From the supplier side it takes a large team to host a successful FAM and let’s face it, no one’s office is flush with extra employees these days. First there’s the processing of the necessary paperwork for qualified attendees followed by lots of back and forth to confirm travel arrangements - all done while having to chase planners down to get those details correct, hopefully on first try but more realistically by round three. Then there’s the internal organization of all the host suppliers from hotels to venues to caterers and beyond, along with their positioning within the agenda due to level of spon- sorship. And just when you think you have the perfect agenda put together, a planner will always call and ask to see ‘that one’ new restaurant or venue that their boss was asking about; then just like that you’re rearranging the schedule again!
But that’s the nature of our industry, and as Deborah Cohen, CMP from Branson, MO CVB put it, “Host supplier tip #1: Flex- ibility is the key to a successful FAM! Currently, there are five of us in the Branson CVB meetings, convention, and sports department. FAMs are certainly a team effort - we start about 3-4 months out setting a date that works with the industry calendars, getting com- mitments from our Branson partners, creating the itinerary and in- vitations, and then the biggest part - inviting and qualifying plan- ners that have not been to Branson before. It is a lot of planning, but so much fun to see the event come together, and it’s a great teambuilding experience for our team.”
The increasing need for some fluidity in the schedule is also why so many areas are moving in the direction of hosting smaller groups for members of like-minded associations as well as hosting FAM- on-Demand events for individuals. In the end, inviting a team of planners from one organization or working one-on-one provides the ultimate level of personalization and attention to specific de- tails.
According to Tifani Jones, Director of Sales for Wisconsin Dells VCB, “We are exploring the idea of offering ‘Field Trips’ to our area for meeting professionals [that live] within a few hours drive of the destination because we think that would be a good fit in both time and investment to showcase our product.”
Denise Olsen from the Eagan, MN CVB says that due to her proximity to a major market [MSP/St Paul] and the smaller size of her resources, “in lieu of organized FAMS, we’ve hosted very suc- cessful annual expos for local planners that we find through mem- ber organizations and sales missions.”
So, if you’re keeping count, here’s what we’ve already identified as ‘the new face of a FAM’:
- FAM-on-Demand planned with individuality in mind
- Hosting ‘Fields Trips’ into your destination for like-minded organizations
- Hosting an annual area expo within your own community to showcase to local planners
And what do planners have to say about group visits vs. individual trips? “When offered in a group environment, planners get to see what a ‘real’ program might look like, as well as the real time involved in transporting a group from Point A to Point B. I believe FAMs are crucial to seeing new destinations and what you can propose [to your clients],” says Sherri Cook, CMP, CMM from Addison, TX. She continues by adding, “I never pitch a destination without having experienced it myself, and many times a client isn’t going to pay for [the planner] visit to see ‘if’ it might work.”
And Gwen Knight, a veteran planner from Kansas City had very positive comments about the many traditional FAMs she’s experienced. “In my former role in Association Management, I’ve attended dozens of FAMs over the years and probably booked [at least] half of the cities I visited. Budgets were tight, so attending [an organized visit] was usually my only option. Often the first step to a long and lasting relationship with many vendors was inviting me to participate in a FAM, and we all know that negotiations go much better when strong connections are developed from the start.”
So it would appear that FAMs are definitely still a valid invest- ment in time and money for both the attendees and the hosts. If you’re a planner that can’t wait for that next organized group visit, don’t hesitate to reach out directly to the destination to see what can be individually organized to meet your specific needs.
If you’ve hosted them in the past, try to think of something new and fresh that your area has to offer since the last organized FAM, and make sure you reach beyond the normal ‘here’s our new hotels and updated convention space.’ Does your airport have a new air- line partner with direct flights from a new market? Has your city become famous for a trending sport or outdoor activity unique to your area? Do you have local chefs that are making national head- lines? These are the type of things that could re-kindle the interest of planners who have already seen what you offered in the past.
In the end, it’s all about exploring new markets and booking ap- propriate business that results in a win all around!
Hints for Hosting a Successful FAM Trip
Want to know what experienced planners think makes a good FAM trip? We’ve talked to plenty of them, and here are some of the best responses:
- Don’t squeeze too many activities into a short time frame. We need breathing space along with time to answer our office calls and emails because believe me no one is doing it for us when we’re gone! And please make sure there is Wi-Fi available to use.
- PLEASE provide a complete list of all sponsors and contact information on one sheet, and bonus points if it’s in chronological order of dates/activities that we experienced. This is really helpful when we do our follow up communications, and much easier than us having to sort through all the brochures and informational kits we’ve gathered and that, most likely, have become a mangled mess on route back to our desks. It’s also helpful to have a complete list of attendees with contact information so that we can stay in touch with each other when we’re back in the office.
- From Scott Lee, CTSM, CME, CMP. CMM, Event Management Executive in Chicago, “I loved the use of GPS Marketing where I got pinged with venue facts as I walked by.”
- Show us something that makes you unique, whatever that might be. Whether it’s an unusual sport, a cultural heritage, a rustic barn venue, the place where your farmers make moonshine; these are the fun discoveries that might just provide a great theme and seal the deal for me in bringing my business your way.
- I once got a list of local speakers and their specialties included during my site visit and in addition to that being a creative add-on to your marketing package, it proved to be very useful. I ended up booking two of those speakers. Not only were they excellent but it saved my client money by booking local and avoiding travel costs.
- We hear you when you say you can help us market our events, but we need details, so please give us specific examples as to how you can make that happen.
- I love it when I also get a press kit with direct links to photos that I can use without having to wait for permission! That definitely helps speed up the marketing process.
- Please provide a good overall picture of transportation into and around your city (airport information/airline carriers/direct flights) as well as options from that airport to our hotels. It’s also really important for us to get a good idea of the actual timing to move our groups via bus from Point A to Point B or a specific venue we’re considering because that factors into the overall scheduling process for my program.
- Pay attention when I tell you my group is of a specific age or mind set so you can point out things of special interest to my [younger/older/sports-minded, etc.] target audience.
- Please, please make sure I know about annual holidays, races, tractor pulls or local events that are taking place over the dates I’ve booked. I don’t like to hear from my delegates that they can’t get dinner reservations or shuttle busses because the [XYZ] has everything tied up!