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Fight the fight and protect your brand

Earlier this week, Mike Batt of Travel Leaders suggested that 2009 will be challenging and that agents will have to fight for their business; he even suggested stealing it! TRO Publisher, Richard Earls feels that 2009 will be harder (not worse)—and there is a distinction. I agree.

For a moment, let’s not discuss the acquisition of new business. Let’s discuss taking steps to insure the old business. It doesn’t matter if you have been in the industry one month or one century. It does not even matter if you have never sold a cruise, or sold ten thousand. In every sense, to some extent, you are your own brand. And you are valuable. And all too often I have seen agents allow someone else to steal their brand without a fight.  As Mike said, you will need to fight, and when it comes to your personal brand there is no fight more worthy.

Last week, a colleague of mine called and asked for advice. Apparently there is a new start up website that focuses on consumer reviews of businesses in her area. So far so good. Well, the business model of this site involves generating a false mediocre to poor review. Then they call the “reviewed” business and advise them of the situation and allow them to respond–only if they advertise. Wow! Talk about extortion. We are going to slam you and you are going to pay us to stop.  And you thought Jimmy Hoffa was dead? What type of damage do you think something like that can do to a niche business? Do you think that fight is worth fighting?

I have written travel columns for both the trade and consumer press since 2003. While I do not hit a home run all the time, I am very proud of my work and also very protective of it. I work hard to arrange my thoughts, put them down on paper, and then try to make coherent sentences. It ain’t that easy sometimes with writer’s block, deadlines, and crabby editors and publishers. So, it really irks me when I see my work on someone else’s site or in their newsletter. (I subscribe to hundreds) It is almost routine for a small agency to take an entire column and re-post it as their own–with their name as the author. Now if they give me credit, I might be alright with it. But if they don’t, well that is simple intellectual theft. That is a fight I am going to fight. If you are putting up any original content on your websites or blogs, check out CopyScape and find out who has been lifting your stuff.  (By the way, the proper way to do it, is to take the introduction or the first paragraph and paste that on your site and then link back to the original source. No one will squawk about that—it builds the brand, and still gives credit where credit is due. Absent that, contact the author and ask permission. In this case, it is easier to ask permission than to beg for forgiveness.) So, is this a fight worth fighting?

Even my nemesis, the MLM crowd, is not exempt. Just last week, one of the largest (and some say influential) MLM/Card Mills quietly made a myriad of significant changes in their “agent” agreement. Of course by accepting a commission, making a booking, or continuing to use their program, the “agent” implies acceptance of the new terms. While there are many arguing points in the changes, the real fighting point is the one that grants the MLM/Card Mill unconditional rights to the clients acquired by the agent. Wow, now here is a company that is taking Mike Batt’s words to heart and outright stealing clients. But they are stealing them from their own people! I am not in a MLM/Card Mill, but if I were I would be raising hell. What do you think? Is this a fight worth fighting?

So it really does not matter what your individual brand may be—from a well respected niche agency, to a travel writer to someone who might only sell a few hundred dollars of travel a year. There is always someone out there looking to rip you off. It may be your clients, your thoughts, or your money—or all three.  So while you are navigating 2009–bobbing and weaving and scrapping for business–keep one eye on your brand!

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