This is an excerpt from Aquatic Center Marketing by Judith Josephs.
Municipal facilities and small corporate facilities that have tight budgets may not be able to hire quality musical entertainment or performers. That's OK, because I propose that there's a fail-safe way to entertain your guests without the expense of professional entertainers. Our communities are filled with dance studios, martial arts studios, fitness centers, regional theater groups, amateur musicians, artists, step teams, cheer squads, poets, and more. If you are lucky enough to have a stage or an entertainment area such as a shade structure, patio, or even an entry pavilion, you are on your way to offering community talent showcases. All you need is a flat surface and a portable sound system. The performers get free admission; their friends, relatives, and fans have to pay the entry fee. If you are feeling especially philanthropic, you can offer a buy-one-get-one admission. These types of events will expose people such as grandmothers to a facility that they might never see under normal circumstances. Chances are, they will return and purchase a ticket. Even if they don't, they will talk about your facility among friends and post photos or videos to social media sites; in essence, they do the marketing for you. Allow performers to have an information table or accept donations if your agency allows fund-raising on your property.
It doesn't have to only be about performances. There are many organizations in your community who would love the opportunity to have an information table that's educational and entertaining. For example, the local arboretum could give a class on plants, insects, and the environment. Consider hosting a health fair with your local hospital and EMS. Chiropractors love giving lectures and demonstrations. How about a fashion show from a school or local fabric store? Ladies' nights with massage chairs, hair braiding, and yoga sessions all provided by local commercial and nonprofit providers have all been successful using this model. Provide chairs and a tent, and you have an event.
So why aren't more aquatic centers holding special events like these? I understand that it is difficult enough to operate your facility, but summer interns, volunteers, and seasonal workers are perfectly capable of scheduling these activities and working the performances. For facilities that take this challenge on, the possibilities are endless.
How do these relationships pay off in addition to exposing new potential members to your facility? With Facebook, Instagram, and other social media, it's all about the likes. Partnering with local organizations, businesses, and nonprofits in promoting their presentations and performances will result in exposure, new follows, and likes. These numbers will reproduce daily and provide you with free exposure that is far more influential than a simple display ad or press release. Community-based events often get local or regional news coverage. During slow news seasons such as the summer months, interesting entertainment at your facility will attract attention. Getting local news outlets involved makes for great background video for weather reports on their station. The more unusual the event, the greater the chance is for TV coverage. If you can't attract local television, take video of the event yourself and post it to your social media accounts. Who knows; it might go viral!
Show Your Style
Special events are great promotional tools when they show your passion and imagination. If you pump up the volume on your special events with theming and unique partnerships, you have a much better chance of making a lasting impression on participants. The more creative and special your events are, the more buzz you will get on social media and the more likely you will be to get TV coverage.
Presenting themed special events does not necessarily mean they have to cost more. With some creativity, you can theme your special events for the entire season with simple props, costumes, and gimmicks. Under the Sea, Happy Birthday Mascot Party, Swashbuckling Summer, Knights to Remember, Country-Western Fun, and Superhero Summer are just a few ideas that have left my customers wanting more. The value in setting a summer-long theme is the reuse of props, costumes, and promotional items. With themes, you also have the opportunity to work with others who value your imagination. The Knights to Remember appealed to Medieval Times, a themed restaurant chain. They jumped at the chance to be part of the action and sent costumed knights, princes, and princesses to the event, offering coupons and photo ops with the kids. The mascot at the Summit Family Aquatic Center dressed in a king costume and rode in on his trusty steed. The nearby Union County stables heard about the event and welcomed the chance to bring Brutus the quarter horse to the event. He wore a crown as well, and rode in with Shark Diddy (King Diddy that night), to the amazement of our guests. The Union County stables were happy to offer photo ops with Brutus and distribute information about their riding lessons.
Everybody wins when you theme your events. Sometimes, the theme comes to mind first and then the partnerships fall into place, while on other occasions the partnership comes first and then the theme materializes. Watch for trends and world events to help to visualize your themes. The anniversary of a film such as The Wizard of Oz can kick off a summer of themed special events that are sure to please. Instagram, Facebook, and other social media platforms explode with photos and comments on the events, especially when photo ops are provided. When your mascot rides into your aquatic center on a horse or poses as a pirate in front of a ship, you are going to get likes on your social media.
Keep up the theme on dry land and in the water. Cannon-ball contests during your Swashbuckling Adventure, with your mascot as the judge, are sure to impress. Take photos with your underwater GoPro, and you have a YouTube sensation. Pirate-themed party games, a pirate magician, and a DJ in costume make an event even more memorable. Members and guests see that you care, and they are sure to come back for more. The greatest promotional value gained from this type of creativity is that everyone is talking about your aquatic center. Kids will rave to their friends about how much fun they had. This type of experience is found at private swim clubs and other commercial aquatic centers. Kids are key influencers that marketing firms respect, and the kids in your community are going to insist that their parents buy a membership or visit frequently to be part of these types of events. The condo pool, swim and tennis club, and fitness pools will pale in comparison. Even the large, high-energy parks cannot offer the same level of participation in events like this. Make everything you do memorable, and you will have them clamoring for more.
Always be sure to have a step-and-repeat banner as part of your event plan, as detailed in chapter 8. Every aquatic center or water park should have one. Each photo becomes an instant advertisement. With the ease of sharing photos through Facebook and the web, photos of the event with your logo boldly in the background gives your aquatic center exposure that you could never afford to buy. Give your guests at special events lots of photo opportunities to post on Facebook. They are the best form of free advertising, and something really cute could go viral!