Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Marketing Public Leisure Services: Some (Temporarily) Pessimistic Perspectives from an Unrepentant Optimist

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Marketing Public Leisure Services: Some (Temporarily) Pessimistic Perspectives from an Unrepentant Optimist

Article excerpt

My chosen academic specialty is the marketing of leisure services, especially in public and not-for-profit contexts. This pronouncement might come as a surprise, nay, even a disappointment to people who know that, as an adolescent, my heros included former United States Senator Phillip Hart. Unabashedly liberal, but respected on both sides of the aisle, Senator Hart was a consistent and forceful advocate of social and environmental justice programs and a student of the issues from which they arose. My father and I spent many hours together, putting up signs and distributing Hart campaign literature door to door in the early 1970s. By the time I started college several years later it was common knowledge that Senator Hart was ill, but I still recall the surreal mix of shock, sadness, and even pride when, in December of 1976 while traveling through Kentucky on vacation, the radio newscaster announced somberly that "Senator Phillip Hart of Michigan, `The Conscience of the Senate,' is dead." What a lightening bolt! I suspect that those words still resonate for me much like another newscaster's frantic description of the Hindenburg disaster does for many people decades after it was uttered in 1938. Few of my early heros, including Senator Hart, likely spent much of their productive lives studying the finer points of marketing, whatever the context or application. How then, could a young person of such lofty ideals be seduced by the seemingly ubiquitous, many would say insidious, marketing theory?

Marketing has a short 20-year history within North American public sector leisure service delivery contexts and, suffice to say, its critics are numerous. We are constantly cautioned against adapting the vernacular of the merchant. Canadian writer John Ralston Saul (1994) has forcefully argued against corporatism in all of its manifestations and spoke to the power of language, specifically corporate language, in influencing and sometimes stifling public debate. Respected business professor Henry Mintzberg (1996) stated unequivocally that "I am not a mere customer of my government, thank you. I expect something more than arm's-length trading and something less than the encouragement to consume" (p. 77). And no less a figure than our own "Conscience of the Academy" Tom Goodale (1997, 1999) has spoken and written repeatedly regarding the dangers of marketplace interests overwhelming the larger interests of community and society.

In addition to the legitimate philosophic concerns just introduced, I believe that there are some tremendous challenges which must be overcome if marketing is to be effectively performed in public leisure service delivery contexts. Indeed, as I look back on 15 years' experience in wrestling with them, I am less, rather than more, convinced that these challenges can be overcome, at least in the near future. Johnson Tew et al. (1999) suggested that marketing theory and practice, at least in public sector leisure service delivery contexts, remain miles apart. There are numerous reasons for this. One relates to marketing-related education, or lack thereof, among leisure services professionals. Many agencies believe that they have fully embraced marketing principles, but few actually have done so. Effective marketing is deceptively complex and the philosophy must be understood and embraced by all personnel if an agency is to successfully market over the long term. The first generation of leisure services professionals who had any systematic exposure to marketing theory during their academic careers, those who entered college circa 1980, are likely just now reaching upper level management positions in meaningful numbers, suggesting that marketing principles have likely been only partially understood and sparingly applied at the policy level. The importance of education notwithstanding, political and fiscal realities most likely provide the leading reasons for the slow diffusion of marketing concepts. Consider the following six issues. …

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