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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Camp Fair Tips and Strategies for 2018

Everything comes full circle, including my opinion on the value of attending camp fairs as a summer camp marketing tool.

Fifteen or 20 years ago, I felt attending camp fairs was among the best (if not the best) summer camp marketing strategy around. You couldn't really count on filling your whole camp just by going to camp fairs, but just signing up a couple campers per camp fair provided a huge return on my marketing investment not to mention the opportunity to meet so many new family prospects in single spot.

Then the internet came along and, pretty quickly, rendered camp fairs irrelevant in my view.

With so much information available online, why should anyone (camps or parents) waste time at a camp fair? Families could just go online, find your nice-looking website, read some good reviews or testimonials about your program, and sign up for camp instead.

But now I've changed my mind again. I feel like I did 20 years ago. Ironically, the internet itself  has made attending camp fairs a key component of your marketing strategy once again.

Going to camp fairs is a huge win for both camps and families. Nothing beats the face-to-face, personal interaction with current and potential campers and their parents. Families are more likely to send their kids to programs that are supervised by people they know, like, and trust. And camp fairs give you a wonderful platform to make that strong, lasting impression with prospects -- a first-class marketing opportunity that can't be beat. Can you think of any other marketing opportunity where you'll find as many potential new customers in one place than a camp fair? I can't.

Several years back, I made a few blog posts about how to really do well at the camp fairs you attend and generate large crowds at your camp fair booth. Today I'd like to share some important tips and strategies for really maxing out your upcoming camp fair marketing activities.. It's never too soon to start marketing and planning for summer camp 2018!

The Amazing Marketing Benefit of Camp Fairs

No one denies a well-designed website and strong social media presence are more important than ever. Camps who aren't online are at an incalculable disadvantage.

But, let's face it, your online presence will only take you so far. That's because almost EVERYONE has a nice website nowadays, and even if you think all the information a parent needs to make a decision about your camp is available online, families want to know who they're dealing with. And when you consider the principal reason all those people came to the camp fair in the first place is to learn about what you're selling, it's clear you've got a goldmine of prospective campers right at your fingertips.

But perhaps the most unique value of attending a camp fair (from your perspective, at least) is that camp fairs give you the best opportunity to combine all your various marketing communication strategies into one.

The opportunity to interact face-to-face with families is amazing enough. But when you combine internet outreach, video, traditional advertising and promotions (announcing your attendance leading up the camp fair and during and after it), and interactive games and activities at your camp fair booth, you just walked into one of the most valuable camp marketing tools around.

Which brings me to my next point. Let's not forget this amazing potential marketing opportunity means nothing unless you have a game plan to make most of it. Don't just rely on the camp fair promoter to fill the event with people and hope for the best. You need a strategy to ensure you'll get the outcome you want from attending the camp fair. That means developing and executing a sound game plan leading up to, during, and after your participation at the event.

Accordingly, here are some general strategies I'd use if I were going to a camp fair.

Colorful picture with flags and streamers promoting L.A. Camp Fair 2018 with Camp Fair events Sunday, March 11 at UCLA, Saturday, April 14 in Thousand Oaks Conejo Valley, and Sunday, April 22 at AC Stelle Middle School in Calabasas

Pick the Right Camp Fair

The first thing you need to decide is which camp fair, or fairs, you want to attend. There's so many to choose from. Most of us don't have unlimited marketing budgets, so you need to make sure you're spending your marketing investment wisely to get the best ROI from your camp fair participation. In my opinion, "picking the right camp fair" also means you can reasonably expect to meet a high number of qualified prospects for your type of program at the camp fair, and also the price to attend the camp fair must be right. Another consideration is making sure the camp fair you're attending makes logistical sense; if you run day camp, it probably won't help you attend an out-of-town camp fair, but if you run a resident camp, pursuing that strategy might be ideal.

Send the Right People

You only get one chance to make a first impression, so I suggest sending your superstar staff. Why? Because people will form opinions of your camp based on the personality of the people working your booth. That means you run a big risk if you decide to send just anyone.

Friendly, knowledgeable, and outgoing people reflect wonderfully on your program. An impersonal sloth sitting behind the table doing nothing but handing out brochures looks horrible.

