Marketing Matters: What Did You Learn?

by Steve Cony

The summer of 1998 is over. Your campers had fun and learned new skills and a great deal about themselves and others. Hopefully, you, too, learned more about your profession and sharpened your expertise in camp management.
Now, before the memories of this summer fade with the pressures of preparing for next year, take a moment to reflect on what you saw and heard that could affect future marketing efforts.

Not Just a Pretty Face

Perhaps your most obvious marketing tool is the camp itself. How did it look this summer — to campers, to parents on visiting day, and to prospective families on tour? As you mentally scan the scene, picture your camp’s sign at the entrance. It is your welcome mat, nameplate, and billboard all rolled into one. Your sign should be bright and welcoming, and if its overall quality does not depict a well-maintained total operation, consider replacing it before next season. If your marketing materials include a logo or font that has become standard for your camp, those elements should appear on your sign.

You should also evaluate your camp from the visitor’s viewpoint. How does your camp facility look from a marketing perspective? If visiting days and tours are significant events, then your camp is indeed a showcase. You should think about your camp’s overall visual impact. Perhaps more signage would help. Maybe an outdoor display of major craft projects would enhance the total look of the grounds. Next summer, plan to display creative projects that will make campers feel proud of their accomplishments and that will also make the camp look more appealing and more memorable.

An Activities Assessment

To enhance the marketability of your camp even further, determine those activities that deserve center ring in your description of camp during marketing presentations. Where did campers have the most fun? What captured their imaginations? What kind of events and activities best served their developmental needs?

An activities assessment will also help you edit scenes for your next video or select photos for your next brochure. Always remember to make a specific effort to record camp activities for marketing posterity. If this was the first year that you staged a Backward Day to great acclaim, yet you neglected to photograph the fun, make sure recording this amusing event becomes part of next year’s plan.

Equally important, are photos that portray concentration, achievement, success, self-confidence, and self-pride. If your photo collection does not include these types of photos, make a commitment to collect photos next season that paint a compelling picture of the enriching experience your camp offers children.

Who Said That?

Hopefully the past summer was punctuated with moments when you heard praises from your campers for the experience they had at your camp. Perhaps compliments came from parents on visiting day or from staff members. Make a point of getting back to those people to record their comments verbatim. Filed carefully, they will make excellent additions to newsletters, flyers, and your next camp brochure.

Annual Check-Up Time

Right now is the time to do an inventory of your marketing package. Re-evaluate how effective your various marketing tools are in conveying a total positive image of your camp operation. Do your materials clearly distinguish your camp from other camps by communicating unique benefits for the camper? Does your total package look up-to-date and well organized? Is it now time for the video or the web site you have not needed previously? And, how many brochures are actually left in those cartons on the shelf?

This type of self-analysis can direct your future efforts. If your plans call for a new video or new brochure, this “quieter time” of the year is best for careful planning.

Beyond self-analysis, it is vitally important that you are familiar with other camps in your area and their marketing efforts. (Know thy competition!) Use regional seminars and conferences as opportunities to network with the folks down the road and to trade marketing materials.

“World of Good” Inventory

Your own marketing story should incorporate a discussion of the higher value of a camp experience — customized to reflect your camp. Consider carefully which emotional skills your camp excels at helping children develop; then make certain to promote this as a specific value of enrollment in your camp. Every camp must use its own marketing program to help promote the benefits of a camp experience for all children.

From among these benefits, be sure to reinforce those which most accurately portray your camp as an opportunity to:

  • build values and skills.
  • spend time in a supervised, positive environment.
  • play and learn successfully.
  • be supervised by trained, caring counselors.
  • learn to get along with others.
  • build a sense of community.
  • participate in self-discovery.
  • gain opportunities for self-expression.

Your Unique Difference

Most important, spend time making an inventory of anything and everything that makes your camp’s approach different from other camps’ approaches. This list will help you describe and promote your camp with a marketing message that is memorable and distinctive.

Consider your camp’s specialty or the focus of your programming. Your camp’s individuality may be due to your staff or the way you orient and train counselors. Your camp’s location or the particular amenities you offer may represent the most significant value versus other camps in your area. In some cases, your administrative procedures, such as flexible scheduling at a day camp, may make you unique. Regardless of what you decide, the important issue is to identify your unique selling proposition (USP) and make this central to your marketing message.

One summer can provide the input needed to revise and in some cases jump-start a stale marketing program, as long as you capitalize on your vivid memories of the season now before they grow dim in the rush of the new season that lies ahead.

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 1998 September/October issue of Camping Magazine.