Katy Keller was born and raised in North Carolina, a state she loves and continuously serves. Keller attended Appalachian State University, where she earned a degree in recreation and park management before going on to work for Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation as a recreation specialist. In 2014, she attended the NRPA Annual Conference in Charlotte, where she networked her way into a position helping to launch a new agency in the small town of Indian Trail, North Carolina. In the first three years of building the new department, Keller, her supervisor and what grew to be a small team of five developed more than 200 acres of parkland and installed more than 30 amenities. She currently serves as the recreation program coordinator for Indian Trail Parks & Recreation, where her duties include programming, marketing and park projects.
Parks & Recreation: How has network-building helped your career?
Katy Keller: With [Indian Trail Parks & Rec] being a brand new department, I understood the huge benefit things like NRPA Connect provided. We were starting from scratch, and there’s no sense in reinventing the wheel, so when we had questions — like “what do people’s athletic contracts look like?” or about basic things like policies and rules — networking and meeting other professionals [were] a huge help. Our field is so amazing about everyone wanting to help each other and about sharing information.
A huge benefit I’ve seen with all the networking I’ve been able to do is if there’s an obstacle or you’re stuck in your career or you need advice about something, you have mentors. NRPA has so many mentor programs that if you are ever in a bind or looking for some direction or advice, you can find a person to turn to. And if they don’t have experience with [the issue] themselves, they will know someone who does. It’s something that I have loved being a part of, and now I’m at the point where I am able to start to pay it forward.
P&R: What do you believe are some of the most important elements of marketing to keep in mind when it comes to parks and rec?
Keller: I think the number one thing is engagement. Also, keeping up with the current trends, breaking out of the government agency box and utilizing the resources that are available to you. It’s not just about social media. If that’s not on the table for your department, that’s fine. Go out and talk to people in the parks or find other ways that are going to maximize your opportunity for outreach. At Indian Trail, the number one way we hear that people have heard about us is word-of-mouth.
Also, make sure you stick to your brand — that your department stays true to your mission and your vision, and that people can relate your marketing back to you. So, when they see your logo, [they identify] it to your parks or your programs. Make sure people know who they are talking to so that if they are driving down the road or looking at a kiosk in a park and see your logo, they say, “Oh, this is not just a park. This is Indian Trail Parks & Recreation.”
P&R: What’s your spirit animal and why?
Keller: It comes down to an elephant or a giraffe. Giraffes are kind of goofy, and I’m kind of goofy. But I’ll go with an elephant, because [elephants are] huge and I’m super loud, so I figure if you don’t see me coming, you’re going to hear me! And, elephants are super loyal, they are family driven, and they’re determined. I strive even through my networking to create family. Parks and rec is so family oriented, and I love that atmosphere and being a part of that family.
Lindsay Collins is the Associate Editor for Parks & Recreation magazine.