Over the decades I have had the pleasure of giving away hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, autographed merchandise from superstar bands, 25 Corvettes and dozens of other kinds of cars, and trips to England, Australia, Russia, Iceland, Hawaii, the Amazon and many other glamorous and unusual locales all over the planet.
I’ve also had contest winners turn down free cars because of the tax implications and not pick up cash because it was too much of a hassle to come to the station and fill out the paperwork. But I’ve never had anyone say no to a free trip.
Why? Because a free trip is an escape. It’s a fantasy with promise. It’s something to look forward to when life has become routine.
When was the last time you used a free trip in a contest to generate more listening or to drive membership in your online club’s database?
I know exactly what you’re thinking! “Has Lapidus lost his mind? We don’t have a contest budget anymore!”
I may indeed have lost my mind, but because I know what you’re thinking, I’ll do my best to tell you how to find free trips for your next big contest.
There is a huge travel industry in this country that needs free advertising. That’s where you come in. You’re going to give it to them in exchange for free trips.
1) First, it’s important to understand the rules of engagement.
Make certain that whomever you’re approaching has been around for a long time and has a credible reputation. The last thing you want is to be on the hook for this prize if your new partner goes out of business or won’t deliver the goods when it comes time to book the travel.
2) Before making the approach, be certain your sales department knows of your desire to obtain free trips. It’s possible they may have a client who would like to provide trips to give away, and actually pay you to do so.
One would think that this isn’t likely because a client would’ve approached you about doing this — but perhaps they didn’t know of your interest. Or maybe your idea will finally light a fire under somebody to sell it.
3) Next step is to put together a substantial promotional schedule on paper that includes live and recorded promotional announcements, banner ads on your Web site, content links in your e-letter, plugs on your Facebook page and Tweets from your Twitter account.
4) Assign a value to each item. Target six to one in value from your promotional worth to the retail cost of the prize. This means that if you’re pitching a partner on giving away a trip worth $10,000, you should be offering at least $60,000 in promotional value to your partner.
Why do I advise you to be so generous? Mainly because you’ll want this promotion actually to generate some business for your new partner so you’ll be able to do this more than once. Truthfully, if it’s a great trip, you’re going to want to plug it a lot anyway.
Note of caution
5) Who are likely targets for you? Successful local travel agencies. Cruise ships. Large entertainment venues like Disney, Universal, Six Flags and various theme parks. Boards of tourism (major cities and sometimes countries have them). Airlines and hotels. Rental car companies. Web sites that sell trip packages.
6) A word of caution about doing trip giveaways with travel agencies or cruise lines who want to work with you to sell a package.
Here’s how this works: They tell you they’re doing a theme trip, typically with celebrities or sports stars. They promise your sales department an ad-buy and ask for a large promotional schedule, offering you a trip to give away.
If your station sells a lot of packages, you won’t have any issues. If your station doesn’t move enough trips, look out! You’ll get a call expressing regret that the trip has been cancelled, and because of that your prize trip is also gone.
Typically your sales department gets paid, so they’re not going to be too upset; but you are now on the hook to pay your contest winner the value of the prize or find them a similar prize.
7) I’ve found the most difficult part of selling these type of packages is that the date is set in stone and most people who buy trips want to go on vacation when it’s convenient for them.
8) Finally, keep in mind that if you’re sending winners out of the country you must leave them time to obtain passports.
9) Also, make limitations quite clear in your contest rules. These could include the age of the winner’s traveling companion, necessity to obtain passport, requirement to take the trip when it’s scheduled and a clause that reminds the winner that they will owe Uncle Sam taxes based on the retail value of the prize.
10) Treat yourself! It seems like yesterday when stations would send a station representative along with the winner to make sure everything went all right. While I haven’t heard of many stations doing that in about 10 years, it’s nice to dream big, isn’t it?
Mark Lapidus is president of Lapidus Media. E-mail him firstname.lastname@example.org.