local media insider

Travel incentive program generates $500,000 plus in increased revenues

Alisa Cromer

Company: Dow Jones Local Media Group
Media: Hudson Valley Media Group, the largest property within Dow Jones Local Group.
Web sites: recordonline.com; HudsonValley.com
Key executive: Kathi Hammer, Advertising Director

Challenge: Significantly increase share of customer from  major account renewals  and convert these accounts to multi-media buys.

Strategy:  One dramatic tactic to focus the sales effort on year-over-year increases is the use of travel incentive programs - that is, awarding trips to advertisers in return for meeting specific spending targets - even though most of these programs were cut  from budgets years ago. The trips are to exotic destinations - not Hawaii - and cost $4000 to $5000 for two people - but the total pay-off in increased sales is well into six figures, and each trip is paid for out by increasing the spend double or triply the trip cost. 

The travel incentive program launched by Dow Jones Local Media group in 2009 is carefully designed to accomplish specific objectives:

*Gain contracts and secure revenue increases

*Target internet initiatives by mandating a percentage of the required increase

*Grow better client partnerships and a more focused use of their advertising dollars

1. Choosing the vendor
Dow Jones chose Impact Incentive Travel, which custom-designs turn-key travel packages including exotic getaways, with all the details worked out, including all transportation and group outings and dinners.  For example, the first package - to Bermuda - included the flight, being met at the airport, 4 nights hotel, daily breakfast, two dinners, and a get together on a catamaran cruise . 

2. Creating the rules
Advertisers eligible for the program must have the potential for a $12,000 upspend - of which  $4000 goes to the travel company. The advertiser also gets 20% off ROP for increasing their investments and to try new more and new multi-media products. 20% of the buy is in digital products.

Pre-approved full scale media plans with the increased media buy are generated before any travel presentation is delivered. The bonus, luxury trip is provided only when the specified up spend is met.  

The  rules are clear. "My biggest car dealer, missed it by $1000, he didn't go didn't complain next year he went," Hammer says.

3. Selecting the advertisers
Proposals go out to both  current advertisers and new businesses,  with the criteria that  the spend must be $12,000  over the same dates the prior year. Hammer says the program requires heavy involvement from the ad director, in supervising the selection of accounts and creating a significant multi-media buy that deploys additional products and has measurable objectives.

4. Timing the incentive program

Trips alternate times of year to accommodate more advertisers and so the previous year's participants are not adding incremental spend to the same quarter that was increased the previous  year. The best four months for running dramatic upsells are April through July. The winter contest has also been successful.

5. Incenting the sales department 

The group also has "huge launches" for the sales team, and incentives include days off and spiffs to get the contracts in and sold. 

A unique feature of the program is that winning sales reps can also go on the trip if the team goal is met.  If the group exceeds its goal by an additional percentage, the next top representative can also go.  Cash in lieue of the trip was an early option, but Hammer says the relationships built while traveling with customers have been more important. 


In its first year, the program generated  $361,000, the second year that number increased to $511,000. The program is in the middle of its third year at the Herald. 

"The first year, we were not sure how successful it was going to be, but we got a lot of contracts."    The group - which included the sales manager, advertisers and winning reps -  went to Bermuda.

"The clients start to connect and find their own relationships with key business partners in the community" The next trip was to 4 nights at an all-inclusive resort in Aruba; this year is five days to St Thomas. 

"It's a great value... Who gives away trips like that?" 

Our take

Travel incentive programs are a great way to allow managers to both incent and manage initiatives that drill deeper into creating a new value proposition for major accounts, and provide multi-media program with measurable results. Rethinking media plans to capture dollars transitioning to digital key to winning market share - and share of customer - in an increasingly competitive environment. 

Contact for Impact Incentive Travel  is tim@impactincentivetravel.com  954.562.5232. Please see "Trip rules" and the sales one sheet attached. 

Many thanks to Kathi Hammer, Advertising Director, of the Hudson Valley Media Group, for first contributing this initiative a the Suburban Newspaper Association's Fall 2011 Publisher and Ad Directors conference, and for sharing her tools and strategies with our members. 

Alisa Cromer

The author, Alisa Cromer is publisher of a variety of online media, including LocalMediaInsider and  MediaExecsTech,  developed while on a fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute and which has evolved into a leading marketing company for media technology start-ups. In 2017 she founded Worldstir.com, an online magazine,  to showcases perspectives from around the  world on new topic each month, translated from and to the top five languages in the world.