Following this year’s round of national and regional conferences, several questions and issues turned up frequently during marketing seminars.
How long should our video be?
As long as it takes to tell your whole story convincingly and then not a moment longer. I once viewed a camp promotional video that was thirty-nine minutes long — fascinating from start to finish. I have also seen videos as short as five or six minutes. The average length of promotional messages seems to be twelve to fifteen minutes.
Should it be a VHS or should it now be a DVD?
DVD is fast gaining on VHS as the desired format. This year it is predicted that DVD production will exceed videocassette production for the first time in the commercial market. DVD players are now in about 30 percent of households and are expected to be in 70 percent of households within five years. We can hypothesize that ownership of DVD players is much higher now in affluent suburban communities, as well as pockets within major urban markets. You need to consider the makeup of your camp’s target market. For the time being it would probably be better, in most cases, to use cassettes or to make the message available in both formats — if this is affordable in your budget.
When you do begin to use the DVD format, be cautious about one factor — the use or misuse of the ability to create chapters. One of the newly-found delights of the DVD is the division of a full-length movie, for example, into chapters. With a menu, the viewer can easily get to a favorite scene. It would be a mistake to do the same thing with your basic promotional message — which should have a beginning, a sequence, and an ending. You should not abdicate control of your important promotional message to families with ready remote controls.
One camp director said, “Great, now I can let the family decide which parts of camp they want to see and which are not important.” I do not agree with his plan. You should have a complete, multi-faceted story about your camp that comes together to create strong perceptions of the higher value of the summer camp experience. Skipping and dancing around a DVD menu may delight the user, but it will not serve you well.
What do children like to do on a camp tour?
Our children’s panel at the Tri-State Conference answered this question by stating that they would generally be happy to play with campers while on tour — to be included in a game or activity. Any hesitation they had on this point resulted probably from wondering if the staff would be certain to integrate them carefully into the already established dynamics of the campers’ group. However, once they were made to feel welcome and included, this would probably offer them a good perspective on the types of children who attend the camp.
Can we use digital photos in our new color brochure?
Yes. In fact, you will save significant production costs. Some photographers feel that digital images do not hold up to enlargement as well as traditional film images do. However, most use of camp photos in brochures does not involve oversize enlargements.
How can we develop an improved basic message to promote our camp?
You can improve your basic promotional message by determining a positioning — a unique point of difference. Categorize the various aspects of your camp — location, activities, special events, staff, facilities, philosophy. What sets you apart from those camps that are also considered when you are being shopped? Do you do something or feature something that others do not? Is this aspect of your operation something that translates into a message that says “different and better”? Once you identify this unique point of differentiation, it should become the central point of communication in your marketing campaign.
How often should we re-do our marketing tools?
Your rates and dates, of course, need annual updates. Beyond this, many camps become prematurely bored with their own materials and find themselves reprinting, re-filming, and revising far too often. If you take the time and effort to create an enduring message about the significant value of the camp experience you offer, your color brochure, video, and much of your Web site should serve you well for five years or even longer.
Shouldn’t we constantly update our Web site?
Certain parts of your site need updating. The core introduction to your camp for prospective campers and parents, however, is not unlike a printed brochure. If you have carefully crafted your message at the onset, you have better things to do than to constantly tinker with it.
We have a limited budget. If we can only begin with one project, which one should come first?
Every camp’s marketing situation is different. In some markets and for some operations, the brochure receives major attention. In other situations, Web sites have become valuable front line points of contact. When forced to generalize, I would put your video first place in line. This is the medium that best allows you to accomplish several objectives — give a thorough tour of your camp, encapsulate the spirit and the emotions of camp, and introduce directors, staff, and campers through interviews. The video still remains the marketing tool that is most likely to be shared and viewed together by family members, allowing the interaction that is so valuable during the camp decision process.
How do we know if our marketing tools are working?
The perfect measurement strategy is to conduct all sorts of expensive research, which you are not about to do. Another approach begins with asking prospects about their responses to your materials — What did you learn? What questions do you have? Did you view other camps’ messages? How did ours compare?
A next form of measurement is the number of enrollments versus packages distributed. If you enrolled one child for every ten packets mailed, then make changes to your marketing package and now enroll one child for every eight packets, you know that the changes were improvements.
Resist the temptation to turn parents and children into advertising experts. In other words, do not ask them how you could improve your brochure, video, or Web site. Instead, make sure to understand which of your messages persuade and which fall short. Then combine the talents of those who understand your camp best and those who can produce a persuasive new message.
How can we deal with feelings that the whole marketing process seems kind of unpleasant?
Occasionally, marketing may indeed seem like it ought to be reserved for consumer-packaged goods but not for something as wholesome and tradition-bound as camp. At these moments, it is best to think of marketing in two ways. First, it is the means by which we fill camp. An almost-full camp means that we are not doing the good things we do for the maximum number of children we can handle. In short, when we market less than effectively, eager and deserving children may miss out on all that we have to offer. Second, your marketing package is actually like a grandparent’s brag book — something to proudly pass around. You’ve worked hard at programming, staffing, training, maintenance, capital improvements, transportation — and much, much more. Your brochure, Web site, video, and all the other carefully crafted descriptions of camp are your opportunities to say, “Look what we’ve done here!
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 July/August issue of Camping Magazine.