The most important target audiences for your marketing campaign are, of course, prospective campers and their families. Beyond this, however, it is critically important to consider your own camp staff as a target audience. Your directors, counselors, and specialists must be thoroughly familiar with the materials you distribute, and the story that these materials convey, for the following reasons:
First, you probably refer to your staff and its quality somewhere within the marketing message. It is therefore imperative that your staff members know how they are being described and pictured. This adds definition to your expectations of them while it also helps them understand their importance to the camp experience. At the same time, seeing the emphasis you place on staff can be very complimentary to them.
If you position your staff as being loving and nurturing, the descriptions you use in your marketing materials can help to motivate individual staffers’ behaviors. As an alternative example, if you position your staff as being humorous, fun loving, and full of surprises, this too can help to reinforce the desired job description. When employees realize that description or promise of a certain kind is preceding their performance, it can act as a motivator.
Several camp directors report that during staffing interviews they make primary references to the brochure, the Web site and/or clips from the promotional video. When prospective counselors find your Web site, there should — of course — be a dedicated section for staff and job opportunities. However, applicants should be encouraged to browse the entire site for the sake of learning all about the camp.
Once hired, new staffers should be carefully taught the role of marketing in the successful operation of your camp. They should understand why you are so fastidious in picking up stray pieces of paper throughout your grounds. They should appreciate the role that firsthand impressions play in people’s decision making and thus why you emphasize the importance of camp tours and/or visiting day. One of your best opportunities to share this information is during orientation.
When photographers or videographers are at camp on their assignments for you, staff members should be strongly encouraged to treat them in a welcoming manner rather than a disdainful manner. You should emphasize that you have engaged these people’s valuable services for the sake of continuing the camp and its traditions. Rather than considering such efforts as “ too Hollywood” or “too Broadway,” counselors and specialists should be helped to understand the important role that the photographer’s and videographer’s finished products will play. If staff can share this appreciation, the positive spirit will show up on their faces in photos and during their video interviews.
Beyond what happens on a photo or video shoot day, you should endeavor to bring the topic of marketing closer to the staff. However, this must be done carefully, because you don’t want to make the marketing decision process universally democratic throughout camp. This has to do with both timing and the review process.
Timing is Everything
In reference to timing, a brief case study: A resident camp chose to create a new, modernized, and more strategically appropriate camp logo. The directors decided to “unveil” the new logo for the staff only during the camp session. The result was near mutiny. Staff decried the new logo as “unnecessary, because — after all — we love the old logo!” Of course, they loved the old logo. They had grown up with it. They had worn it on their shirts, their caps, and their jackets. In fact, many of them were wearing the old logo while previewing the new one. However, a smart business decision had been previously made — it was time for a new logo. But midway through a camp session was not the time to unfurl the new banner for its first showing. The camp directors spent the next few days in hastily scheduled staff meetings, trying to calm everyone down. Introducing the new logo to staffers was intended as one more way to show them how important they are, but the unveiling became an honest mistake. In this case, the better alternative may have been a group e-mail with an attachment, sent shortly after Labor Day.
Marketing Decisions — Who and Why?
Likewise, not every member of the staff should participate fully in the marketing decision making process. Some staffers have the ability to make valuable contributions toward furthering the camp’s image by improving the camp’s message. But, more often, everyone has an opinion about marketing, and few of these are significantly valuable. Marketing decision making must be reserved for those who can understand the goals of the marketing decisions.
Finally, your staff must understand the role that marketing plays in securing the continuity and the longevity of your camp operation. If your camp fills before the printer’s ink is dry on the application forms, then marketing is of lesser importance. If, however, your camp must actively seek prospects and then work to turn prospects into enrollments, the staff need to appreciate this. Counselors and specialists need to understand the degree to which the marketing program helps to secure their summer employment. They must not be allowed to perceive the marketing effort as something that is uncharacteristically slick for a “back-to-nature” institution such as camp.
If you can build an appreciation among your staff for the promotional program, your marketing will then serve multiple roles — motivator of prospective families, reinforcement for current families, standard of excellence for your entire staff, and a tool to motivate positive interactions between counselors and campers.
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 2002 March/April issue of Camping Magazine.