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Marketing Matters: It's All in the Timing
You’ve made it through another camp season. Every year is filled with new twists and turns. The 2000 season seemed to be characterized by significant efforts in staff recruitment — and equally significant levels of procrastination in other areas. Many camp directors expressed their own frustration with the inability to successfully tackle marketing. Interestingly, it was never really a case of indecision; it was always a case of beginning the process too late.
It is easy to overlook the critical importance of careful marketing planning. After all, it will never affect an enrolled camper if your brochure, video, or Web site falls short of its goal. The enrolled camper has already been — well, quite obviously — enrolled. That is why transportation, maintenance, food service, staffing, program, and other related issues always take precedence over marketing. If transportation was late, buildings dilapidated, staff untrained, or programming lackadaisical, it would have a direct effect on campers.
So marketing — along with other “background issues” — waits on the proverbial back burner. However, prospective campers are as important to the sustenance and longevity of your camp as are enrolled campers. Therefore, it is critically important to find a way to get marketing off that back burner. A marketing calendar may help you make it happen.
Creating a Marketing Calendar
When should you take on each step in the marketing process?
Gather the opinions of others. Make calls to supportive camp families and ask them what convinced them to choose your camp. Then make even more important calls, to those camp families who rejected your camp in favor of another. Ask these families why they declined the option of your camp, and encourage their honesty and candor.
January: Action Plan
Starting at the top of the first list, form a plan by which to replace those elements in Group A and to revise or enhance those in Group B. If possible, find a way to cluster the various individual elements into groups of projects where continuity can then be improved.
Begin to make commitments to these outside resources. Remember that the earlier you can commit to needing outside help, the more likely you are to receive priority in the fall when you want materials to help you with your recruiting process.
If you limit your interaction with camera people to a brief negotiation, you are short-changing yourself, robbing your camp of the opportunity to make a more unique statement in your marketing materials.
This is the best opportunity to make sure that you are going beyond just sprucing up what you have done before. Each time you create a new brochure, new video, or revise your Web site, you have the opportunity to make a significant advance in the message you are sending about your camp.
May: ACA Message
The “World of Good” story has made it easier for many camps to move beyond simply communicating rates and dates and to help families recognize the value of the camp experience. In doing so, they have also found new perspectives on their own camp operations that help them to market with more impact.
June, July, and August: Go for It!
September and October: Evaluate
Just as you maintain calendars for recruiting, staffing, ordering maintenance, and many more vital aspects of camp operation, your marketing deserves its own calendar. It is the best way to make certain that marketing gets off that back burner and onto your plate.
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 September/October issue of Camping Magazine.