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A positive newspaper or TV story about your business is worth thousands of dollars in advertising. The news media are always looking for human interest or “soft stories” to intersperse with their hard news coverage. People who are overcoming adversity and achieving a goal are fascinating. A flight school has lots of interesting stories to be told, and these stories are worth money in advertising for your flight school. 

We are schooled and trained as pilots and flight instructors, not journalists. For potential free advertising, we need to be thinking about the human interest stories at our flight school. Think about what is newsworthy in a general way and identify a current story or two. Work those thoughts into a proposal to take to a newspaper or news department of a TV station. Do your homework for the reporter and direct the focus and emotion of the story to the benefit of your flight school. Why do you think this story is interesting and should be told? You must sell the concept of the story to the news media and that it would be of interest to the general public. 

Now let’s think about some of the types of human interest stories that might catch the attention of the media. The mother and daughter who simultaneously took flight lessons at your flight school to become pilots. The highly motivated student who flew and studied daily to complete all the basic FAA pilot certificates and ratings in only eight months with the help of your flight school. The flight student with limited resources, but unlimited commitment and determination, who trained at your flight school for six years before finally qualifying for the airline job he wanted. The 50-year-old man who earned his pilot certificate 30 years after he first started flight lessons, a family, and a business. How about the 80-year-old who enrolled in the AOPA Rusty Pilots program? I have received news media coverage on all of these stories.   

Keep an eye and an ear open for events and activities at your airport that you might want to be involved with or support. These can lead to good public relations and might be another news story. For example, a few years ago I was visiting with a man who had an airplane and hangar at our airport. He is a member of the United Flying Octogenarians (UFO), which is an organization of pilots 80 years old and over. In the state of Utah where I live there are eight UFO members, and four of them were meeting for lunch the next day. I told him that meeting older pilots fascinates me and asked if I could pay for their lunch at a local restaurant. I then asked if I could bring a reporter friend along to learn about the UFOs. My good intentions resulted in a rewarding experience with a group of senior pilots and a news story that brought our business name in front of the public for the cost of a $100 lunch.  

A local man wrote a book about his father’s World War II experience and the trunk of memorabilia that he brought home. I invited him to give a presentation in our hangar and notified the newspaper about this free event. The evening of the event we had about 60 people and standing room only in our hangar, plus a newspaper reporter who did a story on this special program hosted by our flight school. It got our name out in front of people and cost the company virtually nothing. 

Think about the interesting and positive stories that you encounter in your flight school operation. Then think about the news media resources in your georaphic area that you can contact. Make a list and keep it handy. Also, be aware the term resource is bidirectional in that you can also become a resource to the news reporter with your expertise in aviation. Be sure to let your credentials and aviation experience be known as you get acquainted with news media staff. As you make acquaintances you will establish a friendship and rapport that can be called upon again in the future. Your geographic area may only have one newspaper and of course if you have more than one that gives you more contact options. Most geographic areas are served by multiple TV and radio stations, which will provide you with more options for your human interest stories. My suggestion is to bring different news stories to different news outlets so as not to saturate one news brand. Over time this establishes greater variety in the potential news media audience.

Effort put into developing a community awareness of the human interest stories at your flight school becomes free advertising. You are developing public relations and recognition of your company name. People will contact you as a result of the newspaper and TV stories, and your flight school reputation will grow and prosper because of it. Start thinking about the fascinating human interest stories at your flight school and start a file of notes that can be the basis of your soft self-promotion effort.

As I was writing this article I sent a draft to Randon Russell of Randon Aviation in West Jordan, Utah, with whom I have had several conversations about flight school development during the past few months. He said Fox News Channel 13 in Salt Lake City did a story on small businesses at South Valley Regional Airport, and his flight school was featured. Randon took a TV reporter up for a flight, which generated a “bunch of calls and website hits.”

“It was very effective, and a couple of new students have already signed up,” Randon said.

Ed Helmick has been a flight instructor since 1988. He formerly managed a flight school in Spanish Fork, Utah, as well as schools in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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