned for this year. And exactly where do they expect to be going? Europe, it appears, is the winning destination. For 2007, the top three destinations where meetings currently are being planned are Europe, (cited by 74 percent -- a hefty 24 percent increase over 2006), the Caribbean (49 percent, a 10 percent increase over 2006) and Bermuda (14 percent, a 1 percent dip from last year). Other international destinations already booked or under consideration for future events include South America, Hong Kong, Russia and Japan.

* In-house vs. outsourced. While outsourcing has grown by leaps in the meetings industry as a whole, financial and insurance planners still like to hold their cards close. In fact, zero respondents say they completely outsource marketing and promotion or site selection. Travel and audiovisual were the top two services likely to be outsourced: 67 percent of all respondents completely or partially outsource travel (64 percent of financial-member respondents completely outsource travel), and 83 percent of all respondents completely or partially outsource A/V.

Services most likely to be handled exclusively in-house are marketing and promotion, registration and site selection. A full 86 percent of total respondents handle marketing and promotion in-house, 73 percent do registration themselves, and 67 percent rely on in-house site selection. “As far as site selection goes, our members are held directly accountable, so they want to retain that sense of control,” says Bova.

* Hiring help. Some 97 percent of all respondents use destination management companies for transportation, entertainment, meet and greet, and decor. And 83 percent hire outside speakers, mostly from speakers bureaus, with motivational presenters, industry experts, comedians and entertainers being the top choices. Again, financial services companies are the big spenders. Overall, the average fee paid for a speaker by FICP members is $15,928. However, the average speaker fee paid by financial services companies specifically is $25,577, more than 60 percent higher.

With regard to meeting activities, golf and spas are the two major choices of recreation, with 79 percent of respondents saying their events include golf outings. Of that number, 61 percent say they host a golf event up to three times per year. For spas, 69 percent rate access to a spa facility for their attendees as very important or important.

Eye on the Future

Last year was a time of defining new strategies and rebranding for FICP. The association focused its attention on growing membership within the financial services industry, which increased by 15 percent in 2005 and another 10 percent in 2006. This success was attributed primarily to the organization’s name change, which attracted an influx of meeting planners from the financial services industry.

With a new identity and a new name, the association’s board now is turning its energies toward improving the quality of its educational offerings, continuing to grow membership, providing more sponsorship opportunities to its hospitality partners and bolstering its status within the meetings industry.

In the educational development pipeline are webinar opportunities for members, an increase in the number of educational programs offered through the regional chapters and new educational forums covering topics not offered at the annual conference.

Unlike other industry associations, FICP limits exhibitor access to the trade show held during its annual conference. Passes are doled out solely by a lottery system: Every year suppliers apply, and the chosen few are randomly selected. The association limits the ratio to 1.5 suppliers for every registered planner. To keep this formula intact, FICP has to project -- and also wait for registrations to roll in -- before granting entrance to suppliers.

Because FICP membership is limited to meeting planners, snagging an exhibit slot is a major coupe for those looking to network with these powerful planners.

That formula, however, has been altered. “One dramatic change we have made is with the chain hotels. Their participation had always been based on the size of the hotel company, which meant the biggest got an automatic number of exhibitor slots once they were selected,” says Bova. “The way we have changed it, the larger hotel chains still get guaranteed spots at our trade show, but not nearly as many. There are plenty of DMCs and speakers bureaus that provide services, and we want to give them an opportunity to get involved.”

If the hotels feel they want more slots, says Bova, there are sponsorship levels they can sign up for that can take them to that level.

In fact, as a result of its efforts to offer a more level playing field to independent hospitality partners, FICP has doubled sponsorship opportunities in the past two years. “We have had to be very careful in how we move ahead with this, because we do not want more than 1.5 hospitality partners to every planner in attendance,” says Bova.

For comparison, other major meetings industry associations typically have two or as many as 2.5 suppliers to every meeting planner member in attendance at their conventions, according to Bova.

“The real nuance behind FICP is the relationship-building and networking, which is why suppliers want to be in the trade show in the first place,” Bova says. “They know the value of having access to our planners in one location.”