The thing to remember is you're selling yourself, not just your program. Let's say you run a non-profit horseback riding resident camp in Florida. You're fired up to go the camp fair. But then when you get there, you realize your main competitor -- also a non-profit horseback riding resident camp in Florida -- is stationed in the booth directly next to yours. If a parent's having trouble deciding which program to pick (because after all, in THEIR minds you both offer the same thing), the deciding element could very well be you.

Personality counts. You don't have time to make a big sales pitch to every family at the camp fair, and you cannot control whether families will form an impression of the folks staffing your booth. But remember, you can almost always influence what those impressions will be. 

How to Market Your Camp Prior to the Camp Fair

The amount of marketing work you do before the camp fair even starts will have a direct correlation to how busy your booth gets at the event itself.

My suggestion is to tell everyone you know -- customers, prospects, vendors, etc. -- that you're attending the camp fair and where to find your booth at the event. Get the word out with postcards, flyers, letters, emails blasts, social media posts, and more. Try using a creative hashtag (or use the camp fair's hashtag) each time you post, and give people a compelling reason to come by your booth. Maybe that means you're giving away t-shirts or hats or doing a cool activity at your booth. Whatever it is, tell folks why they need to visit your booth, and definitely encourage your friends and followers to post and tweet about the camp fair, too.

(By the way, at the camp fairs we sponsor here in L.A, all attending camps are provided with a free digital marketing guide filled with sample tweets, social media posts, press releases, and email messages you can use to promote your attendance at the camp fair in the weeks leading up to it. The marketing guide is free to you as a benefit of participation.)

Should You Pay Extra for a Premium Booth Location?

At most camp fairs (at least the popular ones), there's generally LOTS of camps and LOTS of families walking around. For a parent, navigating all the human traffic while gathering information and talking to so camp representatives (not to mention dealing with all the noise) gets overwhelming.

With so many things happening at once and potential distractions everywhere, you need to do everything you can to attract families to your booth, keep them there as long as possible, and help them remember you after the camp fair ends.

One strategy to consider is paying a little more for a premium booth space. Premium booth space generally means larger-than-standard size, for example, two booths side-by-side instead of only one.
Another thought is to upgrade your booth location so you're closer to the entrance or exit doors. Many camps are in favor of undertaking these strategies, and if you feel they help you get ahead, why not? Whatever makes your camp stand out amid so many others, I'm for!

(Tip: Most camps assume getting a booth near the entry door is the best location. I understand wanting to be the very first camp a family sees. But unless there's only one way in and one way out, or there's only a few camps at the fair, I'd rather see you stationed at the exist door instead. Because let's face it, there's probably gonna be 50 to 100 camps at the camp fair which means you'll be much more memorable as the last camp a family sees compared to the first. That's much more advantageous in my view.)

Booth Design

Picture in your mind the last camp fair you went to. I might be wrong, but my guess is we're all imagining the same: a big rented room -- maybe a gym or something -- with tons of booths side-by-side and people walking back and forth all over the place. After a while, all the booths, and all the camps, begin to look the same to parents.

So the challenge becomes, how can you make you booth stand out? Generally I'd considers your camp's main program theme, then accentuate it. Here's what I mean.

I run a beach camp in Malibu. I have the same typical display most camps have at camp fairs -- banners and brochures and all that. But I always make sure to take it a step or two further, "dressing up" my booth with props and fixtures emphasizing my program's aquatic theme to make my camp more memorable.

That means adding a lifeguard chair, surfboards, even jet skis sometimes kids so can climb on the seat for a real feel of what they're going to experience at camp.

It's a little extra work, but pays off nicely in terms of being a little different than the surf camp next to me who only brought a couple photo albums to share with camp fair attendees.

Camp employee sitting behind a table at a camp fair

Booth Activities

If there's a common theme in this post, it's BE MEMORABLE. You have to, because there's too many camps in once place for parents to remember a specific camp here, a particular program there. 

Common sense, right? But many camps I see look just like the others. They market alike, decorate their camp fair booths alike, everything. Camp fair attendees can't distinguish between camps. So how can we be even more efficient regarding incentivizing families to ask for more information or sign up for your program after the camp fair ends?

We already talked about booth design. You might also consider giving something away because everyone loves free stuff!

