Marketing Matters: It's All in the Timing

by Steve Cony

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?

November: Analysis
Use the month of November to methodically review the way you market your camp. Inspect and review each interface between the camp and the marketplace: your brochure, your Web site, your video, your direct mail, your camp tour, etc.

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.

December: Vacation
Take the month off. Put your feet up and rest in advance of your upcoming planning/selling season. Do not try to hastily piece together some new marketing materials as a knee-jerk reaction to last month’s analysis. If you did not begin planning new marketing materials the previous spring, it is not likely that you have the right photographs or the right video footage to start over right now.

January: Action Plan
Based on your November analysis, develop a list of prioritized projects. Start with a descending list of those marketing tools that you believe are least effective in closing the sale. Next list those that could stand improvement to become optimally effective. Finally, list those tools that prove the strongest in convincing prospective children and parents to opt for your camp.

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.

February: Shopping
Consider the options you have to help you rebuild or repair the various elements of your marketing package. Weigh the value of returning to those who produced the existing materials versus seeking new resources.

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.

March: Input
Well before your attention must turn to planning for camp itself, outline all the details about your desired marketing projects. The more direction you can supply for photographers, videographers, etc., the more likely you are to get the photos or footage you will need to produce a unique final result.

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.

April: Concept
By now you should be turning brief attention to the overall concept of the marketing materials that will be developed. What will they look like, in general? What basic message will they convey? What will be done to differentiate camp from other summer alternatives?

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
Make sure your resources have exposure to the American Camping Association’s “Camp Gives Kids a World of Good” platform and that they understand the concept of the higher value of camp. Stress the importance of incorporating this message into your own camp’s message, not as an afterthought but as a carefully planned element.

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!
Producing your marketing tools requires images of camp: photos, video footage, sound clips, etc. Make sure your staff understands the importance of the process. Make sure they also understand the inevitability that camp will be disrupted on a temporary basis in order to assure the success of the project.

September and October: Evaluate
Immediately following the camp season is the best time to begin thinking about your marketing needs. With memories of the past season’s tours, open houses, parent visits still vivid in your mind, make a list of priorities in terms of improving and expanding your marketing package.

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.