Become a Grassroots Marketing Pro: 10 Tips to Benefit Your Camp and Develop Your Skills in the Process

Amelia Wampler, Clare Quirin, and Adrienne Wallace, PhD
June 2021
camp staff hanging up laundry

Camps are in full swing and happily hosting campers and staff after surmounting the many challenges of COVID-19. And whether you’re at full capacity this year or you could stand to build your numbers back up, there’s no time like the present to begin recruiting new campers and staff for 2022. Promoting your camp in ways that are in line with your philosophy and policies is a crucial step in preparing for next season. Whatever your resources and budget may be, you can show your passion for your camp and expand your promotional skills with these top 10 grassroots marketing tips for this summer and beyond.

Become an Influencer: Yes, You!

Social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook are great for sharing fun content and updates about your camp. During quarantine, TikTok’s user base skyrocketed. in fact, from January of 2018 to August of 2020, the number of active users rose more than 800 percent (Sherman, 2020). The platform enables users to easily connect with others who have shared interests, and it is an effective way for people and businesses to share creative or informative videos for up to one minute. TikTok is an especially useful social media source when trying to reach a younger audience.

Instagram and Facebook are also great platforms on which to post photos or videos. (Instagram has a feature similar to TikTok called Reels, or IGTV, which accommodates more inclusive videos.) These platforms are useful if you want to film longer videos such as “vlogs,” which can give people an inside look at daily camp activities and responsibilities.

When posting visual content about your camp on social media, remember these five basics:

  • Tell a story.
  • Include a strong call to action.
  • Share tips, advice, and favorite things.
  • Use hashtags.
  • Stay on top of trends.

Camp Culture: Living That Local Life

When promoting your camp, remember to think locally! Research the wants and needs of your community, then ask permission to hang up flyers or give out brochures at local organizations. This might lead to new campers and counselors for next season. Be sure to emphasize details about the summer camp and the activities you may organize — and make it appealing to the eye for the ultimate impact. Be sure to include the benefits of joining the summer camp, whether they are experiencing a new community outside of your hometown or participating in fun events.

Another way to become more involved in your community is to partner with local businesses. Partnerships like these can be mutually beneficial and may lead to strong relationships and awareness within the community. Perhaps a local business would be interested in buying shirts for your campers or staff with their company logo on them — or sponsoring an event at camp such as a concert or games.

Gotta Have It: Great Gear Giveaway

Ask returning or potential counselors and campers to comment on their social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) or post photos of T-shirts, socks, or face masks with your camp logo on them in return for a chance to win a gift card or camp merchandise. You can also incorporate a specific hashtag (such as #camprocks) and reward people who use it with an extra entry in the prize drawing — and they’ll spread the word about your camp to all their followers!

Early registration incentives are an additional great opportunity for a giveaway. Encourage campers to register early by awarding them with camp merchandise if they register by a certain date. Create a sense of urgency by advertising your deadline on social media in conjunction with such phrases as:

  • “Don’t Wait!”
  • “Space Is Limited!”
  • “Register Now!”

Host an Open House: Staff and Parents Welcome

As you well know, camps often have visiting days for parents or family members, during which they come to see the camp for themselves. Camps offer fun activities for these guests, giving them a taste of what camp life is like. A visiting day could also represent a great opportunity to offer a similar experience to potential staff members or parents interested in sending their children to your camp.

Add days to your summer calendar for such visits, and post these days on your website, social media, newsletters, or in flyers. Prospective staff can tour the camp and shadow counselors and should be given the chance to ask questions and see responsibilities first-hand. Parents can also tour the camp, talk to staff, and watch camp activities to see if the camp environment and culture meets the needs of their child. On a grassroots level, you can promote these visitor days through word-of-mouth and social media. On visitor days, first impressions are key, so encourage your staff to get to know your visitors!

The Buddy System: Bring a Friend

Many campers and counselors are familiar with the feelings associated with going to camp alone for the first time. It can be intimidating to not know anyone, so one way to recruit new campers is to encourage recent attendees to invite a friend to join them at camp next summer.

