Marketing Fundamentals for Camp Directors



Summer Camp's Over... or is it?

Whether you run a residential camp or a day camp, getting the word out early and seeing registrations coming in for next season is undoubtedly a top priority for most camp directors. You know that to get the participants you need, hire the right staff, and be in top shape overall when spring rolls in, planning needs to start as soon as the kids are on their ride back home!

Today’s parents are more demanding, always pressed for time, and more reluctant to spend money. A growing number of activity choices vie for their attention and messages about what camp “is” or “should be” add to the clutter. It’s getting tougher for camps to stand out and now, perhaps more than ever, you need to be crystal clear about who your market is, what you stand for, and where you’re going.

So, first things first: how will you grab parents’ attention to get them to register to your camp?

It starts by understanding the 5 fundamental motivators that drive all buying decisions:

  1. Exceptional Experience
  2. Convenience
  3. Savings
  4. Fun
  5. Results

The secret to constructing the perfect camp marketing campaign is putting yourself in your audience’s shoes to understand how to fulfill these five desires.

1. Do Your Homework

You’re a consumer, too. You want products and experiences that provide the same benefits that you want to offer your customers: improved experience, convenience, savings, fun (or at least more time for fun), and results.

Use this shared experience to connect with your target audience.

Think about how you, as a consumer, become aware of new opportunities and what features attract you to one offer over another. The last time you responded to an advertisement or offer, what words, locations, colors, images, or approach motivated you to investigate further?

Who are the people that need what you have? Your target audience is primarily busy moms. If you’re not a busy mom yourself, go to a venue where you’ll find lots of moms (e.g. school playground, soccer field) and figure out:

  • What gets their attention?
  • Who do they listen to for advice?
  • What do they want in a camp experience for their kids? (from registration to camp’s end)
  • Where do they research camps?

Also, think of asking new registrants where they heard about your camp to get an idea of where your most effective marketing is taking place.

Successful camp leaders know that doing some research or testing assumptions from time to time is a must to stay ahead of the game.

2. Don't Stop at What's Expected

Many camps offer the same types of benefits: skills and endurance training, character development, good habits, and increased self-confidence. These are great, but they’re expected.

To win, you need to be "differentiated". It's a fancy term that means this:

  • What makes your camp different and better?
  • How can you deliver excellence in a remarkable way?

3. Deliver Excellence Where It Matters

Now take your "Power Positions" and think of the 5 buyer motivators we talked about earlier. What else can you do to make your offer even more compelling and draw more participants?

1. Exceptional Experience: From registration all to way to the end of the camp, make your camp exceptional and you’ll create a memorable experience for the kids and their parents alike. In a survey of over a thousand parents, “Quality of Programs and Staff” was stated as the number one reason why parents chose a camp. You have an exceptional program—make sure your marketing shows off the quality of your programs and staff! Can you capture metrics that show a high percentage of return campers? Do you have elite supporters or the endorsement of a well-known individual? What and who can help support your quality claims?

2. Convenience: No one has time to print out forms, hand-fill them, and mail them with a check, or worse, drive them to you. Paper days are o-v-e-r. Yet many camps still “force” parents into this outdated process. Look at what parents actually crave! Think of how you could offer them an insanely convenient way to register their kids and pay the fees 24/7, and you’ll not only attract more parents, but you’ll also create a positive experience for them.

Make the whole process paperless and stress-free for yourself, too, by taking advantage of tools that handle:

  • Secure payment processing
  • Capacity management
  • Mass emailing & automatic reminders
  • Online donations
  • Camp store
  • Photos & email

3. Savings: In these economic times, it’s rare to find people who aren’t looking for a good deal. Often, the savings you offer can be used to incent parents to pay attention to the information that is most important to you:

  • Offer early bird pricing. Our 2012 Parent Camp Survey revealed that almost 50% of parents start planning their kids’ camps four months in advance. Almost a quarter of them start six months ahead of time! Marketing your camp early can help you fill up faster, no matter what type of camp you run.
  • Ask a local business to donate a prize for a draw. This can be used to encourage online registration and reduce your administrative load.
  • Busy moms are crazy about coupons. Give coupons (of all kinds) to those who refer a friend to camp.
  • People love the word FREE! What can you offer that would enable you to take advantage of that word?

