Launching the National Parks Pass
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Holmes Report

Launching the National Parks Pass

In 2000, Ogilvy Public Relations helped the National Park Foundation successfully launch the National Parks Pass, which provides the holder one year’s entry to National Parks that charge an entrance fee.

Paul Holmes

In 2000, Ogilvy Public Relations helped the National Park Foundation successfully launch the National Parks Pass.  At a purchase price of $50, the Pass provides the holder one year’s entry to National Parks that charge an entrance fee. The success of the launch was particularly noteworthy because of the challenges that had to be overcome.  Challenges included the lack of marketing experience by the National Park Foundation, the large task of educating over 20,000 employees, lack of overall brand awareness and a marketing budget limited by federal legislation.
The National Park Service was directed by Congress to develop and launch the National Parks Pass although it had little experience with consumer marketing.  Furthermore, the legislation dictated the $50 price point and imposed very strict limitations on sales margins and expenses, capping all development, production and marketing expenses at 15%, or $7.50 per unit.  Therefore, we had a budget of $500,000 for marketing, media and internal training. Finally, because it was a completely new product, the Pass had no public recognition.
  • Launch and sustain media and marketing for the National Parks Pass to promote sales.
  • Drive sales through all distribution channels – in-park, toll-free telephone and via the Internet.
  • Use the National Parks Pass as a key driver of the overall National Park Service communication strategy by delivering broader National Park messages to all Americans about the breadth and depth of the National Parks.
Quantitative and qualitative research was used to segment the audience, identify desirable product attributes and develop marketing strategies.  Among the key findings:
  • The public had very strong positive opinions of National Parks, but little knowledge about the breadth and depth of the National Park System.
  • Broadening awareness of the System increased the already high public approval.
  • A National Parks Pass had the potential to be marketed as a collectable, provided that the image on the Pass changed each year.
  • A significant internal sell-in would be required to encourage individual parks to promote the National Park Pass instead of local, park-specific annual passes. 
The audience segmentation research identified two categories of buyers, making up approximately 24 million households:
  • Value buyers: those for whom the primary motivation would be the $50 value
  • Stewardship buyers: a broader group of consumers who would be willing, regardless of value, to purchase the Pass because it would support the National Parks.
Because of the limited marketing and communications budget Ogilvy Public Relations and the Foundation devised a strategy that relied on two low-investment, high-return channels:
  • Earned Media targeting those most likely to purchase, including outdoor enthusiasts, family vacationers, seniors and gift purchasers. 
  • Pro Bono Advertising Placements provided by media partners of the National Park Foundation to raise overall brand awareness.
We employed a number of tactics to leverage the limited resources with the strong, yet ill-defined goodwill for the National Parks:
  • Internal Education – We developed and produced a training kit on sales and marketing of the Pass for each of the more than 400 units of the National Park Service.
  • Ad Series – we created bold, inspiring print and broadcast advertising that would entice our media partners to provide ad space.  The series relies on the strong visuals of the National Parks and used a simple two word invitation to connect to the National Park experience.
  • Today Show Exclusive – To garner national attention, Ogilvy Public Relations secured an exclusive with the Today Show for Robert Stanton, the Director of the National Park Service, which included an extended on-air interview and a Pass presentation to Matt Lauer and Katie Couric. 
  • National Media Blitz – We conducted a national media blitz, covering all national print and broadcast outlets in the top 30 markets, supported by satellite broadcast of a “bites and b-roll” package. We also provided Parks with turn key kits to conduct their own local media outreach. 
  • Holiday Gift Promotion – In August, we distributed a special mailing to long lead publications targeting their holiday gift guides. 
In the two months following the launch, the story received tremendous media coverage:
Over 100 local stations ran stories incorporating the sound bites and b-roll package we produced.
Over 450 national and local newspapers ran stories, yielding over 65,000,000 impressions. 
The ad series received over $1,000,000 in pro bono placements.
Media coverage was overwhelmingly positive.  The Pass was perceived by the media as very consumer friendly and was referred to by a CNN anchor as “a screamin’ good deal!”  Media coverage also successfully conveyed desired key messages, including the breadth and depth of the National Park System.
Most telling of all, in the first six months of sales, over 200,000 National Park Passes were sold, primarily at National Park entrance gates where consumers arrived prepared to ask for the Pass.  Online and phone sales were a strong complement to those at the gate.
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