Tony Brong on Marketing

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Precision Pistol shooter Tony Brong provides wisdom

During my entire tenure with bullseye, I’ve heard nothing but how far the sport has declined. From a practical viewpoint, I really haven’t been around that long. And I don’t have firsthand personal experience about how things were back-in-the-day. Apparently, fifteen, twenty or more years ago there must have a lot more bullseye shooters.

I still hear stories about how the census of pistol shooters at the Nationals numbered around one thousand in the early 1980s. Today it’s generally about 650.

Time changes everything. In prior posts even I’ve lamented about how the shooting pie has been carved up by cowboy action shooters, practical guys, clay smashers and the benchrest dudes. I wouldn’t be at all surprised that even WWII and Civil War reenactors have had a slight drain on our census. From the 1930s through the 70s bullseye might have been pretty much the only game in town, but that’s not the case today.

Social transformation is like death and taxes, something everyone can count on. A lot of emotional effort has spilled over the turbulent ‘decline’ of Bullseye, and it’s been marked with the same breathless, excitable, often crude and always knowing style that typifies the old hardcore elite: by doing things the same old way.

My own experience getting into the sport wasn’t exactly easy. My kids went off to college and I searched for an interesting and challenging hobby. I now had some leisure time. It took me the better part of a year to find out that competitive pistol shooting was only four miles away from my front door. And I doubt with the passing of about a decade, access or visibility hasn’t gotten any better. Today, the general promotion of our sport to the public and potential new shooters is simply by word of mouth.

Many of us mourn the slow erosion of our sport, and ponder: is it too late to revitalize it?
I don’t think so.

There are a few success stories around. One bright spot is occurring now in New Jersey. It’s a quantifiable success story, playing out in a state that’s considered very anti-gun. Within the confines of the Garden Sate, individuals such as Ray and Mary Badiak, John Gemmill and Frank Greco are consistently blazing a trail by developing new bullseye shooters—both young and mature.
They’ve been successful in a state which has the most draconian gun laws in the country. It’s a process that reproducible, but no one seems to notice their success.

If you can do it in Jersey, you can do it anywhere.

After a little head scratching I looked at some of the other disciplines and noticed how they do things. One observation that’s fairly obvious, they compete, compete for new members and promote themselves to the general public.

So, what are the glaring things we don’t do?

It appears most state associations don’t know how to run a modern marketing organization—and whether they know it or not—that’s what they’re in business to do. They should be promoting (which means marketing and advertising) the shooting sports. After that’s established, as a secondary issue, handle their respective lobbing tasks.

How many news releases do they routinely offer to the local media outlets? Your guess is as good as mine.

Those same state organizations should attempt to forge regional coalitions for the promotion of various disciplines, since many of us routinely cross state lines to compete.

A national or regionalized websites should be crafted and have match announcements, results and signup functionality. As well, background information for consumption by the general public should be amply provided. Points of contact should be visibly listed so budding bullseye shooters can get started. And it should have good and consistently updated content.

Let’s consider the following:

• Who hasn’t been to an NRA banquet? Well, what’s being done to raise money for the orderly operation of our sport? The truth is the NRA no longer sees us as a priority. It would be nice to see not just bullseye but various other competitive shooting disciplines on the American Rifleman television show much more frequently. [That’s code for picking up the phone and calling Larry Potterfield and others like him.] Yes, money drives television programming. But keep in mind, individuals paying for programming have every right to maximize their investment by targeting their audience. Maybe they should be made aware we are their consumers too.

• Have there been any real efforts in recruiting bullseye shooters over the past 10 years? IPSC, CAS, USPSA, IDPA … they do. I can’t recall the last time any of us have seen the following: A dedicated NRA webpage for Bullseye Pistol; national leadership for the promotion of our sport; junior development; and a mechanism to recruit women.

• Even though there’s a historical claim, the simple truth is there’s no functioning leadership for our sport. We’ve relied on the NRA to do all of this in a vacuum. And as a matter of course, they’ve simply done things the same old way for the past half century. And in the process, they’ve lost their way.
I’m not suggesting they not be responsible for this mission. But we, as competitors, have lacked the will to actually lobby them. I highly doubt that the Competitions Division rarely hears from shooters except when they want something for themselves. And the same may be true of the state associations when they approach the NRA.

