Marketing Matters: Spelling Counts

by Steve Cony

There is much about the total camp experience that creates an ambience of informality — summer, warmth, blue skies, school vacation, recreational dress codes, and experiential learning versus academic learning. Camp professionals often want to extend this air of informality throughout the camp’s total interaction with parents and children. Please don’t.

There is a potential pitfall here that must be scrupulously avoided. Never confuse natural informality with a license for laxity.

Your marketing program represents you at a point when prospective enrollees and their parents do not yet know much about your camp. They are examining your messages — and often comparing them to the messages of your competitors — for any and every cue to help them form an opinion of you and your practices.

Many of us have fond remembrances of our school years and such scenes as: When we would begin math or science tests that included essay questions, some student would inevitably ask, “Does spelling count?” The questioning student figured that since the test was not about English or social studies, correct spelling should be irrelevant. Some teachers would say yes; others no. It is apparent years later that the permissive teachers were not doing the students any kind of favor. Instead, they were reinforcing an acceptance of carelessness.

Shift to today. Camp marketing materials are too often filled with spelling errors, typos, and grammatical horrors. Why? Who really knows? Perhaps there is some feeling that camp is “natural” and “back-to-basics” and that exacting disciplines like proper use of the English language are irrelevant. On the other hand, the people who are creating the messages may simply not be relying on effective backstops to check their copy before it is distributed.

Seen from a different perspective, however, this situation is a mine field. The different perspective mentioned here is that of the educated parent. To such a reader or viewer, little things like “effect” or “affect” and “council” or “counsel” and those apostrophes to the left or to the right of the ending letter “s” do indeed get noticed — but only when they are used wrongly. Haphazard use of English — particularly in a printed piece — simply communicates carelessness on the part of the author. And carelessness is not a desirable attribute for an institution which is entrusted with children.

Add to this the fact that many camps boast senior staffs made up largely of educators, and you have a real credibility problem when your first opportunities to interface with the target audience — your marketing package — contain errors.

Our newest medium of camp marketing communications probably sports the most flagrant offenses. We are speaking hear of your Web site. The Web site presents itself as an ideal place to be current. Unlike a brochure that gets printed once every three to five years, the photos and text on a Web site can be changed constantly. Unfortunately, Web sites get activated, and then are far too often ignored. As a result, dates remain unchanged. Rates remain posted throughout the active year then remain on the site past the camp season, when they no longer apply. Asked why the old rates are there, camp directors are known to reply that the rates for the coming year have yet to be finalized. Fine, but you must delete the now outdated rates and temporarily refer to “watch this space.”

Every camp publishes it’s rates and dates yearly. For some, this is the entire brochure; for others, it is an insert for the more permanent marketing materials. In either case, this piece deserves careful scrutiny before printing. The last place anyone would want to find a mistake is on the very instrument used for specifying payment and other terms of enrollment and participation.

The only place where the “reality” of spelling and grammatical errors can be considered acceptable is a newsletter format which includes submissions by campers. Young children’s spelling and grammar can have a certain charm. However, this leniency should not be extended to staff members. Even first-year counselors should be perceived as sufficiently caring and careful to be willing and able to write correctly.
Here are some suggestions to help you ensure a positive image:

  • All printed materials — including Web site content — should be proofread by three different people before being made public.
  • If all three proofreaders agree on needed corrections, you are done. If two out of three agree on a particular correction and the third does not, it is necessary to go to a next confirming step. Do not simply figure that “majority rules.”
  • Understand up-front that commas and apostrophes are the trickiest — and deserve special attention.
  • The Web site should be reviewed thoroughly during the week following the camp season, and then should receive a page-by-page once-over at least monthly throughout the year. This maintenance check should include not only the accuracy of all copy, but also the functionality and navigability of the site.

That last point brings us so the issue of organization. You have a lot of information to impart and this should be done in the most orderly and accessible format possible. Experienced Web surfers have come to expect a certain general pattern for wending their way through a site. Said differently, certain types of information and various levels of detail are expected to be in certain places and to require certain established paths of navigation. Take a look at popular Web sites and learn from the experts.

Brochures should feature the general information at the beginning and the more detailed data next, all clearly labled for easy skimming and access. If you place your materials in a pocket folder, consider an alternative to stuffing a stack of eleven-inch high single sheets. That alternative could be a series of cards, graduated in height. The card at the back of the stack is the expected eleven inches, and then each preceding card is slightly shorter. The top of each card shows a header band, labeling the information that will be found there.

The rise of the DVD format has made it possible to restructure and divide your camp promotional video into chapters — like a sequence of notable scenes in a movie. In most cases, however, you will want to think carefully before doing this. Your promotional video is your selling story. It should have a beginning and an ending — with a logical progression of topics and feature/benefit descriptions in between. Dividing your DDV into click-able chapters could have the ultimate result of putting your viewer in charge, thus taking control of your selling story away from you. An example — soccer is just one offering at your camp. If you chapter-divide your video and then label soccer as chapter sixteen, avid soccer players may skip right to that point, watch it over and over again, and evaluate your camp based solely on their most favorite sport. This is clearly not the usage you intended for your exciting, multi-faceted, and comprehensive video presentation of the total camp.

The time and effort you put into meticulous proofreading and careful organization of your marketing package will reward you with marketplace perceptions of your camp as professional, well-run, and trustworthy. In short, these perceptions support an overall feeling of confidence in you.

Now turn immediately to page 58 for a final important note about this column.

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 or e-mail scony@biggeridea.com.

 

Originally published in the 2003 May/June issue of Camping Magazine.

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