Take it Personally

One of the principal components of the nationwide parks and recreation Benefits campaign was the explicit emphasis placed on “bragging” about success, a proposed behavior that made many recreation managers feel ambivalent, if not uncomfortable. It’s not that they weren’t proud of their accomplishments, it just “didn’t seem right” to toot their own horns. Didn’t everyone already know in their hearts about the good work performed by recreation organizations?

The problem, then and now, is that the entrepreneurial environment within which all sectors operate (public, nonprofit and private alike) mandates that managers either quantify–and “crow”–about their worthy achievements, or they will be “eating crow” as participants are drawn away to competitors’ programs. Given this stark contrast, a savvy manager insures that the good word saturates the market by creating a balance among five promotional options.

Five Promotional Options

Essentially, a thorough campaign combines paid (“dollars”) and unpaid (“common sense”) initiatives involving personal or impersonal contact with existing and potential participants or stakeholders (See Figure 1). The distinction between paid and unpaid is simple: If money is spent from your budget, it’s paid. If someone else invests resources on your behalf, it’s unpaid. Similarly, personal refers to real-time, face-to-face encounters, while impersonal is mediated by a go-between; you don’t really know who–if anyone–is receiving your message because you and your intended audience are separated by a third party, and not in the same place at the same time.

1. Advertising–The lower-left quadrant in Figure 1 depicts the paid/impersonal option, entitled “Advertising.” You spend money from your budget to purchase newspaper space, for example, but you’re not certain who will buy or read the newspaper that day, or even whether they will notice your ad. This tactic relies on “broadcasting” your information in the hope that enough people will receive your message to justify the cost of sending it.

2. Personal Selling–A more targeted version of this method is shown in the upper-left quadrant, representing the paid/personal option, also known as “Personal Selling.” In this case, you hire someone–a marketing consultant, for example–to meet with individuals or groups of people in person. In this instance, dialogue is initiated, allowing a meaningful conversation to take place during which your message is effectively delivered.

3. Publicity–In the lower-right quadrant is “Publicity,” an unpaid/impersonal option involving someone outside your organization–say, a magazine reporter–writing an article featuring your program. In effect, the magazine is footing the bill, and you are receiving “free” promotion.

4. Personal Recommendation–The unpaid/personal option, located in the upper-right quadrant, is the “Personal Recommendation” garnered when your participants are so pleased with your programs that they venture forth to tell the world about your wonderful organization. As a combination of satisfaction and advocacy, this testimony truly is “priceless.”

5. Special Promotions–In the middle of the diagram is an area called “Special Promotions,” which are short-term initiatives designed to increase participation, at least temporarily. A coupon valid for one month, printed as part of a newspaper ad, would be an example of a special promotion using the paid/impersonal option. Hiring a clown to mingle with the crowd for an hour typifies a special promotion within the paid/personal option.

In a time of tight budgets (has it ever been otherwise), what can a manager do to brag about the benefits without breaking the budget? The “Publicity” option seems the most obvious, given that it requires no out-of-pocket expenditure while reaching a potentially large audience in a short period of time. However, holding the bottom line steady may be offset by a manager’s inability to control the message reported. Can any amount of advertising overcome the negative influence of a negative news story?

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