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Promotion of recreational programs should focus on benefits

By Amy R. Hurd, Robert J. Barcelona, and John T. Meldrum


Promotion communicates the value of the product - it is the mouthpiece of the product so to speak.With parks and recreation in particular, many products are actually services. As discussed, a major difference between the two is tangibility. When a tangible product is promoted, the product can be displayed in advertisements. However, a service does not have that luxury. Instead, a benefits approach is taken to make a service seem more tangible. A benefit is anything of value to a consumer, so rather than promoting a service as just a service, it should be promoted as a bundle of benefits that a consumer will receive from the service.

The NRPA and the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (CPRA) have been at the forefront in helping leisure services professionals understand that their true product is not a swim lesson or an aerobics class but rather a bundle of attributes, characteristics, and outcomes that people get from these programs. These benefits can be likened to the outcomes component in outcomes-based management.

The NRPA and CPRA outline four categories of benefits-individual/personal benefits, economic benefits, social benefits, and environmental benefits (figure 8.10).

Not every program has all four types of benefits, but many have several. For example, a midnight basketball league for teens has several individual and social benefits, including increased self-esteem for players, lower vandalism rates in the city, increased skill and fitness levels for players, and an opportunity for players to interact with each other in a positive environment. A new park built within a city has a number of benefits as well, particularly economic and environmental benefits. The new park increases the property values of neighboring houses, the mature trees provide shade and reduce power bills, green space is preserved in a rapidly expanding city, and environmentally conscious products and equipment were used to build the park. Good promotions would focus on all of these benefits.

 



The promotions mix is the means by which the organization communicates the benefits of its products. This is done through advertising, sales promotions and incentives, personal selling, and publicity. To be successful, the promotions mix should follow the AIDA approach (Mullins et al., 2000):

  • Increase awareness (A)
  • Attract interest (I)
  • Arouse desire (D)
  • Initiate action (A)

This acronym is a sequential process where the manager strives to increase awareness of products. Exchange of resources cannot happen if people do not know about the product. Once awareness exists, promotion is designed to attract interest. This phase of promotion requires more in-depth information about the product in order to develop promotions that will arouse the desire to purchase or participate. This phase will most likely focus on conveying the benefits of participation. It is hoped that people will begin to move from intent to participate to action where the actual exchange of resources takes place.

This approach leads a potential consumer from learning about a product to consumption. Different elements of the promotions mix help marketers achieve different aspects of AIDA.

Advertising

Advertising is any paid form of communication through the media that is paid for and controlled by the sponsoring agency. This means that an organization buys ad space and has control over what goes into that ad. There are many options for buying media, including television, radio, newspaper, magazines, display boards, Internet advertising, and logo placement opportunities such as dasherboards on ice rinks.

Choosing which media to buy is a difficult task at best. First, consider the preferences of the target market. Find out what media they watch, read, or listen to as a group. Media preferences differ significantly by market segments. For instance, consider the differences between students and professors. Compared with professors, students are more likely to read the university paper than the local paper. Professors are more likely to watch the evening news than students, and students are more likely to pay attention to chalked sidewalks and flyers hanging around campus.

Second, the type of product dictates what type of media to buy. Some products are better suited for certain types of media. For a new luxury resort, a luxury travel magazine might be a good option if the advertisements are targeted to the right groups. A local bar advertising a band playing on a Friday night would choose media that best reflect the activity, such as flyers on campus or radio ads.

Cost is also a media determinant and the one that may be the most influential for park and recreation agencies. Television ads can be expensive, whereas radio and newspaper ads may be more affordable. This is not to say that television would be prohibitive for public and nonprofit agencies; there are deals and less expensive ads that may be perfect for a certain target market. However, the price of some media and the return on that investment may be prohibitive. For example, Troy Parks and Recreation in Michigan offers Buzzy Bugs, a class for 10 children at a cost of $5 per child. Given the product, the registration fee, and the low maximum number of participants, running advertisements on television would not be the best use of money.

