COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space

How to Market a Park

Dec 31, 2008
Dec 14, 2017

by Julie Franz

Director of The Arts Marketing Center of the Arts & Business Council of Chicago

Franz is an accomplished market researcher and marketing strategist with nearly two decades of experience in both the for-profit and non-profit arena. In working with Urban Parks Institute attendees on conceptualizing a marketing strategy for a park, she tried "to help people understand how to ask the right questions, and to provide creative problem-solving techniques to determine a solution appropriate for the particular park situation as the basis of the marketing strategy."

Marketing is the entire process by which one comes to understand the relationship between product and customer. Marketing is not PR, not posters, direct mail or advertising. It is a process of examining the world in which you operate, including your customers, your competition, and what you have to offer. Promotion, which is what most people think of when they consider marketing, is one of the last steps in the marketing process. If you start with promotion, without first understanding your competition and your customers, then you are saying all the wrong things to all the wrong people.

Understanding the relationship between product and customer is achieved by first examining a park in a rigorous way to look for problems and assets. One way to do this is to consider what the park's internal Strengths and Weaknesses are, and then what its external Opportunities and Threats are (this is known as a SWOT analysis). From the answers, a strategy for solving the problems uncovered can be developed.

Marketing is very similar to dating: it's pointless to wander up to somebody, spend three hours talking about yourself, and then expect them to ask for your phone number. The same is true when dealing with the public.

The first step is knowing how to ask the right questions. The following "P's" should help you in developing a marketing plan:


Whom do you serve? Who are these people as individuals? Whom would you like to serve (what is your target audience?) What needs and core values do they share?


A positioning defines you relative to your competition. The three main components of positioning are:

Who is the target?

Who is the competition? What else does the target like to do with their free time

Why is this park a better choice? What differentiates this park from its competition?

What is your image:

If there is a single thing you would like people to remember about your park, what would that be? What is the image of your competition? A helpful exercise would be to list the top four or five leisure activities of your customers. Try to understand what it is that your customers value about those other experiences. Brainstorm as a group regarding the strengths and weaknesses of your organization, compared to the competition. List ten things that your park, and only your park, does well.

Competitive Exercise

List 4-5 key competitors.

List 10 adjectives describing each, from your customers' perspective.

From the 40-50 adjectives, what similarities do you find?

How can your organization meet these needs in a new way?


This can be translated as time and effort. How long does it take to get there? Is it far from a train? How much is the transit fare? Is parking easy and affordable?


Is it hard or easy to get to? Are you asking people to go somewhere unfamiliar? This is a particularly difficult task. Do you have to bring the services of the park to your target, instead of waiting for them to come to you?


Once you have determined what you want to emphasize about your park, how do you go about communicating that to people?

Language is very important in this regard. It is important to use the language of the constituency you are dealing with. Be wary of "loaded" language (for example, stewardship is a word most people are unfamiliar with). Instead, learn the language of the customer. You want to understand your common ground, and very often that is going to mean speaking the same language.

Distinguish between promotional activities you pay for (direct mail) and those you do not (press articles), and understand how each one impacts your customers differently.

Reach out to leaders who represent groups in the neighborhood. This could be anyone from a spiritual leader to the organizer of a community garden or a card club. These leaders can communicate your message and mobilize your customer base much more effectively than you can. You can go through the planning thing all you want, but if you don't tell people what you want, and don't ask them to do something specific for you, nothing will happen.


Look for the small projects first, and let them accumulate into progressive change. There is no need to address a "big bang" when a series of smaller projects can build towards that, and eventually obviate it.

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