I get a photographic image of a helicopter that hasn’t been built yet.
Marketing is an important part of any business. And the most effective marketing includes visuals. Take, for example, my slides at the movie theater. There are a few aerial shots of the town and some cattle tanks, giving people an idea of what they can see from the air. But there’s also an excellent air-to-air photo of my old helicopter, Three-Niner-Lima. In the photo, I’m flying past Vulture Peak, just like I do on my Grand Tour of Wickenburg. It’s a real photo that Mike took from the passenger seat of a Piper Cub years ago, when we were flying in formation just to take the photos. I have several of these shots. One — the one you can clearly see me in the cockpit, looking at the camera — is on my business card. These photos look so good that I’ve been accused of cooking them up in Photoshop. But I didn’t. They’re real.
Three-Niner-Lima is gone now and I’m in a transition phase as far as the helicopter tour business goes. I’ve been getting calls for rides, but I have to tell callers that there won’t be any rides until mid-December, when the new helicopter arrives. In the meantime, I need to warm up my marketing machine. Christmas is coming and I usually do a nice business with gift certificates. I want to sell a bunch of rides now, so I have plenty to do when Zero-Mike-Lima arrives in town. I also want everyone to see what the new helicopter will look like. Lots of people thought Three-Niner-Lima was a kit helicopter because it was so small. They won’t think that they they see Zero-Mike-Lima. It’ll be considerably larger and more impressive.
The trouble is, Zero-Mike-Lima hasn’t been built yet. Just this week, it should have taken its place on the factory’s assembly line. But there certainly isn’t anything to take a picture of yet.
And I won’t have my hot little hands on its controls until December 8 at the earliest. That’s a bit too late for Christmas marketing.
So what was I to do? I thought about John Stonecipher. He runs Guidance Helicopters in Prescott, AZ, a flight school that also does tours and charter work. His R44 looks very much like mine would. Did he have some air-to-air photos I could use? I could use Photoshop to remove the N-Number (if visible) so it couldn’t be identified as his. I asked him and he said he did have some photos. He said he’d send them. I waited. And waited. And nagged. And waited. Finally, he sent a CD-ROM disc, probably just to get me to stop nagging him. There were three photos on it. None of them were suitable — they were blurry and the helicopter was too far away. I think when I do get my ship I should go up there and help him take some decent air-to-air photos of his.
So I wasted a month waiting for photos that wouldn’t do the job for me. Back to square one.
Meanwhile, I had a number of air-to-air photos of my friend Tristan’s R44 taken here in Wickenburg. I leased Tristan’s ship last year for the season and did relatively well with it. That’s what convinced me that I could build the business much better with a 4-seat helicopter. We’d taken the pictures for last year’s ad campaign: “Share the view with a friend or two!” Trouble is, Tristan’s ship is metallic gray with a dark blue stripe. My ship will be Ferrari red with no stripe.
Now I know that a knowledgeable person can work miracles with Photoshop. One of the things you can do is change the color of something. Unfortunately, I’m not a knowledgeable person. I use Photoshop to fine-tune the screenshots for my computer books, prepare photos and other images for the Web, and turn photographic images into computer-generated paintings for greeting cards. But I do know a Photoshop whiz. It was time to bother him.
Bert Monroy is another Peachpit author. He’s an artist and his specialty is Photoshop. He’s amazing — he can create, from scratch, photorealistic images. I have seen him do this at presentation. He blows me away.
So I sent Bert an e-mail with a thumbnail image of the photo I wanted him to convert and brief instructions. He said he’d do it, that I should just send him a bigger image. I sent the image with more complete instructions. I asked him to remove Tristan’s N-Number. I told him that if he wanted to get really fancy, he could add mine. The next day, the fruits of his labor arrived in my e-mail inbox. It was a photo of Tristan flying a helicopter that hadn’t been built yet.
I was incredibly excited. I couldn’t believe how good it looked. It looked real because it was real. The only thing he’d done is given Tristan’s helicopter a paint job and changed the N-Number.
I immediately started building my marketing materials.
First was the series of slides for the local theater. The slides would be released one at a time, about 2-3 weeks apart. The last slide would take its place in the carrousel when the helicopter arrived in Wickenburg, before I had a chance to take new photos. I e-mailed the PowerPoint slide file to ColorMark (in Phoenix) and got their assurance that I could pick up the slides on Monday morning. (I have a meeting down in Scottsdale with the FAA that day.) The first of the new slides should make it into the carrousel on Friday. The next marketing item was a 4×6 postcard that would serve as a rack card until I could take new photos for a real rack card. It would also make a good insert for the WE event scheduled for November 19. I laid out the postcard in InDesign, then FTPed all of its files to SimplyPostcards.com, which prints 4-color postcards at a very reasonable price. I’m hoping to get those back within a week or so. Then I’ll be leaving them all over town.
On Monday, when I get back to the office, I’ll use Bert’s creation to modify a few of the photos on the Flying M Air Web site. And I’ll probably show it off on my own Web site, too.
After all, how often do you get a photo of something you’ve bought before it’s even built?