4. Fun: Our Parent Camp Survey revealed that FUN was the second-highest rated criteria for camp selection.

  • Surprisingly, a top offering that earns a kid’s “thumbs-up” to your camp’s fun quotient is your camp store. Check out all the new and improved ways to run a camp store.
  • Fun is the extra value to your camper’s experience that will most easily create buzz that increases repeat enrollment.

5. Results: SKILL LEARNED was the fourth-highest rated criteria for parents in our survey.

  • Your camp produces results—think about your success stories and how you can use them to show parents the skills that their child will learn at camp. Think broadly: social skills, life skills, physical skills, intellectual skills, etc.

4. Find Your Megaphone!

The Rule of Seven says that people typically must see a message seven times before it registers! This is especially true if they’re not even looking for what you have to offer. That’s why it takes multiple communications in an assortment of forms to reach your audience.

If you want to avoid your website resembling a popsicle stand in the desert, you’re going to have to leverage a variety of means to get the word out, whether it’s through the facility you use, colleagues, or community connections.

  • Understand that word-of-mouth is the most powerful marketing there is, because people trust it. In our 2012 Parent Camp Survey, 60% of parents find out about camps through friends. So, ask for referrals, and provide easy ways (and incentives) for your campers to let their friends know about your camp.
  • Set up a Facebook page for your camp. Research other group pages to find creative ways to get “Liked” and keep people returning for information. Don’t forget that today’s word-of-mouth also happens online on social media sites. If you are part of a larger entity like a school or facility that already has a Facebook account then leverage the audience you already have with a series of posts about your camp.
  • Find a parent who is a Twitter freak/Facebook friend. If you’re not proficient at social media, ask your kids to set you up a Twitter account and help you find your camp parents (or include Twitter and Facebook contacts as fields in registration forms). Extra bonus points if you’re also on Google+, Instagram and Pinterest (moms LOVE Pinterest!). Ask the social butterfly mom for help in learning how to promote and connect via these social media channels. Who knows? She/he may be willing to manage that for you in exchange for a discount on her child’s camp fee!
  • Leverage your community’s schools. 46% of parents from our Parent Camp Survey said that they find out about camps through school flyers. But you’ll need to be creative and do something unique. Think about the 5 types of differentiators we discussed earlier and communicate yours clearly!
  • Place an attractive kiosk in an area with high foot traffic of your target audience, such as your facility’s entrance. Post a friendly staff member or even yourself with a computer (with Internet access) to promote the camp and the ease of online registration.
  • Some online camp registration providers have heavy traffic to the public listings of the camps that use their service. Their traffic can end up directed to you…it’s free advertisement on a large scale! (e.g.

5. Listen, Learn, Share

The end of camp is the perfect time to capitalize on the built-up enthusiasm of your campers and to re-connect with peers:

  • Provide post-camp surveys that ask what they liked, what they didn’t like, and what they’d like to see again. (Kids and parents)
  • Offer a discount on next season’s registration fees by registering now. (Of course, that means you have to have many details ready early, but that will only continue to pay off throughout the year.)
  • Gather your data. While your memory is strong and your next project hasn’t started, analyze the data of attendance, financials, what worked, what didn’t. If you don’t have software for this, create a notebook or spreadsheet for this data to be able to access year-over-year metrics while it’s fresh!
  • Network with other camp directors. Like most people, you probably need support in order to stay enthused and tireless and learn how to optimize and simplify the rewarding, yet enormous task of running camps. Whether that support is better tools or new ideas from peers or industry leaders, remember that you’re not in this alone!

    Camp forms are perfect for managing all camp types from summer camp registration to sports camps, church camps, and more. Let ACTIVE Camps help you efficiently manage your campers.