Although there are many different methods to marketing your camp, you can take the following steps to recruit new campers.
Pre-marketing plan - Have a good camp! Since word of mouth will account for over 80% of our new campers, give them something to talk about! If you are not confident in your program and staff, marketing to new campers will only result in spreading a negative reputation. So, this article assumes that you have a well-oiled camp program that's safe, clean, and fun!
Tip #1: Focus on Word-of-Mouth promotions. Use as many resources as possible to encourage campers to tell a friend about your camp! Ideas include "Bring a Friend" days or Camper Alumni Weekends where campers can bring friends; Recruit-a-Friend drives that offer incentives for families who refer new campers (discounts, t-shirts, etc.); House Parties hosted by campers, led by camp staff, that combine a few fun activities with informative materials.
Tip #2: Be methodical, have a plan! Create and post a monthly plan that ensures that you are marketing camp year-round. The plan should have include deadlines for paid advertising, e-mail blasts, direct mail dates, free press releases, and various newsletters and internal campaigns. Try to do something every month - even when camp is in session!
Tip #3: Track your results! If you are going to spend any money on advertising - be sure it is effective! Include a "how did you hear about us" section on your registration forms, and analyze it in the fall. You may be surprised how much money you might be wasting on ineffective forms of marketing. Compare the dollar value of the the number of campers who signed up for camp via a particular method versus how much it actually cost.
Tip #4: The power of the press - releases & feature articles. Nothing beats a good article in the newspaper! Although people may see your ad, people believe what they read as the news. Brainstorm story ideas that demonstrates how your program makes a difference or events of interest. Some sample story ideas include "Danish Counselors Spend Summer Learning About Life in Springfield," or "Camp Ultires Counselors Prepare for a Summer in the Wilderness," etc. Once you've crafted a few story ideas, contact your local newspaper to discuss your ideas. If they say they are not interested, don't be discouraged. Ask them what types of things would they be interested it, or if there is a better time of year, etc.
Send a press release any time you are doing something at your camp. Press releases are written by you, and are usually placed in the paper as submitted for free, based on space available. Be sure to include "who, how, what, where, when, and why," double-spaced, and with proper grammar.
Tip #5: Spend money for professional results. Unless you are a graphic designer, your materials won't really look professionally done. A good designer can create an enduring piece that captures the emotions you are trying to convey. A professional piece will help you create or reinforce your camp's image, mission statement, and brand. Some camp director's have stated that they avoid professional looking materials because they don't want to lose that "campy" feeling. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and a well-designed piece will certainly have a camp look, without the amateur flare.
Tip #6: Frequency is better than size. When it comes to print advertising, frequency is key. It is much better to run 6 quarter-page ads than 1 full page. Families might not remember, or even see, you ad if it is one once or twice. In addition, studies show that consumers must be reminded of your product several times before they are compelled to act.
Tip #7: Use bulk mail. For those of you who use bulk mail, this may seem obvious, but there are countless camp directors (and other business owners) who aren't aware of the US Post Office bulk mail program. In exchange for sorting and grouping your mail pieces, you can send a letter for as low as ten cents per piece. See your local post office for more information.
Tip #8: Only let knowledgeable, friendly people answer the camp phone! When a parent calls your camp, the last thing they want to be told is "I don't know..." If your calls are not answered exclusively by competent camp staff, then make your best effort to train whatever staff answer the phone. Regardless of who answers the phone, be sure to train them on specific answers to common questions and concerns. They should all know staff ratios and certifications, prices, dates, and transportation information.
Tip #9: Get in front of as many kids and parents as possible. Offer to run activities during school sponsored family functions, bring kids out to camp for field days, host special events at your camp, offer to do indoor games on rainy days at school, or do whatever you can to be seen by potential campers and parents. Nothing encourages parents to sign their children up for your camp than a positive interaction with your camp that is not related to sales.
Tip #10: Make your registration forms, or online registration, available through your web site. The internet makes signing up for camp so convenient that many parents may sign up for camp sight-unseen simply because they can! Many camp management software programs can be seamlessly integrated into your web site for easy implementation of online registration. If online registration is not an option, make your brochures and registration forms available as .pdf files so they print exactly as you want them to.
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