Using the Net to its full advantage
By Robert Hager, Michael Schiefer, & Larry Weiner, Creative Force
Websites have been described as living brochures. Properly created and administered, one can be changed constantly to offer the most up-to-date information. It can also be a public relations press kit, a press conference, and even a place where commerce can take place. The Web's potential uses are virtually unlimited and growing each day.
There are generally a wide variety of different service businesses and manufacturers operating on airport grounds. In some ways, an airport can be seen a microcosm of a city. Each business is a part of the community, and as such each works toward common goals — the ultimate success of the facility and making an airport visitor's experience a positive one. A comprehensive Internet marketing program can bring all the airport elements together and create a connected community online. An airport can provide a host of benefits to its varied audience: pilots, passengers, tenants, the neighboring community, local and national media.
The first step is to set website objectives. This can be easier said than done. Many aviation organizations sense they need a website, but to take that from the abstract and translate it into a set of tangible and palpable objectives can be a challenge.
The process of creating a set of objectives is no different for developing an Internet marketing program as it would be for any other traditional marketing plan. For example, many airports have ongoing public relations problems with nearby communities. Area residents can be understandably concerned with noise and some particularly active residents constantly pepper the local media with issues designed to paint the airport in as bad a light as possible. If this is the case, improving public relations can be a website objective.
Another objective may be to seek potential tenants or even a private company to manage an airport facility, a fixed base operation, or an entire airport. Identifying objectives helps organize content information and site navigation. Once the objectives have been set forth, sit with a Web design team and create a diagram of the website and its links.
Each airport will have its own unique objectives. For example, a general aviation airport in the New York Metropolitan area may be a reliever airport, and it may be located in a heavily populated suburban area. An airport in Kentucky, however, certainly has different needs.
Following are some suggestions of types of website elements from which an airport can benefit:
• Why We Are Here
People living near any airport are nearly unanimous in their animus toward the facility. But, if the site explained why the airport is there and how it helps the local community, attitudes may change. This section could discuss how many jobs the airport facility has created, or how it may relieve traffic from other airports.
More importantly, airport management should take this opportunity to spell out how it understands the communities concerns, and what it is doing to address them.
• Operations Information
Airport websites can offer a world of important information to those expecting to use the facility. For example, visitors should be able to get information on virtually every facet of planning a trip into the airport's region. Help site visitors answer some questions ...
• FBOs, charter, flight training, and other tenants; their locations;
• Catering, limousine, car rental information;
• Does the facility exclusively cater to fixed-wing aircraft, or can helicopters also use the airport?
• Air/ground medical transport information;
• Regional geographic, mapping, information;
Consider also: Does the airport have a FAA tower? Can I link to the FAA from the site? Through the website, pilots of fixed-wing aircraft can get runway information. Helicopter pilots may be able to view visual landmarks along designated routes as they prepare to arrive and depart.
An important caveat: Answers to the technical data cannot be used in any way as navigational aids; they are only informational. This is not to diminish the invaluable help they can provide. For instance, if an FBO is listed on the site, it can also list its radio frequencies. Pilots coming into the airport can then radio directly into the FBO.
Aside from offering data on operations, the site can provide visitors into the area with other vital information, such as nearby hotels, restaurants, even local attractions for those who may have some free time for leisure activities.
A well-planned website can be a tool for overcoming negative press coverage. A Web home page can provide a public relations link giving local and national media — as well as concerned citizens — an opportunity to get the airport's views on hot issues. This may result in more balanced press coverage. Press releases in the news section can be archived so media personnel can retrieve stories that go back a number of months or years. Local residents can even access news information.
Include the airport's Web address on all press releases distributed traditionally to the media. This will encourage editors to visit the site for background information.
A COMMUNITY BULLETIN
If an objective is to present a more positive image to the community, having a section that lets local residents know what airport and non-airport related, non-profit or charity events are being held in the area, can help effect a positive image.
Many organizations sponsor golf outings, the proceeds of which go to various local charities. These can be listed. It can help the outing's sponsor get more golfers, which in turn raises more funds for the recipient organization. Teterboro (NJ) Airport, a general aviation airport near New York, sponsors a five-kilometer run every summer, and the proceeds go to breast cancer research. This event is listed on the airport's website, and it has helped increase the number of entrants into the race each year.
IMPROVING ON-AIRPORT COMMUNICATIONS
Is one of your Internet objectives to improve two-way communications between airport tenants and management? Rather than letting them find out about what is happening at the airport in the newspaper, provide a section for tenants where you control the accuracy of the message. Include minutes from previous tenant meetings and important bulletins.
Offer information on such important issues as: trends in privatization, government regulations, concessions, civic work with area charities, security, safety, and firefighting.
HELP WANTED; FAQs
Something as apparently innocuous as a Job Opportunity section can deliver a number of extremely positive benefits:
• People from the community will think of the airport in a more pro-active light.
• It invites more local residents to visit the website. As a result, they will be reminded of the many jobs the airport provides to the area.
• It shows tenants that management has an interest in them.
• It promotes the career opportunities that exist in aviation as a whole.
There is nothing new to having a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section. Many websites have them. A FAQ section can address customers' most common concerns or other questions the public may have. FAQ sections can also help cut down on the number of e-mails and letters that require timely responses.
FAQ functions can be interactive — an electronic form can be inserted onto one page of the website. The form will capture specific contact information and deliver that information (or question) electronically via e-mail to airport officials.
THE 4-STEP PROCESS
Creating an effective Internet marketing program is really a four-step process. The first step after registering your domain name is site development. Once a website is designed and constructed, the job is not yet finished. Before launching, it is tested to make sure the links are working properly. If you operate or manage a number of facilities or FBOs, make sure the site is user-friendly, allowing visitors to switch easily between the main pages and the specific sub-pages or externally linked sites of other locations.
External links provide an interesting dilemma. Usually, when a visitor to your site clicks on an outside link, they are taken directly to that site. When they leave the linked site, they are not returned to your site. So, make sure visitors can view a linked site without leaving your site.
Once satisfied that the site works properly, the next step is search engine registration. The site should be posted and registered not only with all the major search engines, but try to have the site listed in industry directory websites and indices as well. When registering a site with the various search engines, understand how they work so that the company/airport is listed properly.
Researching and evaluating the best strategies for placement is critical. This consists of assessing your website, industry, competition, trends, and related products and services on the Web. Trends on the Internet change, so research may be necessary for periodic updating of keywords and placement procedures throughout the life of the site. (Maximize traffic to the website by displaying the URL on all printed material — letterhead, business cards, etc.).
Step three is the administration of the site. There is nothing worse than to visit a site and find information that is obsolete.
The final step is site review-assessment. One way, a counter, can certainly determine how many people are visiting your site. But, there are other ways to monitor your Internet presence. For example, your Internet service provider (ISP) can provide quarterly reports on who is visiting the site. Note that because the nature of the Internet is predominantly anonymous, these statistics are used as a roadmap for improving marketing efforts instead of a mathematically accurate rendering of fact.
About the Authors
Robert Hager heads-up aviation marketing services, Michael Schiefer is president and creative director, and Larry Weiner is in charge of media relations. Creative Force, based at Teterboro Airport in Teterboro, NJ, provides a full-range of marketing, communications, design and public relations services to the aviation industry. Find them at www.creative-force.com.
CAPS Your Web site diagram should blueprint content according to main topic pages, sub-pages and major links. Good organization makes it easy for visitors to move efficiently through the site, obtaining the information they are looking for.
A well-planned home page affords visitors a comprehensive picture of site content and ease of navigation.