Marketing has long had a place in the planning and management of public sector recreation. In particular, the use of market segmentation has allowed leisure providers to better understand their clientsgas needs and to tailor their services to the diversity of those needs. However, the use of marketing approaches is not without controversy and is sometimes perceived to be at odds with the public service or stewardship mandates often associated with recreation management. We suggest that wholesale adoption of basic marketing principles (such as the notion of giving people exactly what they want at a great price) may be inappropriate. An alternative form, relational marketing, may be better suited to public purpose organizations.
Relational marketing focuses on the development or fostering of a relationship between the public and the public agency. Thus, relational marketing focuses on building confidence in the agencygass ability to guard the short- and long-term interests of the public. For example, for land management agencies, these objectives are embedded in legislative and policy mandates to provide outstanding opportunities for recreation, while at the same time protecting and enhancing the environment. Relational marketing seems better suited to these objectives compared with transactional marketing, which is more dominant in private sector businesses.
Whereas transactional marketing focuses on fostering current and continuing purchases of goods and services, relational marketing extends beyond the direct economic exchange. In the public recreation settings, the public is considered more than a current or potential customer, they are also considered an owner or shareholder of the agency. Thus, repeat purchases or customer satisfaction are not sufficient measures of success for organizations with a public service mandate. Instead, relational marketing considers the perceptions that the many different groups of the public (e.g. participants and non-participants, supporters and non-supporters) have of the agency and its actions.
The research reported here conceptualizes the relationship between the public and the agency into three dimensions: social trust (the degree to which individuals perceive the agency to share their views, goals, and values); commitment (the investment, attachment, and longevity of the relationship to the agency); and social responsibility (which includes attitudes towards the goals or public purposes of the agency). A market segmentation based on these dimensions yielded distinct subpopulations of the general public.
The challenge for public agencies, such as the Forest Service, is to be responsive to the different relationships the public has with the agency. Collaborative planning efforts must acknowledge and incorporate knowledge of these differences in social trust, commitment, and social responsibility. Any public action or policy change should consider how it potentially affects the varying publicgass relationship with the agency and the services it provides. Managers must demonstrate stewardship, care, responsiveness, and continuing service to todaygass public and future generations. Any interaction with the public (e.g., marketing) should focus on the intended public purpose which guides the agency.