Marketing Matters: You're It!

by Steve Cony

Admit it — boasting is fun every once in a while.

As a camp director and/or owner, it is important to understand that you play an important role in your camp’s image. Therefore, you must have a presence in your marketing materials. It is a mistake to withhold yourself from your brochure, video, Web site, etc., out of some false sense of modesty.

Your optimal role, however, goes way beyond simple boasting. A camp that is entrusted with the well-being of a child must not appear in any way anonymous during the camp-selection process. A parent does not send a child off to a place but rather to a group of caring people. As camp director and/or owner, you must satisfy prospective parents’ questions about who exactly is in charge here.

As the American Camping Association so aptly states: parents ask, “Who will care when I’m not there?” The answer is the camp director and/or owner and everything that trickles downward from your inspired and inspiring leadership.

How Do You Play Your Role?

The first step in preparing your own personal part of the marketing message is to analyze how you play your role at camp. You are part nurturer, part administrator, part motivator, part enforcer. If you maintain very close relationships with what is going on outside the office and throughout the camp, you may even be part playmate for the campers. Every director comes to her or his job with a unique personality and a specific skill set. It is important for your preliminary self-analysis to identify the rough percentages that these various roles take in how you actually do your job.

Camp tours
Perhaps the best way to begin this soul-searching is to reflect on your role in camp tours. Do you give them or hand that duty over to others? If you hand the duty over, do you participate at the beginning or end of each one? What do you talk about? What kind of questions do parents and children have specifically for you?

If you don’t conduct tours as a matter of course, how about your role in mid-winter seminars, school presentations, camp fairs, and home visits? Think about the tasks you have evolved for yourself in the face-to-face aspects of your marketing program, and you will begin to define a similar role for your presence in the “mass media” of your program.

It should be a similar role, because you would not want prospects to perceive a certain version of you that then becomes confusing when they actually meet you — or vice versa, if they meet you first and receive the marketing materials later.

How Does Your Marketing Message Reflect Your “Style”?

Once you are satisfied with a “profile” of your directorship style, it must be translated into messages. For your brochure and Web site, the most familiar format is a letter from you to the parents, accompanied by one or more photos of yourself. The message should encapsulate the aspects of your camp that you identify as most distinctive — and should make plain how you initiated and/or have maintained these attributes. Your message to parents should be compatible with the overall message and tonality of the total brochure or Web site. This letter should end with a clear statement of invitation to enroll the child.

Your photo can be a simple head-and-shoulders shot, but you can also consider props that make a statement about your involvement. If you are more the administrative type, you might hold a clipboard and look off into the distance. If you become directly involved with activities, you can do as some directors do and appear in costume or even clown makeup.

Promotional videos
The more complex issue is your role in the camp’s promotional video. If you can characterize yourself as having a flair for the dramatic and if you are confident of your performing skills, you can consider being an on-camera “tour guide” or voice-over narrator. Most camp directors choose to have a lesser role in the video, but it is important for you to be there in some way — and to be identifiable. Usually, this level of involvement takes the form of an interview.

For this segment, advance preparation is important. If your videographer just summons you in the middle of a shoot day, sits you down, and rolls the camera, a lack of preparation on your part will often yield an unsatisfactory end result. Think in advance about a conversational version of that letter you wrote for the brochure and Web site.

Your preparation should include a written list of those points you want to include in your video message. These should be available to you — off-camera — for easy reference. Do not feel that you must deliver your entire message in one long scene. It can be done in sections and then edited together — your videographer will know how to do this effectively.

This taping session should be carefully scheduled at a time when you are available to work on it until it is satisfactorily finished. (Do not expect that it will be wrapped up in five minutes.) On that day, make sure that you look the way you want to look for the next three to five years. This is a polite way of saying that still and video cameras do not lie. Many camp directors view their finished brochure or video and bemoan the fact that they didn’t do anything to make themselves look good at the time of the shoot.

When the tape does roll, be sure to look directly into the camera. On many camp videos, interview subjects are talking to someone who is obviously off to the left or the right of the camera. The viewer is left to wonder whom this might be. If you believe in that old adage about the eyes being the window to the soul, you will want to communicate sincerely with the viewer and to establish the same type of eye contact as if you were sitting across from her or him.

Does Your Marketing Message Build Trust?

It all has to do with the response you desire from the reader or viewer of your marketing materials. You are looking for the reader or viewer to have the following kind of rational/emotional reaction to your message:

“I believe that I can trust him/her. I have lots of questions about specifics at the camp — things that are important to me and my child. But for starters, I like what they do at the camp, and I like what the owner and/or director has to say about it. He/she seems very dedicated and to truly understand the value that the camp has for its campers. I’ll call them.”

Prospective camp parents believe that you see all and know all at your camp. Even though their rational side understands the impossibility of this, their emotional side believes that you know exactly what each child ate for lunch every day. It is their way of saying that bunk counselors and group counselors may come and go but that you are there permanently, as a point of contact and a repository of trust. You can use your appearances in your marketing materials to help assure them of your role — your care, your concern, and your trustworthiness. The camp that excludes the director and/or owner from its front-line imagery makes the mistake of looking impersonal and subject to undesirable change, with nobody identifiable at the helm.

Instead, you have the opportunity to fulfill the role of “host” and to perhaps do a little purposeful boasting along the way.

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 2002 November/December issue of Camping Magazine.