Leadership Q&A: Aviation Week’s Greg Hamilton on the Future of Aerospace Marketing

GregHamilton-HeadshotGreg Hamilton is president of the Aviation Week Network and aviation market leader for Penton Media. In his 30 years with Aviation Week, Greg has worked in all facets of information and media, including editorial, sales, marketing, communications and new product development across digital, print and event platforms, and is a driving force in its efforts to expand globally.

In January 2016, BDN’s Kyle Davis sat down with Greg to discuss a variety of issues that impact aviation industry marketers.

Kyle: You’ve been involved in aerospace aviation and defense for a long time and you’ve seen many changes in this exciting industry. Can you share some insight about the “next big thing” that industry marketers need to be prepared for in 2016 and beyond?

Greg: I started my career as a journalist, my father was a military fighter pilot and my grandfather worked for TWA, so I’ve literally been around this industry for my entire life. And it has changed, and the change has been momentous — especially when you look at marketing.

When I started, everything centered on the brand and brand building with print media. But how the marketing department or the advertising department contributed to the business in terms of sales or revenue or metrics was sort of secondary. Today the model is totally flipped over. The marketing department has to contribute directly to the business. They have to be able to prove it with very good metrics and become very relevant to the business. There are many, many choices to reach markets and engage with them — and we’re still only at the beginning. It’s a totally different world for the industry, especially for marketers, than it was 20 to 25 years ago. And it’s very, very challenging to win and be successful.

Kyle: Speaking of print media, can you talk about where you see that heading?

Greg: Aviation Week has been around 100 years but we’re not going to be around another 100 years if it’s all about print ad pages. We can show how that print ad page still has a lot of impact with certain audiences and it has a huge amount of value. But when our customers are trying to link everything they spend to their bottom line or their top line, there really needs to be a rapid adoption of a lot of these digital marketing channels and techniques. And we have to be good at it or we’re going to be irrelevant. At the same time, I’ll predict that you’re going to see — probably in the next five years — a bit of a resurgence of print in a different kind of a context than before just because of the preciousness of it. It’s expensive and it’s long form reading but there are a lot of things that print can be very good at. It’s going to be a high-value niche.

Kyle: Do you think that aerospace, and aviation and defense are behind the curve a little bit in terms of the overall B2B space in embracing this shift that’s happening?

Greg: The industry is a little bit behind, perhaps, when compared to the IT and consulting fields, and some of the consumer areas, but in terms of B2B, our industry does well and is getting caught up pretty quickly. There’s some impressive stuff going on out there right now and it’s pretty exciting. We’re getting there and we’re opening up a lot of doors for the marketers and businesses to really engage their customers like they never have before.

Kyle: Can you talk about some of the exciting things going on today?

Greg: We’re seeing new and inventive ways of using web sites, webinars, videos, social media, etc. It’s an exciting time and we’re just at the beginning of a new era in marketing innovation. I’m excited when I see marketing teams that “get it.” Take high-end business jet manufacturers. Yes, they spend a lot of time and money building brand awareness around their sophisticated products. But the marketers at those companies are also intensively trying to drive leads to support a very competitive sales process.

Kyle: So what gets you most excited and happiest about the changes you’ve seen in aerospace aviation marketing?

Greg: I think the most exciting thing for me personally, and our organization, is that marketing is becoming all about content. And the industry itself has spectacular content to share. A lot of this marketing comes down to how do you create, curate or leverage content to get a reaction from somebody. Creating engaging and useful content to connect aerospace professionals is what those of us at Aviation Week have built our careers on. It’s great being able to use content to generate real relevant engagement and see it working over and over again for our customers and the marketers out there.

Buyers want to see actual products in action, talk with real experts. In the case of one customer we said, “Why don’t you do a webinar with your expert on satellite communications you’ll be surprised how many people are going to show up?” That was a wake up call. We had 500 people show up to a webinar. They were both surprised and happy. So a content-based approach is what I think excites us the most because we’re pretty good at it — and we can help.

Kyle: What has you most concerned about the changes that are happening in our world?

Greg: It’s critical to solidify the connection between marketers and stakeholders to generate results. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done — not just generating measurement and metrics, but making those metrics and measurements relevant to what the business is trying to accomplish. My concern is that there’s not enough of that going on. I think a lot of the people we work with ultimately will get relevance and workable budgets and have the ability to do the things that they think are right for the business. We need trust and credibility for the creative thinkers to go out there and do some interesting things and engage with the customers.

I’m optimistic, but it’s kind of a long haul. The key is to prove marketing value by delivering results — that’s what will earn us a seat at the table. We may see more marketers starting to run our world in the future, which would be great.

Kyle: So what’s your best advice for those involved in marketing in our industry about how they can distinguish themselves and be more successful?

Greg: Here are a few things I would focus on:

  • First, become an expert at content-based marketing. Really understand the content and how it relates to the people you’re trying to connect with.
  • Hand-in-hand with that comes even more deeply understanding customers and audiences. I don’t think I’m exaggerating – there’s 10 times as much research being done by customers today as they were doing 10 years ago. Understand your customer’s content usage patterns and how can you get closer so you can match content with his or her needs.
  • Improve your metric or analytical skills. Being able to translate an ad campaign or a marketing campaign into the metrics of the business is really challenging. Aerospace is a very metrics-driven business. If the marketer can’t stand up and play in that game, it’s harder to be relevant. If you can do it, you’re going to win.
  • Be willing to engage the business, the leadership and the business teams, and prove the credibility.
  • And lastly, I think marketing is a place where you don’t go it alone. Collaborate. It’s really hard to be good at this as an individual but it’s not that that hard to do it as teams. Find your thought leaders — your marketers, your advertising team, your PR team and other experts — and bring everyone into the loop and get them together in the same room. And take advantage of all the media resources, graphics, etc. Reach out to your media partners. It’s all about collaboration. You’re dealing with a lot of different approaches and you will see some of the best practices that are being employed.

Kyle: Is there anything else you’d like to share or something we haven’t covered?

Greg: I encourage everyone to have a very fun and fulfilling career. It’s hard work and you have to want to do it. But I think there’s just a lot of opportunities for people in aerospace marketing to really have careers that they they’re proud of and careers where they know they’re making a difference by doing the kinds of things that they wanted to do when they first got into the field.

Kyle: And what kind of products could be more interesting and exciting than what we do in aerospace?

Greg: Exactly. We have spacecraft launching into space, while their boosters land on a barge. Airliners that can fly halfway around the world at 600 miles per hour. Fighter jets with millions of lines of software code controlling their every movement. Even at the nitty gritty level, this industry is hugely fascinating. We have highly refined engineering that goes into every single piece of an airplane, innovation in the services area, and IT involved in this field. The use of data and analytics is amazing. There’s a pretty nice canvas to work with.