The last media buying consideration is the message. If the message to be communicated is simple, then newspapers and billboards may be good options because of the limited space available and the short amount of time people can look at a billboard while driving. If the message is more complex, then radio or television might be a better option. Let’s say there is a major special event coming up. This event has been going on for years and is well known throughout the area. It would require a simple message letting people know the date and time of the event and maybe an activity or two that will be going on during the event. This simple message opens a lot of opportunities for advertising. A billboard on a major thoroughfare, posters placed around town, and carefully placed ads in the newspaper may be all that is needed to advertise the event.

However, the first year this event was held would have required far more complex advertising since it was in the introductory stages of its life cycle. Advertisements had to be more complex since more information was needed about the new event. This detailed information would not be effective on a billboard where the information people can absorb while driving by is limited. This event may have required larger, more detailed newspaper ads, as well as ads on television and radio.

Sales Promotions and Incentives

Sales promotions and incentives have a financial value to the consumer and are used in the short term to stimulate awareness or lead people to participation. This type of promotion can be categorized as promotional pricing, free offers, prizes, and celebrities.

Promotional pricing-Buy two get one free, half-off admission, family discount night, discounted entrance fees with a soda can
Free offers-First lesson free, children under 6 free, passes for free admission
Prizes-Free T-shirts, door prizes, contests, giveaways
Celebrities-Local or national celebrities used as spokespersons or available at events or for autograph signings
Sales promotions and incentives are most often used to introduce new programs by offering free trials, attract new clients to programs, stimulate more frequent use through such offers as participate in five programs and get the sixth free, and stabilize fluctuations in demand by offering discounts for off-peak times such as inexpensive indoor tennis-court time in the summer.

Personal Selling

Direct, face-to-face communication with the intention of creating an exchange is considered personal selling. Although many customers dislike the idea of salespeople, personal selling is an everyday part of many jobs in the leisure services industry. Some people will be involved in hard-core selling such as being a part of the sales staff at a major hotel with the job of bringing in large conferences and meetings. Other jobs in the field focus less on sales and more on providing information that leads to sales. For example, the youth sport coordinator at the YMCA may talk daily to parents whose children are interested in learning a new sport. The coordinator discusses the benefits of the program as well as details on how to register. Although it may not seem like direct selling, that is what the program coordinator is doing: using face-to-face communication with the intention of convincing the parent to register the child for the program.

Publicity

Publicity is any form of exposure that is not paid for by the agency and over which the agency has no control. This exposure is most often received through the media and is instigated by the agency in the form of a news release or public service announcement. A news release is sent to print media (i.e., newspapers or magazines) whereas a public service announcement is sent to broadcast media (i.e., television or radio). The news release and public service announcement offer basic information about the event or program and are sent to the media in hopes of obtaining free coverage on an upcoming event. The downside to this free coverage is the lack of control. The media may run the information at their discretion, including when, where, and what information is announced. Although positive publicity received in this manner is helpful, it cannot be the sole promotions effort.

In addition to positive publicity, negative publicity can also occur. Obviously an agency would not seek negative publicity, but certain events occur that are reported in the newspaper or through other media outlets. This may include such things as a death on the river with a white-water rafting company, a staff member arrested on child pornography charges, or unsafe practices at an ice rink. Agencies must learn to deal with these situations and be as proactive as possible in dealing with the media.

The promotions mix is complex and must be planned out thoroughly in order to best utilize the resources available. Not all programs, events, and attractions will be promoted in the same way since they have different target markets, have different message needs, and are at different places in the life cycle. A well-thought-out promotions campaign can go a long way in ensuring a successful product, especially if that plan follows the AIDA approach using a balanced mix of promotions to move the consumer from awareness to action.

 

This is an excerpt from Leisure Services Management.



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Leisure Services Management With Web Resources
Leisure Services Management prepares students for the challenges they’ll face as entry-level recreation and leisure managers. The book outlines the essential knowledge and skills that successful managers need to have, and by using experiential learning activities, it helps students build those competencies and encourages them to think as managers.
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