Arranging “VIP trips” for top performing affiliates (or “performance marketers”, as we explored last week) can be an incredibly effective motivation and loyalty strategy for affiliate programs to explore.
Don’t be fooled though, the process of putting together a successful VIP trip is a fine art and requires a whole lot more than just opening up your wallet, so be prepared to dedicate some serious hours and resources.
So why bother?
Here’s why: its impossible to replicate the quality of relationship building that occurs on these trips, anywhere else on the planet.
Throughout my five year tenure at Casino City, I was lucky enough to be invited on a number of VIP trips, so I am indeed speaking from personal experience. Three of these VIP trips that particularly stand out in my memory are Costa Rica with The English Harbour Group in 2005, Aruba with Casino Blasters in 2006 (affiliate program for GoldenPalace.com, RIP) and The Bahamas with PokerStars in 2009.
The English Harbour Group (including Nine.com and VIP.com at the time) flew twenty or so affiliates (mostly male) to San Jose and arranged a night out at the Del Rey followed by a long weekend at the beach in Jaco. I remember like yesterday the gorgeous Marriot Los Suenos hotel, a catamaran trip to an island with pet boars, taking tequila shots at the Monkey Bar in Jaco and feeding the crocodiles raw, whole chickens tied to a rope when crossing the bridge to Jaco.
Most important of all, I remember just about every person on that trip, many of which who I am still close with today and continue to see at various online gambling conferences around the globe…and this was almost ten years ago.
The trip to Aruba with Casino Blasters was a lot more tame than the above, with closer to half a dozen affiliates plus significant others, so the activities were much more “G” rated and family friendly. A nice feature of this trip was the quality time we were able to spend with each other and with Riccardo, our host affiliate manager. We even learned how to play a little blackjack at the hotel casino, with all of us taking home a cash prize from a private tournament Riccardo arranged just for us.
PokerStars went all out when they took a couple dozen of us to The Bahamas for a week alongside of the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. We stayed at Atlantis, an establishment I normally dislike, but PokerStars had reserved rooms in “The Cove”, a fancy part of the resort that most normal people cannot afford. The PokerStars team provided each affiliate with an over the top room, spending money, a few organized activities such as swimming with the dolphins, a poker tourney with PokerStars pros including Chris Moneymaker and Joe Hachem and left special gifts in our rooms each night. This trip was an unbelievable first class experience that I will never forget.
Sadly, as all us old timers can’t help but preach about, things have changed over time and operators are spending much less money now than they were back then. These budget cuts have inevitably trickled down to marketing and therefore securing funds to put on a kick ass VIP trip for affiliates can present a challenge.
For some affiliate programs, to make room for the expense, organizing VIP trips for their top performers can take precedence over spending a large percent of budget on a booth at every conference. For others, attracting new affiliates is the goal, so they skip the VIP action and impress the masses with a pimped out booth instead. Some programs are able to swing both, but not many.
If VIP events are in the cards, to pull off a good one, no one can tell you exactly what to arrange, how much money to spend and who to invite, but here are some general line items for pulling together a trip that your guests will undoubtedly love.
Set the schedule and distribute
It’s very important to arrange all the logistics for guests, everything including round trip flights, taxis to the airports and hotel and of course the appropriate daily activities. You tell them where and when, not the other way around.
Foster the appropriate dynamic
Decide in advance what kind of dynamic you want- is this going to be an all out boys weekend, or is it going to be more of a family vacation? One this dynamic has been determined, you can decide if significant others and kids are a good idea or not. Something else to keep in mind is that its always nice to have a few females around, so if its mostly men on the list, consider inviting a few female affiliates or staff members to liven things up a bit.
Choose the appropriate activities for the crowd
This tip is related to the above – if you’ve got a boys weekend on your hands, go heavy on the nightlife and keep the daytime free for recovery. If you’ve got a bunch of couples, arrange some more daytime activities and keep the evenings light. If you’ve got a mixed crowd, perhaps arrange a little of both and let guests choose in advance what they want to attend and what they want to skip.
Its about the experience, not how much it costs
Let’s face it. The commission checks that these guys receive have got to be pretty robust if they’re on your VIP list, so they’ve likely got the money to pay for their own lavish vacations. What these affiliates want is a bespoke, organized and social experience with fun people- put some thought and creativity into the activities you offer and remember its the little things that count, such as those presents on a pillow that PokerStars is famous for.
Make sure the experience is first class
If you have budget restraints, its better to invite less people and give them a first class experience than invite more people and skimp on quality.
Leave the sales pitch at home
While talking about work at some point will be inevitable, keep the hard core numbers talk back at the office until you return. Receiving an invite to a VIP trip is better as a “thank you for your hard work” than a pitch to “please send us more traffic”.
With these tips in mind, here’s an example of a program that does it right today: Betting Partners, the affiliate program representing Bovada.lv, Slots.lv and Bodog.eu.
The head of Betting Partners, Rick Abdullovitch shared, “We started the VIP tradition a few years ago and so far they’ve proven to be successful. It’s great to be able to get in front of a group of your top partners and thank them for all the hard work they’ve put in over the past year. The trip is a way to reward our top performers and to help motivate our other partners to work harder and hopefully make the list next year. Without giving away too much that goes on at our event, you can rest assured its just the right combination of work and play”.
And here are a few comments from affiliates who will be joining Betting Partners in the Dominican Republic at the end of March…and if this trip is anything like a Bodog Party, they are all in for a real treat.
“Once a year the Betting Partners team puts together a fantastic trip, it enables me to network with other top affiliates and have a lot of fun. It’s also really nice to see that our hard work and effort throughout the year is recognized.” -Ben Campbell, OnlineGambling.ca
“I’m as excited as a little girl on Christmas to be invited! I look forward to getting together with the Betting Partners team as well as torturing the country with my awful Spanish. This trip is going to be a great mix of business and pleasure, we are excited to network with other top partners and also take in the sights and sounds of the Dominican, I also hear they have a casino down there, so it will be great to cross another one off my list!” -Michael Shackleford, Wizard of Odds
“For the past 2 years we have attended the Betting Partners affiliate summit (Las Vegas and then Punta Cana) and we will be in attendance again in Punta Cana this year. Aside from being a ridiculously good time staying in top notch accommodations, it’s been wildly beneficial to our business. Interacting and learning from the top affiliates on the planet, sharing ideas and in some cases, forging new partnerships have helped us grow our commissions over 150% year over year since first attending. Kudos to Rick and team on balancing work time and play time and in providing a great atmosphere for networking.” – Jimmy D and Mike Pickett, Oddsshark.com