Walt Walters, an NRA board member, over the past two years has attempted to rework this model. He can recall a time, in the not so distant past, when the NRA had state and regional competitive shooting ambassadors. These individuals were readily available to provide guidance and insight to local clubs, state associations and government. Walt’s goal is to rebuild that old army of supporters so they can be of assistance throughout the country.

Even though Walt is a board member, he’s facing a tough uphill road with accomplishing his goals. Unfortunately, I think he’s looking at the past to address his present concerns about competitive shooting’s current neglect.

Here’s my basic observation. For a group of people who traditionally think of themselves as competitors, that’s precisely what we don’t do in the open marketplace of ideas. We all want to shoot (and I’m guilty of this too) but few of us want to roll up our sleeves. Over the past three decades we’ve allowed an enormous number of people to gravitate to other disciplines.

The other shooting sports embraced potential shooters, or we allowed them to leave our discipline even before they had an opportunity to arrive. They were marketed to, invited, sold—and best of all—greeted with open arms. For the most part the majority of those newbies didn’t even know we existed.
The future can be ours. All we have to do is be involved.

Memes Don’t Matter

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Words of wisdom from a skilled firearms instructor.

I’m overwhelmed by all my gun-owning friends posting statistics, facts, and memes to convince the gun grabbers that they are wrong.

Here’s something to consider. Emotional arguments are rarely successfully countered by facts and statistics. The facts are very clear in this case. Do you think that re-stating them endlessly on Facebook is likely to change someone’s mind? I don’t.

Can you think of a single occasion where you have had a major change of opinion after reading a Facebook post or meme? I can’t.

You aren’t going to change a stranger’s worldview by posting more on the internet. Instead, focus your efforts on making positive changes through personal contact with the people who are close to you and who already respect you as a person. Don’t waste your time arguing with strangers on social media.

Instead of posting on Facebook, I taught 27 students how to be safer shooters, more formidable fighters, and better tacticians this weekend. Each of those students will undoubtedly use some of the skills I shared to make their own tribes more robust and resilient.

In the long term, those small, personal changes are the fuel for positive societal evolution. CNN soundbites and Facebook memes are merely annoying background noise.

Do work that matters.

Forbes Journalist Investigates Firearm Industry


Forbes contributor Elizabeth MacBride spent six months specializing in the firearms industry, investigating and then summing up what she learned.

Takeaway: The most important influencing factor towards positive coverage of shooters, gun owners, and firearms is a consistent, open dialogue that showcases safe and skillful use, humanizes firearm users, and is inviting to everyone. Much more than political rhetoric, turning positive usage into a story and then consistently telling people about it is the best path forward.

Often, the problem is that negligent and criminal misuse is more sensational and easier to report. This is not the media’s fault as it falls inline with human nature. Skilled firearm users are rare compared to casual gun owners and not vocal enough to maintain a consistent voice.

I started covering the business of guns in part because the decline of high-quality print journalism in the past two decades means nuance is being lost. I believe nuance is crucial to sustain a pluralistic society, here and abroad. That’s part of the reason I covered the Middle East for three years; we all suffer from many Americans’ inability to see that region without prejudice.

And business, which tends to be a reasonably neutral and thankfully numbers-based lens through which to write, is a good platform for exploring topics on which there are many points of view.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned in my first six months.

1. Most of the gun community is open to fair-minded coverage.

2. The world of gun businesses is far more nuanced than I imagined, and in different ways that I imagined.

3. Marketing, politics and business are almost inseparable.

4. There are no good numbers.

5. It’s a business with a declining customer base.

6. Many more people like guns than I realized.

7. The West is different. Gun owners and gun businesses out West see guns as tools, one element of a practical, inherently nuanced way of existing in the world.

