Model behavior

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Is it a real cruise ship or an incredible simulation? It may look just like Carnival Cruise Line's Fantasy, but the ship pictured is a landlocked model -- 115 feet long and 15 feet wide -- created as a megasculpture by ninth-grade students at Peet Junior High School in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The sculpture, made mostly of cardboard and wood, was on view last June. Vicki Feldpouch, owner of the Travel Store in Waterloo, Iowa, sponsored the project, which she called "the most imaginative and successful promotion our agency has ever done."

The megasculpture of Carnival Cruise Line's Fantasy at night.Feldpouch had gone to school with Peet art teacher Bill Close, who each year has his ninth-grade megasculpture class turn out a giant object. "When my daughters were in his class 10 and 12 years ago they made a big tennis shoe and a model of a Schwinn bicycle," said Feldpouch. "[Close] was always looking for sponsors, and every year I kept thinking, 'I should sponsor this.' "

So last year Feldpouch decided to go for it, asking Close to create a sculpture with a leisure travel theme. "I originally thought he would do a big anchor," she said. "He's the one who had the vision of turning [half of the] school into a cruise ship."

Close considered several ships before going with the Fantasy. One big reason for the decision was because Feldpouch already had a model of the vessel in her agency. Close "took every single measurement and made it to scale -- from cabin windows to lifeboats."

Art teacher Bill Close, at the far right of the front row, poses with some students. Then he made a sketch and the class set to work on it for months and months. The movie "Titanic," which played in 1998, also helped generate even more interest in the project. "The kids would joke that they were working on their own personal Titanic," said Feldpouch.

She enjoyed "the way the kids joined together [for the project]. Anything [Close] asked of them, they did. They worked weekends, morning and evenings. Their teamwork was remarkable. They spent months painting or constructing it; one week there were 15 [model] lifeboats sitting all over the school. "I have four grown daughters," she said. "You always hear stories about teenagers that aren't good news, but this was heartwarming [in contrast].

"Also, we had so many parents who thanked us for getting their kids involved in something," said Feldpouch. "The project gave them something to be proud of. Parents reported that young people who previously didn't feel like going to school couldn't wait to get in early to work on the sculpture."

An art project with legs

The front page of the local paper.Vicki Feldpouch, owner of the Travel Store in Waterloo, Iowa, wound up spending "around $2,000" on her agency's sponsorship of the replica of Carnival's Fantasy built by kids at Peet Junior High. That sum "paid for everything, from two-by-fours to any other supplies needed."

The return on her investment? "I can't put a dollar figure on it," she said. But her agency got a big boost in "name recognition" from all the press coverage of the project -- from the front page of the local paper to at least six mentions on television news broadcasts in the area.

And during the time that the sculpture was on display, "thousands of carloads of people came by to see it," said Feldpouch. Also boosting her agency's popularity was the "sponsor sign," which mentioned her agency and was placed next to the sculpture.

The project helped increase the agency's cruise business for the year, she said. "I got one nice group booking that came from a parent" whose kids worked on the sculpture.

And while the agency already had "a very good relationship with Carnival," the Fantasy helped to "solidify" the Travel Store's tie with the cruise line. The agency's local Carnival sales rep, Mike Julius, got involved, bringing "coolers full of [soda] pop to kids working in the heat" on the sculpture. Carnival also wound up donating $2,500 to Peet Junior High for future art projects.

And when Julius announced the promotion at one of Carnival's national sales meetings, he became "one of the stars," said Feldpouch.

Carnival also donated 120 T-shirts with its logo on them. "We put our logo on the back of the shirts," said Feldpouch. "Now, I'm always going around town seeing parents and kids wearing those T-shirts -- another spot of nice publicity for us."

Still, although "we did it partly for community service and good advertising, we got so much more than that," said Feldpouch.

Chief among the benefits: "the good will in our community between parents and kids."

A delicious marketing tool

"Tired of the same old thing? Don't just 'do take out' ... Take off!" reads the front of the "menu" Pioneer Valley Travel, Northampton, Mass., hands out to prospects.

Last year, agency owner Martha Borawski developed the menu idea as a way to present service fees to her clients, working with the woman who also creates the agency's advertising. But the menu is more than just a list of fees -- it has become a prime promotional tool for the agency's services, products and personnel.

The menu's categories include the"full-service specialties of the house," from an African safari to a "Caribbean dream vacation." Then there's "just desserts," a listing of short trips, which include "Mickey's West Coast Place," with the tag line, "Beth has the inside line on Disney California and the surrounding countryside ... how about a little 'Viva Las Vegas' "?

The escapes du jour are set up like "soups of the day," said Borawski. For example, Monday is cruise day because "we tend to get most of our faxes for cruise specials over the weekend," she said.

Delicious service, part 2

The "menu" Pioneer Valley Travel, Northampton, Mass., hands out to prospects not only presents its products and staff mixed in with food metaphors (see story above). The menu, designed and written by the advertising specialist who also handles Pioneer's ad campaigns, also does a good job of promoting the company's special services.

For example, under "full-service specialties" is this sentence: "Included with every deal: advance seat assignments, discounts for parking at area airports, corporate hotel and car rental discounts and $100,000 automatic flight insurance policy. Special orders on request."

"A la carte services" is the way the agency presents its service fees: from $5 for reservations processing for tickets up to $700, international faxes and telephones; $10 for charges, reissues, cancellations, refunds and noncommissionable hotel reservations to $25 for visa processing and a nonrefundable "commitment deposit" to be applied to the cost of the trip.

There is also a full complement of "custom creations": "Let our trained travel specialists research and design an individualized itinerary tailored to meet your specific needs and expectations," for $10 an hour. The specialities listed for this service include family reunions; "pack-up-the kids" trips; honeymoon planning with registry; golf and skiing vacations; solo tours; lesbian and gay travel; special group arrangements; 50th birthday parties; custom-guided tours; self-guided tours; scuba diving, and second- and third-marriage trips.

Let your client speak!

Richard TurenSometimes I wonder if the inspiration for some of the talking dolls like Chatty Cathy came from the travel agency business. It is an occupational hazard and is often the reason that clients "shop" instead of purchase. So often, as every study seems to point out, all clients really want is someone to listen to what they're saying.

It's tough. Because only we know how many maps we've pored over, how many courses we've taken, how many letters we have after our name. And, of course, there's the matter of our travel experience. Why, we've been practically everywhere, we know the names of all the top concierges in Paris and have tried just about every top restaurant in Fez. So naturally, we want to show the client that we're not just any travel agent. We throw around words like FIT, run-of-house, booking on a "guarantee," and we keep it up until the client's eyes glaze over.

So let's take a pledge. I call it the 70-30 Pledge. In an ideal sales scenario, the client ought to do 70% of the talking and you ought to be asking open-ended questions that require thoughtful and revealing answers. Here are two of my favorites:

"I'd love to get to know a bit more about your personal travel experiences. Would you mind describing your favorite all-time vacation and, if you would, any vacation experience that was truly disappointing?"

"Everyone dreams about 'the perfect vacation.' If money was no object, what kind of travel environment would most suit your personality?"

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. E-mail him at [email protected].

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