Feature Article - January 2018
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To Better Serve Those Who Serve

How Recreation Managers Can Support Military and Veteran Audiences More Effectively

By Chris Gelbach

Marketing to Military Audiences Successfully

Whatever your program, it's important to reach military service families at the sources they use when seeking information. Building relationships with marketing contacts at the local MWR department can be helpful in this regard. "They know what's going on with the activities at the garrison, and they can help to promote local activities," said John Patten, chief of recreation and business programs for Army MWR. According to Patten, they can also help steer the right activities to the right audiences, since some Army bases are huge and border on multiple cities.

These are also good contacts to have because military MWR Facebook pages are an important source of information for military families. Haley additionally recommends the website mybaseguide.com, which accepts advertising and is a resource many service members refer to when moving to a new base.

Whatever your program, it's important to reach military service families at the sources they use when seeking information.

Because military families move so often, and are adept at quickly adapting to new environments, it's important to reach them quickly when they move to your community. The summer is the best time to do this since that is also the Permanent Change of Station (PCS) season for military families. One way to reach them is to work with local MWR contacts to get your facility included in welcome packets for these families.

"Our people are used to moving and they do a lot of web-crawling when they're transitioning in and out," Gwinn said. "So the better forward-facing marketing they have, and if they market toward soldiers, it will definitely have an impact."

Beyond the PCS season, learning about the schedules of the military personnel and how they differ from other patrons can also help you serve these audiences better. For instance, many may work early schedules and appreciate early-open hours for fitness facilities. Periods when local troops are deployed may cause a significant drop-off in patrons. And holidays can be an optimal time for targeted programs.

"[Recreation managers] need to be aware of what soldiers' holidays are," Patten said. "That's when soldiers and their families are looking for something to do. If they're off for a federal holiday, there's generally a training holiday on the back end of that, creating a four-day weekend. Which is a lot of opportunity for soldiers and their families to be in the community."

In marketing to military families, it's also important to remember that the primary audience doing a lot of this research work will be the non-serving spouse. This means a predominantly female audience that is interested in youth programs for their children, as well as programming that would appeal generally to a young female audience.

"They want to be part of their community, and if you don't get them fairly quickly, then it just doesn't happen," Haley said. "So to have a process for them to come in and be able to connect and plug in to a broader community is very important."

An Ongoing Commitment

When marketing to military families, it can also be helpful to acknowledge that the process of reaching out to new potential patrons is never over. While you may build relationships with MWR contacts and other partners on base, you will experience significant, ongoing turnover in your military patrons if you live near a military facility. Reaching these audiences and supporting their needs successfully takes ongoing hard work and bridge-building.

"It's worth investing time into. When it works, it can be extremely satisfying," Enoch said. "But nothing's going to happen unless you make the effort. And it's all about relationships. Nothing happens if people aren't connected and all on the same page and understanding what you're there for and interested in sharing resources."