There was no possible way that anyone could have catalogued “all the contingencies” on or before September 11, 2001. It was never part of American human nature to spend one’s life endlessly ticking off the “what ifs.” But then it happened — buildings were demolished, people were killed, and lives were changed forever. And now, here we are.
Can we even begin to start cataloguing all the contingencies? Can we, entrusted with annual precious cargoes of children, hope to excel in figuring out exactly how to care for them under any possible circumstances, in a new world with the potential for all sorts of unfathomable — and thus unpredictable — evils?
Bruce Muchnick and I had the opportunity to address the the topic “Camp After September 11 — ????: Embarking on a Search for Answers” during the Keystone Regional Sectional Conference on November 12. As we had predicted, camp professionals — like everyone else — do not even know where to begin to even formulate the questions.
Specifically relating to communications, perhaps it is appropriate to look toward the Public Relations Society of America, which held its annual conference in the fall. It was there that attendees agreed, “Nothing is routine and nothing is standard. Everything has to be thought out on a daily basis. Reality is changing day by day, and not in a linear way.” Translation: we will do some things right, we will make some mistakes — but, nothing ventured, nothing gained. All admit that we are proceeding this year without a “road map” based on previous experience.
Communications, and specifically marketing communications, must be moved forward from the back burner as we move toward the 2002 season. For many, communications with camp families and efforts aimed at prospects are handled on autopilot — update what we did last year and continue to distribute our previously prepared materials. This year, however, we need to take a fresh look at previously unassailable tactics and tools.
Sensitize Your Marketing Communications
As a starting point, we need to re-look at the photos and video clips we are distributing. Are there any images that suddenly appear to be scarier than before? As an example, a counselor painted with makeup to appear ghoulish — perhaps as part of Carnival — may no longer be entirely appropriate. While it may not be possible to perform instant editing of such images, you should acknowledge your own understanding that things may have changed. A major luxury department store recently sent its holiday catalog, filled with photos of opulent jewelry and full-length fur coats and more. They inserted a small, smartly designed card, which stated that everyone in their company is deeply saddened by the tragedy of September 11. They inform the readers that the catalog was printed before September 11 and that this and other mailings may contain material and tone that are inconsistent with the gravity of the recent events. Simple, elegant, and wise.
While it may not be possible or necessary to suddenly customize the marketing package, there is one adjustment that many camps should immediately make. As the boundaries of “political correctness” change, we must understand that even nomenclature is being scrutinized differently. Camps, which hold a major activity where children are divided into two teams and then compete in a variety of sports, arts, and spirit-filled activities, should no longer find it appropriate to call this Color War. For the first time in our generation, children have a heightened sensitivity toward our nation’s active involvement in war. For the first time in the history of our country, war was initiated on our own soil. War is now something we do, not just something we hear about. We do it because someone has done something terribly wrong to us. That “something wrong” resulted in pain, death, and suffering. For some of the children whom we serve, it happened to family and friends. For all these reasons, it is no longer important or right for us to call a camp activity “war.” With the stroke of a pen, you can re-name it Color Contest, Color Challenge, Color Olympics, or another very creative name.
Some would say that the institution of camp is founded on our loyal maintenance of traditions, and that the name Color War is one of their camp’s oldest and most cherished traditions. However, when we allow our traditions to send out negative signals about our lack of sensitivity to children, then our traditions become stumbling blocks. We can use the act of renaming Color War — and the positive communication of that decision — to demonstrate the care and concern for which we want to be recognized.
Reassure Your Camp Families
In your communications with families leading toward the upcoming season, reassure them that you are making adjustments to your camp’s safety and security plans, but also remind them that — unlike other types of institutions — camp has always made safety and security high priorities. Thus, for us, this is not like embarking on disciplines that have never previously been given much thought. When parents call with requests and suggestions, listen carefully, but also be willing to respond realistically. Do not be afraid to maintain your status as someone professionally skilled in the areas of child safety and security by saying, “T