Two-Way Street

PR, social media, events and incentives – Collaboration & communication ideas for demanding businesses from The Castle Group's Mark O'Toole

Archive for the ‘Events & Incentives’ Category

Teambuilding for the holidays

Posted by thecastlegroup on December 17, 2010

Are you looking for a unique way to engage, inspire and motivate your employees? Castle has seen a new trend toward office-based, local teambuilding activities. Many of our clients have turned to us recently for ideas to help boost internal ties and bonds. Here’s a thought…

In lieu of hosting a traditional cocktail party during the holidays, why not consider a teambuilding activity or event? Below are a few ways to motivate and inspire–and reconnect–this holiday season (or any season for that matter).

  • Clue-based challenges promote team-based strategy: How about an “amazing” race or a scavenger hunt through your town or office? You’d be amazed at how competitive teams get and how much good-natured teasing and bonding results.
  • Dare we say, arts and crafts are just plain fun, especially when those who aren’t so crafty are “encouraged” to join in. Conduct a miniature golf hole-making competition at your office, then all play a round on your custom-designed course – complete with 19th hole, of course.
  • Cooking challenges are hot! Yes, we did say, “hot!” Consider a chili cook-off, an iron chef contest or a grilled cheese competition. Or, for something simpler to pull off, how about a gingerbread-men decorating competition with make-your-own hot cocoa and s’mores stations.

One of the ways we foster creativity–a core mission at Castle–and boost internal bonding is through our annual “Thing” competition. Each December, we hand out a set of raw materials (a different theme each year) to all of our employees. They are given a week or so to create some-“Thing” unique from the supplied items and then present it at our annual holiday get-together.

Year after year, we are consistently reminded how creative our entire team is, not just by the “Things” they create but by the presentations themselves. For us, this is the best gift of all.

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Fargo = Fail

Posted by thecastlegroup on December 15, 2010

Castle co-founder Wendy Spivak has been building large-scale, successful incentive programs for companies and their sales forces for two decades. But she’s never planned an incentive to Fargo. Read below for her thoughts on a company that recently has traveled to Fargo — in December.

I just read an article about a sales incentive program that failed.  And I felt very conflicted—impressed by the publicity it garnered and by the way the sales team made the best of it, but on the other hand….IT FAILED TO ACHIEVE ITS GOALS.

Here’s what happened: a candy company created a sales incentive program to motivate its sales team to achieve certain goals.  If they achieved those goals, they would win a company-paid trip to Hawaii.  If not, they were going to Fargo, North Dakota.  Definitely clever.  BUT, they didn’t achieve, and they went to North Dakota.  The article includes images of the employees bundled up and freezing.  They made the best of it—wearing company-logo’d hats, they had a lot of winter team-building activities planned, and they handed out care packages of the company’s candy to the locals.

I LIKE the ingenuity, the opportunity to market and team-build, and create a memorable experience.

But again, THEY DID NOT MEET THEIR GOALS.  So while there was some goodwill and esprit de corps and even a little marketing, the incentive did not have the intended impact on the bottom line.

At Castle, we plan, manage and market sales incentive programs for many leading national and international organizations, across a number of industries.  And we always start with the GOAL in mind—not where do you want to go, what will make people happy, but “what numbers are you trying to achieve,” and then we figure out how to hit those numbers.  Maybe in the case of this candy company, there were some key elements overlooked.  Perhaps they didn’t fully market the program during its life span, to keep momentum and enthusiasm high, and ensure people’s eyes were on the prize (the good prize, not the consolation prize).  Maybe the numbers were unrealistic.  Maybe the program didn’t have time to “bake.”  But something went wrong.

So I remain conflicted.  As a professional in this industry, I appreciate the creativity involved, and as an employer, I appreciate the employee experience the company created.  But as a businessperson who takes my clients’ goals and ROI very seriously, I don’t think that’s enough to make this more than an interesting story about failure.

What do you think? Is a reward for a job kind of well done worthwhile? How do incentivize your teams?

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2nd BWP Odd Pairing Experiment

Posted by thecastlegroup on September 22, 2010

Sick of the same old events? Boston World Partnerships, an economic driver that I am proudly part of, is hosting its 2nd Odd Pairing Experiment. The first was a great mix of very different speakers, tons of meaningful attendees and an awesome venue. 

This next one promises the same. Here are details. 

Join Boston World Partnerships’ Connectors for our 2nd Odd Pairing Experiment.  Panelists will lead an interactive discussion on the topic of how organizations tell their stories. 

