Speak up, speak out, make a positive impression

“Help me,” is essentially what the email said. I’m paraphrasing, of course, but the message was simple, straight-forward, and common. How do I get the word out?

Because I’m a sucker for a pro-aviation reader who reaches out for help, I answered the email, which led to another email, and ultimately a series of phone calls. Without boring you with a line by line replay of the discussions, let me give you the short version of what I passed along.

Step 1: To get the word out effectively, you have to know what the word is. Said another way, if you want to promote something, you have to know what it is you’re trying to promote.

If your goal is to promote your business, your product, or the services you have on the market, that’s one thing. But if you’re trying to sway public opinion in your favor, that’s another mission entirely. And if you’re hope is to turn an anti-aviation administration into a pro-aviation administration, as we did here in Winter Haven, Fla., your message and your method will be very different, indeed.

Step 2: Once you’ve established what you are trying to accomplish, define what you want to say in very specific terms. You don’t want to spend a lot of money promoting the fact that you have a flight school. Anyone can do that. You need to put your effort into promoting exactly what makes your flight school (or engine shop, or whatever) different, and more desirable to a segment of the community than the other flight school (or engine shop, or whatever) across the field, or across the county. In short, what makes you special? Write it down, work it out, and prepare yourself to be able to explain those strengths quickly, in 30 seconds or less.

Politicians, writers, and a select few other weird professionals call this the “elevator speech.” It’s the quick, punchy, straight-to-the-point presentation you do when you had no idea you’d have the opportunity to give a sales presentation – and then the opportunity presents itself.

Step 3: Write it down. Write it down carefully, working out the language you want to use, and critiquing what you’ve written mercilessly. You’ll do this step over and over again. In fact, you may do this step repeatedly for as long as you’re in business. You see, you don’t just want to make your case, you want to make your case as powerfully, clearly, and succinctly as possible. And you want the person on the other end of the communication to come away feeling as if they’ve learned something important in the process.

Stay positive throughout this whole effort, by the way. Don’t tell your potential listeners why the other guy doesn’t measure up. Tell us how and why you do!

Step 4: Consider the multitude of ways you can communicate your message. You could hire Ron Howard to shoot a featurette that runs on movie screens across the continent, of course. But most of us don’t have that kind of cash laying around. So take this aspect of your plan seriously. Be thoughtful, creative, and consider listening to people who do this sort of thing for a living if you want to truly maximize your bang-for-the-buck potential.

What can you afford to do consistently to sell your message? A big splashy full-page ad might look good, but if you can only do it one time and you run it in a publication with minimal circulation, or one that’s focused on the wrong market, you might have just wasted your ad budget on a one-shot deal that provide no real return on investment for you.

Step 5: Implement your plan, implement your plan, implement your plan. I may not have stressed this sufficiently in this short post, but did I mention that you should enthusiastically, emphatically, and regularly implement your plan? Well, if I wasn’t throughly clear on that aspect please excuse me. Implement your plan.

Step 6: Be flexible. The world changes and you have to be ready to change with it. As an example, if you’re promoting yourself as the best flight school in the tri-county area, yet you don’t offer sport pilot instruction or rentals because you don’t believe in the validity of the sport pilot certificate – stop wasting your energy and your advertising budget. You’ve missed the boat. The market has passed you by and left you with one of two options to consider – catch up to the train that whipped past you 6 years ago when sport pilot was introduced, or accept that you are in the waning days of your professional existence.

Remember, you don’t have to like the market, or the public perception of general aviation, or the administration that oversees your airport – but you have to work within the guidelines that currently exist. So as soon as you’re ready, pick up a pencil, grab a yellow legal pad, and start with Step 1.

There’s plenty of help out there for those who want to get in the game. And there’s success to be had for those who embrace the idea of becoming truly pro-active and making a serious attempt at controlling their own destiny. Sometimes the process starts with an email, or a phone call, or a casual discussion. It doesn’t really matter when you get right down to it. As long as the process starts. And any one of us can do that much.

Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He is also a founding partner and regular contributor to FlightMonkeys.com. You can reach him at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.


