Marketing Matters: Are You Ready?

by Steve Cony

If they come . . . will you be ready?

Every summer affords the opportunity to record still photos or video footage for use in marketing tools that will attract enrollments in your camp. If this is the summer when you engage the services of a photographer or videographer to come and capture the images, will you be ready?

Reflect for a moment on this unfortunate scenario: Your camp hires a video company. The crew arrives at camp, and both you and they realize that little or no preliminary discussion has taken place. But, there they are. You hastily try to rustle up a staff member to escort them for the next two or three days, but nobody has been given advance notice of their schedule or their needs. It comes time to record staff and camper interviews. Respondents stand in front of the camera, speechless, because they have given no thought as to how they can best express their feelings. Everyone does the best they can in this "punt" situation, and the end result is inevitably disappointing.

How can you avoid this? Think of five sequential steps that together spell "image."

I: Investigate
Find creative photographers and videographers that make you, your campers, and your staff feel comfortable. Choose people you feel will interact positively with your staff and campers when recording them on film. A photographer with the behind-the-lens skills of an Ansel Adams won’t cut it if he is temperamental and does not communicate easily with the subjects.

M: Manage
Nobody ever shot memorable images by just standing in the middle of camp and pressing the button. Consider the planning of a photo or video shoot as a project to be thoroughly managed. Just because the crew may be creative and have vast experience does not mean that they know your camp and can thus take over. Set objectives and then agree on a plan to achieve your goals. Make sure that the photographer or videographer is comfortable with their ability to complete the assignment within the time allotted.

A: Advise
Inform your entire camp about what is about to happen. Start with the staff and have them carry the word forward to their groups. Make sure everyone knows that this is more serious than sticking their noses into the lens like those people who try to get their faces on TV during the morning network news shows.

Often a video crew leaves camp with interview clips that do not include the emotional, heartfelt thoughts that are shared around the campfires. Why? Because your folks don’t know her or him. Your campers and staff are not likely to open up to the camera on the spur of the moment unless you have told with them beforehand how important their thoughts are. Your staff and campers need to think a bit about what they want to say, and they need to know how important it is to you and to the camp that they speak from their heart.

G: Go for It!
Build positive anticipation for the shoot and make it a fun-filled occasion, not a time of annoyance due to disruption or a time of dread due to camera shyness. Make sure your camp looks great from every possible angle. Since the people are the most important part of the camp, make sure they look great, too. Those who are likely to be featured in major interviews should want to be there — and they should look like they belong there.

E: Exult
Take pride in a job well done when you see the photo or video shoot proceeding productively. You should not feel self-conscious about planning a confident and stylish promotion. Marketing is a vital part of maintaining and growing a camp operation. Occasionally a dedicated staff member may express the feeling that promotion is against the pure traditions of camp. This is wrong. If your camp indeed provides children with significant experiences in growth, learning, and self-development, then you have every right — and the responsibility — to see that as many children as possible find your camp, understand and appreciate your camp’s vision, and enroll in your camp.

Pointers to Prepare for the Shoot

Based on what I have learned from past experiences, here are some pointers to make the most of your camp’s video or photography shoot.

In advance of the shoot:

  • Manicure the grounds three days before and then give the gas-powered lawnmower people the day off.
  • Get rid of all the miscellaneous vehicles parked all over the place.
  • Day camps, figure out where to hide all those big yellow buses.
  • (OK, here’s where I get into trouble, but this next one is sincere.) Suggest to all who will be emphasized in the filming or photographing that they pay advance attention to their hair and (when appropriate) makeup.
  • Review the locales that will be involved. Stand back and look at them carefully. (You’ll know what to do next, including patching the screens.)
  • Make sure important staffers will be scheduled to work during the shoot.

On the shoot day or days:

  • Serve delicious-looking food.
  • Don’t insist upon rigidly following "The Schedule."
  • Maintain an exceedingly positive attitude toward the crew; your modeling will filter downward immediately.
  • Have fun, and just keep in mind that this will probably not occur again for another three to five years.

Don't Forget about Bunk Life

Don’t let the crew go before they thoroughly cover the bunks. Yes, those structures that many camp directors are not really proud of. That is the facet of resident camp that children say they want to really understand. After all, most children who are scouting first camp experiences have been swimming and most have played tennis, but few have slept in a cabin with six or more others for a week or longer. They want the visual reassurance that they will enjoy this, so show them.

Using In-House Talent

Some camps choose to produce the images in-house rather than hire outside professionals. If this is your situation, the same tips and pointers apply to the staff members chosen to record these precious images of camp. Your staff members must take this assignment with utmost seriousness and dedication. In addition, the staff members can be encouraged to actually leverage their familiarity with the campers and fellow staffers to elicit more personal moments. As an example, the on-staff videographer at one camp stood right at the buses on the last day of the season and campers allowed him to get close-up footage of their tear-stained faces. He recorded indelible images, such that no outsider would have been allowed to get in the same way.

The key to obtaining successful marketing images of your camp is the amount of involvement a hard-working photographer or videographer — and you — commit.

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 2001 January/February issue of Camping Magazine.