Handling the Media During a Crisis

On December 1st of 2013, 63 amazing women smashed the former world record for the largest head down formation ever recorded. Despite having beautiful women and amazing footage, the media presence was minimal. Four days later, the worst possible scenario occurred - a double fatality and a serious injury all on the same jump during formation skydive big ways. Suddenly, the media was camped out in full force in the parking lot at Skydive Arizona.

The media’s role is to cover newsworthy events, but what is ‘newsworthy’ is open for interpretation. The news is skewed because of the pursuit of ratings. High ratings equates to more advertising dollars equating to more profitability. Senstationalism and shock sells and it’s these stories that the media are after. Reporters are looking to scoop the competition and will often go to great lengths to dig up more information that others have not uncovered. 

When a crisis occurs, DZ operators are forced to temporarily shelve emotions to focus on the task at hand. Notifying families, working with a barrage of media requests, the FAA, the authorities, the coroner and trying to stay ahead of the story are difficult especially without a pre-determined plan of how to handle it all.

The hardest challenge for DZO’s is educating the media without providing terminology that is open for interpretation by non-skydivers and the hungry media. 

A great example of this is the 16 year old girl who survived after spiraling into the ground in Oklahoma several weeks ago. She had a canopy above her head and by the sounds of things, failed to cut it away. To sensationalize the story, the media’s headines portray something far different. 

Texas girl survives 3,000-foot fall in skydiving accident

Teen survives fall after parachute doesn’t open

Texas Girl Who Fell 3000 feet to Survive

All of the above headlines give the indication that this young lady plummeted from 3,000 feet without a canopy and miraculously survived. Anyone in our industry knows this is not possible. The truth is blurred in order to increase click rates on news sites in order to show advertisers the volume of traffic on its website.

The media is shrewd and being prepared to deal with them requires a strategy of how to handle the scrutiny on your operation when things go wrong. 


1. The Media Will Write

The media will write about the incident with or without your input to the story. Your response to the media is important, but must be measured and carefully written in a press release sticking to the facts. Without input, the media may run a story with gross misinformation as we see in the news all of the time. Question: Can you afford for a story to be released without your input? 

2. The Phone Will Ring
Once the story breaks, the phone will ring continuously. Rather than ignore phone calls, have a dedicated person answer the phone and take contact information from the media. No statements should be given by anyone. Any response to the media should be calculated. Once a press release is created, sending it to the inquiring outlets is appropriate ensuring that every journalist has the same facts and information.

3. Too Many Sources Gives a Story Legs
Too many people giving opinions or facts to multiple media outlets will help a story spread. Reporters will be asking anyone who knows anything for contributions. DZ’s should try to control the output of information as much as possible. Be sure that staff members do not speak to the press. 

4. The Media Does Not Care. This is a Story
There are some very nice reporters out there, but remember their job is to cover a story. Do not let a reporter lull you into giving information about the victim or details about their skydiving (details of being a CRW pilot or canopy pilot). This only adds to assumptions to made by the press after the interview.

5. The Newswire
When the story is picked up by the AP Newswire, it will transform from local to national and possibly international very quickly. Be sure to have Google Alerts switched on for your business to be able to track the story as it spreads. This will allow you to stay on top of the story should facts start to change.


 Identify one person to work with the media exclusively.This ensures one consistent story presented to all media outlets. Your goal is to make this an open and shut story in the media without adding fuel. The individual handling the press should not give any verbal quotes, but issue a press release to all members of the media further ensuring one consistent message.

 Never lie to the media. Ever. 

 Do not rush a response to the media. Take your time to assess the situation. If the media contacts you, get their information and give them a time to expect a press release from you. This is better than a ‘No Comment’ statement. No comment is often construed as guilt or negligence. While it is important to not rush, it is important to provide a press release before deadlines are required by editors.

 Prepare a press release with basic information and use it as the only communication piece with the media. 