Damon Jones, Global Communications Director, Procter & Gamble, and former Director of Press Relations for the 2008 Democratic National Committee

Howard Anderson, Distinguished Senior Lecturer of Entrepreneurship at MIT Sloan, Founder of The Yankee Group, and Co-Founder of Battery Ventures

Chris Colbert, Founder of the marketing agency Holland Mark, and sherpa of FutureM

Susan Rodgerson, Founder and Executive/Artistic Director of Artists For Humanity

Peter Brown, Chief of Staff to the President & CEO of Partners Healthcare, Former News Director at WBZ-TV 


Dave McLaughlin, Executive Director of Boston World Partnerships and award-winning filmmaker 

When: Wednesday – October 6, 2010 

Where: Artists for Humanity EpiCenter
100 W 2nd St.
Boston, MA 02127 

Time: Registration: 6:00pm -6:30pm
Speaking Program: 6:30pm – 7:30pm
Networking Reception: 7:30pm – 9:00pm 

Fee: $55 early bird & BWP Connectors
$75 General Admission 

To buy tickets, please visit:

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Simply the best

Posted by thecastlegroup on August 11, 2010

We love to get our clients on “best of” lists; we like getting on them ourselves from time to time.
Castle has won the silver medal for PR in this year’s Banker & Tradesman “Best of 2010 Reader’s Poll.”  We also once again made the BBJ’s annual list of Top Event Firms. 

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Events remain a powerful marketing tool

Posted by thecastlegroup on April 2, 2010

At Castle, we’ve always started with the premise that a great event needs to be built from and reinforce the corporate message.

We’ve been fortunate that through all the various economic climates of the past 14 years, our clients continue to believe in the power of events and incentives.

This article, while cautious, also points to the optimism for the events industry.

Events are powerful.

Whether a global sales meeting, 6,000-person convention, 50-person executive meeting, or high achievers travel incentive, there are many ways to reward, motivate and engage staff.

Face time, hand shakes, real in-person conversation, collaborative events — these work for a reason, and these factors continue to fuel our events business.

Keep meeting.

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Oh, the Places We Are Going

Posted by thecastlegroup on March 5, 2010

We’ve found that while many companies are still struggling in this economy and believe that using their in-house resources to plan an event is the most cost-effective choice, others are recognizing that hiring an outside agency adds great value. An experienced event firm can leverage its relationships with hotels and other vendors to a client’s advantage while completely taking the pressure and guesswork out of planning and execution.

So, where in the world is our events team? Currently, Castle is producing events in Boston, New York, Florida, Mexico, New Orleans and Philadelphia.

With assignments ranging from sales incentive programs to product launches, user groups to celebration events, our team is busy helping our clients educate, train, motivate and inspire their audiences.

A company’s event is an extension of its brand and message. Unfortunately, too often the intended message can get lost in the shuffle. 

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Meeting planners on the rise

Posted by thecastlegroup on January 14, 2010

U.S. News & World Report names meeting planners as one of 50 top careers for 2010:

We couldn’t agree more!

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The Incentive is Not Fear

Posted by thecastlegroup on October 16, 2009


Travel is dead! Incentive programs are dead! Stay in the office and work! Keep your head down!

We heard these proclamations following 9/11 and the economic crash at the beginning of this decade. But you know what? Our clients kept their event programs, continued to travel and stayed the course with incentives.

Fast forward to the fall of 2008. The beginning of this latest recession echoed the same fearful statements we heard nearly 10 years ago. And our clients continue to stay the course with their programs. Our incentive clients are traveling to Mexico, New York, Spain and other destinations. Our corporate meeting and event clients are heading to New Orleans, Florida, Boston. The point is, they refuse to be swayed by the negative sentiment that AIG and others put on the industry because they believe in the value of their programs – and the ROI proves that their programs work. They work to drive revenue, foster collaboration, meet face-to-face and reward hard-working employees. They also work to stimulate the economy by hosting goal-focused events in various destinations.

As businesses mark the one-year anniversary of the current economic crisis, decision-makers who are still in “scared” mode must ask themselves a simple question: Are we ready to shift from cost management mode to growth mode?

A new study by research firm Oxford Economics addresses these issues and makes a very strong case for the power of business travel.

The study finds that for every dollar invested in business travel, businesses benefit from an average $12.50 in increased revenue and $3.80 in new profits. Where else can companies find that kind of return? Likewise, the data shows that a 10 percent increase in business travel spending will increase U.S. GDP by between 1.5 and 2.8 percent. We need that, right?

According to the study, a sure way to limit business growth potential is to indiscriminately cut corporate travel. For instance, executives who were surveyed estimated that 28 percent of their business is lost without in-person meetings. Working backwards is not the answer.

Claims that virtual meetings and teleconferences are a good substitute for in-person meetings turn out to be off the mark. Eighty-five percent of corporate executives perceive web meetings and teleconferences to be less effective than in-person meetings with prospective customers, and 63 percent believe virtual meetings to be less effective than in-person meetings with current customers.

Finally, the study contradicts the rhetoric we have heard that describes incentive travel for top employees as wasteful junkets. In fact, according to the research, companies would have to pay those employees eight percent more per year to achieve the same level of motivation. Thus, according to the research, incentive trips are often a cost-saving measure. We would go so far as to say incentive trips are economy-stimulating measures.

Best of all, the study helps answer the question: How do you attach an ROI to a sales trip, a trade show or an award to a high-performing employee? 

