Marketing For ТGuerillasУ

Editor’s Note: This column, “LBWA” (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks-and-rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues and ask the leaders among the readership to share their knowledge and experiences.

The “LBWA” column in the April issue touched on the marketing mission that all recreation departments must adopt to remain competitive in today’s environment. The article prompted one Florida recreation superintendent to write in with some additional ideas.

Shannon Schafer, in the city of Safety Harbor, wrote about some of the ideas used in that department.

“We are one of those small departments with no marketing division, but the importance of marketing has been shared with all our staff,” Shannon wrote, adding that the entire staff is involved in brainstorming, production and delivery of marketing ideas.

The members employ all the standard marketing tools, such as news releases, flyers, banners, postcards, brochures, social media and the like, but one unique idea was to gain permission from the local schools to appear on morning video announcements.

“We have an excellent partnership with our local schools so we make regular visits to their morning shows,” Shannon noted. “We not only promote our programs, but the mission of all parks and recreation departments, which is to keep kids active and healthy. Kids come up to us at our centers, parks, events and say, ‘Hey, I saw you on TV at school.’”

That is a great idea and one that gets right to the market center--convince the kids, and parents will follow. They are also fortunate that their schools will allow this; not all do.

The Guerilla In The Room

This is a good example of “guerrilla marketing,” a concept introduced in 1984 by Jay Conrad Levinson in his book of the same name, which I highly recommend. This book is for the recreation professional with high aspirations but a low marketing budget, which probably covers about 99.9 percent of us.

Simply put, guerrilla marketing is using unconventional no- or low-cost ways to get information to the target market, without a huge marketing budget. The use of military terminology is not accidental. Like a guerrilla fighter, the guerrilla marketer uses resources already at hand in the local area to wage a campaign of communication.

A good example of this concept is the “chin-up challenge” offered by the Marine Corps. Recruiters set up a chin-up bar at local events, and challenge people to do the 20 pull-ups required of Marines to earn a perfect 100 in that category of the physical fitness test. Prizes are given to those who do well … and even to those who don’t, but who try. More important, information is given out about the Marine Corps. Perhaps it isn’t coincidental that Levinson once worked for the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, which for decades has created the legendary Marine Corps commercials.

Shannon’s department is definitely engaged in the guerrilla mode.

“We get out into our community to promote our programs,” Shannon stresses. “We have a marketing table at our 3rd Friday events with games, eNews sign-ups, raffles and giveaways. This past month we had a Grapefruit Festival, and we had a table for the kids to decorate a grapefruit, and at a separate table were our brochures, eNews sign-ups, etc. This summer we purchased bright tie-dyed shirts. Because of how bright and eye-catching they are … we will be taking a few afternoons during rush hour and during morning school/ commute times and standing on the busy corners to wave and promote our summer programs.”

These are all great ways of waging a guerrilla information campaign. You don’t have to agree with all of the ideas (for example, I’m not keen on the standing-on-busy-corners tactic), but different ideas will work better in some places than in others.

Like the guerrilla fighter, a guerrilla marketer has to know the indigenous people--their habits, their needs, their popular hangouts--then find a unique way to get information to them.

Get Everyone Involved

Another effective aspect of the Safety Harbor marketing plan is that everyone at every level in the organization is included in the effort.

“When we do marketing like this, I am always included,” Shannon said. “Managers, programmers, rec leaders and sometimes even the kids. Together we make up our department, so together we promote and have fun while doing so.”

Involving the children and adults who will receive the benefits of the department’s marketing efforts is a very good idea. Word-of-mouth marketing can often be the most effective. As Levinson comments in his book on p.141, “The power of word-of-mouth arises from two of its very basic characteristics. It is both available and credible.”

If you can get children, their parents, their grandparents and friends jazzed about what you’re doing, the word will spread like wildfire. It’s available because people like to tell people about things they’re involved in. It’s credible because it’s coming from a friend or family member.

Like guerrilla fighters, guerrilla marketers use the power of positive actions to draw the indigenous population to their message (i.e., programs) and away from the opposing forces.

Thanks to Shannon for sharing this information with PRB readers. Keeping in the marketing mode, next month’s column will provide even more shared material--if I can work out all the details. Stay tuned.

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine, is a regular contributor to PRB and lives in Peachtree City, Ga. Contact him at (678) 350-8642 or e-mail