 The media will show up at the DZ and assuredly take video / photos of the sign at the entrance. Request that all staff and experienced skydivers not speak with the media. Give media who show up your prepared press release.

 Keep detailed information that can be misinterpreted out of the press release. Never release the name of the victim. In the case of a fatality, the coroner will eventually release the name. This should not come from the DZ. 

 Inform the FAA of the incident even if it had nothing to do with the aircraft. If the FAA reads about it, they will contact you. Establish good communications with the FAA during any incident. Some disagree with this, but being proactive and having an open communication with the FAA is a good idea.

 Be in communication with the victim’s family immediately after the incident. Follow-up with the family a few days after the incident. Always keep details at a minimum, as families may elect to file a lawsuit later. There is a fine line to being empathetic and caring and not opening a DZ to liability regardless of waiver forms signed. Every incident is unique and different. Discretion is required.

 Hold on to the person’s gear and keep it under lock and key. The FAA may wish to view the gear with a rigger. The family may request the gear or often friends of the jumper may try to take it; no gear should be released until authorities are satisfied with their individual investigations. Be sure your rigger is on hand when the authorities wish to inspect it as they won’t know what they’re looking at. 

 Ensure any and all video footage is placed under lock and key to be viewed only by the authorities that need to see it. 

 Have your Master Rigger inspect the gear and write a report the day after the incident. Photos of the gear should be taken during the inspection. 

 Have your S&TA submit a detailed report to the USPA.

13. The USPA provides excellent facts about the safety of the sport. Providing this information is recommended to give perspective on safety. 

I. Press Releases. Begin preparing a press release shortly after an incident. The above example is short and to the point devoid of any details that could be misconstrued. If you’re uncertain of how to write a press release click on these links to learn the form and structure. For most companies press releases are prepared to announce something new about the company which will also be helpful to bringing free press to the DZ when you have unique stories like multi-generations of family jumping together or anyone jumping over the age of 80. 
Press Release Tips from the Huffington Post  |  PRLog - How to Write a Press Release

 Keep it Simple. Providing advanced terminology or skydiving jargon opens up a story for interpretation. Notice in the above example, that the term ‘swooping’ is omitted to prevent the media pulling YouTube videos of swooping as there are many dangerous representations of it. The term ‘advanced landing maneuver’ is used.

 Message. Decide one message you need to get across. As in the example above, the message is to clearly show that the parachute was full deployed. Basic details are given in order to minimize speculation. 

IV. No Verbal Interviews. Send the written press-release to the media outlets that request interviews. Media will try to get you to make a quote…and you will be tempted to answer. Don’t do it! Stick to the press release for consistency of the message. 

6 Tips To Boost Your DZ’s Bottom Line


In an industry where everything costs a lot of money, creating opportunities to maximize on customer expenditure is essential. Many of the DZ’s I visit focus solely on tandem and video sales and are merely satisfied with any other purchases made in the gear store. Let’s be more strategic by increasing peripheral sales to help boost your bottom line. The margins on tee shirts are too substantial to ignore. Also, guests who purchase a second tandem become part of your marketing team by recruiting others to join them on their skydiving adventure. Are you doing everything you can to boost these sales? 

Understanding What We Have

The skydiving industry has something that retail companies, salespeople, and corporations crave….no, WISH they had with their customers. That word is connection. Ever been to the Gap during its heyday in the 90s or even the Apple Store of today? Millions of dollars have been spent by these companies to mix the right elements to make the retail environment inviting enough to make a connection. Selling has been turned into a science focused on stimulating the consumers senses.


Walk in to an Apple Store and pay attention to what you’re seeing.

Visually, the store is appealing with clean lines, lighting that isn’t harsh but illuminates and is soft. The colors in the store window are vibrant.

Audibly, the music is up with an energy-induced, toe-tapping beat. The music isn’t an ipod on shuffle but is part of a science known as multi-sensory branding. Everything is by design to connect with customers and create an environment that is inviting, warm and allows no obstacle for consumers to react on an impulsive purchase. The energy felt within the Apple Store is palpable as the throng of people within the store creates a vibe that makes the price of the products not seem so incredibly expensive.

