Ready, Aim, Fire!

By Tim Diering

In the past, I have discussed marketing tools, the ideas behind them, and the reasons to enlist them in marketing campaigns. From branding to technology, I have covered a lot of ground in addressing a variety of marketing issues. The problem--if one can call it that--is all of this information is spread across a couple years’ worth of articles in different issues of this magazine.


Think of this current article as a survival kit for those in the jungle of marketing--everything you need to survive, all in one place. You can refer to this list quickly to see where marketing stands, what methods you are using, how you are using them, and what methods you might want to add to your marketing arsenal.

The Three Knows
To begin, let’s look at some key concepts in order to provide a foundation when considering and implementing marketing. One of the most important ideas is actually three ideas--don’t do anything until you know what you are doing, know why you are doing it, and know who you are doing it for. And always be able to answer the following:

  • To whom are you speaking?

  • What are you using to deliver the message?

  • And why are you delivering this message to these people?

It’s All Marketing
It’s important to understand that everything you do for your camp is actually marketing--or as the Madison Avenue folks like to call it, branding. It is all going to reflect upon you and your camp. From the way the phones are answered off-season to the food in the mess hall, the condition of the grounds, as well as the Web site and brochure, all of these contribute to making an impression on the camper and the family. And you’ll make a better impression if you can control the impression you want to make.

The First Line Of Defense
Two components are most important in a marketing strategy—the Web site and the brochure. They are invaluable, and together, act as book ends that support the other marketing efforts.

1. Web site--The virtual portal into a camp, it should be engaging, exciting and truly reflective of the way you want the camp to be viewed by the public. The design should be clean, yet visually stimulating. It should be easy to navigate, and the most important information should be easy to find. With the right tools, you can offer online registration, video, photo galleries and more. It is your 24-hour sales person, always ready. Take extra care with this particular tool because it may be the first place--and the last--where someone gets information about your camp. Kids are computer savvy, and are taking an active role in the selection of a summer camp. A great Web site is the perfect place to start selling them on your camp.

2. Brochure--This is the traditional workhorse of the summer camp (of most businesses actually). It is the perfect complement to a Web site, and the combination should act as the one-two punch of marketing. Again, the brochure should be visually compelling and easy to read, but it should also be engaging. It needs to do more than tell about the camp; it should subtly sell your camp. Great design, exciting photos and plenty of testimonials make for an effective brochure. But don’t overload it with every fact and tidbit of information about the camp. All it has to do is engage the prospective camper enough to get him or her to visit the Web site, or pick up the phone. By providing too much information, the real message will be lost.

Secondary Support For The Heavy Artillery
Marketing is a year-round endeavor, and failing to keep a message in front of an audience on a consistent basis will weaken results. Stay in touch with campers, families and prospective campers in a variety of ways, but the important thing is that you do it. Here are some items camps should consider when building a marketing plan. These can be added gradually to establish a presence in the mind of potential campers and their families.

  • Video--Most camps have videos that show how exciting and enjoyable it is to spend a summer at a camp. Because it can be such a valuable tool, it pays to work with professionals when creating a video, or at least when it comes to editing it. In addition, new tools make it easy to play a video--in its entirety--on the Web site. This cuts down on duplication costs, as the video no longer has to be mailed to a family to view it.

  • Newsletters--Regularly delivered newsletters are a great way to stay in touch with campers, parents and alumni to inform them of off-season developments and things to look forward to the coming summer. You can also use it to build up excitement and anticipation for the upcoming season. To avoid printing and mailing costs, deliver a newsletter through e-mail, as an electronic magazine, or e-zine.

  • Blogs--Short for Web logs, a blog is an online journal where you and staff members can post information and news about what’s happening at the camp. It can be hosted for free on a blog site, or built into your current Web site.

  • Postcards--One of the simplest means of staying in touch, it is also cost-effective and efficient. A postcard sent to parents and kids over the long off-season can help solidify your camp in their minds. Send it out as often as you like, or maybe once a quarter. Also, don’t forget to send a nice birthday greeting to a camper. Kids love to get birthday cards, and they’ll love knowing their summer camp remembered.

    Also, postcards are a great way to stay in touch with people who have not yet attended your camp. Maintain a list of those who have requested information from your camp (and if you’re not keeping track, you should be). A simple postcard saying, “We missed you this summer; hopefully we’ll see you this coming season,” can convert past no-shows into new campers.

  • Sales letters--A sales letter does not have to be a hard-core “sales” pitch, but it should have all of the elements of one. It should be engaging and personal, and it should be written in layman’s terms. A letter from a camp director that reads like a corporate brochure will come across as phony and insincere. Sales letters should be part of a marketing package, but they can also be used as stand-alone tools, either to alumni or to parents. A simple follow-up letter to a parent saying, “Thanks for requesting information. If you have any questions, let me know,” can really lock your camp into the mind. It can be more personal than a brochure, and more specific.

  • Podcasting--Podcasting is broadcasting a message in a way that allows kids with iPods and other MP3 devices to receive the message immediately. It’s like an electronic magazine, only it’s an audio recording. You can produce your own radio show and send it to hundreds of kids at once. The nice thing about podcasting is it gives folks the opportunity to listen to your message at a time that is convenient for them.

Ongoing Operations
Everything—from the Web site to sales letters—plays an equally important part in selling a camp. As long as you remember to keep your message in the minds of potential campers and their parents, fresh faces will appear to give your camp a try year after year. While it is always important to have returning guests, new recruits are equally important—it’s another outlet to spread the word about your camp.

In the next article, I will look at ways to improve how the major Web search engines view your camp’s Web site. It’s called Search Engine Optimization--or SEO--and you’ll discover ways to improve your standings with the search engines without hiring costly consultants.

Tim Diering is the Vice President of Marketing at Summer Camp Design, a full-service marketing and design firm dedicated to creating cost-effective marketing and design solutions for summer camps. He can be reached at (800) 957-7175, via e-mail at or visit