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Travel Incentives and Promotional Products

Travel or Merchandise - How About Both?
By Mary S. Malik

Awards programs and travel incentives aren't generally considered to be kindred spirits. But one thing's for sure: Travel Incentives - if you decide to use them - always work better when supported by promotional products.

No one offers a travel incentive on the spur of the moment, or even a month or two in advance. It s a business-simple equation: Participants need time to sell or buy (or whatever the criteria may be) in order to win the prize. Ultimately, the company's goal is to make money, and the more time it gives employees or consumers to work toward the prize, the more money they ll make. The trick, of course, is keeping them interested. And the solution - as savvy marketers know - is promotional products.

"I do all the meeting planning, all incentive travel program coordinating and special trips for brokers as well as major clients," says Kathy Dioguardi, vice president of Everen Securities. "What I first like to do for the trips is to get a theme for whatever we re doing and carry it through all levels of the program. This usually revolves around the location of the trip. For example, a recent trip was to Italy, so I wanted to incorporate things that were Italian in nature. I sent things like a leather wine carrier with two bottles of wine, an Italian wooden box, a kaleidoscope. Some of these items were given as incentives and enticements before the trip, and some during or after."

Constant Reminders
No company can expect its target audience, whether it's inside salespeople or the general public, to stay motivated for the often-remote possibility of winning a trip two years from now. People need constant reminders that they re on the right track, and must be encouraged to keep their collective "eye on the prize." And promotional products, small gift items and other related merchandise can keep people focused and motivated.

"Both group and individual travel programs are always tied in with other premiums in some way, whether it's before the trip, on the trip or take-away items," echoes the marketing and communications manager for a large corporation.

Travel incentives that recognize excellence can often be supported by the inclusion of corporate wearables or other imprinted "visibles" (jewelry, tote bags, umbrellas, etc.) which enable achievers to effectively, yet silently, tell the world about their achievements and your company's appreciation thereof.

The location of the program also plays a key role: "Items that we use run the gamut, the manager continues. What works best in California may not work in Kalamazoo. For the upper Midwest, we try and concentrate on sports, hunting and fishing. Maybe for the West Coast, more water-oriented items. One doesn't always exclude the other; some things work well for everyone. But we try to remember who we're working with."

When a trip is planned for a location where many travelers may not have been before, Dioguardi likes to include information on where they'll be going. For Italy, she included cookbooks with Italian scenes and information and regional recipes. Items like maps and globes can also fit in to this part of a program.

"I like to keep the gifts functional," she explains. "Most of the people I'm planning for already have everything. These are high-end incentives. They want something they can use. Another example would be on the trips themselves, where we tend to gear the items toward the spouses. The guys want something for their wives, so we may include two luxurious robes in their hotel room - that kind of thing."

Before, During And After
Other opportunities for promotional gifts may be in the form of prizes on the trip itself. Group travel programs often include some type of competition - tennis or golf or the like - on the trip. "We have a list of prizes from which the winners can choose," says Dioguardi.

She also feels strongly that the time factor of a travel program lends itself to the use of promotional items along the way. "In our business, it's production," she says. Whomever produces over an extended period of time is rewarded, so we like to encourage them if they're getting close. We use things like teaser mailings.

"I once sent out a treasure chest with a lock on it. They would get the key if they kept producing. There was a puzzle inside the chest that told more about the travel destination that they were on track for. Our real goal with a travel program is to show these people that we appreciate them, and their spouses as well. Promotional items along the way really help to pull the whole trip together."

Planning Ahead
How far ahead should you start planning? Consultant John Prusnek uses another type of travel incentive for a large executive-placement firm. "We're now working on a theme for next year for a trip that will take place in 2001," he says. "The company takes their top producers each year on a free trip to the national convention that takes place either in Acapulco, Hawaii, Puerto Rico or Cancun. We send out incentive mailings each month to keep people motivated and to be used as a pacesetter for the account executives who can reach that level of sales."

The advertising specialties Prusnek uses are always theme-oriented. Thus, the idea for the 2001 trip is 2001: A Beach Odyssey. The futuristic theme lends itself to some fun ideas with the new millennium on everyone's minds.

"One item we're using is a sound card with the 2001: A Space Odyssey theme on it," he says. "The items we use are at a very basic level. We just try and constantly reinforce the theme of the trip." The items are also geared to folks who sit at a desk all day and talk on their telephones. We want something that will remain in the workplace and that they will see." That's another key consideration for an effective travel-related product or gift - staying power.

One popular item Prusnek used in the past was Lucite embedments of seashells and similar beach-theme items. "These met with a favorable response," he says. "People even started collecting them. Some of the items we send out help executives to keep track of where they are in the contest. The managers of the various franchises give the executives a figure to reach each month. We send out imprinted wall charts that are also calendars and can be used to track their monthly progress."

Incentive Tie-Ins
Consultant Ron Segal also works on travel incentive programs for several companies. One he's currently helping with involves all kinds of promotional items to keep customers interested. "We design, implement and administer the whole program for the client," says Segal. This current one revolves around a trip that won t take place until the year 2000, but we have some great ways of keeping the clients interested."

The client, Elizabeth Webbing Mills in Providence, Rhode Island, makes cloth awning materials. The incentive program is for it's customers who use the fabric. "Every time you buy from Elizabeth Webbing Mills you earn trip credits," explains Segal. For a certain amount of points, you can upgrade your hotel suite, bring along the kids, etc. And we use a lot of items that we send out to entice the customers."

One of these was a recent mailing that included sand inside a bottle along with seashells, a miniature beach chair, umbrella and palm tree. There was a customized message from the president of the company with the logo on it. Segal mailed it to all the customers along with other teasers and announcements.

"For another travel program we did for a worldwide company called ABB [Asea Brown Bovari], we were promoting a cruise," he recalls. "We sent out an oversized sand shovel with the message, 'You'll dig what's coming up.' Then we mailed a starfish the next week with the message, 'Be a star, sell ABB products.'"

Other items for the promotion included maps from Rand-McNally, a map of the world with the company logo on Spain and the words "Here's where you are and here's where you could be in 2000."

Segal agrees that the duration of travel programs, often 12 to 18 months, makes them ideal for support from promotional items. "Every month, we send out a bank statement to the customers reporting where they are in terms of points toward achieving the trip," says Segal. "Then we will also include a little product along with the statement. We are constantly buying small items to put in mailings. Things like travel wallets, babysitter cards, sunglasses - we've done it all. These items keep the customer interested in where they could be going."

Inhouse Programs
Segal also finds logoed items extremely popular on the trips he has planned for clients. "Let's say you have a group of 600 going to the Bahamas and you re going to have some beach contests where there will be teams, he explains. We need blue, green, red, yellow T-shirts with the company logo for each team. We've also used tote bags when people arrive on the trip. These items are always popular."

Not only does Segal see promotional products as an integral part of the travel programs he plans and implements, but so do his clients, who frequently use promotional items and gifts in-house to keep employees interested and motivated.

"We use a lot of things here within Unitex, the parent company of Elizabeth Webbing Mills, to keep our salespeople up to date," says Dru Slater, spokesperson for Elizabeth Webbing. "We have different incentive plans inhouse for people who qualify. For travel programs, we give our customers the option to enroll. Some simply cannot give up the time to take a trip. They may be a one-man operation and can t take a week off for a cruise. So we do other incentives for these people to let them know that we appreciate them."

So before you decide to go with a travel program, talk to your counselor. They've seen all types - good, bad and in between and can steer you toward success.

COPYRIGHT © 1999 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Mary S. Malik

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