A rocking agency


There was the time the rock group Bon Jovi wanted to take a vacation in Europe. Since group members expressed interest in a resort, Peter Scher, their travel agent, sent them to the Evian Spa in France.

Peter Scher with client, Cyndi Lauper.The result was culture shock over European behavior -- with the boys in the band indignantly reporting that guests "actually let their dogs eat at the table!"

"They hated it," said Scher, who then had to engineer an immediate checkout for the group.

That's an example of what it's like dealing with a rock-and-roll clientele, as Scher does as president of New York- and Los Angeles-based Relativity Travel, whose clients include Kiss, Cyndi Lauper and Bon Jovi.

"They make a lot of changes, and the changes they make aren't always rational. It could be a whim. They could say, 'I was talking to one of the guys, and we decided we want to be [booked in a hotel] near the beach,' " said Scher. "You can't say to them, 'I just spent two days booking you someplace else!' You have to be somebody who can go with the flow."

But Scher, whose agency books air through McCord Travel Management in New York, thrives on the challenge. "I couldn't just sit there and do ordinary corporate travel. That's not my personal style."

Scher has been connected to the music business since he was 16 and a gofer at the Sound Blast 66 show at Yankee Stadium. On the bill then: the Beach Boys, the Byrds and the Mamas and the Papas. After a stint working at New York's legendary rock venue, Fillmore East, Scher then went on the road as a tour manager for the likes of Barry Manilow, Tanya Tucker and Lou Reed.

But 13 years of steady travel was enough. In 1983, "I asked myself, 'What am I good at?' The answer was logistics. I had booked or coordinated travel for many groups." So Scher went to work for Hoffman Travel in New York, focusing on an entertainment-industry client base. He founded Relativity in 1991.

It may not be an easy life -- Scher is available to clients virtually 24 hours a day -- but his rewards include appearing in a rock video -- the one for the Bon Jovi song "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead." "I'm in the party scene," he said.

Dealing with celebs

At Relativity Travel, with offices in New York and Los Angeles, Peter Scher handles entertainment accounts, from the rock group Kiss to actor Gene Wilder to TV production firms.

Scher's business card.Here are his tips for handling demanding celebrity clients:

  • Build up personal contacts with suppliers, a tactic that Scher considers his "No. 1 tool." These contacts can help you get bookings in sold-out situations, get clients upgraded and provide all kinds of amenities vital to celebrity travel, where the "little things are as important as the big things."
  • He noted that airlines are cooling on personal contacts. Lately, airline reps have been telling him, "We don't want you calling our people at the airport." But, Scher said, "I've known these people for 15 years. I'll still call them if a client's running late to say, 'Don't give his seat away.' "

  • Know how to call in favors. "You have to be aggressive and at the same time not turn people off," said Scher. "It's a fine line sometimes, and I'm not always perfect at it. You want people to say, 'That guy may be a pain, but he does know what he's doing.' "
  • Be flexible and service-oriented. Celebrities want attention that can border on "hand-holding," he said. And be prepared for lots of changes, especially for touring rock groups, as when Kiss deleted its dates in Russia after the Kosovo crisis began. They "weren't about to go to Russia, where anti-American sentiment was strong," said Scher.
  • Be persistent and don't accept "no" for an answer. For example, Scher's perseverance helped him get accommodations for singer Patti LaBelle in Buffalo, N.Y., when the city was sold out.
  • Get to know your clients and be available to them at all hours. E-mail really helps speed up communications, said Scher.
  • Irene the baker

    May I suggest a topic for your next staff meeting? How about chewing over this: What makes your agency so unique that customers would go out of their way to do business with you?

    Richard Turen.That may be a tough one to think about. But if you're looking for ideas on how to differentiate your agency, consider that in this age of impersonal service, it's the little human touches that often matter most.

    Here's one way my agency does it -- with our own official baker. Irene is a client who enjoyed a trip so much that she brought us homemade pastries one Monday morning. Not ordinary pastries, mind you, but little bites of sugar-dusted lemon curd cake and round almond cinnamon circles, all made with real butter and not a little love.

    We adored them, and we served them off the service cart to our guests. (It is our practice to refer to clients who come to our office as "guests.") The following Monday, Irene was back, with an even larger assortment. So we gave her the job of "official Churchill & Turen baker." Although she was reluctant, we insisted on paying Irene in travel credits for her efforts.

    If I tell you that I suspect that we have had bookings because people want one of Irene's delicacies, you might think I was exaggerating. But then again, you've never tasted her peanut butter chocolate squares.

    Richard Turen is managing director of the Churchill Group, a sales and marketing consulting firm, as well as president of the agency Churchill & Turen Ltd., both based in Naperville, Ill. Contact him at [email protected].


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