Marketing Matters: What Did You Learn?

by Steve Cony

Camp fairs provide excellent opportunities for you to make contact with your prospects, get them more excited and committed than they already are to the concept of a camp experience, and convince them that your camp is the best choice.

The key word here, however, is “opportunity.” A camp fair is an opportunity to accomplish all three of the stated goals only if you come prepared and if you take full advantage of the contacts you make. Otherwise, a camp fair can become a frustrating exercise in public relations-type smiling and hand-shaking with results that feel anonymous and superficial and produce too few enrollments.

Here are some suggestions to help you prepare for your next round of camp fairs:

  • Determine your camp’s core selling proposition — what sets it apart from other camps — and make that the focus of your display. Unfortunately, too many camp fair booths feature groups of expected photos that could be easily shuffled like a deck of cards and then redistributed among other camps’ displays — and few would know the difference. If every camp display shows one child rappelling a climbing wall, a second sitting contentedly in a sailboat, and a third waterskiing — all shot from the same repetitive angles — how is a family to distinguish between camps?
  • Choose only members of your organization who are ready and eager to enthusiastically sell the merits of your camp. While it may look great to staff your booth with young, well-scrubbed counselors, these people are often not the best representatives. And, despite their excellent relationships with children, they may not have an adequate stake in promoting your camp’s enrollment. At one camp fair a camp’s young staff members eagerly handed every single passerby a copy of the camp’s video, regardless of their age or interest. The young counselors smiled sweetly but made no attempt to begin a conversation. Here is an example of nothing more than random distribution of cassettes, with no planned purpose.
  • Develop methods to create a meaningful dialogue then capture contact information for every real prospect. Most camp fair attendees are neophytes; they don’t know the issues, and they don’t know the real questions. You can help them by presenting your perspective on the “World of Good” message and then by getting beyond just facilities, amenities, and activities. Make sure that, once they show interest in you, they feel the interest returned. Before that happens, give them a reason to want to know more about your camp. Find something different to post on your display or to hand out as people walk by. Think of a compelling question you might ask as people casually stroll down your aisle. Once you have their interest, get contact information.
  • Follow up with a note, a phone call, or an e-mail message. If you are the first to make contact after a camp fair, you will stand out among other camps the family may be considering. If you jot down something about the child next to their phone number, you can refer specifically to these people and their particular situation. Of course, you do not want to seem overbearing. However, remember that many of these families are confused about their upcoming decisions and would actually like to know that somebody really cares about their questions and their needs.

Helpful Guidelines

As far as your display and your participation during the camp fair itself, here are some guidelines that corporations – those who rely on trade shows as primary marketing tactics – make sure to follow:

  • Don’t write more on the display than participants can easily read as they stroll by.
  • Don’t chew gum.
  • Don’t lean back against the display.
  • Don’t sit down.
  • Don’t appear any less than neat and professional.
  • Don’t wait for every prospect to approach you.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for the sale if the situation feels right.

Many feel that a camp fair is nothing more than “window shopping” and that it would be a violation of some rule of etiquette to ask for a commitment on the spot. Unless the camp fair actually does have some guideline to that effect, you should take every appropriate opportunity to make the selection process easy for a family. If that means making the shopping process shorter by bringing it to a conclusion, then both sides win.

Remember the Children

As with every phase of promoting camp, it is important to remember the children who attend a camp fair. You must outwardly show your concern for their questions and interests. Equally important, you must find a way to keep them occupied while you converse with their parents. For example, you could run a contest at each fair for children to guess the number of acorns in a large jar. The prize could be a camp T-shirt.

Specialize Your Video

If you bring your promotional video to camp fairs, have the videographer edit a special version. Choose a sequence that can be viewed in five to six minutes, featuring scenes that give you the opportunity for valuable added personal commentary while the tape rolls. (By all means, do not include those same-old-same-old video shots of the climbing wall, the sailboat, and the water skier!) A good idea for your camp fair video is to include interviews with staffers — those who are not in the booth with you but who would be excellent salespeople if they were available.

Attract Attention

Don’t be afraid to do more in order to attract attention. At one camp display staff members mesmerized the milling throngs with simple magic tricks.

Some camps choose to attract attention by distributing souvenirs. If you do so, make sure that the item says something memorable about your camp. An interactive puzzle book that reminds children about your camp’s unique features does more to reinforce your message than a Frisbee or a small stuffed animal.

Evaluate the Camp Fair

Finally, it is only fair on your part to judge each camp fair in terms of its value to your own selling effort. Some may be beneficial, others not. In some cases, insufficient publicity on the part of the sponsor may generate sparse attendance. In other cases, the physical facilities may do more harm than good to your image and your participation. In yet other situations, you may come to the conclusion that it is simply not your market. Do not become a creature of habit and renew your participation annually against your better judgment. Adjust your camp fair itinerary so that it meets your selling needs.

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 1999 November/December issue of Camping Magazine.