Earned Media

By Susan Langlois

Are you looking for creative ways to increase the visibility of your camp business but know the possibility of upping your advertising budget is zip, zero, zilch? The solution just might be to invest more time in cultivating earned media.

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Properly defined, earned media is any media exposure for your camp business other than paid advertising. This includes press releases, feature stories, public-service messages, even signage. All of these are tools that raise public awareness about you and your programs and, irony of ironies, study after study indicates that people who view earned media spots have stronger recall and recognition for those products than they do for paid advertising messages.

The reason is rooted in how we as humans think. When your camp is featured on a local news program or in a newspaper, the viewer/reader believes that your camp is being featured because it is newsworthy. Essentially, your camp is supported by the reputation of the media outlet. The more reputable the outlet, the higher the value of your earned media spot.

Earning Your Media Exposure
You may have already benefited from earned media, especially if you have a practice of sending out press releases about new staff, or if you have had a reporter develop a feature story about one of your campers. You may also have experienced the benefits of this kind of exposure when campers and their families remark that they saw the feature on your camp and how impressed they were that you made the paper or were on television.

Make no mistake about it, earned media is very rarely free or a result of serendipity. You really have to invest in it to earn it. You can increase your ability to attract media attention if you cultivate two critical elements:

Offer events and programming that interest members of your community.

Develop relationships with the editors and managers of local media outlets.

Here are some easy ways to develop both these elements:

Put “earned media” on the next staff meeting agenda. Explain the importance of it, and give some examples of how your camp can position itself to receive more. Here is an example you can use: your camp has launched a campaign to reduce your campers’carbon footprint by arranging transportation to camp by carpooling and reducing wasted food and camper trash. This will very likely be worthy of earned media. Ask your staff for ideas about other opportunities in your camp programming that might be worthy of local/regional media exposure.

Assign staff to observe what the local/regional newspaper, radio and television coverage are in earned media. Find out what businesses are featured and what they do to earn it. Create an inventory of potential earned media events and activities at your camp.

Develop a media list of contacts that you can use to deliver press releases, pitch a human-interest story, and offer photo opportunities. Also, be sure that you prominently display your camp media contact person on your Web site and in your camp literature. The person who is designated to be the camp media contact should be able to keep a 24-hour rule to reply to any media inquiries. In the age of instant news, reporters expect a quick response time from you or they may just move on to the next camp.

Create a hometown press-release system. Have campers provide their hometown newspaper on their applications. Not only can you can submit press releases about their camp achievements to the local papers, but you can also send a letter (or e-mail) to the campers’ homes, letting them know that the press release was distributed, and if they saw it, to let you know. This hometown press-release system can pay great dividends beyond the earned media exposure. Campers and their families will see that you are investing in them. You can post the media coverage on a camp media board that can attract more attention to your success. You will also be able to thank the media outlets because you know that they delivered.

And that is number five. Be sure to follow up any earned media coverage with a thank you to the editor/manager. Take the time to go into detail about the particular aspects of the coverage that you appreciated and enjoyed. This can go a long way toward developing a “pick up the phone” relationship with the key media decision-makers, and it can lead to a long trail of future earned media features.

Dr. Susan Langlois has over 25 years experience as a college professor, athletic administrator, camp director and sport facilities consultant. She is currently the campus director at Springfield College School of Human Services in Manchester and St. Johnsbury, New Hampshire. She can be reached at susan.langlois@comcast.net.