8. Violence marketing is more powerful than we realize.

9. There is no such thing as a gun. The technology has evolved faster than the language, so much so that we have reverted to broader words

Anti-Gun Media Example

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Example of anti-gun bias in the mainstream media as published on

U.S. High Schools Embrace Shooting as Hot New Sport

Trap shooting is the fastest-growing sport in Minnesota high schools

Competitive musketry dates to 16th century England and has been an Olympic sport since 1896. Today trap, a cousin of skeet and sporting clays, is as popular with Minnesota’s urban boys and girls as it is with their counterparts in rural areas, where hunting’s in the DNA. “It’s just cool, because I get to use a gun,” said Stephanie Petsilis, 17, who shoots for Wayzata High School outside Minneapolis with a $1,430 Browning BT-99 Micro.

No Backlash
To wary educators, Sable stressed his motto — “Safety, fun and marksmanship, in that order” — and strict rules: no firearms allowed on campus. Team members must have state-issued safety certificates, which in Minnesota can be earned at age 11. The league record is clean, with no reported injuries.

A nonprofit supported by fees, donations and sponsorships, the league marketed itself aggressively and developed proprietary score-tracking software. The sport took off.

Facebook is not anti-gun

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Some guy who fondles an inflatable spheroid with his feet gets 23.2 times more love from Facebook than all the fans of the National Rifle Association combined.

Tom McHale had a great write up on Facebook’s policy to delete pages and posts about gun trades and sales from non-FFL holders. He also included a good breakdown of the demographics of shooting and pro-gun involvement compared to more mainstream interests, such as sport ball athletes and movie celebrities.

Facebook doesn’t care about you or your issues. Facebook cares about three things:

  1. How many people use Facebook.
  2. How many hours those people spend on Facebook.
  3. How many dollars marketers will pay Facebook for access to those people.

The same can be said for all media outlets. Replace the name of a broadcast or print media outlet or news program in place of “Facebook” and this is still true. It’s also true for pro-gun publications and websites, even though they are focused on a specific niche and demographic instead of the public at large. After Kim Rhode medalled in six Olympics in a row, some claimed her lack of media coverage was due to media bias. However, USA Today, the New York Times, CBS Sports, SB Nation, NBC, WGN, and the Chicago Tribune published articles about her. Other publications such as Time, Forbes, the Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and NPR published articles about Rhode’s accomplishments that highlighted her views on the Second Amendment.

This isn’t some nefarious anti-gun plot, it is simply catering to the majority. Gun owners are largely ignorant of organized shooting activity. Non-gun owners are even less aware and interested. This is the simple result of a market in action, not back-room politics trying to steal your guns. If the issue is controversial but of interest to a small minority, it’s probably easier to just avoid dealings and prevent alienating the majority, and especially alienating people and companies buying advertising/marketing trying to reach that general public.

Even among those gun owners that are active, activities such as golf eclipse them by a large margin. Again, the market speaks. If more people golf and are willing to pay for it, then more golf courses are built and more golf coverage is seen in the mainstream media because more people are voting with their dollars and feet. Gun owners are simply not as active, even when various reports claim that they are.

This is not an anti-gun plot. Garnering publicity and inspiring public interest is a tough row to hoe for every organization.

Common, accepted estimates place somewhere between 50-80 million Americans as owning at least one firearm. I don’t know why there is such a vast lack of interest in organized shooting events among them but given that there is, shooting will never be a mainstream activity. It’s not politics. It’s not anti-gun policy. It’s the result of the market voting with their dollars and feet.

Read the full article here:

Anti-Gun Media Blackout, part 8


Victory! We broke the media blackout! So, what was the response?!?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

After whining about a media blackout, complaining about a raw deal and then being shown that this was just poor perception and that the local media would work with his shooting range, all interest was lost.

Notice I asked very specific, answerable questions about club size, participation and the like. Not a single answer. This haphazard, complete lack of organization is a major problem. No idea how many members and what sort of interest is being generated. No press releases or links to a web site were offered, or details of any form of organized events, likely because there were none. Any wonder why media people didn’t care? If there is no story to cover and nothing interesting of note, why are we surprised when no story appears?

I did the research. I handed this guy a specific name, title, email and phone number of an editor willing to publish his press releases at the very publication claimed to have a “media blackout” against gun owners. After that, he went silent. I guess he just wanted his blackout to be there, hidden behind an evil cabal. When instead he had the name and contact info of a real person willing to talk, interest ceased. The fact that the club had some controversy made a story even more potentially appealing. But, no. Do nothing, then blame the media for your problems.

