With more than 50 years in the incentive business, Pearl Markarian has stories to tell and wisdom to share.
Pearl and H.J. Mark Markarian founded Landmark Incentive Marketing in 1972, the same year that HBO was launched. At that time, the median price of a new home was around $26,800 and the average price of a new car was $3,690. The following year, Landmark managed its first incentive travel program, to Jamaica. Those were of course much simpler times, said Pearl in a recent interview with Prevue. “Contracts were built on trust and much simpler. Groups were much larger in size and costs were lower, due to more direct communication and fewer complications.”
Now, at the helm of what is likely the longest family-run business in the incentive industry, Markarian continues her oversight, going into the office daily while daughters Suzanne and Delilah manage the details of a soup-to-nuts team of travel, air and marketing professionals. It has taken creativity, innovation, attention to detail, supplier relationships, stamina and resilience for the company to survive and thrive, says Markarian. She loves the challenges and the stresses inherent to incentive planning. For those new to the industry, she counsels patience and respect: “We are going through a trend now. Prices have gone up and payments and terms have become more restricting. That will adjust after the recession comes to a hurting level for the suppliers.” As for negotiating, “we know we should respect our clients,” says Markarian. “Sometimes, we forget that we need to respect our suppliers.”
As an industry trailblazer, Markarian has pioneered many firsts, planned singularly unforgettable incentive experiences, and demonstrated extraordinary grit in the line of fire. Here are a just a few of her stories:
• First incentive in China. In 1982, Landmark brought a group to Beijing—the first American incentive in China. The program culminated in a memorable farewell gala evening at the The Great Hall of the People at Tiananmen Square. This was a very different time in China, says Markarian. “The Chinese people lived in corrugated shacks and in communes from which they were not allowed to move. I brought the group into the schoolroom in the commune and the small children played their Suzuki violins while some sang Three Blind Mice. The road to the Great Wall was a dirt path. The old airport was a dark smelly place, that has since been rebuilt at least twice. The hotel was decent, located near Tiananmen Square, with a German chef. He cooked a special filet mignon steak dinner for us after I complained that all the food and linens smelled like they came from the Whampoo River and my people were tired of chocolate bars from home. It was not Chinese food as we know it in the US.”
•Becoming British royalty. For a London incentive, Markarian completely took over a village and live-in castle in Northhampton. The group mingled with costumed villagers and participated in jousting matches, dog hunts, cemetery stone rubbings, etc. The castle’s spectacular garden terrace was covered with fresh flowers for a gala dinner event, with the Marquise and Marquesa castle owners as guests.
•Saving lost luggage. When everyone’s luggage was lost for three days during a European site inspection with six clients, Markarian spotted it in a dark corner at the Rome airport. This was during a final look for the luggage after checking in her clients for their next flight, to Switzerland. She promised to tip a porter $50 if he could get the luggage to her at the plane. After a lengthy and harrowing series of events, she found that while the plane was still on the runway, the flight had closed. “I had only one thing in mind as I left the agent behind and ran down the ramp and jumped over the rail fence. She yelled to me that she would call the police and I yelled back, ‘go ahead!’” The luggage was at the plane, but so were two armed Italian guards. More drama ensued until the luggage was securely on the plane. “Now was the problem of getting me on the plane, so the pilot was signaled to open the door (no cell phones then) and as they did, the soldiers lifted me from below and the pilots pulled me from above and hoisted me onto the aircraft. As I stepped into the aisle, I received a rousing round of applause which totally embarrassed and dumfounded me while I whispered to my clients that I got all the luggage.”
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