If you can find something irresistible or unique to give away, they'll remember you. Coffee mugs,  shirts and hats with your camp's branding are always good. ( I'd go with a hat because they're always visible and can't be covered up like a shirt can by a jacket.)

But it doesn't have to be something "tangible" like a shirt, hat or coffee mug. How about a coupon for a free horseback riding lesson or ropes course experience at your site before camp starts? That's a pretty good way to hook people and, if you ask me, a great way to get them to follow up with you for sure (if not make them actually come to camp in order to redeem the coupon :)

Want an instant crowd? Host a photo booth / "selfie station" at your camp fair booth. Let people take photos with your staff (or even just their families) using a picture of your campsite as the backdrop. Encourage them to post their photos to their Facebook, Instagram or other social media accounts for a chance to win something fun from you. (But in reality you might not need to offer offer a prize; they'll probably post the photo anyway since taking photos/selfies and putting them on social media is a way of life these days.) Just make sure families geo-tag the camp fair location and tag your camp, too. This is one of the best ways to keep people swarming around your booth, let alone remember you long after the camp fair ends.

Here's a couple other ideas you can use to practically force yourself into the minds of camp fair prospects. Interactivity is the key:

  • Give away candy or sweets
  • Have a bubble or snow cone maker machine at your booth
  • Have bunnies, animals or even a small petting zoo at your camp fair booth
  • Arts & crafts activities like painting, light cooking, etc. work great
  • A magician or mime at your camp fair booth would keep people sticking around!
  • How about a "Spin and Win wheel" (like Wheel of Fortune)?Just make sure you have prizes on hand for wherever the wheel lands
  • Try a live video broadcast from your booth and post it to social media. You can even interview people at your booth to give camp fair updates 
  • Offer a cell phone charging station at your booth. You can bet that'll attract a whole lot of folks!
  • Don't forget the entertainment. Don't infringe on other camps next to you, but a little Karaoke never hurt anyone!

One more thing I wanted to mention. I'm sure there's many families who meant to attend the camp fair but for one reason or another couldn't make it. And tons of others who didn't even the camp fair existed in the first place. It's quite possible (if not likely) some of these people are your friends and fans on social media.

Don't miss the opportunity to post on social media directly from your camp fair booth. Somebody might see your post and head right over to the camp fair. Worth a shot!


As I mentioned before, I can't think of any other summer camp marketing medium where you get the chance to make connections with so many camper prospects in a single place. You don't have to go out and find tons of new prospects because they're already there.

I hope you attend at least a few camp fairs in 2018 and perhaps implement some of the ideas I've put forward. I have very high confidence they'll work for you. Most families really love the opportunity to meet the people their kids will be spending the summer with, so attending a camp fair or two (or three) can really pay off for you.

Best of luck for a huge camper enrollment season and much camp fair marketing success in 2018!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

How Does a Resident Camp-Only Camp Fair Sound?

 Don't Worry, Even Day Camp Directors Should Read this Post

As you may know, I put on a camp fair here in Los Angeles (specifically, Calabasas) last April where over 50 day camps, specialty camps, resident camps, and all kinds of camps attended.

We got off to a late start, deciding only in late February to host the event in April.

If I do say so myself, it was a pretty successful event considering I only had a few weeks to find a facility, recruit camps, and promote the fair to the public. Over 400 families attended.

I learned a lot from last year's event, and I'm planning on doing it again in 2018 with many improvements made over last year's camp fair.

The camp fair this time will take place in March rather than April. I'll post more info here soon about dates, times and registration details. Just as before, the camp fair will be open to all kinds of camps and programs who are looking to promote their camps to the public and get more campers in 2018. We anticipate at least 500+ families to attend the fair. Please keep an eye out for more information.

What About a Resident Camp-Only Camp Fair?

No doubt about it, with so many different types of camps (day, resident, etc.) on display at a single camp fair, families have a nice opportunity to learn about a cross-section of various summer opportunities for their kids.

At the same time, these types of camp fair also have disadvantages for families and camps alike. Parents and kids might can feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices available, and camps may be spending time and paying money marketing to families who don't not have any interest in their type of program.