Touch - having all the products out and available to touch and play with is part of the Apple Store’s brilliance and pushes the connection between user and product. Playing with an ipod is much more powerful than simply looking at one.

Smell - Think there isn’t a smell at the Apple Store? You won’t notice what you’re smelling, but instead notice what you’re not smelling. There is no musty smell from hundreds of people crammed into its tight quarters, but rather a smell of newness that matches the vivid environment. Undoubtedly, the store is cleaned very well at the end of each day. Everything involving the senses is calculated and by design.

Whether you’re an Apple lover or hater, Apple has created a retail model that spares no expense to create a connection with the consumer. When a connection is made, sales are made. The skydiving industry has conquered the hardest part of selling: we have the connection. Now, let’s make some sales!

Closing the Sale

The moment a tandem student lands from their skydive is SALES GOLD. The reserved person who arrived at the DZ who hemmed and hawed about upgrading from video to video and stills is now primed to spend a little more money…at least $18 for a tee shirt. The connection the student has with the tandem instructor and the organization is now sealed as serotonin surges through the veins of an individual who has just completed “The best experience of their lives.” The consumer WANTS to share their experience showing off a tee shirt or product that says, “yeah, I jumped out of an airplane and loved it.” Be sure we’re creating the right environment to make the sale.

NOTE: You don’t need to have an amazing facility or retail space to accomplish this.The minimum requirement is that your sales area is clean and feels organized.

6 Power Tips To Boost The Bottom Line

1. The Tandem Instructor

The tandem instructor is the gateway to an easy sale. The student has entrusted his / her life to the instructor while facing their biggest challenge and they lived! Big time connection here. If your DZ is meeting instructors in the landing area with a rig, then you’re negatively affecting your sales. Great that you’re busy, but if there is not enough time to complete the experience, then you’re clearly understaffed. A great book has a strong beginning, middle and end. Too often, we end the tandem experience improperly without an instructor:

a). debriefing the tandem student with encouragement about how well they did during the jump

b). the presentation of a certificate of achievement signed by the instructor with a shake of the hand or hug and the signing of log books (instructors and student’s)

c). presentation of sales opportunities that the customer has become eligible for having completed their first jump as well as the next steps to becoming a solo skydiver.

A Word on Instructors: Passionate instructors will buy-in to this. A DZ’s success is everyone’s success and job security for all!

2. Placement

Where the closing takes place is key to driving sales. Ideally, have the presentation of the certificate of achievement take place in the store. Once the instructor shakes hands and departs, the student is left with feelings of exhilaration and happiness in the retail space.

3. The Store

The gear store, regardless of size should feel clean and organized. If the store is poorly lit, has worn out carpeting, and is bulging at the seams with product then make the correct changes. Offer less product if needed to make the sales environment more friendly. All products should be neatly hung or folded. 

4. Displays

Be sure your customers can touch tee shirts. If tee shirt designs are simply on display behind the counter with sizing in drawers, then you are not maximizing sales. As with all retail stores in the mall, people want to see how tee shirts will look on them. The interaction of touching the product is very important.

5. Offer a Deal

Even if it’s perceived. There is a euphoria in shopping when people feel like they’ve received a deal. Observe the madness of Black Friday in the US as shoppers quite literally feel a ‘high’ when getting amazing deals even at the cost of getting out of bed at 4:00am, fighting traffic and huge crowds for the opportunity to spend money in a crazy environment! When presenting the certificate of achievement, offer an exclusive discount in the form of a coupon (preferably on card stock, so it feels substantial) for those that have completed their jumps to receive a discount on purchasing their next tandem, a discount for beginning AFF and a discount on a tee shirt). Even a $2 discount off of a US$20 shirt feels good to a shopper. You don’t have to give the house away to see a jump in sales.

