Company: St James's Place
Event: Conference and incentive
Group size: 219
Agency: Oxford International; Creative Sunshine Company
Date: 25-27 September 2008
Venue: Gleneagles Hotel
THE BRIEF: Rewarding top-tier high performers calls for something beyond a standard five-star experience, so identifying a prestigious, stimulating venue was essential to St James's Place. The annual event is part of an incentive package for the wealth management firm's top self-employed representatives based on sales - this year 219 qualified. "This is a business conference with incentive add-ons," explains group sales director Ian Gascoigne. "Delegates can talk with St James's Place directors and network, while directors can test company thinking and communicate with our top UK people."
CHALLENGES: Delegates from across the UK attend this event, each requiring an individual travel plan. Responsibility for travel was devolved to agency Oxford International, which acted as liaison between the venue and client, and helped organise the programme. "Inevitably things change nearer the event - delegates are unable to stay for dinner or change travel plans. So the biggest challenge is accommodating change," says operations director, Sonia Gravestock. "Finding prestigious five-star venues with quality conference space for 200 delegates is a tall order in itself.".
The conference was built around key presentations and optional workshops, which posed the question of how to move large groups around without herding them.
SOLUTION: Gleneagles Hotel, famous for golf and the 2005 G8 Summit, was booked exclusively. Gascoigne says: "Gleneagles worked well with our brand, providing conference facilities in an intimate environment." Delegates were given the choice of flying to Edinburgh, travelling by train or making their own way by car. Meet and greet transport ferried delegates from Edinburgh to the hotel on the 50-minute drive. The adage 'less is more' shaped the conference programme. The number of workshops was cut and sessions extended to allow longer Q&A periods and extra time for moving between sessions and coffee breaks.
EXECUTION: Day one commenced with an 11am registration and brunch before a 1pm conference start and an unscheduled Q&A session with St James's Place directors, responding to the current financial turbulence - the key topic was HBOS' 60 per cent stake in St James's Place. Workshops began at 3.15pm using a range of break-out spaces. Platform presentations resumed at 4.45pm, followed by pre-dinner drinks in the Glendevon Room.
Guest speaker, mountaineer Kenton Cool, preceded the ballroom dinner, which was followed by casino and cash bar back in the Glendevon. Day two started with a 7.45am 'exchange of ideas and sharing best practice' breakfast in the ballroom, before the conference recommenced at 9am in the Gleneagles Suite, with workshops at 10.30am. After lunch and closing sessions, delegates sampled Gleneagles' incentives including golf, hawking and the spa. A black-tie dinner, with comedian Rob Brydon as guest speaker, wrapped up the event. The next day, delegates had a leisurely breakfast before checking out at noon.
VERDICT: With quick airport access, "fantastic" grounds, history and range of conference rooms, Gleneagles got a glowing report from St James's Place. "It was very impressive," says Gravestock. "A longer transfer would have been a challenge, but 50 minutes is realistic. We didn't have to mould the conference around the hotel and the staff were fantastic - it worked really well."
Gascoigne echoes Gravestock's enthusiasm: "The conference rooms felt intimate with good sound dynamics," he says. "Gleneagles is classy and conducive to business and relaxation."