The Good News About General Aviation: How to Have a Successful Media Event

The Good News About General Aviation

How to Have a Successful Media Event

The power of the media

We often hear that term, but most people think of the influence the news media wields as being negative. What if that influence were used to reflect positive news events? Contrary to what most pilots may think, the news media can be a great friend to general aviation. For example, the media can cover and report on:

  • The economic benefits your airport provides to the community;
  • The services general aviation provides to the public: traffic reporting, crop dusting, emergency medical transport, even news reporting;
  • Local pilots who volunteer to fly patients and blood on emergency call; and
  • Interesting locally based aircraft (antiques, classics, warbirds, etc.) and newsworthy pilots, such as elderly or handicapped pilots.

The fact is, general aviation has many good news stories to tell, and proper cultivation of the news media can be a great asset in reaching the public. So how do you, the general aviation pilot, get your story to the news media so that they will convert it into a positive newspaper article or news program on the six o'clock news? Sponsor an Aviation Day!

General aviation: Serving every aspect of the community and nation

Ideal headline? You bet, and it appeared in a local newspaper the day after AOPA held an Aviation Day for the news media at AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Maryland. Although hosting such an event is only one way of reaching the news media, it is a very effective one. An Aviation Day for the news media enables you to:

  • Tell your story at your own pace, on your own turf, without interruptions and conflicting priorities;
  • Bring the news media to the airport or hangar, actually letting them see firsthand what the story is about; and
  • Educate a captive audience, give them informational materials, and let them hear from aviation experts. You can even take the reporters flying if your resources are adequate.

An Aviation Day for the news media does not have to span an entire day. You can schedule a morning or afternoon event, or give the reporters the option of staying on for a flight or airport tour. Always remember that reporters have tight schedules and deadlines; the need for flexibility when dealing with the news media is important and will be appreciated.

First things first. Before scheduling an Aviation Day, you must determine your goals, budget, and capabilities. Is there a facility on the airport large enough and comfortable enough to hold your event? Do you simply want to inform reporters about the services the airport provides, or do you want to educate them as well about general aviation? Will flights or airport and facility tours be possible, and if so, do you have other plans in case of bad weather? Plan ahead for everything that can go wrong. Some examples:

Bad weather - Plan B: rain date

A major news story breaks, pulling reporters off your event - Plan B: reschedule event

At the last minute, a speaker cannot attend - Plan B: have a back-up speaker

A media day is worth the effort. Now what do I do?

With minor changes depending on the nature of your event, the following checklist should assist you in your planning.

Media day checklist

One to two months in advance

  • Set a date for the event, and a rain date
  • Coordinate with airport manager, local officials
  • Line up speakers, confirm their presentations
  • Secure room and audiovisual aids and arrange for refreshments
  • Print and mail invitations to reporters

Several days before

  • Call all invited media to confirm
  • Call speakers to confirm
  • Clean airplanes inside and out (if flying is scheduled)
  • Set up room/facility
  • Print the day's agenda
  • Prepare media kits

The same day

  • Hand out agenda, media kits; have press sign in (for future use)
  • Serve coffee, refreshments
  • Have telephones available should reporters need them
  • Take photographs of event (always useful later!)

After the event

  • Mail thank-you letters
  • Place all attendees on mailing list
  • Look for possible media coverage
  • Mail speakers complimentary photos

How do I approach the news media?

Invite everyone you can think of. If you don't know which reporters cover aviation or transportation, call the newspaper or TV/radio station and ask who would be the appropriate reporter to invite to the event. If your angle is business oriented, invite a business reporter as well as transportation reporter. Don't forget to invite all daily and weekly newspapers, all radio and TV stations, as well as any local wire services (AP or UPI) reporters.

Suggest to reporters that the day also presents a photo opportunity, especially if flights are involved. That way, a reporter may also bring along a photographer and increase your news coverage.

The invitation itself should be neatly printed, with all pertinent information: nature of the event, time, place, date, and most important, a contact name and telephone umber for further information. Invite the news media up to a month in advance; this will enable reporters to check with their editors or supervisors to free up the time. Also, don't depend on the invitation alone; many envelopes never get opened or get lost in the newsroom. Always follow up with a phone call to the reporter; even if they did get the invitation and are planning to attend, it reminds them once again of the event and lets them know you are really interested in having them attend.

What do I put in the media kit?

As much useful information as you can gather. AOPA can provide general aviation fact cards and other useful information, but you should also include local information. If flights or airspace discussions are involved, a local sectional or terminal area chart is helpful. Any written information on your airport, flying club, services provided by the airport and local pilots, economic benefits to the community provided by the airport, etc., would all be of interest to the news media.

The media kit should also include the day's agenda and the names and titles of speakers and other participants. A participant list is especially helpful for the reporters and will prevent any misspelled names in the newspaper!

How do I find and choose speakers?

The choice of speakers at your Aviation Day depends on what points you want to make to the news media. If airport services and facilities are what you want to promote, consider the following as possible participants:

  • Airport manager;
  • Local FAA official;
  • FAA personnel from control tower, flight service station, air route traffic control center, general aviation district office;
  • FBO president or official;
  • Community official, mayor, president of Chamber of Commerce; and
  • President of flying club

If your intentions also include promoting general aviation and the numerous services it provides to the public, consider inviting service-oriented local pilots such as:

  • A well-known local airborne traffic reporter;
  • An agricultural pilot
  • An emergency medical evacuation pilot - usually with the state police or a local hospital;
  • Volunteer pilots who fly blood and organs on their own time;
  • A pilot who uses his airplane for business: salesman, lawyer, doctor; or
  • A law-enforcement pilot.

Obviously, well-known pilots or individuals attract attention, especially from the news media. If a local celebrity is a pilot, request his or her attendance. If you can get a big name in aviation to participate, such as the state aviation director or FAA regional director, your chances of drawing a crowd are greater. And don't forget that there are many famous people who fly: movie stars, sports figures, even media celebrities who may be willing to support your cause and speak at your event.

Make sure the speakers know how long their presentation should be; if you have many speakers, hold them all to 10 minutes or less. Make sure you have any audiovisual equipment they might need for their presentation, and go over their speech with them before the actual event. You don't need any last-minute surprises!

For more information

AOPA's Communications Division has additional information on general aviation that is appropriate for use with the news media. We will also be happy to answer any of your questions, so don't hesitate to call us at 301/695-2162 if we can be of assistance. Many AOPA materials to help you communicate are available on the Web.

Other nearby airports or pilot organizations may have already held a similar event; check with them for useful hints, media lists, etc.

It's always a good idea to call several reporters, especially if you know any personally, to ask their advice as to timing, interest, and location. Tell them about your plans; they may have some useful input.

The public affairs officers of the nearest FAA office or state aviation division will likely be excellent sources of information who can provide you with brochures, media lists, tips, and other information. Enlist his or her help, and you've secured a real ally.

We thank you, general aviation pilots everywhere thank you, and you should thank yourself

Not only are you doing yourself and your local airport and pilot colleagues a favor, but you have taken a positive step to further public understanding of general aviation. An educated news media, and thus educated public, means more intelligent coverage of general aviation and airport issues; more accurate reporting of aviation accidents; less hysteria over noise and environmental issues associated with airports; and a greater general awareness of the benefits and services provided by general aviation everywhere.

General aviation is indeed a good news story; now, let's get out and tell it!