Eleven years ago, Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife received a series of marketing recommendations from national experts. None of the recommendations were ever implemented. In fact, since the study was received, the agency abolished its marketing position and budget.
On Tuesday, April 28, the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee has scheduled a hearing on LD 668, An Act to Market Maine’s Hunting and Fishing Opportunities, sponsored by Representative Bob Duchesne at my request. This bill would establish a comprehensive marketing program at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, led and coordinated by a dedicated marketing specialist.
Bob and I have worked hard on this bill and could use your help now. If you are in the outdoor business, you ought to attend this hearing and testify for this bill! My testimony, presented here, tells you why I think this is so important.
Eleven years ago, The Management Assistance Team of the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, as a result of legislation proposed by the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and enacted by the legislature, came to Maine to assess the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and provide recommendations for improvements. In addition to lobbying for the bill, I helped raise the money that paid for that study.
One section in the final report is titled: “Key Issue: Marketing.” Among the recommendations was this one: “The entire agency could be improved by adopting a marketing approach in the way it does business. Approximately one-third of the state fish and wildlife agencies across the country are actively engaged in either learning how or already using a marketing approach, and the number is increasing.”
The report continued: “State fish and wildlife agencies in several states have already committed to developing agency-wide marketing approaches in an effort to make sure that all programs deliver the highest value to their customers. In these states, the agency leadership recognized that marketing was not an isolated function served by a single individual. Rather, all employees play an appropriate role in making sure their programs deliver the best marketing mix and highest value to customers, perhaps coordinated through a marketing specialist or marketing team.
“Marketing is often misperceived in fish and wildlife agencies as commercialization, promotion, or sales. Any of these may play a part in whether to adopt a marketing approach or not, but ensuring that the agency is tied to customer needs, price sensitivity, access, and awareness are all vital to a state fish and wildlife agency’s long-term survival. For success, the marketing efforts cannot exist in a vacuum, but need to be infused into all Department programs as an overall approach to doing business.”
I probably don’t have to tell you that none of this was ever implemented. Ironically, since these recommendations were received, DIF&W abolished its marketing position and eliminated its marketing budget. This bill would re-establish that position and budget. Better late than never.
Nonresident Task Force
The challenge of reversing a 60 percent decline in Maine’s nonresident hunters was tossed to a Task Force in 2011. The top five recommendations were summarized for the legislature:
- DIF&W must work collaboratively with the Office of Tourism to develop a marketing plan promoting Maine as a destination for nonresident hunters, and in all areas of outdoor recreation.
- Funding should be allocated to survey current and recently lapsed nonresident hunters, using a qualified market research firm specializing in natural resource and outdoor recreation issues; to find out what these customers want, why they have lapsed, and what barriers there are for travel to Maine as a hunting destination.
- Based on the data generated from this market research, marketing tools, strategies and training must be provided to Maine’s hunting industry partners, including guides, outfitters, sporting camps, B&Bs, and other state agencies such as the Office of Tourism and Department of Conservation, to multiply the effect of the marketing plan.
- New hunting licenses, “repackaged” licenses, or licenses that feature new privileges or opportunities appear to be one of the greatest factors with the potential to positively affect any kind of license sales. The legislature and DIF&W must take a closer look at ways to accomplish and implement this initiative in a timely manner.
- Maine must do more to promote its lands open to hunting statewide, and the ease of access to them. Paper collateral such as maps and brochures, and online information that can be shared by state agency and hunting partners’ website, must be developed, distributed and kept current.
Shortly after this task force report was presented to the legislature, it was put on the shelf and forgotten. The Tourism Commission did hire a firm for a survey of nonresident hunters in 2013 and I have been asking, for a long time, for the results, which are still, for some reason, not available. Maybe you could ask for the results. They would certainly be pertinent to the discussion of this bill. But once we have the results, DIF&W is completely unprepared to act on them as recommended by the task force.
DIF&W may tell you that it recently assigned “marketing” to one of its staff members in the Information and Education Division, but assigning marketing to someone who already has lots of tasks is a serious misreading of the 2004 recommendations. We need an experienced marketing professional, who can not only work with the industry to market hunting and fishing in Maine, but also implement programs within the agency that engages all DIF&W’s staff in the overall marketing effort, and work outside the agency with those in the hunting and fishing industry, the Tourism Commission, and others.
I hope the department will tell you about their new effort to hire a marketing and communications firm to help achieve some of their goals. This is a very good step. But it’s not the entire answer, and in fact, the agency will need its own marketing specialist to work with the firm it hires for this work. And I haven’t been able to find out how much the agency plans to spend on this consulting contract. Perhaps they will share that with you. I did not hear it discussed in your budget work sessions.
And please do not interpret my remarks to be a criticism of the Maine Tourism Commission and its very capable director, Carolann Ouellette. Carolann does a terrific job. But she needs the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to engage more actively with her in the state’s overall marketing effort.
Earlier in the session, the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee, just across the hallway from us, unanimously killed a bill proposed by the Maine Professional Guides Association that would have directed some of the Tourism Commission’s funding to advertising of hunting and fishing. We got clobbered by the tourism industry, the inns, restaurants, and others. We must realize we are not going to get “their money” – we have to do this ourselves, hopefully in the Fish and Wildlife Department.
I have spent my career supporting and helping the good people who work in Maine’s hunting and fishing economy, and watched sadly as their industry declined while other states did so much better in marketing their hunting and fishing opportunities. But I think this bill will be my last effort. I am going to let you decide if Maine is ready and willing to work to save our dying hunting and fishing industries, our sporting camps, our guides, and all the businesses which depend on hunters and anglers. We were told, by experts, what needed to be done: eleven years ago. I can only hope we are not too late.