  1. The problem is simply that most flight schools owners and operators are not experienced in marketing, sales or in small business, nor do they care to be; they just want to fly and fix airplanes and make a lot of friends, and NO money! Couldn’t agree with Jamie or Kent more; just look at the pure statistics; in 2004, the first year of the LSA movement, cranked out 134 licenses and in 2009, 3,248*. Private Pilot certificates during the same peiod when from 87,213 to 72,280, an approximate DECREASE of 17% – Hello! Many “self appointed” experts would claim that the ONE major reason for the rapid increase is the lower COST in obtaining the Light Sport Certificate. Perhaps.
    I offer another possibility; that of NEED. What benefit does the Private have over the LSA? Look around. How many folks do you see riding in a “172″ 65 miles away for the elusive “$100 hamburger”, cost of living index not included! Rarely 3-4, more like 1-2. Isn’t the operating cost of an LSA substancially LESS then that 30-50 year classic Cessna? Secondly, no need or medical required. Not so for the Private – even younger less medically prone candidates see this as “hasstle” free!

    My partner, Mke Dempsey, aviationbiz.us, and I,firmly believe that it’s not any one single problem that the recreational aviation segment of GA suffes from. Not since the mid 60′s to the early 70′s, when Cessna was hipping “Discover Flying”, has any manufacture or trade organization including AOPA and GAMA, has yet to IDENTIFY openly WHO is the BEST prospect for non-professional flight training; the incubator and creator of FUTURE avaition recreational consumers. Maybe those who can AFFORD and are WILLING to pay for it?

    Many already are advocating that the “costs” of learning to fly, buying an aircraft, and then AFFORDING to operate and maintain it is the culprit. Or is it? Recreational aviation has not nor will ever be sold to the masses; it was tryed after WW II and it didn’t work then and it certainly isn’t going to happen now. That said, there will always be those who will harp (not Harpo Marx) over the cost of fuel, annual insections, and even the cost of a sectional. Isn’t the word “expensive” rather subjective; does the owner of a Cirrus SR-22 see flying as expensive – maybe, but I dought it. But I would bet the NINE partners of a 40-50 year old “150″ would be the first to tell you that 100LL is 23 cents LESS over at Noble Flying Service,(currently in Chapter 11 and incorporated as a non-profit – smart!) and 800 miles away, than Capitalist Executive Aviation, about to go “public,” at Platium International.
    “Lets see now, if I fly 56 hours a year, I’ll be saving…………”

    Until there’s a massive shakeup of a more professional BUSINESS marketing and management approach at the retail (flight school) level recreational aviation will continue
    to decline. More business folks FIRST and aviators SECOND? Has it always been viewed as a “high risk” business investment with very low if any returns and this is the principal reason why business trained and experienced individuals leave it to aviation romantics and idealist?

    I will close with this bit of humor: Why aren’t there more business people in General Aviation? If there where stupid, there would be NO GA!

    * FAA/GAMA

  2. Kent Misegades says:

    Jamie, glad you mentioned the continued reluctance of some flight schools to embrace Sport Pilot, and some maintenance shops to scorn new LSA engines like Rotax, Jabiru, ULPower, AeroVee, etc. It is a sad truth that many in our industry refuse to change, see the continued debate in favor of using leaded fuel. We’re the last people on the planet to use it – remember the cartoon with the two deer, one with a birthmark on his chest the shape of a bull’s eye? That’s us in the eyes of a public that is terrified of lead, regardless whether a real risk exists or not. So too with Sport Pilot. What is there not to like about a certificate that saves money and time, involves modern aircraft instead of old beat-up C150s, and satisfies 95% of the needs for day VFR pilots? No wonder that many of the new, younger pilots in my EAA chapter prefer SP and LSA and nothing else. One just landed in the back country of Idaho, in his nice Rotax-powered Aerotrek A240, which has all the capabilities this new pilot will need for operating in these challenging airstrip. I would not have dreamed of flying my Cessna 150 or 170 into many of these same places. Mr. Dead-Stick-Take-Off too flies a Rotax-powered JUST Highlander that is LSA-Compliant. And there are those who still do not take SP and LSA seriously? We call these Luddites.

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