Another Myth Shatters

In spite of a down economy, Viasys Healthcare, a Conshohocken, PA-based provider of respiratory, neurological care and medical/surgical technologies, had what would be considered a successful year by 2002 standards. Sales were not great, but they were good, and considering the circumstances, that was a triumph. So the qualifiers for the company's annual Chairman's Club incentive program were expecting a decent reward. In late September, the small group of 36 (16 award recipients, top management, plus their spouses) arrived at the mythical-themed Atlantis Paradise Island Resort in the Bahamas. There were three obstacles to overcome to ensure the group had a top-notch incentive experience.

First, there was the size of Atlantis. With 2,442 guest rooms situated on 64 acres, it would be easy for a small group like Viasys to get lost in the shuffle of such a huge property. To make things more difficult, money was tight, so the company didn't have a big budget for a lot of lavish themed events. And, on top of everything, Michael Jordan, yes, the Michael Jordan, was also staying at the resort hosting his very high-profile annual celebrity golf tournament that brought a couple of hundred cele-brities on site.

There was no way the Viasys Chairman's Club was going to get that special VIP treatment, right?

Wrong.

In fact, the key to turning this incentive program into a great event for the group turned out to be the very factors that were first seen as the main obstacles -- the size of Atlantis and the larger, more high-profile event that was also at the resort. Here's how Harith Productions Ltd., the Oreland, PA-based event management company that created the program for the company, turned both of those things to Viasys' advantage.

Being Like Mike

It was going to be pretty tough for the Viasys group to feel special amidst all this celebrity hoopla. But rather than skulk in the shadows of the much larger Michael Jordan event, Harith Wickrema, founder and president of Harith Productions, devised a unique strategy to leverage its presence to his client's advantage. Wickrema agreed to create the theme, the menu, and the entertainment for the final night award banquet for the Michael Jordan event free of charge -- provided that the 36-member Viasys group could also attend.

Wickrema then went about designing a first-rate awards banquet for 750 people. Once the decor and the entertainment were arranged for that event, it was no problem to duplicate both on a smaller scale for the Viasys awards banquet, which was held the night before. Since a large part of the cost for the decor and entertainment was picked up by the larger event, Viasys was able to experience a high-end awards banquet at a rock-bottom price. And they gained the added benefit of attending the large-scale version of the event the next evening with celebrities such as athletes Wayne Gretzky, Julius Irving, and Charles Barkley, rockers such as Meat Loaf, actors like Judd Nelson, and newsman Stone Phillips.

"This is a perfect example of how you can create an almost identical event for a small group and a big group and have both events occur almost simultaneously. Viasys is a small com-pany that didn't have a whole lot of money to spend for its Chairman's Club, but making this creative agreement made it possible for them to have a first-rate incentive itinerary -- a very creative awards banquet one night followed by the same event the next night, except with a star-studded dais," says Wickrema. "It gave them more value for their buck. It's easy to put on a great event when times are good and money is no problem, but when times are tough, that's when you have to use your creativity to find synergies that will allow you to produce quality work."

Rewarding excellence and building brands

An ancillary goal of the Viasys program was to create an awards event that could be recreated for future groups by the Atlantis and used as a branding tool. "We will be able to use this event as a template for the menu, decor and entertainment," says Joe Higgins, director of incentive sales for Atlantis. "This team will be able to come together to put this on for other groups in the future."

The Viasys incentive qualifiers were told that they would be experiencing, "The Mystic Powers of Atlantis." On the evening of the awards banquet, the Viasys employees were directed to go to the Navigation room at "The Dig," an underground labrynth in Atlantis that is houses a portion of the resort's spectacular aquarium. Once there, the group were directed by an actor playing Poseidon to a treasure chest in the aquarium. Two divers open the chest remove a banner with Viasys logo.

Poseidon then leads the group into the ballroom where the theme of earth, wind, fire and ocean were depicted through the decor, entertainment and each course on the menu. The "temple of the sun" is the first course, which the appetizers were made to look like the rays of the sun. The next course was the "temple of the sea," in which waves of sea and sand made of sugar decorated the plates filled with seafood, the harvest of Poseidon.

"This is a very creative event that makes a strong connection to the mythical theme of the resort, but it also has a universal quality that makes it appropriate for most incentive groups," says Herman Russell, senior director of catering and conventions for the Atlantis Paradise Island Resort. "What we have established with this event is a passionate experience that can bond a group while entertaining them as well."