Park and recreation professionals say that one of their biggest challenges is getting the word out about their agencies’ vast offerings to the public. Park and recreation agencies deliver a wealth of opportunities that promote healthy living, environmental sustainability and community cohesion. At the same time, they are competing against often better-funded, private-sector providers, such as gyms and entertainment providers, for people’s limited dollars and free time. Building awareness of park and recreation offerings becomes even more difficult when agencies are unable to devote significant resources to marketing and communications efforts.
The more community members know about a local agency’s amenities and programming, the more likely they are to take advantage of those offerings. Increasing numbers of participants in out-of-school activities and programs, rising attendance at annual festivals and robust community support for parks and recreation are just a few of the potential outcomes of well-executed marketing strategies. The benefits of greater awareness go beyond driving increased use of agency offerings. Heightened awareness can lead to more robust agency funding through larger and sustainable operating budgets, increased donations and sponsorships.
While marketing and communications are at the heart of every successful agency, park and recreation leaders seek answers on how to build awareness in a competitive marketplace. To learn more about how park and recreation leaders are facing this challenge, the NRPA Research team conducted a 24-question survey in September. The resulting NRPA Park and Recreation Marketing and Communications Report chronicles agencies’ marketing and communications goals, their partners and the resources they tap.
Park and recreation agencies dedicate a relatively small percentage of their annual operating budget — just 3 percent — to marketing their amenities and programming to the public. This percentage covers all aspects of marketing activities, from printing and design costs to paying for salaries and benefits of any employees.
How park and recreation agencies allocate staff reflects their modest funding of marketing and communications strategies. Fifty-six percent of agencies have staff that delivers marketing and communications strategies and tactics for the entire organization. If a park and recreation agency does have a team dedicated to executing marketing and communications strategies and tactics, the function area tends to be a small shop with a median of 1.5 full-time equivalent employees (FTEs). At other agencies, there is no “marketing department;” instead, these agencies assign marketing and communications responsibilities to program managers.
The Importance of Partners
Getting the word out to the public about all that parks and recreation has to offer is the primary goal of marketing and communications activities. To make this happen, agencies work with partners to cost-effectively deliver the message.
Park and recreation agencies rely on partners to promote their amenities, programs and offerings. Eighty-two percent of park and recreation agencies work with local public and private schools to promote their offerings. Two-thirds of park and recreation agencies work with libraries and two-thirds work with local businesses to distribute their marketing messages. Other frequently cited marketing and communications partners include:
- Nonprofit organizations (e.g., the YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs of America) (48 percent)
- Local health departments (21 percent)
- Faith-based organizations (18 percent)
- Public works departments (16 percent)
Common Communication Channels
Park and recreation marketing and communications efforts encompass many methods, including a mix of traditional and new-era communications channels. The top three channels — social media, agency websites and email messages/newsletters — did not exist a quarter of a century ago.
But, not all communications are digital. Traditional printed communications remain a feature at most park and recreation agencies. They include:
- Poster/flyer in agency facilities (cited by 89 percent of respondents)
- Printed program guide/catalog (75 percent)
- Printed newsletter (42 percent)
- Direct-mail campaigns (31 percent)
While park and recreation agencies deliver marketing and communications messaging via many channels, not all are effective. Park and recreation professionals consider four channels as the most effective ones for marketing park and recreation amenities, programs and events:
- Social media (85 percent)
- Printed program guide/catalog (45 percent)
- Agency/government website (41 percent)
- Email messages and newsletters (36 percent)
Reaching All Community Members
Parks and recreation is for everyone. The most successful agencies ensure that all members of a community enjoy their amenities and offerings. But to ensure that all community members can take advantage of such programs, park and recreation agencies must embrace marketing and communications techniques that reach community members they previously missed. This includes marketing amenities and programming in languages other than English.
Thirty-four percent of park and recreation agencies create and distribute marketing and communications collateral in at least one additional language besides English. This material may include printed and electronic messages, language-specific social media accounts and agency websites that have translation functionality. Spanish is the most common second language park and recreation agencies use in their marketing and communications materials, followed by Korean, Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese and French.
Read the Full Report and Take the Next Steps
To read the full NRPA Park and Recreation Marketing and Communications Report visit the webpage. You also may want to review the Awareness and the Use of Parks Report published last year. Prepared by GP/RED on behalf of NRPA, this report explores the role awareness plays in driving park and recreation use. It also provides access to a series of steps and a checklist that park and recreation leaders should consider when executing an awareness strategy.
You or a member of your team should consider earning the NRPA Marketing and Communications Certificate. This online program provides the knowledge, skills and strategies needed to build and execute effective park and recreation marketing and communications campaigns that will help you better connect with your community.
Whichever next step you choose to take, I encourage you to work closely with your peers across town and across our nation to identify effective ways to raise awareness of your agency’s offerings. This will not only drive additional use, but also build critical support among elected officials and the general public for everything you do. I look forward to continuing the conversation on how your agency raises awareness of its activities.
Kevin Roth is Vice President of Professional Development, Research and Technology at NRPA.