Making the Case for Parks and Recreation

April 15, 2021, Department, by Kristine Stratton

Kristine Stratton 410

For an enhanced digital experience, read this story in the ezine.

The timing of this issue — public relations and marketing — is particularly great this year. On March 11, NRPA issued the report COVID-19 and Parks and Recreation: Response and Recovery and the companion communications toolkit COVID-19 and Parks and Recreation: Making the Case for the Future. This issue provides me a chance to remind our readers of these resources and encourage everyone to use them to promote the essential work of parks and recreation professionals during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. For more info on the resources, visit the We Are Parks and Recreation section on page 12.

These resources are important, because it is stories like those reflected in the report, and the many stories you can share, that serve as the foundation of strategic communications. They are a case for support. If there is one thing that is true about marketing and public relations, it’s that you need a strong story — a reason why your audience should care. Marketing and public relations efforts are helpful, certainly, but it is when they are tied to a clear goal — a compelling mission — that they become more than just ads or outreach emails. They become strategic tools to advance your goals.

I invite all our park and recreation colleagues to think about your two to three most important goals each year. For most, it includes making a strong case for budget investment to show why your programs, facilities and spaces are critical community infrastructure. Another frequently cited goal is expanding the reach into and engagement with your community through things like increasing participation in health and wellness programs. Another goal often talked about is increasing park and recreation access to vulnerable members of the community. Whatever your goals may be, consider how you can incorporate language into your social media outreach, your advertising, and your talking points with community members and leaders that support those goals and help increase awareness.

I know that many of us don’t like to “toot our own horns” and feel uncomfortable asking for help. However, getting the word out on our successes and on our strategic communications goals depends on us telling our stories, celebrating our success and having our allies celebrate them as well. I have seen far too many stories of great programs and efforts happening in parks and recreation spaces; however, far too many of them leave the park and recreation professional and department out completely. Let’s change that — ask the reporter or a community partner to remember to mention the park and recreation team. It’s also important to ask the folks who participate in your programs and who visit your parks to spread the word to others and to share their positive experiences in your programs and spaces. In fact, asking people to participate in making the case is not just OK, it’s a must. We need our community members, our allies, to build our movement of support for parks and recreation, to help make the case for why parks and recreation is critical community infrastructure, and why well-funded, quality parks and recreation is essential to healthy, strong and resilient communities.

In talking with park and recreation directors across the country, it is clear that making the case for our essential services never ends. Each year and each budget cycle require advocating for investment all over again. Resources like the COVID-19 report and communications toolkit are designed to support that case making and to help you turn your marketing and public relations into strategic, impactful communications.

Kristine Stratton, NRPA President and CEO