Ocala, Florida, is the horse capital of the world. It says so on the Ocala/Marion County website. It’s what the place is famous for. If you like horses, low-rolling hills, wide open spaces, and fields of green grass, Ocala is the place for you.
General aviation pilots rolling up to the FBO in Ocala know this to be true whether they’ve ever been there or not. Because leading from the ramp to the FBO door is a line of horse hitches designed to look like jockeys. They stand like a welcoming committee frozen in place, trumpeting the dominance of Ocala bred horseflesh, and the pride of a community that has dedicated itself to the care and feeding of that noble animal.
Inside the deeply air-conditioned FBO, an employee greets the visitor, taking note of their name, aircraft type, and N-number. A cozy, decidedly southern restaurant is only steps away, where the tea is sweet, the prices are low, the smiles are genuine, and eggs any style come with grits – as they should.
Across the street you’ll find Ocala Breeders Sales, whether you’re looking for it or not. The place is huge.
At the Ocala Airport, they celebrate the industry their city is most famous for, and they do it with style.
Occasionally, I fly into a general aviation airport and find a level of service, affection for the local area, and marketing that rivals Ocala. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen often, and I have to wonder why.
Marketing and advertising are staples of industry and commerce that are accepted and embraced by virtually every industry in the nation.
Yet aviation, specifically general aviation, which often calls municipally owned facilities home, receives minimal marketing or advertising on the part of the very facilities that would most benefit from the effort – the municipal airport.
What’s up with that?
If you’ve got a business, and I mean any kind of business, part of your success will be dependent on having a good plan to effectively market your products or services. Admittedly, not everyone knows how to create such a plan. It’s not an innate ability for any of us. But the skill can be learned if you’re persistent.
For those who aren’t persistent, and I am primarily talking about government employees who have no vested interest in the outcome of their efforts, you don’t actually have to acquire the knowledge to create a good marketing plan in order to have and implement one.
You could steal one. Seriously, nobody will mind. It’s not even illegal. They’re out there for the taking, no more than a few keystrokes away. Check for yourself if you don’t believe me. Go ahead. The marketing plan your airport lacks could be on your desk in minutes. All you have to do is reach out and grab it.
One of the best I’ve seen is from the Jackson County – Reynolds Field Airport in Jackson, Michigan. Their marketing plan was developed in 2011 and is posted on the Internet for all to see.
It’s short, only 11 pages long, but it covers everything from the overview of the facility, a listing of the committee members who participated in developing the plan, an analysis of the issues facing the airport, a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats), survey results, brainstorming items, a list of marketing strategies ranked in order of perceived importance, and finally a timetable to implement those steps.
It’s brilliant, simply brilliant, stuff. It’s short, specific, actionable, and timetable driven. This is exactly the sort of guiding document a municipally owned airport should have in hand.
How many do? Not nearly enough. How many actually implement those plans? Even fewer. How many implement them effectively? I don’t even want to think about how paltry that number is.
I live in Winter Haven, Florida. Which I believe science has proven to be the best place in the world to live or visit. I’m pretty sure that’s true. It sure feels true. Especially in February when I’m out on my bicycle in shorts and flip-flops while my northern neighbors are digging out from their most recent application of frozen precipitation. It’s not bad in April either, when SUN ‘n FUN rolls into Lakeland just a few miles to the west.
Here in Winter Haven there is a theme park known as LEGOLAND Florida (the capitalization is theirs). It is the largest of the world’s six LEGOLAND theme parks, and it’s growing like a weed. It’s a major employer in the region, a massive draw for tourists, and a great family vacation destination.
Yet for some reason there is no evidence of its existence at the airport closest to the park. There’s no plaque on the wall, no posters on the entryway, and no LEGO characters leading from the ramp to the FBO door.
Certainly the administration must know LEGO makes a pilot character that kids and adults just love.
This represents the low hanging fruit of marketing. The theme park is advertising and marketing their hearts out, yet the municipality that would most benefit from their success invests nothing, absolutely nothing, into the only transportation hub they have authority over that could bring in additional visitors, additional dollars, and capture a new audience that’s proven to have significant spending power – general aviation pilots and their families.
There is no question we can do better as an industry if we choose to.
Perhaps this election season presents us with a good opportunity to speak with our local officials to ask “Why aren’t we doing more to make general aviation a bigger part of our city’s economic success – and how can I help?”
The second part of that question is as important as the first — maybe even more so. Just as the marketing plan is the municipalities’ for the taking, that question is yours to use as you will. Please use it now, while you still can.