Market Camps To Parents

Anyone who’s worked at a camp knows that managing the “big kids” is just as important managing the little ones. We’re talking about the parents. Whether they’re piloting a helicopter around their children or are so cool you wish you could go home with them, setting their expectations and keeping them involved is crucial to your camp’s success.

Parents are typically long on demands and short on time, so it’s important that you grab their attention and get them to think “Wow, I’ve got to get Bobby signed up for that camp!” You need to market your camp as the not-to-be-missed activity that’s worth every penny. There are three really important elements to incorporate into your marketing campaigns to make sure that happens:

1. Do Your Homework!

To effectively market to busy parents, you need to do your homework—now is the time to research and test assumptions.  Start by putting yourself in their shoes and thinking about how you behave as a customer. You buy things and sign up for activities too, so what type of experiences do you like? How are you typically convinced that something is worth the price? What was the deciding factor when choosing between two similar options? We’re guessing that your answers involve things like quality, convenience, good deals, and fun.  Note your responses and keep them in mind when marketing your camp because these “differentiators” are probably the same for campers’ parents.

In general, you should be able to answer these homework questions about your target audience:

  • What gets their attention?

  • Who do they listen to for advice?

  • What is their ideal camp experience for their kids (from registration to the wave goodbye)?

  • Where do they look for camps?

Once you’ve got some ideas down based on your own personal experience, do some research in the field by:

  • Sending out a survey to parents of past camp attendees

  • Asking new registrants where they heard about your camp

  • Talking to parents at playgrounds, soccer fields, school activities

Combining this research with your own knowledge will give you a great base to begin targeting your camp marketing.

2. Be Unexpected

Many camps, whether day or residential, offer the same types of benefits: skills and endurance training, character development, confidence building, and helpful habits. These all great, but they’re expected.

To attract new campers and keep the ones you have coming back, you need to be unexpected.  Marketing your camp successfully means you need to be able to confidently state to parents what makes your camp different and better, right off the bat.

If you’re not quite sure how to define your differentiators, start by writing down three power positions. These three statements should address:

  • What’s important to your campers and parents

  • What’s unique to your programs

  • What you provide that is top notch, best in the business

  • What you can defend (i.e.  a statement that can be proven through a stat, quote, or real-life story)

For example:

  • We are the only camp that offers “How to Be a Superhero” program

  • Over 80% of parents said in a post-camp survey that this was the best camp ever

  • Our camp posts high-quality videos and photos daily to keep parents and campers connected

Creating these power positions is your starting point to standing out! So tell us, what makes you so special?

3. Be Really Good Where It Matters

You’ve done your homework and know what makes your campers and parents tick.  And you’ve also figured out what’s different and better about your camp.  In other words, you’re now ready to create marketing campaigns that showcase the uniqueness of your camp in a language that parents understand and gravitate toward.

Those two things are the bedrock of your marketing messages, but there are a handful of other camp qualities that are important to be really good at…and should be conveyed to parents in your campaigns:

  • Experiences: Make your camp experience a memorable one, from registration all the way to the wave goodbye. In our 2012 Parent Camp Survey of over 1000 parents, “quality of programs and staff” was stated as the number one reason parents chose a camp! Do you have a high percentage of return campers that you can advertise? Do you have celebrity supporters or the endorsement of a national governing body? Do you have some great quotes from campers? Ensure your marketing shows off the quality of what you offer, because it’s very important to parents.

  • Convenience: No one has time to print out paper forms, fill them in by hand, and then mail them to your camp with a check (or worse, drive them to you!).  Paper-based registration is too old school and inconvenient for both your staff and campers’ parents.  The easiest, fastest way to get kids into your programs is with online registration—you can link to it from your website and marketing materials. Online registration is great because it’s automated, available 24/7. It includes:

1. Secure payment processing

2. Centralized database

3. Capacity management

4. Mass emailing and automatic reminders

5. Online donations

6. Camp store

7. Photos

And lots more to keep you organized and registration operating like clockwork.

  • Savings: Parents are always looking for a good deal to help maximize their family budget—offering discounts or special deals will get them interested in your camp. Our 2012 Parent Camp Survey revealed that almost 50% of parents start planning their kids’ camps four months in advance. Almost 25% start planning 6 months in advance! Marketing your camp early can help you fill up faster.

Here are some ideas on how to incentivize them to register early:

  • Offer early bird pricing

  • Award a prize to the first 100 registrants (ask local businesses for donations)

  • Give a coupon to parents who refer a friend

  • Offer discounts to families with multiple children in your programs.

  • Fun: Our Parent Camp Survey also revealed that “fun” was the second highest rated criteria for camp selection.  Having fun is essential—we don’t have to tell you that. When campers are happy, parents are happy and both will want to return the next year.  New experiences, fun camp counselors/coaches, and creative activities are probably some of the ways you have fun at your camp, so show those off in your marketing materials.  The more laughter and smiles, the more people will want to join in.

As a surprising side note from the survey, a top offering that added to the fun quotient was a camp’s store.  Are you offering up some great merchandise to parents and campers?

  • Results:  The fourth highest rated criteria in our survey was “skills learned.” If you think about it like a business, your camp produces results. Those results are manifested by the skills kids learn and successes they achieve. What success stories can you tell in your marketing? Use these stories to show parents what that their child will learn at camp—social skills, life skills, survival skills, athletic skills, intellectual skills, etc.

Camarin Wanamaker is the proud mother of 3 very active children and a key member of the ACTIVE Camp Team. She has been enabling camps succeed for the past 6 years and has held a variety of customer-facing roles – from Camp Technology Support Rep, to Support Manager, to Account Management Manager, and Sr. Account Manager. Camarin is a dance mom, craft maker, and volunteer extraordinaire.