The Case For Keeping It Simple

We all want to put our best effort forward when we serve our communities. Often we can get wrapped up in dreaming up ways to make our programs and events bigger, and therefore better. While this instinct is natural, I’d like to posit some ways that keeping recreational opportunities simple can have benefits such as promoting inclusivity and equity, preserving your (and your team’s) sanity, and ultimately help you achieve your programming goals.

Note: For the purposes of this blog post, the words “program” and “event” will be interchangeable.

Promoting Inclusivity and Equity

Running programs require resources, which require money. While each municipality may have a different philosophy on the role of finances in Parks and Recreation, one fact remains true: Every community has residents in varying economic situations. As additional activities are added, the cost of running your event increases, equating to an increase in the fee charged to participants. Sadly, some families are priced out of programs if the fee is too high. While scholarships can help offset this financial challenge, the truth is some families won’t even consider asking for a discount if the advertised price is too high for their situation. By keeping programs focused on one or two central activities or attractions, you can offer a less expensive and more inclusive experience for your community.

Preserving Your (and Your Team’s) Sanity

As more aspects are added to your event, there is more for you and your team to coordinate and manage before, during, and after the event. While everything may look perfect on paper, when you add people to the equation, there are countless challenges that can arise. Maybe a vendor calls and says they will be late. Maybe 10 volunteers signed up to help, but only 5 showed up. Maybe you communicate instructions to a team member in charge of an activity, but as soon as you walk away to check on another area, that person changes the rules (and not in a way that improves the execution). The point is, people all have their own opinions, level of work ethic, personal issues, and unlimited facets that can cause problems that you have to solve. 

To be clear, I am not saying people cannot be trusted. This is just a disclaimer to consider who is on your team and their strengths and weaknesses to determine if the additional activities will enhance your program or lead to headaches and unfortunate optics. Know who you can rely on, and what your team can handle at this point in time.

Achieving Your Goals Through Simplicity

Keeping your programs simple actually allows you to more effectively run them at a larger scale in the future. For example, maybe you run a vendor fair that is simply an opportunity for residents to stop by and purchase from the sellers. Once you have the core activity solidified, with safe and effective arrival, setup, and breakdown logistics, you can add another layer if your team can handle it. You can add a simple kids activity like a movie so parents can shop without distraction. Maybe you bring in a food truck or live music. Allow yourself and your team to stand firmly on one step before climbing the entire staircase. Would you rather rush into a full production, be overwhelmed, and potentially encounter safety issues, or would you rather take your time, successfully manage all of the aspects, and run the event you actually wanted to share with your community? Furthermore, you can use participant feedback to build the event around what your community wants.

A Word on Expectations

Residents may have expectations about what a program or event should include, and how things should be run. Often this is based on an event from somewhere else, or an imagined scenario in their head. You can control this to a degree. In your marketing, only advertise activities that you know 100% you can deliver. Allow any additional items to be icing on the cake. As long as you deliver everything that you explicitly promised, you have done your job. You can take feedback into account as ideas, but do not feel like you let anybody down if you hear comments about what “should” have been included in the event. This is your program, and even if you’ve inherited it from someone who held your job previously, you have the right to adjust it to your style and make your own mark on the event.

In Conclusion

There is a place for extravagant Disney-like experiences, but ultimately our work as Parks and Recreation professionals is to foster social connections. It’s not about the shiny attractions you have at your event, but the community experience it offers.

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Practical Marketing for Recreation Events

You’ve ordered all the supplies, scheduled the staff, and worked out the logistics and schedule for your next event. Now you have to market it!

As I write this, I’m marketing Montgomery Township’s 20th Annual Autumn Festival. With so many moving parts, there’s a lot to communicate. There are also a lot of places to put the message, and the channels of communication seem to keep stacking up. It’s enough to make my head spin, and event marketing is a major part of my job as a Public Information Coordinator.

The good news is that you don’t need to be a graphic designer or social media wizard to get the ball rolling. Below are some quick tips to put together a practical marketing plan for your programs and events.

What do you do if you don’t have a knack for marketing?

Start with what you know

Begin by simply listing the basic information:

  • What is the event’s name?
  • Where will it take place?
  • When will it take place?
  • Who is it for?
  • How much does it cost?
  • What is included?
  • Who can people contact for more information, or where can they go to find information?

Select supporting photos

If this is a recurring event or program, select a few photos from the last time you held it. These don’t have to be professional quality, but they should showcase some of the activities that take place. People respond more to programs and events that show engaged attendees having a great time.

If you don’t have photos, pick an image or two using a program such as Canva that represent the event. Canva offers a free version to begin designing.

