The spiritual, savvy agent

Of the three partners in Gotta Go Cruises in Bayshore, N.Y., "I'm the nutty one," said Cindy Clifford. (But since her cruise-only agency was virtually unaffected by the airline commission cuts, we'd call her a smart cookie instead.)

From the left: Cindy Clifford, Flo Kiss and Lain Johanson.Still, Clifford was a little nervous about admitting she believes in psychic phenomena. "But I've gone to some extraordinarily talented psychics," she said.

"The thing that defines their credibility is when they'll give you one or two specific details they couldn't have known any other way," Clifford said.

"Once you know that you go on [after death] and that the people you've loved and lost [go on], it changes your overall approach to life."

Beyond providing spiritual comfort, Clifford's beliefs helped her develop the agency's latest theme cruise, NowAge 2000, set for March 26 on Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Sky.

First she asked a local psychic, Jeffrey Wand, who has his own radio show, "The Psychic Eye," if he wanted to host a cruise. Wand put her in touch with well-known psychic Suzane Northrop, author of the book "The Seance: Healing Messages From Beyond," who will headline the program. The cruise will feature seminars on such topics as intuitive healing.

"This is a voyage for believers that the dearly departed [are] ready to make contact [with the living]," reads the press release written by Northrop's public relations firm, which has planned a big "media push" for the cruise.

This has meant lots of publicity for the agency, including stories in the Miami Sun Sentinel, on Yahoo and on the TV show "Extra." But Gotta Go's partners -- Clifford, Flo Kiss and Lain Johanson -- were most tickled by receiving a call from CNN Norway.

With this sailing, "we look to people who maybe have never cruised before but will be drawn to it for the content of the seminars. They'll go on to discover the magic of cruising."

The agency doesn't always deal with otherworldly themes; next up is an alumni cruise for hockey players on NCL's Voyager of the Seas.

And while Clifford may believe in psychics, she's also big on "free will." The information she'll get from a reading "is not written in stone; it's more, this is the direction [in which] you're heading."

Fruitful promotion tips

We're not a storefront with brochures," said Cindy Clifford of Gotta Go Cruises in Bayshore, N.Y. "We're going out there and looking for business."

Clifford and her two partners first became outside agents after their enthusiasm about cruises led them to "convincing people in the supermarket" to ship out; then they formed their own agency three-and-a-half years ago.

The following are tips from an agency that sees its mission as "converting the world one passenger at a time":

  • Be observant and look for ideas in your everyday life. "Check out every business you drive by and ask yourself, 'Are they going for the same people as I am? What could I do with them?' " said Clifford.
  • For example, her commute took her past a large, very popular water amusement park that was a mecca for families from all over. Figuring there was a natural fit between water sports and cruising, she and a Carnival rep developed a joint ad, including a cruise discount coupon, that ran next to the amusement park's map.

  • Look for a good fit and the right demographics when checking out partners for promotions.
  • For example, an automotive dealer may not be your best bet because people spending money on a car may not have the additional bucks for a vacation at the same time.

  • Make connections with supplier sales reps. Clifford suggested calling your district sales managers and saying, "I'd like to be doing something other than waiting for bookings to come in."
  • She said, "Our DSMs have been absolutely instrumental to our success, providing astounding amounts of support and ideas. If we try something and it doesn't work, they say, 'Let's try something else.' "

    The $699 cruise

    To some of us, those phony price come-on ads are merely humorous.You know what I'm talking about -- those huge ads screaming prices that always end in nine.

    Richard Turen.This approach may seem dated and silly, but there are naive consumers who get the impression that these large discount outlets actually get prices other retailers can't match.

    One approach you might take to counter this industry practice is what I call a dissection ad. Take the $699 price and clearly show the reader what it doesn't include. You might headline your ad, "Is This Truthful Advertising?" Then, point out your firm does not use bait-and-switch pricing techniques. Your price will include air fare, port charges, government fees, transfers, etc.

    If you have an architect friend, ask him or her to draw a diagram labeled "Dissection of a Cruise Price." Yes, your prices will be higher than those of the phony discounters. But an ad discussing honest pricing enables your agency to be the consumer's ally.

    This is a far better position from which to attract and retain clients. Phony price ads that show minimum cruise cabins and leave out numerous extra charges, as well as air fare, are inherently insulting to the reader.

    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].

    Updated consolidator guide

    Moffit's Consolidators Guide, now in an updated fourth edition, is one source of information for agents who want to sell air through consolidators. Published by Roanoke, Va.-based SFC Travel Publications, the volume provides a list of domestic and international consolidators.

    Moffit's Consolidators Guide.Information on each company includes years of operation, trade affiliation, details of bonds and/or escrow accounts, ticketing information, airlines represented, destinations served and gateway cities.

    Commission information incudes whether or not agents get paid a commission percentage or the consolidator provides a net fare as well as the timing of commission payments. There are also ads throughout, some of which provide interesting information.

    For example, there's an ad by the U.S. Air Consolidators Association, a trade association for this industry segment that we had never heard of (visit its Web site at www.usaca.com for more information).

    The book costs $49.95, with volume discounts available. Call (800) 322-3834.

    Periodic tables for travelers

    Looking for a travel-related poster to decorate your agency or to give to clients as a premium?

    The Periodic Table of First Class.Check out the Periodic Table of First Class, which spotlights 40 tails of the world's leading airlines. Others in the series are the Periodic Table of Languages, which displays the flags and mottos of 40 countries, and the Periodic Table of Money, a guide to foreign currency. All three posters come in two sizes: 11-by-17-inch for $10.95 and 24-by-34-inch for $20.50. The posters can be printed with your agency logo.

    For more information, call JFA Associates at (612) 525-0731.

    Got a question?

    How do you write a mission statement?" was the question forwarded to us from an agent/ reader.

    Lucy Hirleman.We immediately passed the query on to Dan Mc-Manus, a former agency owner who writes the From Dan's Desk column that appears in Agent Life. Dan answered that question in a piece that will run in a future issue -- which started us thinking, why not invite readers to ask questions of the industry experts who write regularly for Agent Life?

    Although they cannot provide personal responses, they'll use your questions as springboards for future columns. Each of our columnists has his or her own specialties.

    Want to know how to fire an employee as painlessly as possible? Try asking Dan McManus, whose expertise is personnel, technology and business operations issues. E-mail him at [email protected].

    Got a question on how to develop a successful promotion? Agency owner and consultant Richard Turen is your guy, handling queries on sales and marketing, with special expertise in cruises. E-mail him at [email protected].

    And if you want to get the perspective of a down-to-earth agency owner who's also an industry educator, small agency strategist and consultant, e-mail Lucy Hirleman at [email protected].

    Further, if you have questions on marketing or geography and want to get the perspective of industry consultant Marc Mancini, e-mail Agent Life editor Phyllis Fine at [email protected].

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