Off-Season Marketing Ideas

By Silvana Clark

Now that campers have safely returned home and camp is quiet, you have until next summer to relax on your yacht or spend the winter in your Tuscan villa. Isn’t that what camp employees do?


On the other hand, if your Tuscan villa is being remodeled, you can use that time to do some creative, low-cost marketing for next summer’s camp season. The following are ideas designed to bring name recognition to your camp and fill up those camper slots so you can enjoy that yacht!

1. Check your local newspaper for listings of upcoming fundraisers or charity auctions. Offer to donate a “Camp Happy Time” gift basket. Put together an assortment of camp-related items such as T-shirts, visors with your camp name, suntan lotion and, of course, a few brochures. I once called a charity auction one week before the event. The organizer was thrilled to get another donation and said, “I’m so sorry, but our charity donation booklet is already printed. Would you mind if I printed a one-page insert about your gift basket and put it in the booklet?” Who can complain about having a separate listing that stands out from all the other donations?

2. Talk to the director of your library and offer to buy a one or two year subscription to a children’s magazine like Sports Illustrated for Kids or Ranger Rick. Simply ask that a notice be placed on the shelf displaying the magazine that reads, “Ranger Rick magazine donated by Camp Happy Times.” You could do the same thing with a subscription to Parents Magazine or Family Fun. Each time a parent gets a magazine, they read your name.

3. Your camp probably has a large dining hall or meeting space. Let people in the community know you have facilities for their staff training or meetings. Many businesses look for off-site facilities for staff training. Even if you don’t belong to the local Chamber of Commerce (which you should), send an-email or flyer to local businesses letting them know of your space availability. You’ll end up with adults on-site saying, “Hey, this is a great place to send my kids next summer!”

4. Since you’re contacting businesses, arrange to meet someone in the human resources department. Many businesses look for “perks” to give employees. Why couldn’t that perk be a gift certificate to send their child to camp? Just think how happy a single mom working at Acme Manufacturing would be to have her employer give her child a one-week camp experience. One camp told me a local business pays for 50 employee children to attend camp each summer.

5. Is your camp known for great food? With the holidays approaching, people find themselves cooking for large family gatherings. While you think nothing about whipping together lunch for 250 campers, most people find cooking for 25 challenging. Contact the local newspaper and offer to be a resource for an article, “Cooking for Larger-Than-Average Crowds During the Holidays.” Share one or two camper-favorite recipes while getting free publicity for your camp. Post additional recipes on your Web site. Think what happens when the article states, “Find out more delicious recipes from Camp Happy Times on its Web site at” People looking for recipes will naturally check out your camping programs as well.

6. Consider changing the way you describe camps or activities. I offered a one-week, parent and pre-schooler day camp called “Movement and Art Camp.” (I know, not the most exciting title.) Clear and to the point, but no one signed up. I offered the same camp as “Wiggles and Giggles,” resulting in full enrollment. As you describe various camp activities, try to go beyond “We have drama and sports activities.” Would kids want to come to a camp that offers “drama” or a camp offering “Theater High Action Games”? Not many teens are interested in a session on arts and crafts. How about offering a class in “Make a Scrapbook for Your Best Friends” or “Stenciling For Those Who Flunked Finger Painting”?

7. Is there a picture in the local paper of a child winning a spelling bee or a sporting event? Cut it out, laminate it, and send the photo to the child’s parents. In many cases the photo caption reads, “Suzie Smith, daughter of John and Jane Smith, holds her trophy for the poster contest,” so it’s easy to get the address. Of course, you’ll enclose a camp brochure and a small note saying, “Congratulations on your first-place finish in the state spelling bee. Thought you’d like another copy of your picture for a scrapbook. If you’re looking for a fun summer camp experience, check out our Camp Happy Times brochure.” Then enclose a brochure along with a discount coupon, if possible. Parents love the laminated picture and think you are a wonderful camp director for sending them another photo. Of course, they’ll take the time to look over the brochure. When my picture was in the paper about a training session I presented, a local funeral home sent me a laminated copy. They also included a short note telling me they’d be glad to help if I had any “funeral planning needs.” I know it was blatant advertising, yet I liked my laminated photo! Morbid as it sounds, they would be the ones I’d call if I needed to arrange a funeral next week.

8. Have you had people contact you and say, “Gee, I’ve lived here 10 years and I didn’t know we had a camp in our community”? Look for ways to attract a large number of people to your camp off-season. One camp director, knowing how many churches offered individual holiday bazaars, decide to take the idea further. He contacted many smaller churches, offering to give them space in his dining hall for a community bazaar. Twelve different churches set up in one location, attracting close to 1,000 people visiting the camp. Another camp director, located in a fairly central location, heard about the Girl Scouts conducting an annual food drive. He offered his parking lot as a drop-off location. On one weekend, over 500 families dropped off food … next to his camp sign, of course! He also passed out camp brochures as people donated food.

We often think marketing our camps means designing and printing another expensive four-color brochure. In many cases, you get great marketing results from donating your parking lot or sharing your casserole recipe that feeds 50 people.

Silvana Clark has over 20 years experience helping thousands of children create arts and crafts projects and presents keynotes and workshops on a variety of recreation-related subjects. She can be reached at her Nashville, Tenn. office (615-662-7432) or via e-mail at