- Times are changing... or are they?
- DIY and CSR are popular options
- Know your group and plan accordingly
In the beginning, it was simply called a spouse program and given that the participants were 99.9% female, the format was pretty standard: guided city tour with a lunch stop and then an afternoon of shopping. Then around the dawn of the mid ‘70s, planners started upping that game and adding actual speakers and educational tracts - get out! - who presented timely topics for said spouses.
Again, the head count was mostly women who mostly stayed at home raising families and traveling with their executive husbands once a year to the annual convention, so the topics were fairly predictable: home decorating and entertaining tips, family dynamics and the always popular formal tea presentations. While these subjects might seem a tad mundane, guess what a popular program for all genres and age levels of ‘traveling companions’ is right now? You guessed it - home decorating and entertaining tips.
According to Sharon Fisher, owner and IdeaSparker at Play With A Purpose (www.playwithapurpose.com), DIY is front and center again. “With everyone watching all the shows on TV - from cooking and decorating to crafting and exploring, these are the current hot topics.” Why? It’s appealing to a broad spectrum of attendees, plus apparently we are all suffering from nesting syndrome, meaning everyone is looking for ways to improve their homes and make life more comfy and enjoyable. Go figure.
Sharon sites another hot trend which is using Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as a spouse program. “A really popular offering in this category is ‘shopping for [a particular charity].’ We’ve created a Supermarket Scavenger Hunt where participants are given money and a list, and then all items purchased are donated to a local food bank. We also offer ‘The Mystery Woman’ event where the shoppers are given sizes and preferences for someone from a local shelter and we send the participants to area consignment shops to complete the task. It gives purpose and meaning to the activity while doing good for a local cause.”
Offering a CSR related spouse program is also supported by Evya Richards, CMP, with The Energy Council, who has included putting care packages together for members of the military in her auxiliary offerings. “It’s so important to know your group well and focus on what they like to do. Our groups rarely include male participants - my spouses are typically ladies whose children are grown and gone. They don’t cook anymore so when possible, we focus on something indicative of the city or area we’re in. For example, when we were in Montgomery, AL, we did a city tour and had a historian on the bus who talked about some of Alabama’s past history. It was respectful, not somber, and very well received.”
What does this mean to first-time planners? Know your market. If you’re working on an annual event and there is no history of the organization offering something of this nature, make sure you invest the time and money from the start to identify your potential audience as well as their demographics and interests. No sense in offering a group of millennials, who eat out more often than they cook, an elaborate demo from the executive chef on the complicated art of French cooking; nor would you program a wine tasting seminar in the middle of the day to a predominately youthful audience. Just as you need to know the stats pertaining to your target meeting attendee, planners must also research and identify those who would potentially participate in auxiliary programs. Tours? Speakers? Demonstrations? Workshops? The selection list is similar to planning your main agenda. But this track has to have wide appeal, fair pricing and hopefully provide something they wouldn’t otherwise have access to if they were to just tag along to the main conference and poke around the chosen city themselves.