6. Create an Urgency

Don’t give customers options to get a deal after they leave the DZ. There is no better sales environment than the moment after a jump. During my time at Skydive Carolina, I offered my guests who had paid full retail the opportunity to purchase a gift certificate for a tandem at half the price. The discount would be valid for that day only, pushing the student to make an on-the-spot decision. (The strategy is not to force the student to jump the same day, but to leave with the discount in hand in order to recruit others). Once the customer leaves the DZ with an option to buy later, the percentage of sales decreases dramatically. If someone called within a few days begging to cash in the offer…I would always honor it.

The psyche of most people doing a tandem skydive is to share in the experience with others. My basis for good marketing is to convert happy customers into ‘talkers’ for your DZ. Anyone leaving with a half off tandem promotion becomes a marketing mouthpiece. They will try to recruit others to join them for their next tandem experience and of course you will capture them at full retail. Some people return alone, but that is the minority. This is part of equipping your guests to become the marketing machine for your DZ and the best part is they’re paying you to do it.

Owning and running a DZ is harder than most people can imagine. The lists of to-dos and responsibilities are endless and being ahead on anything is typically short-lived. My thoughts are geared towards working smarter, not harder and to convert your happy customers into marketers.

Marketing Mastermind for DZ Professionals


Beyond Marketing presents a Marketing Mastermind Class for dropzone professionals and the skydiving industry. This intensive class will begin promptly at 9:00am on Wednesday, March 26th 2014 in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina. It will conclude at 5:00pm. 

This class will identify the pain points of marketing skydiving to the general public and the best use of where to concentrate marketing efforts to drive traffic and increase revenue. 

 Topics on the Agenda Include:

  • How to Effectively Embrace and Spread Word of Mouth Marketing
  • Social Media Marketing and How Best to Utilize It
  • Mass Media Marketing: What Works and Does Not Work
  • Improving SEO
  • Discussion on Website Development
  • Developing Effective Promotions without the Use of Daily Deals
  • Effective Marketing without Spending Thousands
  • Improving Business Culture with Management and Staff 
  • Open Forum of Discussion Answering Specific Challenges for Individual Drop Zones

Event Details

This program is designed to be interactive and provide value to each participant. To ensure this standard, the maximum class size will be limited to 12 participants. 


This event will be hosted at  

401 North Tryon Street, 10th Floor, 
Charlotte, North Carolina 28202

Our conference facility is within walking distance of the major hotels located in downtown Charlotte including the Holiday Inn, the Omni and more than thirty restaurants. Downtown Charlotte is located 15 minutes from the Charlotte Douglas International Airport with direct flights from all major US and many international cities. 


Pricing is $400 per person and includes lunch at the conference center. 

Who Should Attend

This mastermind is designed for dropzone owners, managers and individuals in charge of dropzone marketing. Be sure to bring your laptops as it will be an information filled day! 

What To Expect

Expect a full day filled with learning based on interactions with each other and a structured curriculum focused on proven marketing objectives designed specifically for the skydiving industry and increasing your bottom line. Water and beverages will be available throughout the day, including lunch. Internet connectivity will be provided as we meet in a private board room - all are encouraged to bring laptops for note taking.

Click Here to REGISTER - 4 Slots Remain!

Is Subjectivity Hurting Your DZ?

Over the holidays, my girlfriend and I drove from Charlotte, North Carolina to Raleigh, North Carolina to visit her family. What we encountered on our road trip was something that every traveler has to contend with - dirty bathrooms. With full bladders, we chose an interstate exit which offered a choice of four different fuel stations. We picked the one that looked the most modern in hopes of discovering that rare, road-trip find: the gas station with a clean bathroom.

Walking into the station, we noticed that the owner had a sign crudely taped to the door that said restrooms were not for public use. Only “paying” customers could have access to the bathrooms.

