The Effective Marketing System

By Tim Diering

There is a a simple process that provides a workable, simplified system to get the word out about your camp… one that should help keep the bunks filled season after season.

Each step is designed to build on the previous one. You can ignore any of the steps you don’t feel comfortable using. However, the plan’s effectiveness is based on the idea of building a solid foundation, one brick on top of another.

Step One: Initial Contact
There are several ways to make initial contact with campers and their families--from simple and inexpensive to concentrated, planned and slightly more costly.

The first idea that comes to mind is the camp website. This is often the first line of attack in a marketing campaign, and it’s a powerful one. It’s a 24-hour-a-day, 7-days-a-week salesperson, always ready to make a powerful first impression--so make sure it does. An ineffective website is like a giant, flashing stop sign on the information super highway. If it’s not up to date, kids and their parents are going to click away in a split second. Space ads are another way to get attention. These small ads in newspapers or magazines are seen by the people you want to attract most. Since Sunday magazine supplements of large metro newspapers often have entire sections dedicated to summer camps, there’s likely to be a lot of competition, so make sure your ad stands out. Don’t try to explain everything about the camp in the tiny space available; give just enough information to make parents want to contact you.

Step Two: The Response
Now onto the nitty-gritty--your personal marketing system. This is not make-believe. Each of these steps is a proven, successful marketing method by itself. Put them all together, and you’ll have a near-perfect, and highly profitable way, to advertise your camp.

First, let’s assume someone has filled out the form on the “Request More Information” page on the website.

Be sure there’s space for the name and address of the person requesting the information, as well as information about the camper, including a contact phone number and email.

You should now automatically receive an email from the website detailing the contact information. Put this in a safe folder for later reference.

The system also should automatically send an email to the person making the contact, thanking him or her for requesting more information, and promising that the information is on its way.

Then, send out the Camper Information Kit.

Step 2-A: The Camper Information Kit
A successful Camper Information Kit should be as informative as possible. This is a calling card, the item that’s going to make the camp stand out from the crowd. As with the website, you only get one shot to make a first impression, so make a good one.

I prefer calling it a Camper Information Kit as opposed to a Camp Information Kit for one simple reason: keep the emphasis on the campers. It should include:

  • A professionally designed, four-color brochure. It should be exciting, and should reflect the look and feel of the website. A consistent look across all media is very effective, and shows a level of professionalism that parents and campers appreciate--even if on an unconscious level.
  • A personal letter from the camp director. And I mean personal. Computers make changing names on a form letter easy. For each request, fill in the name of the person who requested the information. And make the letter sound personal, like you’re really talking to just one person. Express appreciation for contacting the camp, explain the camp’s history, etc., but don’t make it sound like a corporate website. Again, make it about the campers--about what they’ll find and what they’ll enjoy.
  • A professional-looking DVD. There are two roads to take here:

1.) Hire a professional video team to scout and shoot the video. You won’t regret it.

2.) Buy some simple digital video cameras, give them to the campers, and let them document their own experiences. Then, hire a professional video editor to compile the footage into an exciting DVD. I know of one camp that did this, and the result was sensational!

  • A schedule of sessions for the upcoming summer.
  • A list of activities offered at the camp.
  • A simple one-page newsletter. Mock it up on the computer to look like a real newspaper, with exciting headlines and short articles about the latest news or features for the season (“Blob Attacks Camp Tango!”).

Step Three: Keep Track Of Each Step
Always know who received what information and when, as well as the person to follow up with next.

Step Four: Follow Up
Go into the files, pull out the phone numbers of everyone who’s been in contact with the camp, and call them. Choose a block of time each day for calls, and work from a phone script. It doesn’t have to be read verbatim, just keep it nearby in case you get lost in your spiel.

And keep it simple. Introduce yourself, ask to whom you’re speaking, and whether he or she has any questions.

It might go something like this: “Hi, this is Bob Smith. I’m the camp director here at CampTango. Is this Peter? [Remember, you have this info from the online form.] Hi, Peter. The reason I’m calling is that we sent out some information about our camp awhile back, and I wanted to make sure you received everything, and to see if you have any questions. Did you receive our Camper Info Kit? Great. Did you have any questions about what you saw? Well, that’s great. I won’t keep you any longer. We’re looking forward to having another great summer here at CampTango, and I hope your son Jimmy will be able to join us. Take care, and thanks for your time.”

Really simple. Really effective.

And keep in mind--because he or she freely requested information and gave a contact number, it’s not a violation of the Do Not Call laws.

Of course, if he or she opted not to give a phone number, you won’t be able to call, but you can send a letter with the same friendly, helpful tone. Each response will remind them of your camp, which is what you want.

Step Five: Final Contact
Send each person a simple postcard with a fun, exciting picture of the camp and a short message on the back: “Hi, Peter, just wanted to drop you a quick line about summer at CampTango. Spaces are filling up quickly, and I noticed I didn’t see Jimmy’s name on our roster yet. It’s going to be a great time this year… and I’d hate to think of Jimmy missing out. Hope to hear from you soon.  Bob Smith, Director, CampTango.”

Step Six: Turning The Screw
At the end of the season, when everyone’s gone home, send out another postcard to those who requested info but didn’t register. Tell them about all the fun they missed, and that you hope they can make it next year.

The exact same steps that big companies have employed for years are now yours. Each step breaks down the barrier between inquiry and decision to show that there is a real flesh-and-blood person on the other end, someone who is genuinely concerned about the prospect of hosting their child for a summer of fun and excitement.

Thank you again for your time.

Tim Diering is 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 .