Creative Group celebrates its 50-year anniversary in 2020, a milestone few meeting and incentive travel companies reach in this competitive and fast-evolving industry. President Janet Traphagen, who worked her way up from an account manager role in 1996 to the top spot in 2014, has seen plenty of change over the decades. We asked her to look back at the evolution of her company and the industry, and what she sees coming in the years ahead.
MeetingsNet: You’ve been with the company almost half of its 50 years. Can you talk about what the organization was like in the 1990s compared to today?
Janet Traphagen: Our focus in the ‘90s was taking good care of our employees so they would know how to take good care of our clients; primarily supporting group meetings and incentive travel business. While that is still the hallmark of who we are, we have built on that foundation and made significant investments to serve a much more savvy and strategic marketplace.
MeetingsNet: What is the biggest change you’ve seen over the years in how third-party planners work with their clients?
Traphagen: There wouldn’t be a third-party company out there who wouldn’t immediately think of the impact procurement has had on our business and in our industry. This forever changed how we go to market, price our services, and explain our value. For many years, we had relationships with only one contact, the client. After the introduction of procurement, we had both a client and a buyer, and they weren’t the same person. We needed to learn to adapt and meet the unique needs of each. Procurement’s role is to mitigate their organization’s risk by carefully vetting supplier partners. In order to do that effectively, they’ve attempted to commoditize our services. It’s our responsibility to help any buyer see our unique value proposition. Frankly, this pressure made us better, sharpened our focus, and redefined our value. As with all significant change, initially the pendulum swung pretty extreme. Over the past half dozen years, I’ve seen it swing back to a healthy mid-point. In the end, however, it's still, and will always be, about building strong relationships and solving our client’s business challenge or delivering on the client objective.
MeetingsNet: What are clients looking for in destinations today compared to 25 years ago?
Traphagen: Choosing a destination is a function of understanding the client. It is one aspect of a well-designed program. No doubt, today, versus 25 years ago, participants are more well-traveled and are looking for unique and different, personalized experiences in each destination. With the advent of the internet and social media, participants today seem more willing to try emerging cities and destinations versus staying mainstream and “safe.”
MeetingsNet: Where have you seen client expectations change the most?
Traphagen: Companies today are more focused on how their brand is expressed in the marketplace via their events and other customer touchpoints. Given this intense focus on brand experience, we have seen our client base begin to shift to marketing contacts. With this shift comes new expectations such as end-to-end design thinking, more vertically integrated services, a focus on purpose-driven events, and targeting a desired emotional connection to the brand. One of the things we’ve done to accommodate this shift is to introduce our proprietary i|xperience model, a design methodology embedded in behavioral science, to deliver a meaningful experience.
MeetingsNet: Where do you see transformation for the meetings industry in the coming decade?
Traphagen: At their most basic, meetings and incentives are a strategic vehicle to celebrate, recognize, train, communicate, and fully leverage the power of face-to-face connections. The underlying power of meetings and incentives is still so human centric. That hasn’t changed, however, the methods we use to accomplish true connection have evolved. What I see in the coming decade is a hunger and desire for more data; specifically, insights from data that can help our clients make better business decisions and connect more emotionally to their audience. In the fall of 2019, we announced our new Design & Insights practice, led by former IRF president, Melissa Van Dyke. Our ultimate goal is to harness insights from a variety of data sources to bring value and tangible support to our clients.
MeetingsNet: How will Creative Group celebrate its “golden anniversary”?
Traphagen: While the official date is in July, we’ve already begun to celebrate! When employees came back from the holiday break, they were greeted by an interactive game celebrating the event. In addition, we will be holding events for our employees throughout the year, and we will be thanking clients and supplier partners who have helped make this possible.