Will Legislators support fish and wildlife marketing?

Kerri Bickford Capitol two websiteThe following briefing paper and request, written by me, will be distributed in the Maine House of Representatives by Representative Bob Duchesne and in the Maine Senate by Senator Tom Saviello. If you care about this issue, please contact them and ask them to vote for Rep. Duchesne’s bill to establish a marketing position and budget at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Message for Legislators

Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife must improve its communications with sportsmen, landowners, and the general public, and reinstate its marketing program. Our outdoor industry desperately needs DIF&W’s partnership and a bill endorsed unanimously by the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department will get that partnership started. The bill, which reestablishes a marketing position and modest budget at DIF&W, was sponsored by Representative Bob Duchesne.

DIF&W contracted a few months ago with national expert Mark Duda and Responsive Management, a company that has worked in all 50 states on surveys and plans, to survey the public and create recommendations to improve the agency’s communications and marketing. One of Duda’s top recommendations is to create a marketing position and a communications position at DIF&W.

Previous Recommendations

In 2003 and 2004, The Management Assistance Team of the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies examined the various divisions of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and issued a very detailed report with many recommendations. The study was the result of legislation I proposed on behalf of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, and I raised much of the money to pay for it. Unfortunately, these recommendations were never implemented. In fact, not long after the recommendations were received, DIF&W abolished its marketing position!

From the MATT Report

Many state fish and wildlife agencies are beginning to view marketing as an important tool, vital to their long-term success. Simply put, a “marketing approach” tailors products, pricing, promotion, and placement to customer needs. While the MDIFW marketing efforts are self-funding and successfully increasing MDIFW public recognition, the entire agency could be improved be 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.

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 the customers, perhaps coordinated through a marketing specialist or marketing team. Interestingly, marketing in many agencies is a tool to achieve revenue goals and conservation success.

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.

Often, fish and wildlife agency employees resist the idea that marketing is an important part of fish and wildlife management. However, the benefits of the marketing approach include a toolset to help fish and wildlife managers understand their customers. Another benefit is that the customers better understand the agency’s products, programs, and services.

RECOMMENDATION: Integrate a Department-wide marketing approach.

Don’t miss the importance of this MATT statement: 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.

Bad Winter

Recently I talked to two leaders of the tourism and outdoor industry in western and northern Maine: Mike Boutin of Northwoods Outfitters in Greenville and Russell Walters of Northern Outdoors in the Forks. When I asked how the mild winter had impacted their businesses, both immediately uttered the same word: devastating.

Northwoods Outfitters sells retail and rental outdoor equipment and offers guided trips of all kinds. Mike said his snowmobile rentals were down 70%, and his ice anglers 50%. From retail sales to rental of cross country skis, his business got clobbered. Northern Outdoors offers rental camps and rooms in the lodge, guided trips including rafting, and has a wonderful restaurant and brewery. Russell said his number of winter customers decreased by 35%, his second worst winter ever. Business at the restaurant and brewery, which Russ said is a “huge part of their winter business” was down 70%.

On May 1, Down East Books will publish a book I wrote about Maine sporting camps. It’s a sad story, really. We’ve gone from over 300 sporting camps to about 3 dozen of the traditional camps with a lodge serving food and cabins for sleeping. Many went out of business when the traditional outdoor activities – especially deer hunting and fishing – deteriorated. And those that survived often did so by staying open in the winter and catering to cross country skiers and snowmobilers. I haven’t dared to ask some of them how they did this winter. You can guess.

Don Kleiner of the Maine Professional Guides Association told members of the IFW Committee recently  that 14 of the 16 sporting camps in Washington County are for sale. Dreadful news, for sure. And a dreadful, devastating winter.

Our outdoor industry desperately needs help, from you, from DIF&W, from all of us. Representative Duchesne’s bill is an important step in that direction. Please vote for it! And thanks!

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.