Marketing Matters: Weather Report: Letting Your Camp Shine

by Steve Cony
So, how was your weather this year?

Our nation experienced one of its less resplendent summers in terms of weather. If you were located in one of the more blessed areas, you were fortunate. But the South suffered relentless heat. In the Northeast summer began nicely and then degenerated into what at times seemed like uninterrupted rain and accompanying record chill. In many states in the Midwest and in the greater New York area, the mercury did not hit 90 degrees once during the months of July and August.

In the Northeast and Middle Atlantic states some camps reported the need to haul out any and every rainy day activity they had ever learned. One or two admitted that even their most valiant efforts failed to hold spirits at reasonable levels. Other camps claimed that they even surprised themselves at how they were able to keep campers happy as they sat under rooftops, tents, and overhangs.

Weather’s Impact on Marketing

Coping at camp is a very important part of your total marketing image. If a camper writes home and reports being miserable, not because of homesickness, but because of rain-induced boredom or heat-induced discomfort, you will have to fight hard to overcome such a negative.

The key point here is that you must remain proactive in communicating your side of the story. Your Web site, your newsletter, and your ability to send special ad hoc communications home during the camp season all offer opportunities to make sure parents get a balanced story of daily life at your camp. Those camps that feature a camp news portal on their Web site in order to allow parents to remain connected during the camp season should use both photos and text to portray the reality of what is going on at camp and to offer proof of the camp’s success in dealing with adversity.

. . . you simply must work hard to make your camp look unique and different from the competitive choices.
Some time back during the recruiting process, you — of course — mentioned your preparedness for rainy days and the availability of water and sunscreen. But, that is not enough. All those parental concerns seem to balloon when the rain or the heat becomes a reality. That is the critical point when you must start over again, with the objective of maintaining a solid base of camper retention.

Address Adverse Issues Proactively

The subject of adverse weather is just an example of one issues that should not be swept under the rug in the course of marketing. Another example is homesickness. Some camps produce volumes of material yet never mention homesickness, as if it simply does not occur or is not allowed. Other camps use the reality of homesickness to underscore the staff’s preparedness to lend support to campers. The latter strategy is more straightforward and offers one more opportunity to promote the camp’s expertise.

Let Your Camp’s Uniqueness Shine

Too often a camp strives to present an impression that makes it look just like all the other camps — and thus does nothing to differentiate it from the pack. If you serve a unique niche or sector of a population, let people know about it. For example, a resident camp evolved to significant popularity among thoughtful and often intellectual children. Put more directly, it seemed to appeal to those children who willingly listened to Beethoven and Bach rather than to Britney Spears and ’N Sync. When it came time to produce a new brochure, a decision was made to include a prominent photo of a boy sitting on an Adirondack chair — and reading Shakespeare! That photo became highly noted among both parents and children and received uniformly positive comments.

If your most valuable marketing tool is word of mouth, then you must give your prospects something to talk about!
Another example is a large day camp that serves a diverse population and also provides a sincere welcome for children who are physically challenged. The camp directors and staff have made a targeted commitment to this important population. The brochure, the video, and the Web site all make prominent display of campers on crutches and in wheelchairs, all being lovingly assisted by caring staffers. This is not a camp dedicated specifically to a special population, but these images make a strong point about the camp’s commitment to nurturing. You can say “mature, caring, professional staff” all you want; however, it is far more impactful to show it with indelible images.

If a family is considering multiple options when choosing a camp, you simply must work hard to make your camp look unique and different from the competitive choices. When camp begins to look like nothing but a blur of program choices, schedules, rates and dates, then you have forfeited the opportunity to make you camp look vital.

When you put yourself in the place of a prospective parent or child, you can begin to see that some of your own efforts can begin to look pretty same-old-same-old. Include a photo of children having fun in the rain, reading a book during rest period, or conquering a challenge while in a wheelchair, and you will break free from the “monotone” of climbing walls, horseback riders, and swim instruction. If your most valuable marketing tool is word of mouth, then you must give your prospects something to talk about!

Steve Cony is a marketing consultant who assists children's camps with the development of strategic plans and the execution of marketing materials. Camp directors may contact him at 914-271-8482.

Originally published in the 2000 November/December issue of Camping Magazine.