This is an excerpt from Aquatic Center Marketing by Judith Josephs.
Throughout my career I have been called a shameless self-promoter because I understood the value of branding and promotion long before many of my parks and recreation colleagues caught on. Last time I looked, there wasn't a line behind me ready to market me, my department, or my talented staff. It's up to you to create the energy! Perhaps shameless self-promoter should be a badge of honor, as long as it isn't at the expense of others.
I have shared various approaches to developing community consensus for an aquatic project on a budget. If you execute those steps, you've already created some buzz about your new or renovated facility. Whether that buzz is good or bad, it's still creating conversation and excitement in your community. Now you have to keep that momentum going, and it may be hard. Many public projects take years to come to fruition. A talented and committed staff will be able to continue the excitement no matter what the season or budget. It just takes some creativity, a willingness to try even if the results aren't stellar, and a sense of whimsy that will appeal to all ages. I've often referred to this approach as the salami effect. Am I suggesting you create a marketing and promotional plan that's like an Italian sausage? I sure am! You have to deliver excitement, one slice at a time, just like you slice salami to make a great sandwich.
As discussed earlier, there is a perception that government can never get anything done. Even though you have done a great job promoting your public meetings, referendum, study, or community consensus building, there will still be those who don't believe the facility will ever become a reality. Getting through the planning and zoning board for commercial aquatic center development is not much different—the host community must see you as an asset and not as a problem waiting to happen. It's your responsibility to find each and every opportunity to create an event, make a splash, or submit a press release to keep up the buzz.
My Least Favorite Approach
I've worked with several communities that wanted to promote their new facility and get the community excited by selling passes or memberships well in advance of the project's start or completion. Some folks in the political arena have posed this as a challenge to recreation professionals to prove there is community support. They also think that giving away memberships and passes at a promotional price will result in record numbers. This type of hype in government can easily work against you. Until people see the construction under way, they will still have the perception that this is another project the government will turn into another fine mess! If the membership sales before construction don't meet the expectations of governing bodies, panic can easily set in. In addition, projects that sell memberships with a promised opening date can find themselves in a public relations nightmare when a facility misses its projected opening day. Whether for a public or private entity, you should be prepared for possible refunds or season extensions for outdoor facilities. Think about coupons and passes for the following year that may have to be offered. Don't make promises you can't keep. It could have a two- to three-year effect on your bottom line. The public never forgets and won't be shy about reminding you of a broken promise.