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Put yourself in your prospective customer’s shoes for a minute. Which would be more interesting—a print or Internet ad showing your logo and a few lines of copy about how great your flight training program is, or a 300-word article about how one of your former students is helping cancer patients get to their doctor’s appointments through Angel Flights? C’mon, it’s a no-brainer. Woven into that story would be how that student began his training with your flight school, and how becoming a pilot has changed his (and other people’s) lives forever.

Next question. Which of the above marketing opportunities cost the most money?

Marketing gurus will tell you that the best advertising is no advertising at all—it’s exposure through word-of-mouth recommendation or its close cousin, news stories published in local and regional print and electronic media. Big companies have known this for decades, which explains how Apple computers somehow appear on the desks of your favorite TV characters, or a can of Bud Light is shown on the poker table of a friendly neighborhood game. It’s called product placement, and it’s worth gold in the marketing biz.

Your local newspapers and TV/radio stations are screaming for interesting content to feed their audiences. Any student accomplishment or community activity sponsored by your flight school is grist for this mill. Have you had a student who overcame a physical disability to become a pilot? That’s a human interest story. Or how about the former student now flying for Southwest? That’s perfect for the Careers Special Section of your local paper. Did your school sponsor a tour for local students, or participate in a recent Young Eagles event? That’s a good fit for Community Development. The list of potential topics is endless. Just put on your thinking cap and get started.

And don’t think you have to write the stories yourself. Planting a seed or story idea with a local editor will potentially get you an interview and a photo session. They’ll do the work for you; you just present the idea and make it worth their time and effort.

Don’t neglect the local TV and radio stations, either. Many (most) have community-oriented morning or interview shows that gobble content like a linebacker at Thanksgiving. They need your stories, your achievements, and your news. They want to hear from you if you have something interesting to present, and you do if you just think about it for a moment. Contacting these folks is easier than you think; just pick up the phone and call them. Be sure to have your act together; be specific about your story ideas; and make yourself available by phone or in person for interviews or on-air appearances. In short, be professional. Who knows, you may become their local go-to person for all things aviation.

There’s no better way than press coverage to promote your flight training business. None. Fancy brochures and big ads won’t bring in the new-customer inquiries like a well-placed news story will, and the news stories won’t cost you a dime.

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