Top Trends in Recreation Programming, Marketing and Management
- Health and fitness. Park and recreation programs have begun to take a more active role in community health and fitness. In Everett, Washington, the park and recreation department partnered with seven other organizations to sponsor a “Get Movin’” campaign. A summer program targeting inactive children, the project targeted inactive children. Those who were active at least 20 minutes a day, three times a week received free access to activities such as swimming, climbing and ice-skating lessons. For those who met the activity challenge for four of the five weeks of the program, there were free tickets to the Everett Aquasox game.In Glendale, Arizona, the community mobilized a “get fit” effort with its “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” event. The activity is a seven mile walk, bike, skate, jog, run or stroll with a dog along a local hiking trail. Participants could turn around at any point, but there were incentives to keep going. Each mile walkers were greeted by local musicians, and at the halfway mark, hounds and owners encountered the world’s largest fire hydrant. Registration fee included an event shirt, an entry into the Hound/Owner Costume Contest and, of course, a great time.
- Generational Programming. Park and recreation programs are more tuned in that other organizations to the specific needs of different age segments of the population. There has been a big increase in the number of offerings for families, with children of all ages. This is a departure from past family programming which often focused almost entirely on younger children and preschoolers. Activities such as Family Fossil Hunt and Family Backpacking and Camping Adventure have proven very popular with families with teens. This responsiveness to the Gen-X parents of today is an important step, because Gen Xers and Gen Y place a high value on family.
- “Mommy Fitness.” With 61 million women of childbearing age in the population, there is an increase in classes for women during pregnancy. With the focus on fitness and wellness among the Gen X and Gen Y generations, exercise and fitness classes for pregnancy—as well as stress management and healthy lifestyle are growing in popularity.
- Life sports. Aimed at kids in particular in response to the childhood obesity epidemic, this refers to sport that’s fun and an individual can participate well into their later years, e.g. biking, kayaking, tennis, swimming, jogging/walking, etc. The theory is that we should forget about the high priced gyms, personal trainers, etc. and just find activities that we enjoy and have fun with as we also get exercise. Time management is the key.
- Generational Marketing. Recreation programs have long had the image of being programs for youth. Many are making some changes in this perception by creating brochures that clearly target specific segments of multiple generations. For example, Fox Valley Park District in Aurora, IL has a brochure targeting active seniors (not Baby Boomers) called Prime Times.Many brochures are featuring young families on the front cover in response to the interest of young parents in family activities. A few programs have even developed special promotional pieces for Gen Y (aged 10-23) which are designed and developed with substantial input from the target group. And in The Township of Langley, BC, in addition to having a section inside the brochure designed with graphics, and narrative to appeal specifically to Gen Y, the department also enlisted a 15-year old to design and draw a comic book aimed at promoting programs to youth. It was such a success, that it is going to become a regular feature of the program.Many directors report seeing a gap in service delivery for boomers who refuse to participate in “senior” activities. Many directors in California report that they are identifying activities that are geared toward active, healthy 50 somethings as a starting point, and that there is movement toward target marketing with a separate brochure for this age group.
- The One-Year Marketing Plan. Budgets are becoming tighter, accountability is increasing, and demands on departments to increase community participation are mounting. Many programs have begun to develop one-year marketing plans to guide their efforts and to help establish strategies that will increase the likelihood of growth and program success.
- Increased Importance of Technology. Directors are reporting that participants are increasingly turning to their websites for information. This does not mean that the brochure is obsolete, but it does mean that the brochure and website need to be designed to support and complement each other. The brochure needs to drive prospective participants to the website, and the marketing function of the website needs to be considered carefully in the design of the site. Quick loading, easy navigation, and good graphics are all essential to successful online marketing, as is online registration software.
- Email newsletters. Email newsletters are an excellent way to promote your overall program or a specific class or event. Generally, this is a one-page email with graphics and color that has information of interest to the recipient in addition to promotional copy. There are some excellent templates and designs available for purchase. LERN uses Great Big News as the provider for the email newsletter design.
- Cross Training. The increased accountability and demand for high productivity has led many programs to establish cross-training programs. Administrative Staff and Divisions are increasingly changing, expanding and getting reclassified within agencies due to the changes in technology. Often key functions such as billing, purchasing, payroll and registration are on-line which requires more sophisticated staff and well trained staff. This also means that all staff, regardless of title, need to be able to do email and word processing. Organization is the key to the expected multi-tasking. Re-training and cross-training staff in all technical function areas can literally be a lifesaver when key staff are out says Laura Weatherald of Howard County Parks and Recreation where they have spent considerable time on developing the cross training program. Cross training also serves to integrate divisions within departments to increase intra-departmental support and to help avoid inefficiencies and reduced quality of customer service.
- Changes in Registration Patterns. Some programs are reporting a noticeable change in registration patterns. The numbers of people choosing to register in person have increased noticeably, and in some programs is now the preferred means of registering. Perhaps one reason is that people are waiting until the start of the class to register and/or registering for the next one when their current class ends. With the increase of in-house registration, customer service is much more personalized than it has been with phone and on-line registrations. This is a trend to watch, as it may have a big impact on cancellation rates as well as staff organization during registration periods.
- Re-defining or expansion of therapeutic recreation, health and wellness (with focus on needs of baby boomers and aging population)
- More family-oriented activities/programming
- Blurring of traditional limits on what recreation does— recreation programs are doing it all from recreation, sports, educational enrichment programs, fine arts and performing arts focus… recreation’s umbrella of programming focus and expertise continues to expand and grow!!!
- Self-sufficient/self-supporting programs and facilities – elimination of subsidies for recreation departments – emphasizing operating more like a business with a prominent cash balance at the end of each fiscal year
- Increased competition for the same participants and same programs — customer service becomes more important as people chose where to go and what to sign up for based on the level of customer service and personal relationships between participants and staff.
- General marketing is being replaced with generational marketing-– geared specifically for generation segments —one size no longer fits everyone — if it ever did—some recreation programs have been slow to recognize this,
- Offering cooperative, consortium based programs allowing several communities and organizations to join partnerships to collectively offer programs in specific niche areas, i.e. if one organization has best computer labs and facilities and computer instructors – they offer that program for the consortium…if another organization has largest and best access to aquatic center – they offer aquatics programs for the consortium — eliminating duplication programming.