Editor’s Note: The following column was provided by Gary La Bella, vice president and chief marketing officer for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).


Gary LaBella

Gary LaBella

Every day seems to bring new and divergent economic reports that either point to signs of a recovery or reinforce that we are still not out of the woods.

As the analysts and pundits pore over data and debate the condition of the general economy, let us look at how the industry’s dual marketing efforts — the Go RVing national advertising campaign and RVIA’s public relations initiatives — have helped the RV industry during the past year in a very fluid environment.

Recently, a string of good news (increasing home sales, slowing job loss, rising manufacturing hours and improving productivity) has been countered by continued weak consumer confidence and reduced spending. Looking at the RV market, July’s wholesale shipments hit their highest monthly totals in nearly a year.  That news, combined with reports of RV manufacturers bringing back workers and improved traffic at the nation’s dealerships and campgrounds, points to a somewhat brightening horizon for the RV industry. These rays of hope are certainly welcome.

Since the global financial crisis plunged the economy into recession, the RV industry has suffered through some of its darkest days ever. Days that required all of us — manufacturers, suppliers, dealers, campgrounds, and, yes, trade associations and advertising coalitions — to make critical spending decisions that carefully took into account current conditions while also considering the long-term implications of cutbacks. In my opinion, one of the wisest choices we made as an industry was continuing to be as aggressive as possible over the past year in promoting RV travel to consumers and the media by funding the Go RVing national advertising campaign and RVIA’s public relations initiatives.

Even on severely reduced budgets, we were able to maintain our industry’s presence in the marketplace and build demand for your products. This strategy has paid dividends in two very important ways. First, our image has remained untarnished, and RVs remain very much on the public’s radar screen.

Despite gloomy economic conditions and a negatively charged news environment where RVs could have come under attack, our public relations efforts are producing positive national media coverage that depicts RV travel as popular, affordable and relevant in today’s economy, as well as becoming increasingly eco-friendly.  Over the summer, we’ve seen many positive stories covered by an impressive list of national media outlets including ABC’s Good Morning AmericaNBC TodayUSA Today, the New York Times, MSNBC, The Associated PressFox  Friends and CNNMoney.com, as well as major daily newspapers and top magazines.

These stories have largely adhered to messages promoted by our public relations team to sustain our industry’s positive image. These priority messages center on several themes: that RVing provides value and now is the time to buy; that RVing remains popular; that RVing is family friendly; that the RV industry is made in America; and that RV travel is environmentally responsible. Secondly, the one-two punch of the Go RVing campaign and the public relations efforts is positioning the industry for faster recovery as economic conditions improve and consumers begin to relax the grip on their wallets.

 Though Go RVing is operating on less than a third of the funding level of 2008, we are still running ads on major cable television networks, in top national consumer magazines and on highly-visited websites and search engines. The magazine and Internet ads — the main source of our leads — all carry the theme line “Go Affordably. Go RVing.”  That’s a powerful message for the current times.  We are also employing aggressive — and cost-effective — social media outreach utilizing Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogging to promote RVing to the online public.  This is all yielding great results for the industry: 

  • By the end of 2009, Go RVing ads will have been seen over half a billion times just this year.
  • Over 55,000 new consumer leads have been created since the beginning of the year — over 10,000 per month in May, June, and July.  These are valuable leads with two-thirds saying they are very or somewhat likely to visit an RV dealer or show within the next year.
  • Participating dealers, campgrounds and manufacturers have downloaded roughly 4 million leads in total this year, giving the industry an important sales tool.
  • Over 1.5 million consumers have visited the GoRVing.com website so far in 2009 and been exposed to the campaign’s value and affordability messages. Web visits this July surpassed last July by nearly 20 percent. This is a strong indication that there is considerable pent-up consumer demand for RV products. 

Granted, these results do not approach the performance achieved in past years when we had much larger media budgets driving more response. However, this data is impressive considering the economic environment we are operating in and shows that the campaign is helping the industry by maintaining exposure and keeping us ahead of the competition. It is also important to remember that as we move forward in 2010, we will be armed with new Go RVing creative.  This will include new television commercials and an updated online video and website, highlighting the latest models and innovations while focusing on the value of RV ownership and travel.  Working in tandem, the new creative will help re-energize the advertising campaign as the economy recovers over the next year, emphasizing current affordability messages while maintaining the emotional appeal that has been at the heart of Go RVing’s success.

We hope you will be on hand to enjoy the debut of the new ads and video at Outlook 2010, the breakfast program kicking off the National RV Trade Show on Tuesday, Dec. 1, at 6:45 a.m. in the KEC South Wing Mezzanine Level Ballroom. This year’s theme is Let the Sun Shine: A Message of Optimism. As we look back over the past year, we can take pride in what we accomplished in a very difficult economic climate.  Just keeping the marketing programs going at all in these circumstances was an achievement, but we did much more than that.  We kept RVs in the news.  We avoided being labeled irrelevant or obsolete. We helped stimulate demand and positioned ourselves for a faster recovery.  We are moving once again toward a bright future with new Go RVing creative and an RVIA budget for proactive public relations.  As we begin to travel the road to recovery, let the sun shine.