Despite myths to the contrary, pro-gun coverage can be done:

Anti-Gun Media Blackout, part 7

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>> The local media has a blackout on *any* shooting information. As in, it refuses to print anything about any shooting events at *any* range *anywhere*. The county newspaper is the best bet for any releases, but they’ve turned anti in recent years. They have told me that by policy they aren’t printing anything relating to shooting or hunting any more.

Yes, that’s your claim. I did a little research and found articles printed about your range’s incident in two papers: The Bainbridge Island Review (the local island paper) and The Sun in Bremerton, Washington (the local county paper.)

Seeing as you said that “by policy they [The Sun] aren’t printing anything relating to shooting or hunting any more” I thought I would ask for myself. Contact info was prominently displayed from a link on top of the home page at their website.

Subject: local sports events

I help run sports clubs and would like to know your policy on printing event notices and press releases for local events and participants. I’m specifically interested in shooting sports, safety and training classes, etc. Thanks! John Buol

Here was their response:

RE: local sports events
Hi John! We’ll gladly run your event notices and other information on our weekly Outdoors page, which hits the streets every Thursday. E-mail any of that type information to our outdoors guru, [name and email withheld for posting]

Thanks for your interest,
[Name, phone, and email withheld for pulic online posting]
Sports Editor The Sun Bremerton, Washington

I don’t know what “policy” prevented notices in the past, but it looks like you have an “in.” Exploit it! Send info on every newsworthy even you run. Create events if you have to.

Hint: “Dinners” and meetings probably are not newsworthy. Matches, classes, and similar events are.

Do it yourself, hire an assistant, or affiliate with an organization that does it for you. Do it for at least eight events a year for the next three to five years.

Victory! We broke the media blackout! So, what was the response?!?

Anti-Gun Media Blackout, part 6


>> [Pro-gun information] only appears in shooting-related newsletters.

What percentage of area gun owners receive these newsletters? What percentage of these local recipients are members of your club? What percentage of the club members participate in club events regularly?

>> Define “blackout.” As in, it refuses to print anything about any shooting events at *any* range *anywhere*. It is hard to deny that there is bias against the NRA, gun owners and the shooting sports.

Rule of thumb: A statement suggesting something is always true all the time is usually false. True absolutes like this rarely exist. Here’s an an example.

The NRA spent a bunch of money to have the Media Research Center ( conclude that media gun bias exists. The report specifically labelled ABC’s “Good Morning America” and host Diane Sawyer among the worst offenders.

Around the same time this study was conducted a shooting school offering free submachine gun shooting lessons managed to get numerous positive stories aired and printed in mainstream media sources, such as ABC’s “Good Morning America” (with Sawyer herself introducing the piece), NBC’s “Special Edition”, the New York Times, LA Times, London Times, UPN, and the BBC.

That organization turned to media outlets only after the NRA steadfastly refused to carry these same stories in its publications. They earned press by following a process that the NRA doesn’t do for its membership.

The process of effective promotion is:


  1. Do something interesting.
  2. Tell people about it.
  3. Repeat.

>> Press Releases are no good if nobody sees them.

Not necessarily. The editor sees it. No publicist gets *everything* published, which is why they think in terms of campaigns. If you’re consistently sending well-written material, at worst, they know you’re serious. Many clubs aren’t taken seriously as a well-run organization because they don’t do anything to appear they are a well-run organization.

If you’ve been promoting things well you’ll have dozens of samples. Why don’t you submit a few samples so we can see what you’ve been up to? Unless you’ve never bothered to promote anything, in which case your lack of pro gun stories is due to failing on one of the three steps above (or all three.)

Anti-Gun Media Blackout, part 5

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>> The local media has a blackout on *any* shooting information. As in, it refuses to print anything about any shooting events at *any* range *anywhere*. They stopped printing information about public events such as dinners, ever since a newcomer went a few years ago and was offended by seeing animal heads on the wall.

