Insurance Industry Relationship Marketing

Travel Guard Does It Right

I despise insurance—a business that makes money on betting when I’m going to die, get sick or pile up the car.

The old joke:

Q: What’s the difference between an accountant and an actuary?

A: An accountant’s job is to go onto the battlefield at the end of the war and bayonet the bodies. An actuary doesn’t have the personality to be an accountant.

The Travel Guard Startup
In 1982, I lucked into a freelance gig working for a wonderful, iconoclastic Irish party animal named Jim Prendergast in New York.

Jim’s agency was hired by Sentry Insurance to launch a trip cancellation protection policy for travelers. I got the assignment.

The idea of working on an insurance product was a big ho-hum until the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) was explained: “Plain Talk Insurance.” No pages of disclaimers in unreadable light gray mouse-type. No angst. Easy peasy for all.

The challenge was intriguing. I met with the Sentry people and they were serious: PLAIN TALK INSURANCE.

[See the media player at right for the very first “plain talk” Travel Guard effort from 1982.]

Ten years later, Peggy and I got into the recherché sport of curling. Peggy was President of the U.S. Curling Association and the Executive Director of organization was a wonderful iconoclastic party animal named David Garber.

At one point Garber and I compared careers and amazingly our paths had crossed. David was marketing manager and telemarketing supervisor at Sentry Insurance in Steven Point, Wis. He played a key role under Sentry’s John Noel who was responsible for launching Travel Guard.

I was the copywriter in New York.

I sent a preview of this this piece to David Garber who gave me some factual changes. According to his memory:

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at

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  • Brent Gardner

    Betting is the wrong word to use. Insurance is the 180 degree opposite of gambling. The only wager here is when you demonstrably need coverage (a potential loss large enough to really hurt financially), and you willfully go without. That’s a bet. Nothing wrong with that choice, either, because while it’s possible to insure against almost all losses, and the insurance companies will gladly take your money, people shouldn’t be “insurance poor.”

  • GeorgeM

    Well, in an increasingly volatile world, I find myself less disdainful of all sorts of insurance. Still, I laughed at a bumper sticker the other day that said “What’s Insurance?” Regardless, the greatest marketing communication challenge is relevance. I’ve dabbled in insurance affinity marketing for decades, and sometimes we get it right. Affinity marketing thrives on relevance. Your European trip prompted trip cancellation insurance–very relevant. What else can Travel Guard offer you, as a mutual benefit? This company decided to provide pre-trip advice (way too early), that you suspect was a way to mitigate claims, i.e. downside revenue risk. Certainly their advice is relevant, and may provide others (with less innate sales instincts than you!) a sense of goodwill toward the brand. What about upside revenue? I’ve seen some bizarre left field pitches, including an ant farm. But a blunt proposition to sell home or auto insurance would be downright tacky before the first date. Nice try sailor, but at least you’d be somewhat expecting that. I’d love to hear that Travel Guard (a great brand name BTW) eventually offered you and Peggy something relevant that you are passionate about, which at the moment appears to be frequent European travel. But until they know you better, they can at least wish you good health on your known trip, as they did here. They now have an opportunity to woo your future business with some unexpected but related offers to continue to show that they “get you” hopefully without the creepy feeling that they get you. For myself, I’m a somewhat defensive, safe-minded traveler at my age. Travel Guard could potentially sell me an ENTIRE vacation package, much easier than sidestepping me to an auto policy. From a product and branding standpoint, would I be more open to an affinity offer, say for a Swiss mountain rail trip, that included “FREE” trip insurance from a familiar company called Travel Guard, or a trip pitched by or even a Which ones sounds like they have my best interest more at heart? The one with a vested interest in my trouble-free travel of course. That is relevant affinity marketing, with a little touch of kumbaya.

  • Rik Shafer

    Good list. Drinking water needs to be at the top of the list.

    Not getting rich? Ha. You have tons of memories and they are worth plenty. I’m doing the same thing.