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Big Picture (Winter 2009)

What We Can Learn From the Nation's Biggest Incentive Trip

The nation just ran one of the largest, most important incentive trips of all time. At a moment when the nation’s morale had hit rock bottom and everybody was looking for hope, the inauguration of Barack Obama came along. The extended-weekend event not only provided a chance for the Obama team to reward their loyal supporters, it also gave the entire nation an opportunity to forget – for a few days, at least – our problems and focus on the energy, passion and diversity that makes us such a great country.

But the inauguration was far more than a swearing-in ceremony and the subsequent celebration. It was the supreme motivational event – budget: about $160 million – designed to engage and direct the passions and energies of Americans in a positive, hopeful way. Like any good incentive trip, it involved lots of parties where people who had worked hard together got a chance to celebrate success, share ideas, build personal contacts and energize each other for the work ahead.

And what’s a great incentive trip without entertainment? The new administration called in the nation’s very best to wow the close to 2 million people who attended the event in one way or another. You could see tears of joy, excitement and wonder in the eyes of all who danced and sang along with the music, and we all know that most of them will never forget the experience.

Of course, there were speeches too, starting with a very high-level view of our nation’s goals and new direction from the president, but continuing through with remarks made by dozens of speakers at other events all over Washington, reminding people of the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Communication-wise, there was every form imaginable, including (of course) Web sites, special media supplements and reports, social networking and, naturally, lots of promotional products. Celebrities were caught on TV bragging about the cool commemorative items they had purchased, and incalculable millions of dollars of items were sold over those three or four days. There’s not an incentive, meetings, or promotional products company in the business that wouldn’t have jumped at the opportunity to handle all of the communications, entertainment and promotional products requirements of this giant motivational event.

The results? For nearly five solid days, the media gushed with positive reporting on the new administration. Even many conservatives held their fire (at least for a little while) to get in on the party. The new president had the opportunity to reinforce his leadership “brand” and set forth an overall new direction for the country. Hundreds of thousands of people returned to their homes more proud and more energized than ever to get to work in their communities.

Shortly after the inauguration, the Obama administration announced a grass-roots effort to keep the dialog going with its army of volunteers and local activists by focusing them on continuing activities on behalf of their communities and, by inference, the Obama administration. It will have a growing database of tens of millions of people engaged to help, and will give him a powerful way to communicate to the masses when he wants to put pressure on Congress over key legislation.

There is more and more compelling research that proves the obvious hypothesis that engaged people work harder and smarter, and generally give more of themselves. That helps explain how America beat the German and Japanese war machines, fighting on two fronts, in just five years.

In business, the engagement of our customers, distribution partners and employees is more critical than ever to our financial well being. Companies cannot benefit by hoarding cash if cash from happy customers doesn’t keep coming in, and they won’t maximize the loyalty of those customers without creating the sort of experience only engaged employees can provide.

So, those companies that get the connection between having engaged customers, distribution partners and employees in this difficult time: take note of the inauguration. It’s a case study on how to use motivational events as part of an overall effort to get people focused on clear goals – and energetically engaged to achieve them – despite the numerous challenges ahead.

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Winter 2009

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