Checking out the board

So you've taken our advice on the benefits of serving on travel agent advisory boards (Agent Life, Nov. 22) and have received an invite to join one. But how will you know if it's truly worth your time and effort?

Donald Reynolds.According to an industry expert -- Donald Reynolds of Reynolds Associates in New York -- there are three main factors to consider when checking out an advisory board.

Reynolds, an industry veteran who formerly served as vice president of advertising and public relations for ASTA, now creates agent advisory boards for travel companies such as Amtrak, Avis and American Express.

First, he said, you'll want to know if the board has been taken seriously by the company or destination it's supposed to advise. At the first meeting you attend, a good sign to look for is a review of the board's recommendations from the prior meeting -- what Reynolds called "a triage of yes, no and maybe."

You should find out what proposals have definitely been acted upon and what the ultimate results were; what is still being worked on, and what items have been delayed or postponed.

Second, keep an eye on who's attending from the supplier's side, he said. If you find yourself sitting across the table from somebody's secretary or a tape recorder, forget about it.

"In attendance should be management -- senior management -- and the person charged with travel industry marketing sales," Reynolds said. Often, companies will bring in a senior member of management to hear discussions on specific topics.

Finally, and perhaps most important, the supplier needs to be accountable to the board. "The [supplier] has to indicate to a board that it is listening and, where possible, acting."

Reynolds said this last step is quite important. "You're taking [time] out of [agents'] lives, [so agents] like to walk away feeling that their time has been worthwhile and invested properly."

If things are going well, you'll quickly note that your fellow retailers are genuinely looking forward to the next chance to get together, he said.

For many of the boards he works with, "we have agents calling who want to know when the next meeting is," he said.

Advisory boards: Getting that invite

What if you want to serve on an advisory board but have yet to be asked? You needn't wait for an engraved invitation.

Industry expert Donald Reynolds said an agent's best bet for being considered is to take the direct approach.

Donald Reynolds' business card.There are two ways of doing this, said Reynolds, who creates agent advisory boards for travel companies (see story above).

One technique is to write to suppliers you know well that have an advisory board and plainly ask to be considered, he said. If the supplier in question doesn't have a board yet, you can always suggest that it start one, he said.

"Just say, [it] should have an agent advisory board because if [it] did, [it] wouldn't do all those dumb things it's doing,'" Reynolds jokingly offered as a suggestion.

Another way to put your expertise to use is to directly contact Reynolds, at (212) 532-8845. His company maintains a database on agents with specialized skills.

"If I'm out somewhere, and I see someone who asks intelligent questions in a meeting, I'll get a card. Later, I'll call and interview [him or her]," he said.

If the need for, say, a Baltics specialist ever comes up, then Reynolds is prepared to tell his client, "we've got a terrific person for you."

Making it work

Agents can make advisory board membership an invaluable experience, according to Donald Reynolds, who sets up such boards.

On a professional level, it's an extremely effective way of getting a company or supplier to make its policies and promotions more agent-friendly, he said.

Avis board members get an insider's view of the business.On a personal level, participants on a good board will find themselves surrounded by accomplished peers who can teach them how to improve their own businesses.

Reynolds said that his company deliberately seeks out agents who are both articulate and collegial, so the group will function well; otherwise, agents "are not going to open up."

Board networking can help build long-term relationships. "[Agents] walk away from meetings having learned as much as they gave. If you talk to our Avis advisory board [members], they'll tell you that they call each other between meetings."

Another benefit is the free peek that agents can take inside the minds of suppliers, he said. "I think agents are quite fascinated to learn how companies arrive at decisions. At Avis, [vice president, travel industry sales and marketing] Daryl Thrasher makes a point of briefing his advisory board about what's going on at Avis and in the industry in a very nitty-gritty way," providing a valuable tutorial on the state of the market, he said.

And finally, those with an altruistic bent will derive great satisfaction from knowing that they've helped grease the wheels of progress or improved a destination's ability to sell itself.

As Reynolds said, the agents who are best suited for a seat on the board have the trait to give "in their makeup."

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