Editor’s Note: Gary LaBella, vice president and chief marketing officer for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), offered RVIA members an update on the status of the Go RVing campaign in a recent letter. Excerpts follow:

At this critical time for our industry, when consumers are slightly relaxing their grip on their wallets in response to deep discounting, we need to keep fighting for people’s discretionary dollars.  Go RVing can only spend what it has, but within this year’s limited budget, we are doing as much as possible to maintain our industry’s presence in the marketplace through advertising, public relations and social media.

Obviously, because of industry conditions Go RVing spending has been drastically reduced.   New unit assessments are expected to be only 24% of what they were in 2007.  Media spending has fallen from $15.5 million in 2007 to $3.5 million in 2009.  Go RVing’s total available revenue has shrunk from $23 million two years ago to an anticipated $7 million this year, if our forecast holds.

Overall, the Go RVing program is now running on less than a third of the funding we had in 2007.  You get what you pay for, so naturally, audience and leads have fallen along with spending.  But Go RVing is still using your money effectively, and the campaign is still doing a lot of good for the industry, both short- and long-term.

Here’s an update on recent campaign activities and their results.

2009 National Media – Making an Impact The year began with Go RVing television spots on ESPN bowling, followed by ESPN bull riding and NASCAR programming on SPEED. Approximately 37 million consumers have seen these spots thus far. With March came the launch of the Go RVing print campaign – the main source of consumer leads. We continue to have a presence in 20 national magazines, among them:  AARP The Magazine (the largest in circulation), Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, Better Homes  Gardens, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, National Geographic Adventure, National Geographic Traveler, Southern Living, Sunset, Midwest Living and Yankee.   These are big names, with big impact.  Though we can’t run as many print ads this year,the ones we’re running had already delivered over 10,000 leads through March. Being an advertiser helps open doors to editorial coverage, too.

Unexpected improvement in Go RVing new unit assessments in March allowed an early start for the remainder of cable TV and Internet advertising in our plan, originally scheduled to begin this summer. We seized this opportunity to invest your money now and help this industry get back on its feet sooner.

Go RVing direct response cable advertising – the least expensive way to buy TV time – began the week of April 13 on The Weather Channel, Travel Channel, Outdoor Channel, History Channel and DIY Network. Our National Geographic Channel ads began this month too, including spots on the network’s April 22 Earth Day programming block.  We’re excited about partnering with National Geographic to promote environmental consciousness and responsibility by sponsoring such programming. Our buy also includes the “Preserve Our Planet” specials Great White Odyssey in June and America’s Wild Spaces in July. Go RVing Internet ads begin running May 1 on Google and Yahoo’s search engines and on Advertising.com (a network of websites reaching nine out of 10 people online), followed by the websites for Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, Better Homes  Gardens, Ladies Home Journal, WeatherBug and Hallmark.  These sites are cost-efficient lead producers offering guaranteed impressions.

Positive Industry Publicity Despite all the dire economic news this year, the image of RVs has remained highly positive in the business and consumer media.  Publicity depicts RVs and RV travel as popular, affordable, relevant in today’s economy and increasingly green. Reporters mainly link the downturn in RV sales to tight credit, rather than lack of demand. These are the top messages being communicated through the public relations outreach by RVIA’s PR staff and agency (Barton Gilanelli), funded in part by Go RVing assessments. With the start of the spring travel season, we’re seeing more family RV vacation stories emphasizing the value of traveling and camping in RVs.

Major national coverage this spring included a “Go RVing and Go Green” live report April 18 on FOX News with RVIA’s Richard Coon, showcasing examples of new, fuel-efficient, eco-friendly RVs.  Also as a result of our efforts, USA Today is working on a feature story about a retired military family’s RV travels to introduce their children to America.

Going Viral with Social Media The third leg of the Go RVing marketing communications tripod is social media – Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and innumerable outlets in the blogosphere.  As a result of a promotional e-mail sent to consumers on the Go RVing list, our Facebook “fan” page has enjoyed an amazing 500% spike in registered fans since Jan. 1. We are communicating directly with these enthusiasts, and they are sharing information with each other.  This peer-to-peer interaction has been overwhelmingly positive, and it’s being leveraged by Go RVing at little to no cost. Go RVing also launched a Twitter feed recently, on which we’re posting links to industry releases, news clips on YouTube, blog entries and events.  We are reaching out to reporters who cover our beat and inviting them to follow our regular “tweets” for story ideas and background. Go RVing’s family travel blog, “You Are Here,” by longtime media spokesperson and travel author Brad Herzog, has been viewed roughly 12,000 times so far this year.  The Go RVing e-newsletter based on Brad’s family RVing experiences is scheduled to come out of hiatus in May for three summer issues.  RV journalist Chris Jackson, who writes for African-Americans on Wheels and other automotive publications, will join Brad Herzog as a regular contributor. Chris is writing timely articles about reasons to buy now, how to finance an RV purchase in this economy, and the affordability of RV travel.  There are 208,000 Go RVing e-newsletter subscribers.

How Is All This Go RVing Activity Helping You? The times continue to be trying.  In the face of business challenges confronting the industry on a daily basis, it’s not easy to take the long view.  But for 13 successful years, Go RVing has been all about investing in our future. There continue to be many reasons to believe that this industry is pursuing the wisest, most effective long-term marketing strategy by investing in the program to the maximum extent possible, even in these tough times.