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
The result was culture
shock over European behavior -- with the boys in the band
indignantly reporting that guests "actually let their dogs eat at
"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
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.
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?
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
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
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].