Travel is alive! Incentive programs work! Get on the road and see your customers, teams and partners! Lift your head up! Our clients are succeeding – we work with the biggest brands in the world on their global events, corporate meetings and incentive programs, so we see this success on a firsthand basis – because they remain committed to sound business practices that work to generate revenue, sell products and services, motivate and reward high-performing staff, and spend smartly on programs that work.

We’re happy to share more about our programs if you’d like to learn how meetings, events and incentive programs can work for your organization. And we want to hear how these valuable marketing vehicles have worked for you.

Read an executive summary of The Return on Investment of U.S. Business Travel here.

And read the full study here.

Finally, here’s a great SlideShare presentation, courtesy of US Travel Association: Business Travel ROI Study:

(Thanks to my friends and partners at the U.S. Travel Association and, as well as the great research team at Oxford Economics, for this invaluable piece of research.)

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Use it or lose it

Posted by thecastlegroup on October 2, 2009

As we move full steam ahead into the 3rd quarter of 2009, some companies have budgets they have to “use or lose.” Often, marketing folks who have been conservative in their spending realize that they have resources left over. With a few scant weeks left, they scramble to figure out the best way to maximize those dollars. As with any marketing spend, strategy is key. Here are strategic ways to leverage leftover resources while keeping the big picture in mind.

End-of-the-year media relations: Can your company tie its messages into the end of year, through a time-sensitive story angle you can put resources behind?

Next year’s plans:Can you powerboost an early 2010 program by adding a little more firepower upfront? Buzz-building, surveys/data collection and focus groups can all support your upcoming initiative.

Your materials: Take a critical look at the materials you use – presentations, video, photography, web content, bios, even boilerplate. It’s likely some of them need updating.

Internal marketing:Your team, department and company are all part of your audience. There are numerous reasons to market to them – and you can do it through a team building experience that will have a lasting impact.

Social networking: Take the time and pay attention to building out your corporate or executives’ profiles. If you don’t know where to start, talk to your agency about creating a robust strategy.

Do good and do well: Maybe your company leaves this to another department, but the reality is that marketing and nonprofit support are related. You can support a worthy organization AND get visibility for your brand – in a way that is on message – at the same time.

Get out: Take a hard look at the upcoming business/civic calendar. Is there something you want to attend – and that your clients and colleagues might want to attend? You can buy a table or tickets to a worthy event that provides visibility for your organization and allows strategic networking.

Association alignment: By sponsoring a third-party event, you put your brand around an existing experience and may have the opportunity to moderate a panel, be a speaker or presenter, and create additional visibility for your brand.

New markets: Perhaps there’s a market you haven’t had a chance to penetrate. Research new avenues for reaching that market – the possibilities are out there if you take the time to uncover them.

Outside the box: It can be difficult to see your challenges in a new light; a creative firm can come up with exciting new initiatives and campaigns to take your brand to a new level.

Bring audiences together: Sometimes a corporate event is the best way to rally forces, share messaging, lay the foundation for the coming year and show appreciation. It’s a measurable way to use those extra dollars and see immediate ROI.

Work with accounting: Maybe – just maybe – the powers that be will let you carry over the surplus and add it to next year’s budget. If not, perhaps you can pre-pay for services you’ll use in 2010.

Although there’s no doubt 2009 was a difficult year, business is moving ahead. Don’t risk ending the year with a wasted opportunity – maximize every last day of 2009 to lay the groundwork for a prosperous 2010.

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Sustainable Event Practices

Posted by thecastlegroup on July 23, 2009

John F. Kennedy Jr. once said: “The supreme reality of our time… is the vulnerability of this planet.” In the world of meetings and events, there are many opportunities to help conserve and restore resources, improve the economy and excite people about the benefits of sustainability. Here are a few ideas we recommend to help implement green practices and create successful sustainable events: 

1.) Distribute save the date and event invitations via email.

2.) Conserve energy and save gas by meeting at sites that are accessible by public transportation or within walking distance of the office or hotel.

3.) Partner with vendors who are dedicated to sustainable practices. Use hotels, conference centers and caterers that use green construction materials, buy locally sourced food, and work to conserve energy and water.

4.) Work with neighborhood merchants, speakers and entertainers to help build your local economy.


5.) Use pitchers, bowls, glasses, silverware and cloth napkins during meal service to help reduce waste created by single serve packaging and disposable items.

6.) Take advantage of Mother Nature and use live plants and potted flowers as décor.

7.) Use only necessary handouts in on-site meeting packets and provide a link to a website where additional materials can be found online.

8.) Use whiteboards instead of flip charts. Water-based, non-toxic markers and reusable whiteboards save paper. Need a copy of what was written? Snap a photo before clearing the board.

9.) For necessary event materials, use recycled paper to print handouts and name badge inserts. Place baskets outside of the meeting room for attendees to recycle their badge holders.

New opportunities for better practices are growing by the day. Do your part by staying educated and supporting the global effort to conserve our precious resources.
Please contact Castle’s global events team to help stage your next event of any scale in a smart, sustainable manner.

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