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Renaissance Cruises Close To Naming New Agency

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CHICAGO--Renaissance Cruises is on the fast track with an ad agency review, aiming to select a winner during the next two to four weeks, so it can set sail on a rebranding campaign by the fourth quarter.

Invitations went to agencies that Renaissance executives were familiar with and one that had experience with luxury travel accounts. Derek Correia, svp of marketing at the Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Company, would only say a "couple" of agencies remain in the selection process.

The cruiseline dumped Grey Direct, N.Y., shortly after UK-based Malvern Maritime bought the company and put Celebrity Cruises vet Manfred Ursprunger onboard as president and CEO in May. Shortly thereafter, Frank Del Rio resigned from his co-COO post that he shared with Richard Kirby who left before Ursprunger's arrival (Brandweek, May 28). However, the agency review has less to do with Ursprunger than with Renaissance's new strategy of courting travel agents.

"Grey was not necessarily a good fit for us," Correia intoned, noting that the direct mail and e-marketing agency was selected last fall, well before he joined Renaissance from Burger King. "Direct is in their name and here we were transitioning [last year] from selling direct to consumers to selling through travel agents."

Billings with Grey were projected to be $55 million but the marketing budget will be substantially less, per Correia, because much of that budget will be used to pay commission for travel agents, which now generate at least 85% of bookings versus 20% when Renaissance was a pariah to the agent community with its direct- to- consumers marketing platform. Measured media spending was $15.5 million last year versus $4.5 million during 1999 and hit $7.5 million during the first quarter with Grey's "More Your Style" TV and print campaign.

Renaissance's primary target will be sophisticated international travelers who have cruised before and are looking for the benefits of a small luxury ship without having to sacrifice some of the amenities that come with a premium cruise. Renaissance, with medium-sized ships holding fewer than 700 passengers, offers the best of both worlds.

"This industry hasn't done a good job of figuring out what the consumer is looking for when they take a cruise on an emotional level and delivering on that," said Correia.