Brent Bolzenius, a Black Hills State University MBA student from Rapid, discusses some marketing ideas to increase awareness and membership at the Rapid City VFW.
With declining and aging membership, the Rapid City Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) club is looking to reinvent itself and seeking advice from Black Hills State University MBA (master of business administration) students to help in the process.

The graduate students recently presented their marketing strategies to increase the VFW’s membership and awareness throughout the community. Another group of students presented plans to increase attendance at Summer Stage performances held at BHSU during July and August.

“I was very impressed,” said Jerry Wright, the current Post Commander of the VFW, of the plans presented by Dr. Wei Song’s MBA students. “A lot of what they said we were doing was right; we just needed to do more of it – more advertising and more face time.”

The student groups said the VFW has a prime downtown location and great products, but lacks community awareness. With a limited budget and all revenue going back toward services for veterans, the organization must be creative in marketing itself and attracting more members, the students said.

“We don’t have anywhere near the (membership) numbers we used to have,” Wright said. “We are living in a different generation. We need to reinvent ourselves.”

Each of the student groups advised that increasing activity within social media networks may both increase membership within the younger veterans as well as provide an opportunity to interact more within the community.

 “You have the products and services; it is just a matter of getting the word out,” said Jerod Ensz,  MBA student from Rapid City, noting that the VFW needs to increase its web presence including daily updates on the organization’s Facebook page.

Paul Brown, MBA student from Rapid City, said the VFW could partner with local higher education institutions, many who have student veterans, to find interns to help with marketing including social media.

Brown also suggested becoming members of the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Association to open up additional networking opportunities.

One student group suggested advertising itself as a rental space for weddings and other functions. This would be a great way to generate additional revenue for veteran services, said Brent Bolzenius, MBA student from Spearfish.

Wright said they hope to work on implementing as many things as possible. “There are new things we need to get into like social media,” he said. “Our society runs a little different than when those guys walked off the boat in World War II. We need to reinvent ourselves.”

Another student group presented marketing strategies on how to increase attendance at the Summer Stage, a professional acting company in Spearfish. Aside from an increase in social media presence, the group said a partnership with the Dahl Fine Arts Center in Rapid City would grow awareness among the local arts community.

The Dahl, in conjunction with the Rapid City Arts Council, provides a support services program for $100 a year. “This produces a variety of media products that our client can utilize including an email blast that goes out once a week to 5,000 self-identified patrons of the arts,” said Roxene Powell, MBA student from Rapid City, noting other services include access to area media contacts, press releases, newsletters and ticket services.

Powell also suggested a membership with the Black Hills Badlands & Lakes Association which will include a listing in the BH vacation guide and on area maps that are distributed to millions of tourists every year. The Summer Stage would also be listed in several magazines and newsletters. The combination of the partnership with the Dahl and the Black Hills & Badlands Association will help increase awareness of the Summer Stage with both the local arts community as well as the tourists, she said.