How to get the most from hiring out your park

The hire of parks requires a marketing plan, a usage strategy and commercial focus, says Sid Sullivan.

Parks services are vulnerable to budget cuts, so a strategy to generate more income by marketing and managing events in your parks and open spaces is vital.

In my experience, income, costs and profit are not well understood by councils, particularly the extent to which profit can be maximised by factoring in the value of status and intellectual property rights. What follows is an entrepreneurial approach that combines strategic and operational issues and advice.

How, then, can generating income be reconciled with maintaining an accessible parks service without compromising the sustainability of the service, its users' access or the council's corporate objectives?

Commercial approach

Your business plan must have a business-centred focus to achieve a profit that is commensurate with the "commercial value" of the let or use to the organisations that hire your facilities. In fact, the first objective is to set two fee structures - one for commercial users and a separate one for charities and community groups. The fee structure should be a menu of items that you can provide to allow the hirer some freedom of choice.

From this point onwards, the marketing approach is the same for all users. Establish the commercial value of "lets" and ensure that you have a legally enforceable contract that regulates the use of your intellectual and other property rights. Such a licence must include repeat fees for subsequent use of the photographs taken by the hirer. You should also restrict the context and circumstances of any re-editing and republishing of those images.

To ensure that you are dealing with reliable organisations, do not allow intermediaries to act for the principals and always seek written references to confirm that an organisation has the financial ability and expertise to run the event.

Pre-planning and understanding what you want is vital. Decide what you will offer, calculate the asset value of the locations and how they might be valuable to a potential client. For more guidance on this, consult the marketing trade press and talk to your colleagues.

It is also vital that you decide which industries and organisations can hire your facilities. If you wish to protect your reputation and "green credentials" then some organisations might not fit with your brand values.

A checklist

You will also require a checklist of matters that must be considered and that require written guidance:

- How and to what extent will you minimise disruption to your users while the event or hire is active?

- To what extent will local bylaws restrict usage and prescribe access and egress?

- How will you comply with the 2003 Licensing Act? And what is your policy on the sale or complimentary provision of alcohol?

- Who will own the photo archive that the client will generate as part of the hire?

- Who on your team will be responsible for: PR during the hire or let; the regulations regarding noise and other nuisance; and the accidents and incidents register?

Other actions that you should carry out include:

- Conducting a satisfaction survey before and after the event to gauge the extent of its success.

- Preparing maps that show access, egress and evacuation routes and determine delivery, collections, building and "break-up" times and dates.

- Determining in advance the extent and construction of all temporary structures.

- Limiting the use and presence on-site of all animals associated with the event or hire. You should also forbid the client's family and friends from attending the site except as a paid and insured employee.

For most public events, toilet facilities are essential, and so is adequate drainage and generators for electricity and lighting. Additional costs for these facilities must be charged to the hirer. Once these matters are resolved, all you need to do is ensure that you have a bond to secure reinstatement and that you collect a non-returnable deposit from your client - 20-25 per cent of hire fee is common.

You will appreciate that event and park marketing involves time, effort and expertise. A single point of contact within your service is essential if you are to make a profit and ensure that you minimise your risk. Charging a solid commercial rate for the use of your estate will not just return that contact's salary in full, it will also deliver a significant return on that investment.

Sites and services

You should also publish a brochure of the sites and services on offer, and advertise in event and hire trade magazines. It is a competitive market and you must be both visible and cost-effective. Consider offering two or three packages in partnership with local businesses or perhaps your landscape provider. You might offer security, building works, catering and so forth. This approach is often attractive to clients and helps you to contribute to local small business regeneration objectives.

There is still significant income to be generated from events and the hire of parks and open spaces, but it requires a marketing plan and usage strategy. It also requires a commercial focus that recovers all costs, insures against unforeseen impediments, protects your brand values and makes a realistic profit.

As well as creating extra revenue, effectively marketed and managed events and promotional use of parks can also enhance reputation and bring a wider cross-section of people to use and value your green estate.

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