Bemidji Regional Airport is the state's fourth-busiest airport, a fact that escapes many people, say airport officials.
"You can run from advertising in this economy, or you can run advertising," Harold Van Leeuwen told Bemidji Regional Airport Authority commissioners Wednesday. "Some people don't know we have commercial flights out here."
After an afternoon work session to discuss airport marketing, authority commissioners at their regular meeting Wednesday night voted to hire a marketing consultant to help them come up with a strategy to market the airport -- to gain more passenger traffic and to woo potential aircraft-related businesses and manufacturers to the airport.
"We have an identity crisis," said Commissioner Jack Frost. "That we are fourth in enplanements blows people's minds. We need to market BJI."
BJI is the Federal Aviation Administration designator for Bemidji Regional Airport.
The $42,000 anticipated from a state grant program is 70 percent of the marketing campaign, which carries a 30 percent local match, Van Leeuwen said.
The authority will contract with Tanya Korpi MacLeod of Tanya Korpi Strategic Communications of Bemidji to help Airport Authority members define a role for the airport to market.
To do so, commissioners decided not to renew its contract with Anchor Marketing and to recall some $5,800 in unexecuted funds, which will be used to pay Korpi. Retaining Anchor Marketing would have cost $20,460, to be matched 70/30.
Anchor Marketing handled the Grow Bemidji campaign, overseen by the Joint Economic Development Commission. It used enticements such as a series of postcards sent to prospective company CEOs, and a larger-than-life Paul Bunyan lumberjack shirt. It also created a Grow Bemidji Web site.
"We didn't get one qualified prospect during the whole two-year period," said Larry Young, JEDC executive director. "The Web site had only 3,500 hits, which isn't much over two years. Not having one strong prospect after one year is a cause for concern."
Van Leeuwen said Anchor Marketing provided excellent products, such as the postcard, a DVD, the Web site and the airport's new logo, but performed no follow up on the initial contacts with executives.
Korpi "can help us develop broader marketing and carry Grow Bemidji forward," Van Leeuwen said.
"The first thing you need to do is ask what it is you want to do," Lou Buron of Paul Bunyan Broadcasting told the Airport Authority. He and a representative of Lakeland Public Television attended the work session.
He talked of developing "pods" for marketing, such as when the airport gets the money to do so, to market in the Baudette area that a shuttle bus will carry airline passengers to Bemidji to make flight connections.
"You need to figure out who you are," Baron said.
MacLeod, in an e-mail to Van Leeuwen and Young, said she would suggest work that includes:
- A comprehensive messaging strategy that outlines the segmentation, targeting and positioning for each of the two entities (JEDC and Airport Authority) and can serve as a "source document" for communications of all kinds.
- A Web site for each entity that reflects that strategy, including a brand that's better aligned to their targets' expectations of experience in a business context.
- A comprehensive communications and marketing plan that could be used to get partners on board and attract further funding.
Until marketing budgets increase, MacLeod said she didn't "see any room for traditional media (radio, TV, print, billboards). These types of communications require an infrastructure to support them ... and right now you simply don't have that infrastructure in place."
Initial work will set up a marketing strategy for the future, said Commissioner Ron Johnson, adding that when the Bemidji Regional Event Center and airport terminal remodeling are complete. Bemidji's airport can be marketed as serving a growing regional center.
As it is, Van Leeuwen defined the airport's service area as from Park Rapids east to Walker and Ball Club, north Warroad-Baudette, south to Fosston to Mahnomen, and back to Park Rapids.
Commissioners also voted to extend the authority's contract with Trillion for air service marketing with airlines at $23,980, which also carries a local match. Trillion also negotiates lease agreements for the authority, such as that with fixed base operator Bemidji Aviation.