Feature Article - November/December 2011

The Pursuit of Appreciation

IMA Marches Forward, Fights for Recognition

By Deborah L. Vence

This year, the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA) has continued its quest to educate and inform, remained the catalyst by which to help companies improve their business and, ultimately, maintained its fight to prove the value of reward and recognition programs.

And, one thing's for sure: The effort is starting to pay off.

"For the last couple of years, it felt very much like we were talking to ourselves; now we are cautiously optimistic that corporate America is accepting the impact of reward and recognition programs on the bottom line," said Barb Hendrickson, president of Livonia, Mich.-based Design Incentives Inc. and president of the IMA.

"Study after study proves that more engaged and happy employees equal more loyal customers equals increased sales and shareholder return," she said. "We're seeing companies that may have put their programs on hold reinstituting them, and especially the corporate/incentive travel sector is coming back with a vengeance."

From corporate America to discussions with legislators, the IMA has fought diligently for acknowledgment. And, while progress surely is being made, more work still needs to be done.

In this issue of Premium Incentive Products, we take a look at the latest in legislative efforts for incentive programs as well as what's new with the IMA this year, including the latest trends in the incentive industry and association activity.

Association Activity/Legislation

Noting that the IMA has had a busy year, Hendrickson said the organization's current strategic plan focuses on three areas: external messaging and corporate outreach (carrying the message outside the incentive channels), membership development (building a strong membership base, but also increasing member benefits) and financial strength (developing non-dues revenue streams and maintaining our financial stability in an uncertain economy).

"We've made strides in all three areas, but there is still quite a bit of work to do," she said.

That is, more work still has to be done to confront the business challenges that persist in an increasingly volatile economic environment, one that has companies moving quickly and cautiously to improve their bottom line.

At issue for incentive marketers is the ongoing legislation push the IMA has been engaged in for the last couple of years—currently, IRS section 274(j). This piece of legislation allows tax deductions for companies with defined length-of-service and safety programs, as well as tax deductions on the award value for employees.

"From a legislative perspective, we were thrown a bit of a curveball this year. Our plan was to leverage the success of IRS section 274(j) by persuading our legislators to include incentives for companies that offer defined employee wellness programs," Hendrickson said. "With all of the turmoil in Washington, D.C., we learned that all of the current tax incentives are in jeopardy as massive cuts are discussed and we will need to spend considerable effort just to hang on to 274(j).

"IMA supports the Incentive Federation, which is our lobbying arm, and we've spent a lot of time and energy educating members as to the impact this would have on our business," she said.

"Many members have been very generous in contributing to the Incentive Legislative Campaign, which will send lobbyists to Washington to educate our legislators on the benefits that incentive programs provide in terms of retaining and engaging key employees, the cost savings that a safer workplace provides and increasing productivity in U.S. business," Hendrickson added.