Useful Marketing Advice

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.

I am going to stay on the marketing topic for at least another column or two because it has generated a lot of response, both from people needing help and those offering it.

I previously made the point that in all likelihood the majority of recreation departments don’t have a dedicated marketing branch; and these days, if they do, it may be one of the first functions to be “right-sized” out of the picture. The irony is that the awareness effective marketing provides is exactly what recreation programs, classes, and events need to be successful.

I suspect that many departments avoid this issue due to a lack of staffing or marketing experience, doing the best they can with the resources they have, and hoping for the best. Others choose to take the bull by the horns and attack the marketing beast head-on.

The Auburn Area Recreation and Park District (ARD)--located approximately 30 miles east of Sacramento in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains--is one of the “bull-by-the-horns” departments. It decided that marketing was so important it needed to develop a marketing plan. So the department, with the input of key staff and supporters, created one, in-house.

And (drum roll), the beauty of it is that they are willing to share their plan in its entirety with the field, by way of PRB!

Developing The Plan

After reading the “LBWA” column titled “The Marketing Mission” in the April PRB, ARD Administrator Kahl Muscott wrote an email in response to my appeal for successful ideas that would help other departments struggling in this economy. Attached to the email was the ARD marketing plan, which has been in effect for about two years.

Download the ARD Marketing Plan

“We decided to come up with a marketing plan for several reasons, the main one being revenue generation,” wrote Kahl, although improved customer service was mentioned in the same passage.

“We are 65-percent funded through property taxes. With the recent recession, the revenues we receive from property taxes have taken a steady turn down. As we have no control over that source of funding, we decided to focus on what we can control--the 35 percent of revenue we get from registrations, rentals, etc.”

Kahl went on to explain that the department formed a marketing committee that developed and refined the plan. This committee continues to meet quarterly to review the plan’s progress and make adjustments as needed.

“We have made progress on many of the goals and action items, and have started to see a slight up-tick in these revenues. More importantly, it put all of our staff on the same path,” Kahl wrote.

Kahl stressed that the intent in developing the plan was to keep it simple and manageable because the department had neither the human nor fiscal resources to manage a complicated one. The plan is only 25 pages long with clearly stated guiding principles and measurable goals and objectives. Along the way, it explains the methodology used to develop important aspects of the document.

No Good Sitting On A Shelf

In my opinion, this document is a great down-to-earth, reality-driven plan that can be used as an example for others. I approached Kahl with the idea of sharing the plan by posting the PDF document on the PRB website, where anybody could retrieve it. He shared the request with the marketing committee and informed me the members were excited about the idea.

Marketing plans are only useful if they are used, and don’t sit on a shelf until the next time they are to be updated. The whole idea is to create awareness of programs, events, facilities, and activities. Kahl shared a recent experience that helped him validate the department’s plan.

“I recently attended the California Parks and Recreation Society conference,” he wrote. “One of the better seminars I attended was a workshop on master plans and surveys. The workshop instructors conduct master plans and surveys all across the U.S. One of the things they said that stuck with me is the comment that across the country, the number-one barrier to participation in parks and recreation programming is lack of awareness. That comment made me reflect on what we were doing with the ARD Marketing Plan, and reinforced one of our other goals--to create better awareness of ARD programs and facilities.”

Another important factor in a marketing plan’s success is full understanding and support of the staff. Talking about the ARD plan, Kahl said that, like any other plan, the key is action: “Our staff has really stepped up to ensure that the goals of the plan are met. The employees involved in these efforts include Manouch Shirvanioun, Sheryl Petersen, Debbie Thomas, Pamela Vann, Joe Fecko, Jessica Joyner, and Kristin Tomasovich, as well as Director Jim Ferris. They deserve the credit for our success to this point.”

So, there you have it. These are the folks that negate any more excuses for not having a marketing plan. Through the generosity and sharing spirit of the ARD, here’s one you can use to form your own. It may not be an exact fit for your circumstances, but it provides a solid foundation upon which to build.

And once you download the information, let us know how it helps you. Contact me or the PRB editor.

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

Bryan BuchkoComment