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What Do You Do When the Carrot Is Gone?

BCD Meetings & Events gets creative with new virtual reward experiences as an alternative to incentive travel programs canceled due to the pandemic.

Incentive travel programs play a key role in motivating and rewarding high achievers, but recognition trips set for Hawaii, Las Vegas, Paris, Bali, and hundreds of other enticing destinations came to a screeching halt in March and remain on hold for the foreseeable future. So how do organizations give top producers the applause they deserve during a travel lockdown?

That’s a question Christine Erickson and her team at BCD Meetings & Events have been wrestling with as clients’ 2020 incentive programs are canceled or face an uncertain future. In a conversation with MeetingsNet, Erickson, senior vice president, NORAM Event Solutions, sketched out some ideas for virtual recognition events that allow senior leaders to “connect, recognize the winners, and continue to motivate them.” What is resonating with clients, says Erickson, is the idea of “engaging people in their homes in a different way through communications campaigns, a real-time virtual experience, and post-event follow up.”

Erickson outlined how a virtual recognition event might flow:

The Invitation. The invitation to a virtual recognition event should set the tone for a fun and rewarding evening that will last no more than 90 minutes. It can include gift cards for winners’ dinners (for example, from Grubhub, the restaurant delivery service, or Hello Fresh, the meal kit service) and information about interactive raffles at the live event.

The Gathering. Start with a reception on Zoom, BlueJeans, or some other virtual meetings platform, and have a facilitator online to help executives keep the conversation going and drive engagement. To keep it personal, Erickson envisions a maximum of 50 top performers online, with spouses and children tuning in, too. Companies with more winners in the recognition program could consider regional events. “To create interaction, you need to control the number of attendees,” Erickson notes.

The Fun Factor. How about adding a customized cocktail for the event? Imagine a package arriving before the reception with all the fixings to make a “President’s Club Fizz” or “Mike’s Magic Margarita.”

A Video Message. After the cocktail reception, Erickson envisions incorporating a short video. Virtual events need a variety of segments, she says: “You’ve got to break it up, and it has to be like a television show.” The video could be senior leadership delivering a message, a collage of the award winners, or something else that replaces the in-person recognition ceremony.

A Dinner Concert. While winners enjoy their dinner deliveries, the highlight of the event is a 20- to 30-minute concert. A name entertainer delivers a private show on the virtual platform, and then, ideally, answers a few questions or takes a request from the audience. “For a lot of performers, the pricing is ‘preferred’ right now because they haven’t been able to leave their homes,” Erickson notes.

A Gifting Experience. Erickson says post-event follow-up would include a gift curated for the audience as well as a publication featuring the winners, which could include short bios and personal stories.

“This is a new environment for all of us,” Erickson says. “Like the [in-person] incentives we do, more than ever we have to create bespoke experiences. So, we’re getting creative and our customers are interested in coming along for the ride because they have no other answers right now on how to engage their top performers.” At least two clients have committed to virtual recognition events with BCD Meeting & Events to date and more are considering the option, says Erickson. “We’re thrilled to have customers looking to take action with some of these ideas.”

More Disruption Ahead
Rethinking 2020 reward experiences isn’t the only challenge ahead for incentive planners. “The next thing is that our customers are challenged with the 2020 performance year because things are fairly paralyzed now,” Erickson says. “As we look to 2021, incentive trips may be able to go on, but customers are challenged with performance levels. We’re helping them look at how to modify and retool an incentive in 2020 so they can actually have an incentive trip and motivate people to try to qualify.”

Another issue is the incentive experience itself when travel returns. Will clients want to remain domestic? Will they want to take fewer qualifiers? Will they want to have waves of small groups?

“We don’t know how it’s going to look,” says Erickson. “We’re thinking about these kinds of things to get out in front of them.”

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