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Savvy Marketing Strategy Makes Headlines

by Amy Wolford

The Decatur Park District provides this Central Illinois city of approximately 85,000 with unique programming throughout the year. A look at its summer events shows programs like Camp I Can for children with special needs, which gives them the opportunity to ride horses, swim and engage in other fun activities. Another park district brainchild is the 25-member Decatur Park Singers, providing outstanding entertainment in area parks throughout the summer. But participation for these programs is generated by an equally savvy marketing strategy as simple as something black, white and read all over.

Due to increasing postal rates, a cost analysis by the park district prompted it to distribute its seasonal activities guide as an insert in Decatur's Herald and Review daily newspaper. For the second year, approximately 44,000 guides for summer, fall and winter/spring will be printed by the paper's advertising department, for a nominal cost of $6,000.

"We usually pick a Saturday to send the guides out," said Rachel Cunningham, Community Relations Coordinator for the park district. "More people subscribe to the paper on the weekends, so our audience is larger than the weekly circulation."

According to Director of Recreation Karen Benjamin, after response to the weekday distribution of past guides was less than desired, Saturdays were selected as a more optimal circulation day. "It has taken a little while for the guide to take hold," Benjamin said. "The smartest thing we did was stick it in the newspaper during the weekend. In this way, it wasn't wedged in between weekly grocery ads and flyers, and thrown away."

Along with the targeted distribution, individual copies of the guides are sent to local realtors, who can present the guides to families moving to the area. Copies are also given to public libraries, personnel departments of local corporations and high school counselor's offices. Benjamin says she often receives inquiries about the guides at various community functions.

"I've been on the lecture circuit in the community and everyone asks me about [the guides]," Benjamin said. "A high number of people use it for signups, and an equal number of people who never sign up see it and look through it. I talk to my neighbors about it. It has something for everyone."

Park District Executive Director William Clevenger said putting the insert in the Decatur Herald and Review offers another advantage. As part of the paper's own marketing plan, newspaper samples are often sent by mail to attract potential subscribers.

"This makes our distribution a more cost-effective method of reaching a total cross-section of the community," Clevenger said. "While mailing lists tend to be restrictive and expensive, the newspaper is more all-inclusive."

Amy Wolford is the Community Relations Assistant for the Decatur Park District.

Illinois Parks & Recreation July/August 1995 39

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