Engagement Strategies for Rural America
OUTdrive Episode 42 with Thomas MacAulay
In this episode of OUTdrive, Cliff visits with Thomas MacAulay, Executive Director and CEO of Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA). An experienced marketing professional, Thomas is passionate about continuous growth to deliver excellent results for his organization and his industry.
Keep reading for more on engaging audiences through experiences and the importance of strategic communications to promote meaningful dialogue. Cliff and Thomas also discuss planning for long-term growth, the effectiveness of print media and integrated marketing and communicating with rural audiences in urban areas.
Strategically Choosing Your Words and the Importance of Two-Way Dialogue
Early in life, Thomas learned the importance of strategically choosing words to engage others in a conversation. He began his career at The Home Depot, working in various positions and taking advantage of multiple opportunities to gain new skills and take on more responsibilities. Regardless of position, every team member was encouraged to engage customers to develop a meaningful, two-way dialogue.
“One of the core values was all about engaging people, and making sure the words you said mattered,” says Thomas. “So with someone walking into the store and us just saying, ‘Are you okay, sir?’ is really a yes or no, right? But instead, we would say something along the lines of, ‘Welcome to Home Depot. What project are you working on today?’ so it required a dialogue for us to continue the conversation.”
Thomas has carried this lesson with him through his career, focusing on having meaningful conversations with others and the audiences he’s reaching to build lasting connections. It may seem simple, but the lasting impression of a meaningful conversation is invaluable.
Doing Whatever It Takes
Another lesson that has enabled Thomas to achieve his level of success is being willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. He is committed to continuously learn and challenge himself and encourages others to do the same. At The Home Depot, he gained the skills needed to work in various departments and carried this drive to learn with him when he was offered a position with BPI Outdoors. Although he didn’t know much about the company or their products, he was eager to learn.
“I started as customer service, answering the phones and emails,” says Thomas. “I’ve always been really hungry to learn, so as the opportunity presented itself to work on social media in 2006, I volunteered. I was always that guy raising my hand saying, ‘Hey, I’d be glad to help out with that.’ And then next thing you know, we were focused on SEO and learning about how to get our search name rank higher. And then I was the guy raising my hand saying, ‘How do we work on getting the websites up to date? Because the customers are needing this information.’”
Thomas’ ambition and willingness to learn enabled him to advance to various positions within BPI Outdoors before he left the company. However, the skills he gained there, combined with his desire to learn, have been a great asset to his current position with POMA.
Although POMA is planning in-person events for 2021, 2020 was a challenging year for the event-based organization. Thomas was challenged with providing value to POMA members during the COVID-19 pandemic where events were not an option. One way his team accomplished this was through the development of POMA Insight Sessions.
These Insight Sessions are virtual educational sessions for members and non-members. They allow participants to gain industry knowledge and exclusive insights in a convenient way, providing value to the organization’s membership and ways to stay connected. Pivoting to virtual resources is another great example of doing whatever it takes to get the job done and continuing to meet the needs of POMA’s membership and the industry.
Planning for Long-term Growth
The COVID-19 pandemic and current political climate has affected the outdoor sports industry, leading to increased demand and a shortage of products. However, it’s important that businesses continue to focus on long-term growth, even when business is good. Thomas explains that companies focused on increased efficiency and innovation are going to be the most successful when the market levels out.
“The companies that decide to get more efficient are going to be the breadwinners out of this fiasco,” says Thomas. “Those companies that say, ‘We’re going to increase our efficiency. We’re going to look at our models and ask where the bottlenecks are and how we make those bottlenecks more efficient’ are really going to skyrocket in addition to those that continue to properly market their brand.”
Thomas emphasizes the importance of continued marketing efforts, even when business is good. Consistent marketing efforts will enable your brand to gain valuable market share during a time when competitive brands may take their foot off the gas.
“Continue to push your brand and continue to find opportunities to get your brand presence out there, even though you’re having a really good year because eventually, things are going to level off,” Thomas added. “And that goes right back to efficiency. Whether you’re efficient in your operations or you’re efficient in your marketing techniques, either way it’s going to help you once this thing levels out.”
Print vs. Digital
When evaluating your marketing strategies to become more efficient, don’t underestimate the power of print in a technology-driven world. Print advertising has withstood the test of time, and for good reason.
“I hear a lot of people say, ‘Traditional is dead. Print is dead.’ or whatever, and it’s so not the case,” says Thomas. “If anything, it’s become more valid. It honestly reminds me of trains in a sense. I think that a lot of people have completely forgotten how relevant the train system is as far as bringing containers from ports to cities. It has really gone silent and people don’t really pay attention to it. But it’s maintained its integrity over the years and it’s probably one of the best parts of our infrastructure when it comes to bringing containers from point A to point B.”
Much like trains, print advertising does not always get the credit it deserves, but it continues to be an efficient and effective way of connecting with audiences. One of the reasons that makes print so effective is that it is tangible.
“Having print, cards, flyers, mailing stuff out, all of that stuff is still tangible and important, especially if you’re properly engaged with your audience,” Thomas adds. “Plus, from a sales perspective, I’ve seen firsthand where sales reps like to have that tangible copy of not only the catalog but also a print article and publication to be able to sit on the countertop, desk or table so that when they’re meeting with clients they can say, ‘This is how we’re supporting you providing our products to consumers.’”
In a technology-driven world, having tangible printed items stands out. It allows readers to connect with a brand and message and is a great conversation starter.
The Presence of Rural America in Urban Areas
As you evaluate and streamline your rural marketing strategy, remember the people in urban America who enjoy rural and outdoor life. Although they may not live in a rural area, many individuals enjoy the rural lifestyle and shouldn’t be overlooked in your communications plan.
“I think there are a lot of Americans that live in the city, but enjoy the rural life and that outdoor life,” says Thomas. “It’s important for us to make sure that we’re communicating that message and telling that message about the outdoors effectively. Not just to those that we feel are a good target in the rural areas, but also in the urban.”
Thomas and the POMA team are experienced in connecting with audiences that love the rural way of life, and Thomas knows the challenges of adapting and finding new ways to provide value. Whether it is an annual in-person event, online educational resources or a print article, building meaningful relationships is the foundation of a successful marketing and communications plan. Gain more insight from Thomas and Cliff and hear more great stories in this episode of OUTdrive. Check it out!