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Give stuff away to gain studentsGive stuff away to gain students

It’s a cardinal rule in business that you shouldn’t give away your product. And that’s generally pretty sound advice. But there are times when giving things away can actually make smart business sense.

Airwolf Aviation Services from the Greenville Downtown Airport in South Carolina recently gave away an entire private pilot certificate, and the school, airport, and community couldn’t be happier. Owner Michelle Rasch says this is the fifth time they have held a contest, and it’s been by far the best. Rasch partnered with the airport, the FBO, and a local publishing group to make it all happen. The airport donated half the cost of the certificate, the FBO donated a secondary prize, and the publisher created the contest “look” and publicized it through an in-kind advertising donation. A late additional sponsor even chipped in another secondary prize.

Thanks to an open-entry concept that encouraged people to participate regardless of their aviation goals, the school received 18,000 entries. Because the school enabled entrants to hand deliver the form, they had numerous interactions with potential customers who were showing a willingness and an eagerness to begin training. The result is four new paid students, a much larger group of contacts, and untold numbers of qualified prospects. “We’ve had an increase in business,” Rasch said. “I attribute most of that to the contest.”

Rasch said the airport has been a vital partner in everything they’ve done to reach out to new prospects. “One of the biggest reasons we do this is that people do not know that they can become a pilot at their local airport,” she says. Lara Kaufmann, the public affairs director for the airport, said that they are working to change that perception. “We’re trying to be a partner in the community,” she says. “The contest helps the vibrancy of the airport and makes a connection with people.”

The airport feels strongly enough in the benefit of the contest that it has pledged to do two more in the future. “It’s a benefit to all of us,” Kaufmann said.

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly is senior content producer for AOPA Media.

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