Marketing Matters: Good Questions

by Steve Cony

Educational sessions at camp conferences and section meetings always produce important and interesting questions. Here are some of the most frequently-asked questions.

If I only have a budget for one project, which should get preferred attention — my camp brochure or my camp video?

This most frequently posed issue has no simple answer. Today’s families lead fractionated lives. For every person who prefers a brochure to a video, there is another who says, “I don’t have time to read all that text; can’t I just sit and watch it all via my VCR?” So, what is a camp to do?

Preferably, develop a budget that can accommodate investment in both vehicles. If you plan carefully, new videos and new brochures won’t be annual projects. A strategically developed video or brochure will not need revisions for a minimum of three years.

OK, but I can still afford only one project right now. Which one?

Children and youth are exerting ever-growing influence on their families’ camp decisions. They like action and music, and they watch a lot of television. In addition, parents desire the security of feeling like they have “been there” before sending their children off to sometimes distant and remote locations. The video certainly imparts the feeling of touring the facilities. All this would point toward thinking video first.

How long should my camp video be?

Your camp video should run as long as it takes to present a unique and memorable message about your camp and not one minute longer. (Sorry, this is not a definitive measurement of timing.) Effective ones have ranged from six minutes all the way to thirty-nine minutes. The average length of most camp videos is twelve to fifteen minutes, but that does not mean you must conform. Plan your story carefully, include elements interesting for both children and adults, and then tell your videographer to get it all in and bring it to a conclusion. Remember that a video promotion is not a video yearbook.

Should my camp have a Web site?

Yes . . . probably. As with the use of any medium, you will be more likely to see positive results if you carefully determine your objectives before just “pushing the button.” Several years ago, it was enough to just be on the Web. Now many camps have Web sites, and you must determine your resolve and your capability to produce one that is exciting and unforgettable. Most important, remember that a Web site is a highly flexible medium that can serve multiple needs. There is a very successful resident camp that uses its Web site primarily as a means of communication with current camp families, all year long, and not as a primary tactic to attract new registrations. Know what you want to accomplish, and make sure the Web site developer clearly understands your objectives and needs.

How do I involve my staff in developing the marketing message?

You need staff testimonials about the joy and the results of working closely with campers. You also need staff cooperation when it is time to photograph the camp for the brochure and/or video. You do not need democratically gathered input, and it is unlikely that counselors are capable of helping you plan the marketing campaign. In fact, young staff members often bridle at the idea of promoting camp because they do not understand your business needs. In short, staff involvement in the marketing process should be selective — the future of enrollment patterns at your camp should never be put to a vote.

If I heighten communication of the camp image, how will alumni react?

If you remain true to the essence of your camp, even while ratcheting up the way in which you describe it, you have done your job. There is no question that some alumni will react by saying, “What have you done?”

You must ask yourself whether this reaction is likely to be temporary or, more important, whether you need to be concerned. Many of your alumni are no longer in the target audience. Even if they do have young children of their own, they represent only a fraction of your market. The majority of your target audience does not know about your camp and must be reached more persuasively than your alumni families.

How do I convince my board of the need to change the marketing plan?

If you are governed by a board, it is important to understand that, even while some or many of the members may have expertise in child-related fields, they are not likely on the front lines with children. Tape a few minutes of Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel and buy copies of child-targeted magazines such as Sports Illustrated for Kids and National Geographic’s World. Bring these to your next board meeting and use them to help board members understand why a highly traditional and conservative message is no longer impactful among the children and youth you want at your camp.

Why don’t prospects seem to remember my marketing materials?

You must give both parents and children “hooks” with which to remember your message. People are bombarded with a daily flood of stimuli. Even at that time of the year when a camp decision becomes a priority issue for a family, it still must share mind space with all the other concurrent issues that keep consumers distracted and even frazzled. You must ask yourself some tough questions before you cry “unfair” about your marketing materials’ lack of memorability: Do I have a true brochure with a message or is that booklet really just a catalog of rates, dates, and administrative information? Does my video look distinctive or is it just one more collection of travelogue scenes that make my camp look like all the others?

How do I know if the art director’s idea for my brochure is good?

The best way to make a decision regarding creative approach — about which there is no definitive right or wrong — is to see alternative approaches. By seeing multiple options, you can feel good about one direction because you prefer it to others. Therefore, it is important to ask for two or three alternative creative concepts.

How much does all this cost?

Usually this question is expressed in reference to a specific project — a video or a brochure or a Web site design. Once again, there is no simple answer. It is not unlike walking into one of those huge auto malls and asking, “I need a car. How much does it cost?”

A brochure, a video, a Web site, or almost any marketing tool can be developed internally or by a professional resource. It can be long or short. It can be given a significant degree of gloss, or it can use more economical materials. All these factors affect cost. Your best assurance about pricing is to decide what you want and then secure competitive proposals.

These serious and thoughtful questions generated in conference sessions show how strongly camp leaders feel that the marketing process does contribute to the future success of their operations.

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 January/February issue of Camping Magazine.