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Supplement Feature - February 2008

Get your Feet Wet

Creative Programming and Marketing Draw Aquatic Crowds

By Richard Zowie


Water activities are becoming more and more popular among American cities with people viewing aquatic programs as both a refreshing way to beat the summer heat and as a creative-but-effective way to get some exercise. How do these cities go about creating and then promoting aquatic activities? By creating an aquatics marketing plan that not only attracts new customers, but also helps retain previous ones. While creating the plan can be a tedious process that requires much time organizing, marketing, implementing and making changes as necessary, it's turning into a crucial tool to attract interest, develop commerce and give residents a creative outlet for fun and exercise.

Because the term "aquatics" can be ambiguous and subject to broad interpretation, when implementing an aquatics marketing plan, it's necessary to initially identify the various user groups and consider what they want and need, said Mick Nelson, Club Facilities Development Director for USA Swimming. "Your audiences will range from toddlers in learn-to-swim classes to senior citizens to the competitive swimmer," he explained. "Therefore, you need to develop a marketing strategy that takes into account each of these different groups."

TARGET YOUR COMMUNITY'S NEEDS

Having a specific aquatic marketing plan tends to go against the grain of what many local governments have done in the past, said John Whitmore, superintendent of Aquatics, Golf, Tennis Civic Center and Marketing for the City of Denton, Texas. "Traditionally, municipal recreational departments have used a shotgun approach to marketing to economically reach all citizens," he explained. "All smaller programs can get lost in a deluge of other programs and activities. Somebody, centrally, would look for aquatic and may not know about other aspects of the programs. They might want swimming lessons for kids, not knowing other options are available, such as adult swimming lessons and exercise lessons. We try to expose those markets to something more than just what limited view the public might have."

This means examining the community and trying to customize an aquatic plan according to its needs instead of attempting a "one size fits all" approach.

To get an idea of how to plan an aquatic program, Whitmore looked around at local areas in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, such as Garland and North Richland Hills. What he found is that they had waterparks (not a bad idea, considering Texas' notoriously brutal summer weather) and combined the park with swimming lessons or traditional aquatic programs.

This works, Whitmore explained, because waterparks are more regional in nature. He estimated they receive about 25 percent of their business from non-residents.

"What we try to do is create distinctions between ourselves and others—not political distinctions," Whitmore said. "We try to promote the uniqueness and quality of our aspects."

Whitmore said that when designing their aquatic program, they also consulted with Horizon Amusement Group—which runs a series of waterparks and commercial enterprises. They helped the City of Denton to create an initial plan, which was then heavily adapted to be used in the public eye.

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