The same can be said for counselors. If you have a prospective counselor for next year, perhaps that person has a friend who will also be looking for a summer job. Knowing a friendly face will make the transition easier and allow them to meet new people while having an exciting summer.

Encourage your campers to recruit friends by sending them letters about their camp adventures. Campers who share their personal experiences will have a greater impact on their friends than you ever could. You can also create a referral system for campers that rewards them for each friend they bring to camp.

Blogging 101: The New Letter Home

Future campers, or their parents, may want to know more about summer camp from the perspective of a returning staff member or camper — and people are drawn to stories. Pick one or two of your camp counselors to write on your camp’s behalf. Blogging is a practical way to get the word out. Have them write about their own summer camp experiences and the many benefits they reaped personally or witnessed in their campers.

Don’t Forget the Throwback: Snail Mail

Is someone missing this year? After stay-at-home orders and quarantines across many states, past campers may need a reminder of the fun-filled activities that await them at camp. Consider a letter-writing activity so you and your campers can reach out to campers or counselors you’d love to see come back next year. Who doesn’t enjoy receiving a personalized, handwritten, decorated letter? It might even result in a summer pen pal.

Provide Value-Added Content Year-Round

If you enjoy leading activities, consider volunteering to be an official “ambassador of fun” for your camp during the off-season. Create virtual or in-person activities to engage current and prospective campers and families, and keep camp top of mind. Potential activities could include:

  • Virtual cooking or craft-making classes
  • Local Geocache scavenger hunts
  • Local orienteering courses

Connect with Future Customers Now: Be a Subject Matter Expert

Some parents understandably were still wary of sending their kids to camp this year. But you can help alleviate their fears and pave the way for their children to attend next year. One way to interact with parents (or future counselors) is to encourage them to ask questions by posting Q&As on social media. This can easily be done through the question feature on Facebook or Instagram stories. You can target these Q&As to a specific topic or post a general Q&A, so the audience members can ask any questions they may have.

Get Connected: LinkedIn Marketing

Many young children are not yet involved on social media platforms. So who is left? Parents. According to AudienceProject, 27 percent of 26- to 35-year-olds and 34 percent of 36- to 45-year-olds are on LinkedIn (Tran, 2020). This is a great social media platform to utilize when looking to target camper parents. Make sure your business profile is up to date with content, audience interactions, and summer camp updates. Your profile can speak volumes to parents about the important work being done at camp for the sake of kids, as well as convey your dedication to the care of their children.

LinkedIn is also a dynamite resource for finding other businesses to partner with. For example, you may be able to find a local youth group organization, school, daycare, or public library that will allow you to hang flyers in their business. As previously mentioned, this is a great way to make connections with the community to get the word out about your camp.

Photo courtesy of YMCA Camp Echo, Fremont, MI

Amelia Wampler is studying public relations, marketing, and Spanish at Grand Valley State University (GVSU). She plays for the GVSU women’s soccer team, is cofounder of GVSU’s Aspiras Foundation student chapter, and the programming director of GrandPR, a nationally affiliated, student-run public relations firm. She loves being in nature and doing outdoor activities such as rock climbing, hiking, and kayaking. As a kid, she loved going to summer camps and continues to work at various summer camps each year.

Clare Quirin is a student at GVSU with a double major in film and video and advertising and public relations. She is a member of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) and is an account associate for GrandPR.

Adrienne Wallace, PhD, is an assistant professor of advertising and public relations and Ad and PR Internship coordinator in the GVSU School of Communications. She also serves as adviser to the Grand Valley PRSSA, GrandPR, and the National Millennial and Gen Z Community.

References

Sherman, A. (2020, August 24). TikTok reveals detailed user numbers for the first time. CNBC. Retrieved from cnbc.com/2020/08/24/tiktok-reveals-us-global-user-growth-numbers-for-first-time.html

Tran, T. (2020, March 11). Top LinkedIn demographics that matter to social media marketers. Hootesuite. Retrieved from blog.hootsuite.com/linkedin-demographics-for-business/


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