TV shows are all about the exotic and the extreme. So it's no surprise that on the company's incentive and consumer promotion trips, attendees often feel as if they are smack in the middle of one of the station's adventure shows.

That's because they're likely to be snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos, snowmobiling on a glacier in Iceland, or swinging on cables from treetop to treetop in the Costa Rican rain forest. “Along with our consumer marketing, these trips help to fulfill our overall corporate mission: ‘To explore your world and satisfy your natural curiosity,’” says Michael Yavorsky, Discovery Networks' director of sponsorship and events.

The media giant (www.discovery.com) first went on the air 16 years ago. It now reaches 500 million viewers in 152 countries and has 14 global brands, including TLC, Animal Planet, Travel Channel, Discovery Health Channel, and Discovery Kids.

“We've been doing these trips for close to 10 years,” says Yavorsky. “They help give advertisers an overall sense of why they should be spending their money on our networks.”

How It Works

Grouped under the heading Discovery Adventures, the company's incentive programs target ad agency decision-makers and vice presidents of marketing or advertising at client companies, along with Discovery sales execs. There's one six-night trip each year for the highest level clients from around the country, and several three- or four-night trips organized by region. Many are inspired by network programming, and all combine very active outdoor itineraries with luxurious accommodations. Group size ranges from 45 to 60 people.

These aren't your typical get-on-a-bus-and-sightsee programs, Yavorsky notes. “People come away from them with a renewed sense of adventure.”

The company's incentive programs have a threefold strategy: to thank top sponsors, to foster relationships between salespeople and clients outside the traditional work environment, and to bring the Discovery brand to life. It's more challenging these days, Yavorsky says, because the program's goal is to reflect aspects of all the networks, not just the Discovery channel. (Try coming up with a fun activity inspired by a show called “Trauma: Life in the ER”). Not to mention the challenge of making each new program more compelling than the last one.

That's where Los Angeles — based creative agency RPMC comes in. RPMC has handled the research, development, and planning logistics for Discovery incentive programs and consumer travel promotions since 1992, when they arranged a trip to Key West to swim with the dolphins. Today, the agency has seven full-time staff people dedicated to Discovery who work on 6 to 10 incentive trips and up to 200 individual consumer travel promotions annually.

As one example, the itinerary for Discovery Latin America's recent incentive program in Costa Rica “incorporated all our brands,” says Christina Sullivan, manager, off-air marketing. “We had just launched two new channels, Travel & Adventure and Discovery Health, and wanted to educate our clients about them.” Activities ranged from a rain forest canopy tour (Discovery Channel), to whitewater rafting (Travel & Adventure), to a canoe trip that led to beach Olympics (Discovery Kids), to restorative spa treatments at an environmentally sound hotel (Discovery Health).

Sullivan says these trips differentiate her company from the competition. “We're not the only company that does them, but clients say we're the best. Some will do everything and anything to come back.” Yavorsky concurs: “They create a big buzz in the industry. We get terrific feedback. Our sales directors get thank-you calls from attendees, who often describe the experience as ‘the trip of a lifetime.’”

One such experience was Discovery's premium-level trip to the Galapagos, which was held this year from March 6 to 11. Attendees flew round-trip from Miami to Ecuador on a chartered flight, then sailed the islands on a full-boat charter. “It was one of the most unique and brand-appropriate destinations we've been to because of the close encounters with wildlife,” says Yavorsky. “They have no fear of humans.” Blue and red-footed boobies came up to attendees. Sea lions frolicked around snorkelers' legs. All the while, guests were accompanied by skilled guides. “Clients learned a lot and had a fantastic time,” he says.

Live the Adventure

Just as advertisers clamor to participate in Discovery Network's travel incentive programs, an increasing number of consumers have been entering the channel's promotional sweepstakes. “We've been doing these promotions for three years, and the number of entries has quintupled,” says Sally Zamudio, brand manager of off-air marketing, Discovery Latin America. There are typically 20,000 to 30,000 entries for each Discovery Latin America contest, which involves asking a question that relates to particular programming. A recent promotion for “Mummy's Week” programming, for example, asked “Who would you mummify and why?” Winners are selected based on the creativity and originality of their answers.

“The goal is to build consumer awareness of Discovery. We entice viewers to enter the contest by giving a grand prize trip for from two to four people,” says Zamudio. When her department first comes up with the idea of the promotion, they discuss it with RPMC, which comes up with a slew of themed trips. The top winner often gets to choose his or her prize from among five or six travel options, all of which, again, play off the programming. It works this way for consumer promotions throughout the Discovery Network. For scientific shows, this might mean joining a scientist chasing a tornado, spending a week at a detective academy, or riding around with a paramedic.

“The consumer contests have been extremely successful for us,” says Zamudio. The winners, some of whom have never traveled beyond their own countries, love the travel experiences. “We've had winners send candy and flowers to RPMC to thank them. Twice, people have used the trips for their honeymoon.”