Facebook and radio advertising—one a free tool, the other not—have proven to be the most successful marketing strategies for True Course Flight School in upstate New York.
Owner Jeff Vandeyacht, who talked about his flight school’s successes and stumbles in the Dec. 2 edition of Flight School Business, calls the Facebook page he created “one of the best things I did.” It keeps customers engaged, and “I hear from a lot of people about that,” he said.
The Facebook page shares lots of photos—not only of student pilot solos and checkrides, but also brand-new student pilots, and aerial shots in and around Oswego County Airport in Fulton, N.Y. Vandeyacht actively looks for content he can share on the page to keep the conversation going. It’s why he set up an ongoing raffle.
“If you rent an airplane, or get some dual instruction for an hour or more, I give you a raffle ticket,” he explained. “Every six weeks or so I grab a ticket out of the can, and I give you $25 off your next [rental or flight lesson]. It’s something else I can post on Facebook, and it can keep people engaged. My regular students have become pretty competitive about it. I’ll get all these replies: ‘I was off by three! I was off by two!’
“I wish people would win it,” Vandeyacht said, “because that’s another reason to post on Facebook. ‘Mike won the raffle!’” Twenty-five dollars may not seem like a lot to some, but True Course has some young flight students who work at a local pizza shop to pay for their flight instruction; they fly just once a month. “It’s a lot to them,” he said.
An FAA FAASTeam representative, Vandeyacht conducts monthly hangar flying safety meetings, which attract 25 to 30 people at a time. “I don’t think it brings me any business—I might sell some charts or something—but it keeps the buzz going,” he said. “It keeps people talking about us, and I think that’s a good thing.” The meetings “are fun,” he added. “Everybody has a good time. I keep them under an hour. I provide snacks and soda, and I invite people to bring their own experiences and observations.” He joked that he has a loyal following because he doesn’t conduct the meetings in November and December and hears good-natured protests about that.
The radio advertising “has really paid off,” he said. “I budget $10,000 per year for radio ads.” He purchases advertising on commercial stations and also underwrites the local public radio station. “I stagger that around. It keeps our name out there; it’s good marketing as well as good advertising. It’s more than paid for itself. It has brought in flight students who probably never would have been flight students.”
Because the commercials mention gift certificates and introductory flights, Vandeyacht said, they “bring in the impulse guy who is converted to a student.” The prospect redeems the gift certificate, “he does his first flight, and the next thing you know he’s buying the books and scheduling flight lessons.”
“I’m not trying to automatically grab students,” Vandeyacht stressed. “I’m trying to sell discovery flights. Once you get ’em in the airplane and in the air, then you turn them into a student—and that’s worked really well for us. Aim a little lower—just get ’em in the door.”
Vandeyacht looks hard at the markets served by the radio stations. “Clear Channel has three really big market radio stations with tremendous demographics,” he said. “Galaxy Communications has one particular station that fits the demo that I’m looking for—they’re a bit less expensive because they don’t have the national audience.” His latest campaign will run through the holidays and will generate a lot of gift certificate sales, he predicted. The 30-second spots feature customer testimonials from male and female clients. In an attempt to reach out to potential women pilots, True Course Flight School’s newest ad campaign will air on a radio station whose mid-day audience skews heavily toward women.
Each campaign runs from four to 12 weeks. “Once we get into February, we’ll do it again, because spring’s coming and people are starting to think about it,” Vandeyacht said. “I will do it again in July or August.”