Meetings Spotlight: Aflac Targets Attendee Engagement

Insurance provider Aflac in the past year has transformed its meetings into highly interactive multimedia environments focused on targeted marketing, driving audience engagement and delivering customized attendee experiences.

Since joining Aflac in November 2008, senior vice president and chief marketing officer Jeff Charney has applied an integrated marketing approach to the company's meetings program by rethinking the atmosphere in which meetings are held and the ways in which messages are delivered.

By combining a marketer's mindset with high audience interaction and new media, the Columbus, Ga.-based company achieved its highest attendee ratings for its annual Focus meeting, its largest of the year, which was held in Nashville several weeks ago. On post event surveys, 92 percent of attendees found the meeting "extremely valuable."

Through a live Webcast on the first day of the three-day event, Aflac was able to reach its 75,000 sales agents and more than 4,000 corporate employees. Charney said the Webcast was used to "explode" the message. The next two days were used to explain the message and set the tone for 2010. As a follow-up in the next few weeks, the company will hold more than 90 local meetings to spread the company's goals and objectives with its sales associates and employees.

Charney has adapted the program to align with "radical" changes that have occurred in marketing in the past five years in order to gain more attendee interaction, build loyalty, differentiate the company and its products and align with how people now consume information.

Aflac's meetings now feature what Charney calls "a little bit of shock and awe in a fun way," with musical backdrops, executive question-and-answer sessions, mosh pits, "Amazing Race"-type events and "duckumentaries"—a reference to the company's duck mascot—and stories that feature Aflac customers and spokespeople.

"I want to provide the same kind of breakthrough culture on the marketing side onto the meetings side," Charney said. "Today, people need to crack through the clutter. If you are going to spend eight, 10 or 12 hours or even 30 minutes of somebody's time in a meeting, you better make sure that those meetings can get people's attention."

A key part of Aflac's program is customizing each meeting for an individual audience. Charney said the marketing department developed more than 160 presentations for executive keynote presentations last year, and no two were identical. Before an event, the department researches previous meetings and weighs the message to be delivered to determine how to tailor individual presentations.

"Everything has changed in how people communicate," Charney said. "You can't just go there and stand up and pump PowerPoint slides and think people are going to pay attention. Never present the same presentation more than once. There is an art to meetings. It is a real science. People understand the science, but don't always understand the art.

"You have to know your audience, know how to reach your audience and how to push your audience to the edge, but never go over," Charney said. "They pay more attention on the edge. You are not paying attention on the conservative side, and you are not paying attention if you go off the edge. If it is off the shelf, than keep it on the shelf because we are never going to use it."

Charney said he has brought the innovative marketing and interactive approach to Aflac's meetings as many other companies have seen attendee satisfaction ratings drop.

"The reason why it's down is because people are doing it the same old way," he said. "Meetings today have gotten shorter, stronger, bolder. People can't phone it in anymore."

Originally published Jan. 25, 2010