What do you think would have happened if e-mail had preceded the telephone? I know there are those that would argue that it actually did, in the form of the telegraph, but I'm talking about modern e-mail capacity being the predecessor to the phone.

If it were so, when the new amazing telephone rolled out, I bet we'd be calling each other all the time and bragging about how wonderful it is to actually talk without having to type! We'd likely even add that if the person we're trying to reach isn't there, a tape recorder takes our message! No typing, no spell checking, no problem whatsoever!

We'd call it awesome, and new phone booths would be popping up all over the country. At the big gas station down the street there'd be banks of phones just waiting for us to make calls. Cell phones would be included as standard issue when you bought a new purse or briefcase. What will they think of next?

Chickens & Eggs

But see the phone came first. So email was newer. It was more novel when it broke out. Now it's getting kind of old-hat. Recall the cavalcade of e-mails you got at the birth of the technology (from people other than miracle weight-loss pill peddlers). People sent each other everything that had ever been written. Now that the party's over, I think e-mail is starting to go the way of the CB radio; a lot of people still conveniently use it but you can get by without it.

Business applications still apply as did trucking applications to the CB radio but the novelty bell has been rung and now the story of "the invention of e-mail" becomes one that has been told. Onto the next new thing, huh America? What's next?

The point is simply this… The fascination with email wasn't so much about the technology as it was the novelty. And novelty plays a big part when trying to advance ideas. Fresh ideas, fresh incentives, novel and creative approaches all invoke a certain amount of excitement. If capitalized upon correctly, creating the novelty can help keep expenditures under control in a variety of ways.

Park and recreation professionals have a certain amount of privilege with regard to novelty. Since most park and recreation entities are non-profit and the budgets for rolling out advertising or announcement of a new facility or project are minimal, professionals can rely on the fact that the launch of a new project or facility evokes news, and that novelty brings media agencies forward to cover the announcement of that news. This kind of free advertising can be substantial and save significant advertising dollars.

Some institutions try to theme grand openings to create a greater news value or angle. For example, a recent playground re-opening included the addition of six new basketball half courts, complete with shiny orange and plexiglass backboards.

As the press rolled in for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the marketing division provided basketballs to all of the ranking officials who shot a few shots and handed the balls over to some of the local youth.

The "ribbon" for the opening was stretched across the center court hoop and the children pumped up jump shots until one finally sunk and broke the ribbon. A big ovation followed.

As the next day happened to be a mid-week, slow news day, the front page newspaper photo showed a commissioner shooting a basketball as another commissioner was gently handing his ball to a toddler in the crowd.

Meanwhile, the ribbon was flying through the hoop and the crowd was cheering. Outstanding photo opportunity! Outstanding press! Simple ideas creating novel concepts producing great results at minimal cost. The playground was filled for the rest of that spring, summer and fall. The expenses were extremely limited but the marketing accomplishment was overwhelming, simply by ferreting out the proper angle.

A Step Ahead

In a similar vein, park and recreation institutions have other novel opportunities. What other kind of companies receive good will donations simply at the cost of a little plaque or game jersey with a company logo on it?

While these kinds of backers and contributors are certainly historically appreciated, it is the job of the park and recreation professional to think bigger and take those same concepts a few steps further…

What if a large factory with 300 acres of fenced-in land that borders park property is approached by the park and recreation officials who run the neighboring park?

What if those officials ask the factory if those 15 acres of unused wooded land along the borders of its property are really needed?

What if that factory owner gets an appeal from that board that says he could donate the land to the park and it would be upgraded and maintained and actually provide enhancement to the factory employees' lunch hour and further provide a tax break to the owner?

Who else could offer such a novel idea but a park and recreation institution?

The upside to the factory owner is more than evident. The upside to the community is also obvious. The upside to the park and recreation institution includes expansion of land and possibly additional jobs in maintenance, creating more opportunity in the community.

The downside? Well, is there one? Not that I can see.

Look folks, the point of this story is very much like the point of so many of my stories. You can choose to be a typical, average worker and perform your day in a manner that is acceptable. Put in your day, stuff envelopes every levy time and hope the annual increase is as big as last year.

Or you can choose to make a difference, step up, and create rather than simply maintain. Make the conscious decision to work your day as if the contribution you make will make a difference; because it certainly can.

Park and recreation institutions have a privilege that many companies would love to have and that is simply that the nuances and novelties they create are newsworthy.

That fair advantage can almost ensure success at the launch of a project with minimal expenditure and substantial exposure. Are you going to sit back and watch or are you going to create something to see?

As always, it's up to you.

Ronald D. Ciancutti is the purchasing manager for Cleveland Metroparks, a metropolitan park system that encircles Cuyahoga County and includes more than 20,000 acres of natural land, six golf courses, seven nature centers, a variety of special interest facilities and the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Ron can be reached at