CAMPAIGNS: Product PR - Travel insurance enjoys media trip

Client: Travel Guard International (Stevens Point, WI)

Client: Travel Guard International (Stevens Point, WI)

Client: Travel Guard International (Stevens Point, WI)

PR Team: KWE Associates (New York)

Campaign: You're Sunk Without Travel Insurance: Leveraging the News to Highlight Product Benefits

Time Frame: Sept. 15-early October 2000

Budget: dollars 2,000

When four Premier Cruise Lines ships were seized by creditors mid-trip on September 13, nearly 2,800 passengers barely had time to collect their belongings before being dumped at the nearest dock. Passengers without travel insurance might have to wait years before they would be reimbursed for the thousands of dollars they had spent on their vacations.

Images of the stranded passengers all but dominated coverage when the story broke and spread on September 14. KWE Associates' client, Travel Guard International, the largest travel insurance agency in the US, would never get a better news hook.


KWE finds it challenging to get reporters interested in travel insurance, a necessary but unglamorous product. But, says KWE account executive David Biss, '(Everybody) could sympathize with those passengers.'

The Premier Cruise Lines episode provided a graphic and immediate way to illustrate the importance of travel insurance, and Travel Guard International customers on board the seized ships reinforced the reliability of the brand. (Travel Guard doled out dollars 1.5 million in coverage to its more than 400 customers aboard the ships.) Finally, the crisis showed that insurance should be purchased from third-party providers, not from the cruise line itself. Vacationers with Premier Cruise Lines insurance were out of luck.

By playing up the insurance angle of the story to the major consumer publications, KWE could also spotlight Travel Guard VP of communications and services Dan McGinity, an expert on travel insurance. McGinity was also tapped by the weekly travel trades and Sunday-newspaper travel sections, which had a longer lead-time than consumer outlets and would be looking for a fresh angle.


Biss and his team made most of their pitches on September 15, the day after the story broke. 'The number one priority was to get the word out quickly - to beat the other travel insurance firms,' Biss says. 'In a week, or maybe less, it would have been old news, and we would have missed our chance.'

In addition to calling and e-mailing targeted daily reporters, Biss dashed off a press release saying that since the ships were seized, Travel Guard's phone lines have been ringing nonstop with Premier passengers calling to file claims. The release went out over PR Newswire to 2,500 print and broadcast reporters.


Biss' speed paid off with 4.4 million print hits. Highlights included a short piece on the front page of USA Today's 'Life' section, a story in Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine, as well as cover stories in all three major weekly travel trade publications.

The story also was the subject of The New York Times' 'Practical Traveler' column on Sunday, October 1. The columnist, a passenger on a previous Premier cruise that was cut short, was out the money for the future cruise she had been promised.

Biss' efforts also garnered some Internet coverage. The travel section of (which has 19 million monthly visitors) posted items in October and November. Travel Guard was mentioned in all reports.

Consumer inquiries to the insurer's toll-free information line increased 12% following the reports. Says Biss, the coverage 'tipped the scale in terms of awareness of the benefit of travel insurance.'


Travel Guard used the coverage to compile a disturbing issues piece to be used by sales staff and to post on its Web site.

'It's very valuable because it contains respected media sources talking about the value of travel insurance. I don't know if you can really put a price tag on that.'

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