What to do about Millennials?

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It’s a hot topic: How do air shows better engage Millennials?  

From my experience in attending conferences and air shows over the last five years, the discussion has been continuous, but forward progress has been slow to develop.

So, for perspective, let’s step back and rephrase the question. Address it without using the word “Millennial,” and come up with an answer that also avoids the identifier. The name we label a “generation” is irrelevant to the fundamental challenge we presently face.

Let’s look at it this way: How do we engage the air show market of tomorrow? How do we guarantee our industry’s legacy? How do we ensure not just that we have an air show business this year, but that the industry continues to prosper 15 or 20 years from now?

To answer this, we should first remember what brought us into this business in the first place. For all of us, it’s very likely the same experience: attending an air show for the first time. The smoke, the noise, the novelty of seeing so many aircraft up close. It inspired us to work as hard as we could within the industry — or at careers outside the industry — just to stay involved. Our initial experience was so powerful that we were motivated to spend our time to ensure strangers have that very same opportunity to be filled with excitement. This is a phenomenal human reaction.

So, what keeps us engaged? It’s not the smoke, not the noise, not the food. It’s the people and the tradition. Our air show lives are a reflection of the relationships we’ve built along the way. Our motivation to continue our participation – – and enjoy the work that we do within the air show community — is our friends. But wait a minute: What does all of this have to do with securing our future and maintaining the health of the industry?

Well, next time you’re at an air show board meeting, or better yet, an air show conference, take a quick look around and pick out how many individuals you would guess are under 35. I did this during a seminar at the ICAS Convention in 2017. In a room of about 200 attendees, there were two. That’s one percent of the population. One percent of the room had spent their entire lives immersed in and communicating through social media. One percent of the room was the generation originally targeted by Facebook and was aware that Facebook is already in its sunset years. It had its spark and now it’s on the way out. The rest of the room was discussing how to introduce it as an effective marketing platform. Ninety nine percent of the room was frustrated by how they could not relate to the one percent present, which was perceived as their soon-to-be largest market segment.

If we look at other entertainment industries, each one has a “farm team” system. Professional sports have their junior and minor leagues. Major bands all have opening acts. Auto racing has a challenger type series. Each industry is looking out for its own future in a controlled and deliberate way. It’s the “why” behind their establishment status. There is no such system in the air show community. The result? No reliable strategy for enticing younger generations to become air show spectators, or for introducing them to the business side of air shows…. creating the potential for a long-term catastrophe for an industry to which all of us are deeply devoted.

So now we can understand the dilemma pretty clearly. Our issue is not a marketing challenge; it’s an involvement challenge. Every bit of the demographic information available to us tells us that we are not cultivating our future from within, and — because of that — there will come a day when we lose control of the future and of our legacy.

The simplest solution is to build involvement from within. The strength and improvement that will occur will be phenomenal. No one would hire a plumber for an electrical problem, so why not incorporate a few individuals from your target market into your event, and let them handle the challenges which have proven to be the most difficult for the air show community to solve? The under 35 crowd are the subject matter experts for marketing to their peer group. It’s a simple matter of picking the right professional for the job. We all know it’s a bad marketing strategy to make a desperate pitch to a neglected group. Let’s prepare for the future before it arrives; it’ll make getting the right folks on-board a whole lot easier!

When he’s not flying for a major airline, Michael Tryggvason is a Waterloo, Ontario-based air show performer and aerobatic competition pilot who flies a Giles 202. In addition to aviation, Tryggvason’s other interests include snowboarding, motorbikes, outdoor adventure and travel.

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Michael Tryggvason
When he’s not flying for a major airline, Michael Tryggvason is a Waterloo, Ontario-based air show performer and aerobatic competition pilot who flies a Giles 202. In addition to aviation, Tryggvason’s other interests include snowboarding, motorbikes, outdoor adventure and travel.