Interactive Recruiting

College coaches have a unique understanding of the importance of recruiting. After all, it's the lifeblood of a successful program. It's also understood that recruiting is different than marketing.

Though both recruiting and marketing employ some of the same concepts, recruiting is an interactive, hands-on, press-the-flesh process. It means finding ways to literally get in the public's face to tell them your message.

Square One

Because recruiting is likened to the lifeblood of any college athletic program, that lifeblood needs nourishment; in this case, a decent budget.

It's not good enough, for example, to work with a 10-year-old budget. It's better to fix the budget as a percentage, rather than at a particular dollar amount.

Choose a dollar amount and watch it remain static year after year, even though costs are rising. Those rising costs should be offset by a pricing structure that keeps up with the pace.

In turn, don't neglect the recruiting/marketing budget. A percentage system allows this important cog in the wheel to ebb and flow with the budget, regardless of how it rises and falls.

Once established there are quite a few ways to utilize the budget effectively, and following are some that are tried and true…

What is a Trade Show?

Your typical trade show is usually quite focused. You would normally set up a booth at one because you know that people are there to see something specific, like camps.

However, there are also trade-show and trade-show like options that bring possible recruits in droves, yet camps are not the focus of the event.

"We go to these big meetings, like the Texas State Teenage meeting, and every town that plays Texas Teenage baseball is there," says Bragg Stockton, owner of Skills and Drills School of Baseball in Houston. "Just the other night we went out to one of those district meetings, and there must've been about 20 leagues represented there with their board members; we talked to them for about five minutes, had a booth and passed out literature."

It's a matter of identifying the opportunities that either square with the focus of your camp -- like a baseball camp attending a baseball league meeting -- or that bring potential campers through the door.

Perhaps it's an outdoor sports show, a rodeo, a science fair or a large annual community event. Either way, these related avenues offer the audience you're looking for and the audience more variety.

Phil Zerofski, director of Sea Camp San Diego, employs what he calls an "outreach program" during slow months where he and his staff will visit local schools and offer marine biology labs.

"Our outreach program is a way to keep staff busy and pay them," says Zerofski. "We bring animals to a classroom and teach a lab there, or we can have a school group come in for a half-day and do a lab at our facility."


Trade-show like environments offer true personal interaction, but you can still interact with potential campers without the personal touch.

Camps are beginning to utilize the technologies that allow for more interactive programming, and most are finding great success.

When the phrase interactive programming, coupled with the word technology comes up, most immediately bring the word Internet to the top of their mind. However, a combination of digital cameras, CDs and the latest presentation software offer multiple points of contact.

Sea Camp San Diego has implemented just such a recruiting program where they take digital photos during the course of a session and use them as part of a PowerPoint presentation they send to teachers.

"The teacher can use it for teaching in the classroom, and it's marketing to get more kids for the next year to maximize attendance," says Zerofski. "It's helping a lot and we have more sessions that are closer to capacity size because of it. The teacher packets that we send out now contain one of those CDs so that they're not just getting a written description of the program, they're getting visual aids as well. They can see students snorkeling, our lab facilities and everything else."

This effectively kills two birds with one stone -- packets of this sort offer both personal and technological interactivity. Everyone is agreed that nothing beats the personal touch. As Stockton says, "It still comes down to the telephone and the postal service and word of mouth."

These types of informational slide-show packets utilize all points of contact -- telephone, mail, computer -- and generate word of mouth, and you can't beat word-of-mouth advertising.

Interactive recruiting doesn't always mean high-tech. Initiating programs and partnerships with catalog and listing organizations is also effective.

Stockton's baseball camp has a deal with Baseball Express, a large product catalog company, that helps get the word out about the camp and brings back former campers.

"I've developed a system of awards that the boys get for the number of repetitions that they go through with different skills," says Stockton. "They're using my video tapes as the guide to go through. We'll number the tapes and for every hundred points they can send in a form for a little premium they can get out of the catalog."

Stockton has his own tape series and is hoping to parlay that into what he calls a "legit infomercial". "Eventually, I'd like to have a television show that would run 52 weeks a year where we can offer instruction on a weekly basis, and we may do it on the website," says Stockton.

Interactive Internet Ideas

And what of the Internet? It's an obvious recruiting tool, but how do you make it truly interactive? People love to talk about the interactivity of the Internet, but in truth it can mostly be a one-way street, and not much more interactive than a cold brochure.

The key is to get everyone involved in some powerful way that shows what goes on at the camp every day. Many camps are beginning to implement a "photos of the day" section, or on-line daily/weekly diaries of one type or another.

"We do pictures of the week because kids like to see their own pictures and it's great advertising for us," says Zerofski. "One of the students will see their picture up there, call their friends and say, 'Look at me, I'm up on the Web page.'"

Because the Internet is a new and additional maintenance duty, a lot of the great ideas are just that right now… ideas. But the eventual implementation of these ideas will go a long way toward boosting the recruiting effort.

At Sea Camp, campers graph various oceanographic processes, like temperature and salinity. Zerofski would like to publish this information on the website daily as a way to provide an interactive learning tool for teachers that doubles as a subtle and effective recruiting tool.

Meanwhile, Stockton would like to have sections with updated skills tips for both coaches and players and a section that tracks the progress of former campers. He envisions an almost running box score that brings recognition to the campers and gives potential campers another reason to attend.

The problem is time. For the camp director who doubles and triples as Web master and head recruiter, time is a precious commodity. Perhaps the answer is to assign a percentage of your time every day to recruiting.

Bryan BuchkoComment