Guerilla Influence

Editor’s Note: This column, 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 recreation 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. The author will bring up issues that may be common to many PRB readers and ask leaders to weigh in and share their knowledge and experiences.

It seems everybody wants to get into the parks and recreation business. Here in Peachtree City, Ga., we’re seeing more and more competition from several sources offering similar programming. This has also led to an epiphany–we need to get a whole lot better at marketing and public relations in order to keep the pace.

Churches, schools, day cares, non-profit organizations, private companies and other area recreation departments are all competing for the same public we are trying to serve. In many cases, they’re also competing for the same contract program instructors.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In some cases, other entities offering similar programming on the fringes of our service area helps relieve pressure on facilities and staff so we can focus on our primary customers. Also, if we see someone else flooding the market with a certain kind of programming, we can focus on offering programs they’re not.

But this can also adversely affect our revenue stream and in today’s “pay to play” environment that’s not a good thing. Pay to play means the people using services pay for them, which helps offset expenses. This in turn reduces the load on the average taxpayers who may not use the services as much, or at all.

This may not be a new phenomenon to every parks and rec operation, but it’s probably one that affects different departments at varying intensities, depending on local conditions.

Throw In A Guerilla Or Two

I’ve been in the parks and recreation business for about 11 years, coming from a 20-year career as a United States Marine, where I was a combat correspondent (print journalist and photojournalist) for the first half and a public affairs officer the second ten years. My last tour was in a combined public affairs and marketing office that covered the Marine Corps’s Southeastern recruiting operations.

I learned a lot there about how marketing and public affairs can work hand in hand and become a “force multiplier” to support the needs of the service. Essentially, marketing is putting out information about the service to convince people to “buy,” or in the military case, enlist. Public relations is putting out day-to-day information about what the service does for recipients, i.e., why is a strong Marine Corps vital to the national security.

While each area has a distinct purpose, the two can combine and support each other in certain environments. The captain who was in charge of marketing and I got to be good friends and we decided it would be beneficial to create a combined Public Affairs and Marketing operation.

It was very successful and along the way we began implementing what Jay Conrad Levinson describes as “guerilla marketing” techniques in his 1984 book of the same title. These are techniques that combine marketing and public affairs elements to obtain either free or greatly reduced promotions of programs. The techniques are very low budget, relying on time, energy and imagination instead of big marketing budgets.

I believe these tactics can be used effectively in the PRB arena.

Here are some of Levinson’s ideas that I’ve used successfully:

· Know your customers. Like guerilla fighters, urban guerilla marketers are close to their audience. Ask questions. You can find out more from a few program users than you can by hiring an expensive consultant to do the same thing. Find out what they like, don’t like, would change about a particular area or program. And listen. Then be sure to follow up–service after the sale is often missing in action. Make sure your whole team is on board with this customer service attitude.

· Determine which audience needs what information. If you are announcing new programs for toddlers, find out where toddlers’ moms and dads hang out. If the local library has toddler reading programs that would be a great place to hand out flyers or put up a large poster about the new programs. Or see if a local toy store or kids’ clothing stores mind if you put out flyers.

Page 1 of 2 | Next page

Related posts:

  1. The Marketing Mission
  2. Does Anybody Like Being A Bureaucrat?
  3. Useful Marketing Advice
  4. The “Entitled Few”
  5. Marketing For “Guerillas”
  • Columns
  • Departments