Creative Group is the Research Advocacy Partner for the Incentive Research Foundation’s new Signature Study: Engaging Program Owners in the Incentives Marketplace. Interviews were conducted with program managers and owners, and a common theme emerged. Many of them fell into their job by happenstance. Most of the things they know about incentives, they’ve learned on-the-job or through hotel contacts. Incentive companies and other suppliers can also be a great resource. Because incentive planning is not a career track taught in school and a library of resources is hard to find, program managers are at loss when trying to locate useful industry information.

You can access the study here: Incentive Research Foundation Signature Study: Voice of the Market

The Ultimate Incentive Resource: Third Party Planning Companies

Incentive program managers that work with a third party will find themselves with a leg-up in planning effective programs. Although they may be skeptical of releasing the responsibilities they are so fond of, they should look at partnering with an incentive planning company as a value-add, versus their replacement. Working directly with experts in the incentive industry will provide program managers with a coach to help them drive behavior change in their business.

The role of a great incentive planning company is to consult on best practices and fresh ideas, help benchmark against other companies and provide industry resources that further support the client’s incentive programs. The Signature Study revealed that incentive program managers are extremely eager for this sort of information.

Incentive Planning Resources

Many areas of interest addressed in the Signature Study can easily be tackled with the help of incentive planning companies. Most provide a full range of offerings from design to implementation. And they can help with the all-important rule structure and marketing campaign – the foundation of a successful program. Not to mention, they have the experience and resources to recommend solutions for reward selection, fulfillment and platform design.

When done correctly, this type of consultative approach is well worth the investment of working with an informed third party. Especially when compared to purchasing a self-learned, self-administered software that is probably more generic than personalized for participants.

In addition, third parties can also help put people in touch with the right resources.

Best Practices

Best practices are derived from the companies that have storied success in aspects such as revenue growth, customer retention and satisfaction, customer acquisition, and employee retention and satisfaction. Don’t we all want to learn from top performing companies? There are some incentive program best practices to always keep in mind; such as the use of non-cash rewards, making sure incentives are the right solution for your challenge, and combining social recognition with incentives.

Because each incentive program is uniquely based on company structure and values, participant demographics and psychographics, and business challenges – best practices can only take a novice so far. A program manager is instrumental in providing detailed information to an incentive company, so that they can then put decades of best practices and successful program knowledge to work for them.


Incentive companies have the ability to provide benchmarking information (and easily apply learnings) because they work with so many different clients in different industries. For example, we asked 120+ incentive program leaders 10 simple questions about their programs to find out how confident they were when it came to the program’s purpose and effectiveness. And it turned out most incentive program leaders lacked confidence.

An unbiased third party can take a fresh look at the program to audit it and determine:

  • If there’s a return on a specific program and what it is
  • If the strategy is aligned with organizational goals and objectives
  • If the program motivates the largest percentage of your audience
  • If you can leverage awards across programs and initiatives to drive greater performance and better budget allocation
  • If spend is optimized on performance improvement initiatives across various activities

Fresh Ideas

In addition to benchmarking, working with clients in a wide breadth of industries allows third party incentive planners to be an endless source of the best ideas. Whether it’s where to go and what to do on an incentive trip or the trends that impact incentive travel experiences as a whole, the days of recycling the same trip over and over again are gone.

Industry Resources

The best industry resources come from a mix of real-life experience sharing and incentive research. The Incentive Research Foundation provides extensive insights into key areas affecting incentives, such as the psychology behind behavior change, participant preferences and program manager interviews. The foundation also brings together experts in the industry to discuss how they are seeing the industry change.  Because the information is so in-depth, partnering with an incentive planning company can help make the data applicable to a company’s specific situation.


Peers are a great source for learning. Program managers looking for ways to network with others in the same position as them might look to groups like SITE or SHRM. The Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) is the only global organization dedicated to strengthening and supporting the incentive travel industry. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is the world’s largest HR professional society. While geared toward Human Resources in general, many incentive program managers fall under this umbrella. Furthermore, they can find program execution and destination experts at third party planning companies.

More information and other incentive planning resources can be found here: Incentive Industry Directory

Putting Resources to Work for You

According to interviews conducted by the Incentive Research Foundation, it’s clear that program managers are passionate about what they do, and find joy in the trip-planning, rewards-purchasing aspect of their jobs. Most of their experience comes from on-the-job training, and valuable as that may be, there’s an entire industry dedicated to the psychology, ROI and intangible benefits of incentive and recognition programs. A sea of minds is better than one. Experts in the incentive industry, namely from third party planning companies, can help program managers discover a deeper knowledge and understanding of how and why incentives work, so they can further enhance their programs.

What Resources Can We Provide You?