Dave Walker has taken the war to the radio. The battle is with the
airline industry, and the owner of Ace Travel in Coeur d’ Alene,
Idaho, is out to counter what he considers enemy propaganda.
“If the average American had a really good idea of what was
going on in the airline industry, they’d be stunned,” Walker
Rather than extol the beauties of Bermuda, Tahiti or Maui over
the airwaves, Walker sets out each day to “stun” listeners with a
litany of airline transgressions, in his “Stand Up or Shut Up”
Here’s a typical spot:
“Hi. This is Dave Walker with Ace Travel. I’m disgusted that the
government continues to give taxpayer dollars to the airlines. They
handed out $15 billion within hours of the WTC attack, and the
airlines continue to ask for, and get, billions more, even though
some of them are losing a million dollars a day.
“It’s an election year, and these are issues every taxpayer
should be wondering about. This isn’t a political ad, but Ace
Travel suggests that you examine why government is giving your
money to a private industry.”
The motivation behind the ad? “All we want to do is plant the
seed, so that people start asking questions,” Walker said.
“It’s not crying, ‘poor me,’” said Judi Stiles, owner of
Sacramento’s Stiles in Travel and a former radio show host herself.
“It’s [telling listeners] what the airlines are doing to the
public. They’re making travel a little bit more difficult every
time they squeeze the customer for example, the issuance of a paper
It’s hard-edged, consumer issues that Stiles tackles when she is
on the air. She advises other agents to avoid blatantly
self-serving pitches. Don’t talk commissions. Consumers don’t
So, what’s in it for travel agents? Why bother educating the
“When you do a consumer education project, you set yourself up
as the expert. You’ll get residual calls,” Stiles said.
In the wake of Sept. 11, Stiles ran her shop’s most successful
radio campaign ever.
“Basically, we said, ‘On behalf of the travel agents in the
area, we want to thank you for hanging in there. We understand you
had to cancel. When you’re ready to travel, your travel agents
stand ready to help you.’
“That simple statement kept us alive. It ran for three weeks
Most ads don’t run that long; they rotate.
“I’ve got four of them,” Walker said.
Here’s another: “This is Dave Walker with Ace Travel and I’m
wondering when the American consumer will wake up and realize the
stranglehold airlines have on this country. They stuff money into
the pockets of elected officials and, in turn, get billion-dollar
government bailouts so that million-dollar CEOs can keep living the
“Did you know that one of the airlines’ top lobbyists is the
wife of Sen. Tom Daschle? How can that happen?
“Wondering where your tax dollars are going? Take a look.
“This wake up call is brought to you by Ace Travel.”
“People who listen to those a couple of times start asking,
‘Where is my money going?’” Walker said.
Pumping Up the Volume
Stiles, who also produces radio spots for others, knows the
value of volume.
“The key to radio advertising is repetition,” she said.
The result of repetition is recognition. When people enter her
shop in Sacramento or call on the phone, they’re asked how they
found Stiles in Travel.
“If it isn’t a referral, it’s typically. ‘I saw you in the
Yellow Pages and I recognized the name,’” she said.
That recognition comes from the radio, but it takes time.
“Your message is only heard once out of every nine times it’s
aired,” Stiles said.
Without superb placement on a specific show at a specific time,
it takes constant repetition to get the message and your agency’s
name across. Walker’s ad runs each day at 7:30 a.m. during the
local news like clockwork. The demographic audience is already
nailed down: literate, involved people who want to know what’s
A key issue for travel agents is how to go about paying for air
time, whether it’s one spot or a slew of them a day. Stiles said
trade-outs are critical. Stations give their advertisers and
vendors trips and book them through your shop. The value of the
transaction goes toward the radio spots.
But the real value of locally run, locally produced consumer
education ads is that travel agents can stop cursing the darkness
and light a bit of a fire among the electorate.
“I’m not some big political activist. I’m just an average guy,”
Walker said. Despite the success of efforts in Sacramento and Coeur
d’ Alene, Walker said too few agents are taking advantage of the
electronic bully pulpit to get their messages across.
“What do you do to jump-start people?” he asked. “That’s where
‘Stand Up or Shut Up’ came from.’”
According to Walker and Stiles, talk is cheap, unless it’s
well-thought-out and specifically targeted. Then, they said, it’s
nothing short of terrific.