Buying advertising is expensive, whether it is in local newspapers, on local television and radio, or on the Internet. For many flight schools, this expense is not affordable, but this doesn’t mean that your flight school can’t get the word out to your local community.
The best type of media you can have is earned media. This is what you get when you or your flight school does something that warrants coverage by media outlets. It is better than any media you can buy because it is real.
What will be news does depend on what kind of a media market your flight school is in to some degree. You probably aren’t going to get the New York Times to cover a first solo, but if you live in a smaller town, getting the local newspaper to run a personal interest story when the principal of the local high school gets his pilot certificate might be very feasible. Think about what the readers in local publications might like to hear about.
Most flight schools let media know when they are doing an annual fly-in, but forget to do the same when they host FAA Safety Team or other aviation-related seminars, have guest speakers, solo students, or when people complete ratings or certificates. Think about the community. Celebrating the accomplishments of people in a community is something that local media outlets typically like doing.
Regional magazines that cover tourist attractions, hometown newspapers looking to cover local issues to set themselves apart from large national publications, and community newsletters should be things you seek out. Research what publications people read, pick up, or seek out in a reasonable radius from your location and start targeting them with information.
Printed newspapers aren’t the only outlet either. The traditional perception of media coverage includes advertising in print publications, on the radio, or on TV. Times have changed. Media coverage includes these and any number of digital mediums now. Most local TV stations, radio stations, magazines, and newspapers now have extensive online content. Getting media coverage doesn’t just mean that your flight school shows up on TV or in print. In fact, many times digital coverage spreads further.
Submitting press releases or even just sharing things on Facebook and Twitter with local media outlets can help spread the word of what your school is doing. Spreading the word digitally like this also lets readers share it with their networks. Your own customers may be the biggest spreaders of your earned media. Any good media strategy should consider the entire social media spectrum an advertising opportunity where media presence can be earned.
It should go without saying at this point that your media strategy should include active Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram presences to name only a few options. Post, publish, and share actively. Historically word of mouth has been the best method for flight schools to get new students. This is no different now; �it’s just that word of mouth is now more like click and share. There is no doubt that your customers have friends and family who are not only interested in what they are doing but would also be interested in doing it themselves.
One danger is that earned media can be negative if the event is negative, or can be spun in a negative light. You can earn a poor reputation if you aren’t careful. Bad reviews on sites like Yelp can be hard to overcome and can last a very long time. Work to spread all the good things that you do in case any bad press does arise. Reviews are only one point of negative earned media; another could be if your school encountered any accidents or incidents. Should either of these things happen, the best thing to do is be honest, up front, and don’t hide anything. The industry is small and the truth will come out.
You don’t have to buy your advertising to get people to take notice of what your flight school is doing. Taking the time to share with local media outlets and having a good social media presence can help you earn media coverage that will bring new customers to you doors.
Designated Pilot Examiner Jason Blair is the former head of NAFI, and the past owner of a flight school.