An effective PR campaign requires two releases (a pre-event announcement and post-event follow-up) for each event. Unless you can tell me that your club is running at least eight news-worthy events a year, that you’ve sent two pieces of well written publicity for each event to every media outlet in a reasonable driving radius, and that you’ve been doing this consistently for more than three years, your local “media blackout” may be perceived rather than real.

>> The local newspapers are: The local rag (rabidly anti-gun), the county newspaper (somewhat anti gun) and the state newspapers (rabidly anti gun.) Yesterday, the local island paper carried an editorial calling for the club to be ejected on the grounds that the club “brought a tiger into our peace-loving community” and it’s the club’s fault that “the tiger escaped.”

>> Never mind that the club has been there decades before any of those homes, or that the homes have a covenant on their deeds stating that the owner knows that there’s a shooting range nearby and accepts that fact. They also claim that nobody needs such a powerful gun as a 9mm Glock…

>> The county newspaper is the best bet for any releases, but they’ve turned anti in recent years. They have told me that by policy they aren’t printing anything relating to shooting or hunting any more.

Hmmm, seems pretty clear. Maybe this is a case of anti-gun censorship? A true media blackout? Maybe not….

Anti-Gun Media Blackout, part 4

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>> It doesn’t matter to the media or our opponents how long you were safe, they will use one accident or near accident to end our sport and our rights. 25,550 safe days and thousands or millions of rounds have passed without incident. It isn’t newsworthy. One accident will attract more attention than all of the years of safe operation.

Yes, that’s what I said. If you want positive attention you have to do something positive that is worthy of attention and then make a concerted effort to tell people about it. Being safe isn’t newsworthy.

>> It is hard to reason with somebody who won’t see reason.

I have never been injured playing frisbee with the dog. The paper never has any pro-frisbee articles. They must be anti-frisbee.

>> Judging from what I’ve seen, most of our members are of retirement age.

Sounds like your club’s past recruitment efforts weren’t the best. What are you planning to do to get new people involved?

Has the population been like this for the past 70 years?

>> It started changing in the 1970s. The change escalated in the 1990s.

In the 40 years prior to when “it started changing”, what was the club doing to become part of the local community?

>> The local media has a blackout on *any* shooting information.

Define “blackout.”

First, what are you doing that is even worthy of a story or mention? Second, an effective PR campaign requires two releases (a pre-event announcement and post-event follow-up) for each event.

Unless you can tell me that your club is running at least eight news-worthy events a year, that you’ve sent two pieces of well written publicity for each event to every media outlet in a reasonable driving radius, and that you’ve been doing this consistently for more than three years, your local “media blackout” may be perceived rather than real.

Editors who ignore uninteresting places or people, non-events, or sporadic, poorly written press releases are not automatically “anti-gun.”

>> Nor will their calendar (which has almost every conceivable obscure thing listed) include the open trap shoots, match schedules, or even cover that a range exists here.

My local paper never used to list shooting events either. Anti-gun? The guy who owns the print shop that prints those papers is a semi-active Trap shooter. Nobody, including that Trap club, made a serious effort to publicize the club.

>> The club also does fishing (we run a pond for kids), supports Boy Scouts, has a food booth at the 4th of July, etc. You will sometimes see references to that in the press, but they don’t mention the range.

Tie in, brother! The Boy Scouts has a shooting program.

Sounds like the local media-folk has no problem promoting your club. Exploit every mention.

Does your club have a web site worth visiting? Are you getting it mentioned in any of this publicity? Do you have an obvious sign up for your free club newsletter? Do you even have a free club newsletter (not just for range members, but to anyone who requests it)?

When your club runs these events, are you handing out TWO flyers to each person (one for the attendee, and one for a friend) offering a free class/match/whatever at your range?

Are you capturing the contact info (email, address, fax, etc.) of every attendee? Then you would have a direct line of communication to them. “The media” is just a medium to broadcast ideas. You can become the media if you have a way to broadcast ideas to enough people yourself.

It will be an uphill climb, for your club especially. It won’t be easy or quick, and you have no guarantee of success. It’s up to you to decide if your club is worth it. Either find organizations that support this type of effort (hint: most gun organizations don’t, which is partially why we’re in this mess!), or organize yourself locally.

You’re never beaten until you accept defeat.

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