Paula founded Cloud 9 Event Management back in 2003 and has extensive advertising, marketing, media and events experience.

Despite having terrible taste in music, an addiction to tomato ketchup and a nose in three books at the same time, Paula is hugely passionate about events and delivering a truly professional experience to all of her clients and contacts.

A couple of weeks ago I attended an intimate dinner (okay a mini fam trip if you want to be picky about it) with just a couple of other very nice agents and Trident Hospitality at the lovely Swinfen Hall in Lichfield with the General Manager. Over the course of dinner (which I can recommend highly as it was rather spectacular) the subject of fam trips came up and dominated the conversation for a considerable while.

It’s always fascinating from my point of view to hear the perspective of other agents on the state of the industry, how they operate, how big they are, how well they’re doing and even best practice. I’m never sure how good we are at really sharing what we’re up to, as at the end of the day we are all competitors and even though every agency operates slightly differently, our aims are all pretty common. Despite this, the one topic you can always guarantee to have a good old chin wag about, is fam trips!

If like me, you are not quite passed your sell by date, but hardly new on the scene, then you have probably been around a while so you will have enjoyed many a great fam, and got to know a few fellow agents along the way. So catching up with familiar faces and reminiscing about past experiences usually makes for a great and lively conversation. And if you are meeting new agents for the first time, then the subject of fam trips make a great way to initiate a discussion with even the newest agent. But increasingly talked about is how decisions are made about which invitations to accept, which ones are politely declined and which ones are simply ignored.

As a small team, our time is valuable, and I don’t think it matters whether you work alone, in a small agency like ours, or even one of the bigger agencies, you have to have a reasonable chance of placing business, even long term business to justify accepting any invitations. If this is not the case and you are simply in it for a jolly, then shame on you!

We are incredibly lucky to be inundated with invitations (although mine will probably dry up considerably once this is published!) and I am sure that the bigger agencies probably get double or even triple the invitations we do SO how do you decide and which ones are worth the time and effort? Whilst we appreciate the invitations and it’s lovely to be considered, we probably get around 30 invitations a week and if we attended everything we’d have a fabulous time but we’d be unlikely ever to get any work done! Having a good education about the venues available both in the UK and Internationally is incredibly important for us, and our clients and we do know that most venues are keen to get agents through the door, but some of the invitations we get simply mean we are on some huge marketing database and someone somewhere just wants us to make up the numbers.

So our first thanks but no thanks (unless it’s a generic email in which case we ignore it completely) is to all of those venues in London and the South who continually invite us to attend a two hour breakfast showcase first thing in the morning. They might occasionally shake things up a bit and invite us instead to a two hour cocktail and canapĂ©s showcase after work, but if an agency is based anywhere from Milton Keynes up, this sort of invitation is going to get a thumbs down from us. I’m not alone in my view of this as many of my fellow agents also regularly chat about this sort of invitation and I am sorry, but we all think the same
. It might only be an hour and a half on the train down, and 20 minutes or so to reach said venue, but that two hour invitation will cost us around four hours of travelling and a train ticket. Unless a venue can guarantee that George Clooney or Brad Pitt* will be serving me my cuppa and bacon sandwich then I am sorry, but this sort of invitation is not for me or my team.
(*Substitute for your dream breakfast date!).

Next are the invitations you get to attend something in three or fours days time. Not only is this a little insulting as its clear that said venue has not had enough take up from the agents they originally invited, and you are simply being asked to make up the numbers, but it’s also clear that said venue doesn’t think you have anything else on. If your diary is that sparse then it’s unlikely that you will have any business for the venue anyway, which is even worse, so why would you say yes to this invitation?

Then there are the ones that involve seeing around a dozen venues, including eight or nine hotels (all with at least sixteen classifications of bedrooms that you simply must see, all rooms are at opposite ends of each hotel and the room cards don’t work) in the space of a day and a half. Now this might just be me but if you have too much to take in, you simply can’t remember what you have seen and where!

At the end of these trips you will have walked miles, seen enough bedrooms to last a lifetime and if you are very very lucky (or have taken enough photos) you might just remember the difference between a classical bedroom with a view and a superior without a view at a specific hotel.

Again, this might just be a personal thing, but what I really want to see is the worst case scenario for guests (so I am prepared for any irate client calls), the normal rooms allocated for groups, the upgrade potential and the odd suite.

If you are giving up a weekend to attend a FAM then any trip that involves a 10 hour day of site visits and meetings before a gala dinner with only 10 minutes to relax has to be somewhere really special to get even the tiniest flicker of a green light here!

Collective team invitations are also something that we have to consider very carefully given that we have such a diverse range of ages internally – day time events are out, and weekends too for the entire team.

We can’t leave the office unattended during the week for obvious reasons and whilst it would be lovely to get the entire team along to something, you can guarantee that at least one of the gang will have something on that prevents them from attending so that is usually a no. We’re a bit one for all and all for one here.

Some of the team here like to get a bit physical so some of the invitations that include activities are very welcome, but unfortunately I am built for comfort and not speed so any invitation that even vaguely infers any thoughts of mud, water, sweat and blisters, is out of my inbox quicker than you can say team building!

So what does make a great fam? I’m not sure I can tell you but I have been on some great ones and the odd stinker (although I would be far too polite to complain!). Other agents can change the dynamic of the trip and make a difference to your own personal experience so a good mix of people is essential.

There are some fabulous people in our industry and I hope, despite my comments that we will continue to enjoy lots of lovely invitations to enjoy new experiences with venues. And on behalf of all the well behaved agents out there (and the ones that cancel fams last minute or let you down or abuse your hospitality are not included in this), thank you for thinking of us.

We might say no to 90% of the invitations but we do like to say yes too if we can!

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