"There was so much security, it was just like traveling with the
president." That is what Alan Gerstner, vice president of the
Cruise Corner & Vacation Center, Wilmette, Ill., had to say
about the backstage scene during a promotion involving the pop
singing group the Backstreet Boys.
The planning for the group's appearance at a Sears store in
Tampa, Fla., included a 10-page outline of such details as where
the barricades were going to be, according to Gerstner.
There were paramedics, police security, store security and a
celebrity security firm on alert -- all because of the group's
popularity as darlings of the preteen-and-beyond set.
"Wherever the Boys go, there are hundreds of girls who follow
them and scream," said Gerstner.
Gerstner was handling travel arrangements for a Sears contest
whose winners got a trip to the group's concert in Tampa and a
$2,000 shopping spree at a Tampa Sears with their favorite
The actual agency client Gerstner was serving was Wunderman Cato
Johnson, an advertising promotion firm working with Sears.
Gerstner booked all the travel for the contest winners and for
the Wunderman contingent, and he coordinated some details of the
Boys' activities, as well.
It was Gerstner's 16-year-old daughter Lisa (who frequently
lends a hand with agency duties) who really lucked out: Not only
did she get to meet the group, she got to appear (for a second or
two) on national television. Lisa Gerstner was shown talking to one
of the Backstreet Boys, Nick Carter, on an "Access Hollywood"
segment filmed about the contest.
For Gerstner, the surprise was that the celebrities were
actually "nice, down-to-earth kids." He watched as a group member,
Kevin Richardson, picked up the tab for a contest winner who went
over the $2,000 limit for the shopping spree.
But having to deal with all of the event's logistics --
including several quick changes for the Backstreet Boys' route to
the Sears store -- couldn't help but take its toll.
Gerstner noted, "It was really stressful, but when it was over,
there was that sigh of relief when you know you've done a good job
and everything came off."
Efficient celebrity handling
It's a real challenge to handle a promotion for megawatt
celebrities such as the Backstreet Boys, as Alan Gerstner well
knows (see story at above). Here, Gerstner, vice president of the
Cruise Corner & Vacation Center, Wilmette, Ill., suggests the
following for those dealing with famous travelers:
Learn to qualify suppliers for special needs. Gerstner was
extra careful when researching limo companies to transport the
group. He called several, always asking to speak to the owner, and
specified that "I needed a company with a stable full of limos. The
first thing I asked was, 'Can you supply me with 15 limos at a
time?' Then I asked, 'Have you ever dealt with celebrities?'"
The winning company not only had armor-plated cars, they had
drivers who had been through defensive-driving courses for
transporting dignitaries.Be super-organized during the event. Gerstner said he walked
around with a portfolio containing every piece of paper relating to
the job: correspondence, key players' names and business and home
This information came in handy when a limo broke down, and
Gerstner called the owner of the limo company at home to arrange
for a replacement vehicle.Use your network of contacts well. Gerstner, who works for an
American Express rep agency, called another American Express office
in Tampa, Fla. (where the promotion was held), to research local
suppliers.Learn to be discreet. Gerstner had to tell the limo company
that he couldn't even provide specifics of the Backstreet Boys'
final location until a day or two before the event and that the
info "has to be kept quiet."
All the event documents were put under American Express, not the
Backstreet Boys, to keep anyone who handled them from blurting out
information to fans/paparazzi who called.Make flying times a selling point
Agents need to realize that the public is generally unfamiliar
with specific flying times to major destinations. That is why I
like to see this issue addressed at the beginning of any discussion
you have with your clients about vacation choices.
realize, for instance, that most of the more interesting Caribbean
islands require a change of planes in Miami or San Juan? For just
about the same travel time, they may be able to fly to Hawaii -- at
least from the Midwest. Do your clients know that French Polynesia
is only two-and-a-half hours beyond Hawaii, or just
seven-and-a-half hours from the West Coast?
I recently returned from Hong Kong. My flight back took just
two-and-a-half hours longer then a flight I took to Rome from
Chicago six months ago. How many Midwest clients know that the
Orient is just a football game longer than a flight to Europe?
Over the years, I have found that clients come to us because
they want to explore what I like to call "the infinite
possibilities of life."
Consider developing a "20 Places Worth Visiting" flying time
chart. The idea would be to list some exotic destinations side by
side with the more common options to demonstrate that flying time
realities are often quite different from perceptions.
Richard Turen is an industry consultant and travel agency
president. Contact him at [email protected].