Unlike many of my posts, this one is not for parents – this one is for summer camp professionals.  If you are a camp professional (or just a parent who wants a look behind the curtain), read on!

Tis the season to start planning summer camper recruitment for next year.  As such, I want to share my recruitment mantra with you –  in rank order of importance:

  1. Bring Families to Camp (High Touch)
  2. Take Camp to Families (High Touch)
  3. Use the Vast Digital Billboard (High Tech)

Bring Families to Camp

I did not write “bring kids to camp” (they aren’t the decision-makers), and it is no accident I didn’t write “bring parents to camp,” (they won’t pay the deposit without knowing their child is very interested).  Bring Families to Camp!  I’ll bet it even fits your mission.  Throw free events like Spring and Fall Festivals!  Hold Community or Family Fun Days!  Heck, if you’re looking for revenue streams, run more Family Camp Weekends.  The point is, get families to camp.

Bringing a family to camp allows:

  • Parents to get comfortable with your facility – and the drive to reach it.
  • Parents see their kids interacting with your staff.
  • Parents interact with your staff

You can’t pay for this sort of promotion and recruitment – which is why these events should be free!  I want to stress, these are not Open Houses.  The traditional Open House Event is a tour of camp and a sales pitch.  I am suggesting you bring families to camp, let them play, and let camp sell itself.

Of course, some of our camps are too remote to make good use of all of these events, but don’t let your location be an excuse.

Take Camp to Families 

Many camps utilize Camp Fairs as their sole opportunity to personally interact with families interested in learning about summer programs.  If you have the budget to pay the registration fees, staff time, and travel – good for you.  But don’t let that be the full extent of your outreach efforts.

Where does your camp traditionally recruit well from?  Make a list of those locations.  Then, starting in September, attend “Back to School Nights,” community fairs and festivals, etc.  At each appearance, do something fun with kids – don’t just show up with brochures or dvds.

If you are an independent or private camp, you probably lack storefront locations.  So, identify places that can serve as your storefront.  Starting in December and January, ask libraries if you can hold camp information nights (and then promote those nights online).  Ask a restaurant.  Ask a  college.  Make sure there is adequate parking at whatever location you choose – and make sure families are comfortable going there.

Use the Vast Digital Billboard

If you’re reading this post, you are already using technology to better your camp and its recruitment efforts.  I bet you are placing Facebook or Google ads.  Well done.  If not, let me try and sell you on why you should be.

In the old days, we used newspaper/magazine ads, phone books, cable spots and billboards to raise the awareness of our programs.  The problem is, very few of these efforts were easily quantifiable.  Quite often, it felt like we were shelling out a lot of cash for very little return.  Online ads answer this particular concern.

With an online ad, a potential camp parent can click your ad and follow it to your website.  Try doing that with the Sunday paper.  Not only that, if you are cheap like me, you can choose to pay only when someone actually “clicks through” to your website.  A million people may see your ad before someone follows it to your site, but you only pay for that single referral.  There’s a lot to love about pay-per-click advertising.

If you’re watching your pennies, I recommend you put your money into search engine ads (ex. Google or Bing) before you invest in ads on social networking sites.  Your ad will be more effective if it is shown to people who are already searching for summer camp.

A final word about online ads.  Your first inclination will be to promote your summer camp program this way.  May I recommend using it year-round to promote your efforts to bring families to camp and to take camp to families?

Of course, all the online ads in the world will not make a difference it your website is awful or the person answering your phones is rude.  Make sure you are ready for the calls and web visits.

Conclusion

I hope I’ve given you something to think about as you plan your marketing efforts for next year.   As your looking at your calendar, give priority to those efforts that put you in front of both kids and parents.  Work to bring families to camp.  Use online marketing to promote your summer camp – but also to encourage families to come to your facility or other camp events in their region.

Stay tuned for thoughts on Camper Retention!

If you’re hungry for more, check out Dave Bell’s marketing article in Camp Business entitled “Small is the New Big.”  You can find it at http://www.camp-business.com/articles/cb/small-is-the-new-big.

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

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