The Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation Department in Carmel, Ind., has enjoyed the fruits of a successful marketing plan. According to Lindsay Labas, marketing director, part of that success has to do with the department’s company culture and core values.
“Company culture is all the buzz in today’s world. We see companies striving to have a culture like Google and Zappos, two companies that instill perks like being able to play a quick game of foosball or collaborating with coworkers in a non-cube setting. While the fun and games are always a unique plus to have and break up a day, it’s really all about the people that make up your organization,” she said.
One example of this company culture that she believes demonstrates the goal of empowering employees is the water park cabana reserved this summer as a staff hub. Employees can go out to the water park with their laptops or sit back and relax, imagine, dream, come up with new ideas or collaborate with one another.
Part of the reason for that perk is because the organization’s mindset that every person in the organization is in marketing. Labas said she may be the marketing director, but “your front desk staff, your parks maintenance workers, your instructors/coaches, your programmers, every employee is a walking brand for your organization. This means that your marketing needs to be in sync at every level and position within the organization. Your employees must walk the walk and talk the talk of your brand — when communicating to guests, through your printed marketing pieces, your posts on social media, talking points for the public and media — they all need to be uniform.”
As far as a marketing strategy and plan is concerned, one must be willing to invest the time to research, plan and implement; invest in training for staff ; and invest resources, even if it means hiring a consultant to assist with your marketing plan.
“My boss has always told me, ‘Just like businesses, you have to market and promote to be successful. ‘Build it and they will come’ only works in the movies.’”
Just as Hoff man said, the first step is knowing your customers and your goals.
“While you may be working for your elected officials and park board members, they aren’t necessarily your customers. Your customers are the ones who use your products and services on a regular basis,” Labas pointed out. “Are they male or female? What is the radius of those coming to your facility and/or parks? What time frame do they attend your programs or participate in your services? What is the average household income of those participating? These are just some of the questions you should be asking yourself about your customers. The answers to these will help you in the next step of your plan. Keep in mind that you will most likely have multiple customers whom you target for the different products and services you are selling.”
The Carmel Clay department does a lot of surveys and observations of who is using the facilities and during what time period. For example, Labas or another staff member may sit at one of the parks facilities for a few hours and make notes of who visits and when. Those notes might include the observations that five males visited a certain park daily between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. to play basketball or that a group of moms with preschool children visited each Tuesday and Thursday between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. They may also talk to those parks visitors and ask questions about how they can make their experience better.
Labas said that when it comes to parks and recreation departments everybody is a customer; but customers who use the water park are going to be different than those who use a nature park with hiking trails.
Carmel Clay also conducts a lot of surveys at the end of a program or a season and asks questions about how users heard of the program or facility, what they liked and what they didn’t. People are usually very willing to give input, she noted.
“They want to feel important; like their voice matters.”
She also suggested using social media to conduct contests in order to determine what the users want.
“The strategic marketing plan isn’t a document that will stay the same. It will change as your customers change, as your wants in a customer change, as technology changes and as your overall plan changes. Be sure to revisit this document at the very least on a yearly basis. And don’t be afraid to try new tactics to find out what works best for your customers,” Laban added.
It has certainly worked for Carmel Clay, which owns and manages 541 acres of parkland, 21.7 miles of developed trails and 12 parks and four greenways. The agency has had increases in many areas, especially since 2013; including 9 percent growth in recreation programs, a 3 percent increase in monthly and annual Escape Pass memberships, a 28 percent increase in summer camp enrollment and 57,535 additional day pass visits to the Monon Community Center and the WaterPark.
Hoff man said that the agencies do realize they need to be competitive when it comes to marketing and communications. The association’s online community NRPA Connect gives members a forum to share best practices and strategies for marketing and for brainstorming and collaborating with one another. She also said the organization’s annual conference offers dedicated education sessions on marketing and public relations, and that those are some of the most well-attended sessions: perhaps for the reasoning shared by Labas.
“Marketing can be so powerful if done right.”