Design a flyer

Don’t be intimidated by the word “design.” You can use Microsoft Word, Microsoft Publisher, Canva, or any other program you are comfortable with to make the flyer. As long as it has the answers to the basic questions and a few photos or clipart graphics, your flyer will get the message across.

Pick Your Channels

This is where it gets tricky. Instead of getting into the many channels, you can use to communicate, just think of what you currently have. My recommendation is to have the following:

  • Website – This is your home base where all information is available. All social media posts and email newsletters about the event should directly link back to your website or event-specific webpage.
  • Social Media –Stick to one platform and do it well. If you’re comfortable expanding to more social media platforms, go for it at the right pace for your organization. If all you have is Facebook, that’s great! Despite what you hear about the decline of Facebook as a social media platform, it is still my experience that you will engage with the most members of your community on Facebook than other social media platforms.
  • Email Newsletter – Ideally you have access to an email newsletter platform. Putting your information in front of people who specifically opt in to receive your updates has tremendous value and is extremely effective.
  • Print Media – Many organizations are reevaluating their relationship with print media. It’s expensive to print and mail, but it does help reach the population less comfortable with using the internet. Including basic information with some direction about where to find more information can at least increase awareness of your event.
  • Local news outlets – Form relationships with your local news outlets so they can publish your event on their website.
  • Word of Mouth – I assure you, people are talking to their friends and family about events as you share information. In fact, this is the best marketing you can ask for!

Work with Your Communication/Public Information Office

If you have a good relationship with your coworkers responsible for Communication/Public Information, use them as a resource! Their job is to get the word out. As someone who has been on both the Recreation programming and Public Information sides, I cannot stress enough how important this relationship is if your municipality has the resources. As long as you provide accurate information for your Public Information Coordinator to work with, they can help get the message out to the public.

I hope this provides a basic overview of how to market your event using the resources you have. There’s nothing groundbreaking here. Like most other things, it’s about mastering the fundamentals.

 If you have questions, reach out to me at dmuller@montgomerytwp.org . Happy marketing!

The Ghost Town Trail Challenge

Ghost Town Trail Challenge, what’s that? Simply put, you’re tested on your physical and mental ability to hike or run the entire 32 mile stretch of the Ghost Town Trail, which spans from Indiana to Cambria County. Challengers begin their journey at 7:00AM and are encouraged to finish before 8:30PM. The trail maintains a consistent positive grade the entire time, making it no easy task. Challenge? Very much so.

The Cambria County Conservation and Recreation Authority (CCCRA) held the fourth annual Ghost Town Trail Challenge on Saturday June 15th, 2019 as the second event of their 2019 Cambria County Trail Series races.

And this was the best year yet, breaking records across the board. 374 participants came from as far as Dublin, Ireland to take on the challenge. The number of walkers and runners for the full 32 mile challenge tripled from last year, while numbers for the 16-mile challenge and 7.5 mile challenge also gradually increased. 340 individuals completed the challenge which started in Saylor Park, Blairsville and ended in Ebensburg before 7:30PM.

What makes this event so successful?

From a participant perspective, this is a challenge, not a race. This has attracted competitive runners, recreational runners, and every day walkers to participate in this event on the nationally ranked Ghost Town Trail, to see how long they can accomplish their goal. Pre-registered participants by a certain date received premiums such as beer growlers with a coupon for a free fill of Rusted Rail from the Ghost Town Trail, made by local brewer Coal Country Brewing, as well as a high quality t-shirt. All finishers received a ghost “woodallion”, which is exactly as it sounds, a wooden medal shaped like a ghost.

What REALLY makes this event so successful?

Medics and volunteers at the Dilltown Trailhead aid station pose for a photo op while waiting on more runners and walkers to arrive.
Photo by Momentum Photography

Let’s be honest, you can’t do anything right the day of an event without a great crew working behind the scenes. Some volunteers, like participants, came from several hours away, to help with the event. Aid stations with first aid supplies, snacks, meals, and drinks are provided every 5-6 miles along the trail. EMS and First Responders were also located at many of the aid stations, as well as traveling by ATV and bicycle along the trail, to ensure participant safety.

Profits from the Ghost Town Trail Challenge, as well as the other races in the Cambria County Trails Series, go back entirely to the Cambria County Trails. The first event of the 2019 Cambria County Trail Series was the Path of the Flood Historic Races held on May 25th, which attracted over 900 participants to celebrate the 130th anniversary of the Johnstown Flood. The fourth and final event of the Trails Series will be the Jim Mayer Family Fun Run/Walk 5K and 10K on September 7th, also in Johnstown.

Participants jump for joy as they soon approach the mid-way point of the 32 mile challenge.
Photo by Momentum Photography

You can view official race results on UltraSignup. Visit the Cambria County Conservation and Recreation Facebook Page to view photos from volunteer photographers Momentum Photography and This Year Photo Co.

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