Every flying club requires members in order to exist, particularly when the club is still in formation. Membership is also important for established clubs that are looking to grow or simply looking to replace members who might leave. Because of this, marketing is an important aspect of club operations that must be considered.
There are several ways your club can raise its awareness from old fashioned word of mouth, flyers at the airport bulletin board, press releases, online tools such as websites and social media. Also, don’t forget events that could attract attention outside of the aviation community. Successful clubs typically use a variety of methods.
Reaching People in a Virtual World
A website is a great way to promote your club to the public. Having photos and an appealing web site will go a long way in attracting new members. The web site can also be a place to list upcoming events and newsletters as the club begins operations.
Facebook is almost like a second web page and is a good way to reach a broader audience. Whether someone is searching for a club or aviation activities, or the social media algorithms push your post or event listing to people with similar interests, it will help people find you in this increasingly virtual world. Click here to see how one pilot association has found success using social media.
Twitter and Instagram are also great ways to let people know you exist, as well as keeping members engaged. Social media is meant to be interactive and members can post or tweet on their own, sharing their aviation adventures. Nothing generates interest like a compelling tweet or post with photos, videos, or an intriguing question. Internally, clubs use messaging apps like WhatsApp to stay in touch and share information about recent flights.
Social media accounts are easy to set up and provide an outlet to get your club’s name out there without necessarily doing much work. Another option is posting YouTube videos of your flights. It’s amazing how things get passed around on the Internet or through email. Just make sure you identify your club and provide a way for people to get more information.
AOPA Flying Club Finder
Another critical online resource where you can hang your shingle is AOPA’s Flying Club Finder. It is a great way to literally put your club on the map. You may list your club as either an AOPA Network Club or a ‘club in formation’. Users may search for clubs using a map of the United States or by looking up a particular state. The finder allows clubs to list their location, aircraft, rates, buy-ins, and other facts. But most importantly, you can list your contact information and website, making it easy for prospective members to learn more and contact you.
Word of Mouth
Many flying clubs form among friends who share an interest in flying. From student pilots to “airport bums,” hanging around your local airport and making connections to the businesses on the field is bound to generate interest. This requires an investment of personal time and is fairly limited in its reach. But if you can generate a buzz about your club at the airport, it will help generate members.
Airport bulletin board
Create a flyer that will catch someone’s eye with basic information about the club and post it at the local airports in your area, as well as at businesses in town – you’d be amazed at how many people look at bulletin boards at coffee shops, grocery stores, and other local businesses. Our experience shows that meetings related to forming a flying club are best held at the airport. There is something about seeing airplanes out on the ramp and smelling the avgas in the air that inspires people to get serious about joining a flying club!
Postcards to pilots
A more proactive way to let pilots know about your flying club is to send postcards to all the pilots in your area. To get a list of names and addresses, just go to the FAA’s website and download the FAA’s Airman Database. You can then sort it in a variety of ways to come up with a list you want to reach out to. Keep in mind, pilots have the option of keeping their information private, so you may not get every pilot in your area, but most are there. For more information on how to go about doing this, check out our Guide To Starting a Flying Club-Chapter 8
Make sure your postcard is eye catching – a nice photo of your plane is always good and include your website and contact information. It’s important to realize direct mail, like postcards, generally has a low response rate. But think about it this way—if you send out 500 postcards and only 5 percent of people respond, that’s still 25 people expressing interest in your club.
Develop relationships with the businesses on the field
Whether it is the local FBO, airport owner, maintenance shop, or flight school, we all benefit from a strong general aviation community and developing relationships with your neighbors can be critical.
Your local maintenance shop interacts with many pilots and can be a great resource. It may know owners who are thinking about selling their aircraft or are interested in putting their aircraft into a club environment. If the shop owner knows they are going to get business from the deal, they’ll probably be happy to help spread the word.
Airport operators or committees, whether they are full time staff or volunteers will probably have the pulse of the airport. They are great resources when looking for new members and present an opportunity to start a ‘Buzz.’ You might ask to present at a meeting or volunteer on a committee so your club is a known member of the community. For more information on how to get involved with your airport, check out this Question of the Month.
FBOs/flight schools can be a touchy subject, but it doesn’t have to be. Some flight schools may view a club as competition, but others will welcome having a club on the field. A club offers new pilots access to aircraft without tying up the flight schools training fleet. Many flight schools are substantially limiting or eliminating non-student rentals altogether. Perhaps your club has aircraft the FBO/flight school doesn’t offer such as a taildragger, larger aircraft like a Cherokee Six/Saratoga, or higher end aircraft like a Cirrus. Having good relationships with other airport tenants is important for a club’s sustainability. A successful flying club will build a positive working relationship with a local flight school.
Traditional outreach methods are still a great way to go, even if delivery methods have changed. For a new club, send out a press release to your local media outlets announcing your creation. The media is always looking for human interest stories, particularly those that have a different angle, and we all know flying is uncommon for most people. It’s also a good way to reach beyond the aviation community and share what the club is doing. However, a follow-up phone call to the news agency is important to develop that relationship and will help get that story on the local news or in the paper. Don’t forget listing your meeting on the calendar pages of your local papers or community websites – it’s usually free and people do look at the events listed
Hosting an event geared for the local aviation community is a great way to get the club some exposure without a lot of effort. AOPA can deliver either a Rusty Pilot Seminar or a Maximum Fun, Minimum Cost Seminar. Before or after the seminar, give a brief description of your club and how people can get more information about joining.
The Rusty Pilot seminar is a free (for AOPA members), fun, interactive program that gives pilots who have been out of the cockpit for a while all the information needed to get current again. It covers a variety of issues such as medical reforms, weather briefings, preflight planning, FARs, and airspace. Best of all it counts as the ground portion of a Flight Review, so there’s value for current pilots as well. It’s a great way to engage pilots in the area, helped lapsed pilots get back in the cockpit, and promote your club in formation.
The Maximum Fun, Minimum Cost flying club seminar is an interactive presentation on how to start, run, and benefit from flying clubs. These seminars are held around the country and provide an opportunity to network with others who share your interest in forming a club or taking an existing club to the next level. It’s an opportunity to ask questions of folks who really know their stuff, tell your story, and contribute ideas based on your own experiences. These seminars are the fertile ground where flying clubs start the process of germination.
A third way to engage pilots in the area is by hosting a Safety Seminar. Invite your local FAA FAAST Team representative to present a WINGS safety seminar. There are plenty of topics to choose from and FAAST Team will also advertise the event. All you have to do is serve as the host, introduce the speaker and take a few minutes to talk about your club in formation. Events like these are great ways to serve the aviation community and get the word out that you are starting a club.
Events also provide good material for press releases and social media posts. Be sure to invite or co-host social events with other airport groups like the FBO, flight school, or other organizations to maximize your reach to as large an audience as possible.