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Feature Article - November 2018
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Spread the Word

Boost Program Participation With Savvy Marketing

By Joe Bush


Hegreness has his own suggestions for marketing on a budget:

  • Before you spend a lot of money, are you doing your best with what you have?
  • Are there things you can stop doing to free up resources?
  • Educating yourself and your staff is cheap and impactful.

"You can take small steps like simply writing better program descriptions, improving copy on your website, or implementing some improved customer service tactics," Hegreness said. "Do customer surveys or focus groups to see what your citizens want or how best to communicate with them. Begin educating your leadership on the opportunities and benefits of improved marketing. Put together a plan that outlines how investing in marketing will generate a return on the investment."

He has another example of how marketing can be strengthened with just some inexpensive tweaks. Westminster has for several years offered a free fitness week at the start of each new year. The facilities were open free of charge to encourage people starting their New Year resolutions to check out them out.

Hegreness said the program was successful in creating a spike in attendance and getting new people in the door, but even though the attendance numbers were strong, revenues were flat, even in years when significantly more people took advantage of free fitness week.

"In 2016 we made one very simple change to this program that took our sales for the week from an average of $15,000 to more than $185,000," said Hegreness. "What was this change? A simple call to action and incentive to enroll. It seems so obvious, but for years the call to action was, 'Check out our facility for free,' and that is what people did.

"By simply adding 'Limited Time Offer on Fitness Passes! Valid Only During Free Fitness Week,' we had an unprecedented number of new guests buy memberships. No, this wasn't a one-time fluke. For the past three years we've seen similar results, even when changing the promotional offer."

Hegreness emphasized that that example is not witchcraft, nor does it require special training. Earlier this year a parks and rec staff member who had seen Hegreness and one of his colleagues, marketing supervisor Rich Neumann, present at a national conference replicated the free fitness week with the special promotional offer.

"They saw 1,000 new customers and did over $100,000 in sales that week, an $80,000 increase from the previous year," Hegreness claimed. "What I love about this example is that this is purely tactical. It isn't a new platform or tool, it is simply understanding your objective—new memberships, not just more visitors—and applying proven strategies of communication and persuasion, such as scarcity, commitment and ownership.

"This is one of my favorite examples, not just because of how successful it was, but how such a simple change in advertising can make such a profound difference—and anyone can do it!"