The state parks system is stepping up marketing of the pay-to-park Discover Pass this summer after disappointing early sales.
A public relations firm with a $157,500 state contract and a mission to promote social networking is building a new website that will debut as soon as Friday.
The interactive site, at AdventureAwaits.com, will encourage visitors to post pictures, videos, stories and recommendations from their trips to Washington’s more than 100 state parks.
“It really will allow the user to make this their own,” said Ilene Frisch, assistant director for administration at the state Parks and Recreation Commission.
The contractor, Weber Shandwick, successfully bid for the contract and then drew up a marketing plan in March outlining strategies on everything from Twitter use to greater visibility for Washington State Parks’ mascot – now known as Eager Beaver, but whose name could change based on the results of focus groups.
The agency is involved in another bid process to create a mobile-device app and is also hiring a marketing coordinator, Cathie Tedrick.
Officials hope the efforts will boost revenues from donations, various visitor fees and most importantly the Discover Pass, the fee the Legislature created last year when it ended free parking at state parks.
For $30 a year or $10 a day, buyers get access to parks, state forests and other recreational lands. The agency is banking on the revenue to run its operations, which were mostly funded by taxpayer money as recently as 2009 but now are almost entirely dependent on user fees.
The parks agency originally predicted the Discover Pass would raise $32 million a year, most of it dedicated to parks. But it brought in just $11.3 million in its first 10 months, which ended in April.
Frisch said the pass is now meeting new, lower projections. Lawmakers are hopeful a change they made this year in response to complaints will help sales. Pass holders are now allowed to transfer their passes to a second car.
Officials say one obstacle to the success of the pass has been a lack of public awareness. The marketing website and new posters at parks will depict where the money goes, including park ranger salaries and visitor-center upkeep. The website will link to Discover Pass sales.
“We are obviously going into this (marketing campaign) because we need to be sure we can live on the money we’re earning, and we need to get as much revenue as we can to keep all the parks open,” Frisch said.
The agency hasn’t turned to closing parks but has laid off some employees and cut back the hours of others, moving the system to a more seasonal staffing scheme.
The union that represents many park employees welcomes the marketing campaign, even if it spends money that could go to front-line jobs.
“We view it as much the same as what the lottery commission does,” said Tim Welch, a spokesman for the Washington Federation of State Employees. “You do have to spend some money to make some money, and that’s what I think the Discover Pass marketing effort is going through right now.”
The federation has made its own efforts to advertise the Discover Pass, buying air time on about two dozen radio stations.
The state’s new marketing contractor has experience that includes a recruiting campaign for the Army that invited Army bloggers to tell stories about their experiences.
The agency needed experts in marketing that could bring manpower to the task, Frisch said. She said the agency doesn’t have enough staff.
The new marketing coordinator will start June 1, with duties to include managing the contract. Tedrick will earn a salary of $56,892. She comes from the state Department of Health and has a résumé that also includes communications work for state Senate Democrats, the Association of Washington Cities and the Washington Public Employees Association.firstname.lastname@example.org