In its first six months of operation, AlfresCo Alliance, the
Research Triangle, N.C.-based corporate adventure firm founded by
travel agency owner Nancy Johnson, had specific trips written up in
two prestigious publications, the New Yorker and the national
business magazine Fast Company.
How did Johnson (also featured in a recent issue of Agent Life )
get such good public relations so fast?
Basically, through a combination of excellent connections and
timing. Johnson, the owner of Johnson Travel, also based in
Research Triangle, hasn't yet begun reaching out to the media. But
the AlfresCo Alliance also includes seven well-known adventure
travel companies with their own press connections. When writers at
the New Yorker and Fast Company were researching the hot topic of
corporate training adventures, they were eventually directed to
The Fast Company piece, in the November issue (also available on
the Web at www.fastcompany.com/online/29/toolbox.html),
describes, in vivid detail, the white-water-rafting trip AlfresCo
designed specifically for Altrec.com, a Bellevue, Wash.-based Internet
Writer Todd Balf spells out exactly how an adventure travel trip
can further corporate goals: "In Altrec's case, choosing a bad-ass
white-water trip over, say, a breezy cycling tour of Sonoma's
vineyards makes sense," since "in the marketplace, Altrec must
navigate a minefield of known and unknown hazards," similar to what
its execs will face on the trip, such as "10-foot-high waves."
Johnson, a big fan of the magazine Fast Company, said making its
pages "totally lit my hair on fire." She was also pleased with the
article's vivid you-are-there feel, which she felt would attract
other corporate clients.
Johnson found the New Yorker article, published in a September
issue of the magazine, which was devoted to the topic of adventure,
less useful for her PR purposes, because it was more narrowly
focused on the writer's own experience of the trip.
But she's still thrilled with her "unsolicited" press
"I like to believe we're capturing people's imaginations," she
Adventurous business model
Besides trying to provide a breath of "fresh air" for its
clients by packaging corporate training adventures, the AlfresCo
Alliance is a "new business model." It is a company comprising 10
"visionary" firms, according to founder Nancy Johnson.
Coordinated by Johnson and her partner, Seattle-based Tim
Vanderhoof, a former travel agent, AlfresCo consists of seven
separate adventure travel companies -- Backroads, Canadian Mountain
Holidays, Lindblad Special Expeditions, Mountain Travel Sobek,
Outdoor Adventure River Specialists, Off the Beaten Path and Triple
Creek Ranch -- and three corporate training firms -- Project
Adventure, Corporate Coach U International and the Marshall
The difference here is the company follows a "co-petitive
model," said Johnson.
"Sometimes you may need a core competency that would take your
organization a long time to develop, so you partner with another
firm that has it," she said.
Many of the "co-petitors" first bonded when they were preferred
suppliers for the Navigator adventure travel program of the upscale
To build further trust among its members, AlfresCo is taking
some of the advice it doles out to corporations and is scheduling
its own retreat. "If we're preaching it, we should be doing it,
too," said Johnson.A bad name game
A competitor recently opened an agency in a nearby city, across
the state line, with the same name that our agency has had for 20
years. Can we stop this?
not. Even if you have incorporated the name in your state (thus
preventing its use by any other business in your state) and you've
been using it for 20 years (which gives you some common-law
protection), you may not legally be able to stop a company in
another state from using your name unless you've registered it with
the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
If the competing agency can conduct business in your market, you
should see a patent and trademark attorney right away. He or she
will probably advise you to register your name with the U.S. Patent
If the other agency has not already done this, you may then have
legal rights to have it stop using the name because you are in the
same market area. You might also have other rights, depending on
the laws in your state and the neighboring state.
Recently, the cybercafe next door to my agency in the shopping
center started promoting itself as a great place to book travel
through Web sites. My lease prevents another agency from renting in
the center. Can I stop this?
It's unlikely that the clause in your contract with the shopping
center owner prohibits any tenant from carrying or promoting
specific products. For example, should the cybercafe be allowed to
prevent you from inviting customers to drop by for coffee?
Your best recourse may be to find a way to add value to the
services offered by Web sites and join the cafe's promotion.
Reciprocate by promoting the cafe as a place where your customers
can meet with friends to plan travel.
Former agency owner Dan McManus is the publisher of the
newsletter The Successful Worldspan Agent. Contact him at [email protected].