Marketing Matters: The Care and Feeding . . .

by Steve Cony

As you strive to perfect your total management capabilities, there is a fine art to extracting maximum results from those who contribute toward your camp’s success.

For example, sessions on staff training and motivation are always sellouts at the national and regional camp conferences, as directors and owners endeavor to learn how to optimally leverage the innate people skills within their counselors and specialists. From each season’s first day, you want staffers to summon up every ounce of their abilities to work with and lead and nurture campers. Thus, you provide them with tools and with motivation to keep them going — right through the summer doldrums — right up to the very last day.

Marketing Resources

Another management function that deserves this kind of attention is the development and production of your marketing program. It is likely that you enlist the services of outside resources to help produce brochures, videos, your camp’s Web site, direct mail programs, and public relations/publicity programs. Knowing how to interact with these creative resources and how to encourage their work on your behalf will reward you with better, more hard-hitting, and more convincing selling messages.

Who are these resources? They can be as mechanically based as the local copy center or printer. It could be the local newspaper’s advertising department. Moving up the ladder, there are photographers and videographers, graphic designers, and copy writers. Finally, it could be the services of a local or regional advertising agency with whom you entrust much or all of your coordinated marketing campaign.

When choosing a printer, ask to see a portfolio of the company’s work. Does everything register precisely? In photos, are any cheeks too pink or any eyes too blue? If you wish to have the printer provide graphic design services, ask what level of in-house art direction is available and make sure to see samples of that person’s work. Do not be intimidated by printers’ “shop talk”; ask to have any and all unknown terms fully explained. Set deadlines that are fair to the printer, but then insist that they be met.

If your advertisement is to be laid out by the newspaper, make sure the advertising department understands that you do not wish to look like all the others — you want a distinctive look for your advertisements. Ask the newspaper to recommend the use of a unique space unit for your campaign.

Graphic designers
When engaging the services of a graphic designer or writer, remember that the results you get will be in direct proportion to the degree of understanding this person has of your total operation. Because someone has a talent for design or for generating promotional copy, there is no reason to expect automatic intuition or mind-reading capabilities on his or her part. Thorough briefing is mandatory, including your description of the higher value of the summer camp experience.

When a graphic designer is to prepare an advertisement, a direct mail piece, a brochure, or Web site design scheme, ask for alternatives. After all, the best way to be convinced that you like a certain design is to compare it with one or more, which you like less. When creative professionals, present their work — be kind! People who perform creative functions are very protective of their work — after all, it is a display of their imaginations. Your critique should be constructive, and outright rejection must be accompanied by a strong rationale. The worst way to lessen motivation in a creative professional is to say, “Nothing that you have presented grabs me very much! Go back and do some more!”

It is often wise to show layouts or manuscripts to others for a wider variety of opinions. However, choose this “jury” carefully. Many people have no ability to make judgments such as you may be requesting, yet it seems everyone loves to be an “advertising expert.”

Photographers and videographers
When a photographer or videographer is to visit camp, make sure to develop a detailed plan. Random shooting of whatever happens to occur on a given day will not yield the kind of rich subject matter that you deserve. Stress the need for unique camera angles and for those “special shots” — even if some need to be posed. Discuss contingencies with the professionals, including weather. Make sure to secure your staff’s cooperation in advance of the shoot day or days.

Advertising agencies
If you decide to engage the services of an advertising agency, shop carefully. Ask candidate agencies about their experience with child-centered products and services. While many will not have had direct experience with another camp, you should be sensitive to client situations, which are at least related to the kinds of messages the agency will generate for you.

Once hired, make sure to leverage the ability of your new advertising agency to provide strategic thinking. Advertising agency professionals are marketing experts. If they cannot get beyond basic design, layout, and copy writing to really help you expand your business, they are probably not the right resource for you.

Ask an advertising agency — point blank — where you fit among all their priorities. It is unlikely that your budget will make you one of the agency’s largest clients, but the uniqueness of your “product” should give you a reasonably prominent position on the agency’s roster. Make sure you are getting your fair share of attention and that you do not become lost in the shuffle.

Identifying and Achieving Objectives

Regardless of where you go for assistance with your marketing program, your objectives should be threefold:

  • superior quality perceptions of your camp,
  • unique differentiation of your camp from your competitors, and
  • overall feeling of control and continuity.

To achieve these objectives, you must make sure any and all of your resources understand the need for:

  • high quality visual imagery — a crisp-looking logo and font selection, superior quality photos, and video editing;
  • careful communication of a unique positioning for your camp; and
  • continuity of message — a collection of marketing materials that looks and sounds like it belongs together and as if it comes from a single source.

When you work with outside resources, it is critical for them to understand these objectives and strategies before they begin their work. They must know that you are looking for more than just words and pictures to fill up a specified amount of space in a brochure or on a Web site, or to fill out a predetermined length for a video.

First, all must understand the sanctity of your logo. It should be used with perfect consistency, regardless of the medium. The logo should be simple, easily reproducible, and fun to look at. The name of your camp should be expressed in a font that communicates the essence of your camp and the experience that children benefit from while with you.

The best way to get the most out of your outside marketing communications resources is to be a good client — one who is demanding yet fair, who wants the professionals to do good work and to make a fair profit in the process, and who is appreciative at the end of the process.

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 May/June issue of Camping Magazine.