Accepting this ‘must-buy-something-in-the-store’ condition, we walked in, used the filthy facilities (the women’s room neither had toilet paper nor soap), purchased a Starbucks Frappuccino, a very burnt tasting coffee and vowed to never return again.

I wish this gas station would hire me for a marketing consultation. I would transform this business to a level of success, once believed to be unimaginable. In fact, my client would change the way the competition does business just to remain competitive.

My input would result in lines queuing off the exit ramp as if there was a gas shortage.

How would I do this? I would satisfy the pain point of travelers by providing a clean bathroom. Not just a clean bathroom, but AMAZINGLY clean bathrooms that are designed for high volume and easy maintenance. I would advertise these amazingly clean bathrooms to the masses, exclaiming to every traveler on the interstate of how clean they are.

So what does this have to do with the skydiving industry?


Few industries have as much bathroom traffic as the skydiving industry. Looking for your student on the 20 minute call?

They’re in the bathroom! I’ve often said that you can tell how a business feels about its customers by looking at the bathroom.

This is a point that must not be ignored, but there is a bigger message here.

This article is less about bathrooms and more about addressing the obvious points that DZO’s miss because of subjectivity. The time investment that a DZO puts in during an average summer weekend day is usually 12-14 hours. It’s easy to lose sight of the obvious and become blind to what your customers are actually experiencing.

What are the pain points for your customers?


Cleanliness of Bathrooms?

Cleanliness of the Hangar?

Cleanliness of the Packing Mat?

Hospitality of the Manifest Staff?

Dirty jumpsuits?

What are the pain points of your staff?

Maintaining equipment?

Clean goggles for students?

Frap hats in good condition?

Laundered jumpsuits?

9 Steps to Exceed the Expectations of Customers

1. Identify. Identify every customer point of interaction with the business.

2. Evaluate. Answer the question, “Are we providing 5 star service at each point of interaction?” If you’re not, you need to be.

3. Gather Feedback. Poll your customers. If possible, e-mail your customer database requesting they take a brief survey about your company. Each question in the survey should request an evaluation at each point of interaction.

4. Listen. Listen to what your customers are saying. Don’t blow the feedback off as trivial. This feedback is critical to a business’ survival. Make appropriate changes based on the feedback.

5. Set Goals. In order to exceed the expectations of your customers, a measurable goal must be set for everyone in the company to work towards and achieve.

6. Measure. Create a statistic that charts progress based on the new goals.

7. Recognize - Recognize pain points employees endure when trying to deliver excellent service. Make it as easy as possible for your staff to amaze the customer. Also, identify team members who are unable to deliver the level of service management requires. Try to coach employees wherever possible, but be ready to remove team members who do not buy-in.

8. Establish Culture - Delivering amazing service does not happen by simply announcing “Let’s give better service!”

Employees need to be happy in order to deliver great service consistently. Establish core values with employee input and hold the company to that standard from the CEO down.

9. Communicate. Communicate and over-communicate. Give as much feedback to employees as possible. People wish to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves and will take more pride in their work if they know their contribution makes a difference. Praise publicly and always punish privately.

Powerful marketing focuses on how a customer feels about a company. Exceed the expectations of your customers to gain the advantage in your marketplace.

The details matter. Above, the before and after pics of the bathroom facility at Triangle Skydiving Center. When customers are paying a premium price to use your services, a premium experience should be given. The industry must remember that we are operating million dollar + operations. Make it a million dollar experience from start to finish at every point of contact.

Passionate People

In 2012, I was fortunate enough to attend TEDXCharlotte and had the privilege to listen to Manny Ohonme speak about his passion. It reminded me of the great quote from Mark Sanborn posted below: 

"Uninspired people rarely do inspired work. Passionate people in an organization are different. They do ordinary things extraordinarily well……."

"Customers don’t have relationships with organizations; they form relationships with individuals. Passionate employees, whether they are salespeople, technicians, or service reps, constantly show their commitment to customers. They do this by demonstrating their passion about what they do."

-Mark Sanborn
The Fred Factor

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