There is much about the total camp experience that creates an ambience of informality — summer, warmth, blue skies, school vacation, recreational dress codes, and experiential learning versus academic learning. Camp professionals often want to extend this air of informality throughout the camp’s total interaction with parents and children. Please don’t.
There is a potential pitfall here that must be scrupulously avoided. Never confuse natural informality with a license for laxity.
Your marketing program represents you at a point when prospective enrollees and their parents do not yet know much about your camp. They are examining your messages — and often comparing them to the messages of your competitors — for any and every cue to help them form an opinion of you and your practices.
Many of us have fond remembrances of our school years and such scenes as: When we would begin math or science tests that included essay questions, some student would inevitably ask, “Does spelling count?” The questioning student figured that since the test was not about English or social studies, correct spelling should be irrelevant. Some teachers would say yes; others no. It is apparent years later that the permissive teachers were not doing the students any kind of favor. Instead, they were reinforcing an acceptance of carelessness.
Shift to today. Camp marketing materials are too often filled with spelling errors, typos, and grammatical horrors. Why? Who really knows? Perhaps there is some feeling that camp is “natural” and “back-to-basics” and that exacting disciplines like proper use of the English language are irrelevant. On the other hand, the people who are creating the messages may simply not be relying on effective backstops to check their copy before it is distributed.
Seen from a different perspective, however, this situation is a mine field. The different perspective mentioned here is that of the educated parent. To such a reader or viewer, little things like “effect” or “affect” and “council” or “counsel” and those apostrophes to the left or to the right of the ending letter “s” do indeed get noticed — but only when they are used wrongly. Haphazard use of English — particularly in a printed piece — simply communicates carelessness on the part of the author. And carelessness is not a desirable attribute for an institution which is entrusted with children.
Add to this the fact that many camps boast senior staffs made up largely of educators, and you have a real credibility problem when your first opportunities to interface with the target audience — your marketing package — contain errors.
Our newest medium of camp marketing communications probably sports the most flagrant offenses. We are speaking hear of your Web site. The Web site presents itself as an ideal place to be current. Unlike a brochure that gets printed once every three to five years, the photos and text on a Web site can be changed constantly. Unfortunately, Web sites get activated, and then are far too often ignored. As a result, dates remain unchanged. Rates remain posted throughout the active year then remain on the site past the camp season, when they no longer apply. Asked why the old rates are there, camp directors are known to reply that the rates for the coming year have yet to be finalized. Fine, but you must delete the now outdated rates and temporarily refer to “watch this space.”
Every camp publishes it’s rates and dates yearly. For some, this is the entire brochure; for others, it is an insert for the more permanent marketing materials. In either case, this piece deserves careful scrutiny before printing. The last place anyone would want to find a mistake is on the very instrument used for specifying payment and other terms of enrollment and participation.
The only place where the “reality” of spelling and grammatical errors can be considered acceptable is a newsletter format which includes submissions by campers. Young children’s spelling and grammar can have a certain charm. However, this leniency should not be extended to staff members. Even first-year counselors should be perceived as sufficiently caring and careful to be willing and able to write correctly.
Here are some suggestions to help you ensure a positive image:
- All printed materials — including Web site content — should be proofread by three different people before being made public.
- If all three proofreaders agree on needed corrections, you are done. If two out of three agree on a particular correction and the third does not, it is necessary to go to a next confirming step. Do not simply figure that “majority rules.”
- Understand up-front that commas and apostrophes are the trickiest — and deserve special attention.
- The Web site should be reviewed thoroughly during the week following the camp season, and then should receive a page-by-page once-over at least monthly throughout the year. This maintenance check should include not only the accuracy of all copy, but also the functionality and navigability of the site.
That last point brings us so the issue of organization. You have a lot of information to impart and this should be done in the most orderly and accessible format possible. Experienced Web surfers have come to expect a certain general pattern for wending their way through a site. Said differently, certain