For example, let's say you a resident camp and pay $200 to attend a camp fair. If you meet 150 families at the camp fair, but only a handful are interested in finding a resident camp,  that's great for day camps but not very good for you. You still might get some new campers and it would be very worthwhile attending. However, you'd be much happier if you could be sure ALL the people attending the camp fair were resident camp prospects, right? In that case, your chances for success at the camp fair would improve exponentially, and your marketing investment is much more likely to pay off.

So I have a question for the overnight camp directors reading this post. What do you think about a resident camp-only summer camp fair?

I'm thinking of putting one on, depending on the outcome of the poll I posted below. I have some really nice potential facilities in mind, in some very affluent parts of L.A. so you'd have a fantastic base of many new camper prospects for next summer

If you run a resident camp, I don't think you'd want to miss this opportunity since you'd be guaranteed all families attending the camp fair will be looking for resident camps exclusively. Rather than talking to someone at your booth for 5 minutes before finding out they were never interested in a resident camp in the first place, EVERYONE at the camp fair will be a match for your program already!

Here's a poll. If you're a resident camp director, please answer it honestly so I can be sure whether to move forward with this. If we move ahead, rest assured I'll bust my tail to make this a very worthwhile marketing investment and event for you. Thanks!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Top 4 Summer Camp Marketing Tips for the Off-Season

Now that camp's over, you have a decision to make.

Will you wait several months before you start marketing your camp again, or will you use this time to your advantage to get a head start over your competitors who are sitting around waiting until January to start promoting their programs again?

My feeling is, there's no time like the present to create awareness for your camp, especially right now when no other camps are doing it and you have the stage to yourself.  Even though summer's over and families probably aren't thinking about camp these days, any promotional activities you undertake now will pay big dividends later among families who are interested in trying your camp for the first time next year.

Before I share some marketing concepts to use now in your off-season, please note I am NOT a proponent of spending lots of money to do so. With your peak money-making season behind you, the goal is to work harder, smarter, and more creatively than anyone else especially with limited-to-no money coming in right now. That means you need to get the absolute maximum ROI (return on investment) on your marketing budget. Every dollar you spend on marketing should do the work of $2 dollars or more. The best advice I ever heard about how to make your marketing more effective without increasing your budget was from my friend Andrea Cohen when I interned at her ad agency 32 years ago. Andrea said to stop spending money on marketing activities that don't work, then double up on those that do. I use that advice all the time today and so should you.

With that in mind, here's a few low-cost strategies you can use to start laying the foundation today for what will come later in terms of more getting more kids to sign up for your camp. It's a way of thinking long-term that will pay big dividends later.

1. Blogging

Naturally you want your website to show up on the first page of Google's search results for certain keywords. If it already does, great job! But unfortunately most of us aren't that lucky.  And even though we can't know or control all the factors Google uses to decide which camps to show on the first page, in my opinion there's no substitute for producing strong, interesting, sharable content on a consistent basis. That means pumping out three to five new blog posts every week. Blogging is FREE, helps create awareness for your program, and (eventually) can improve your search result rankings. If writing five blog posts every week sounds daunting, it needn't be. Spend an hour or two each Sunday afternoon or Monday morning writing all your posts for the week. Don't get too caught up in perfect grammar or any of that -- just write the way you talk. Then set your blogging calendar to release each post on a postdated basis so you have new content appearing online every few days. It could take a few months, but as your blog posts populate the internet and get shared among friends and followers, eventually Google (and others) will notice.

2. Joint Ventures and Marketing Partnerships

The fastest way to enter new markets and reach new prospects you never had before is by joining forces with other people and organizations you don't directly compete with, but share the same demographic customer and prospect base as you. Forming these types of alliances enables you to market to each others' customer bases again and again while gaining access to untold numbers of new new prospects you couldn't otherwise reach. The most ideal partnerships are other businesses that are up and going during your off-season. Why not reach out to a children's math tutor to propose an affiliation? The math tutor could distribute your brochure to her customers, while you write a glowing endorsement of the tutor and email it to your customers. It becomes a win-win-win-win scenario with you, the math tutor, and both customer bases ending up happy. But don't stop with the tutor! You can (and should) arrange many types of deals with many similar types of businesses or organizations as possible. I assure you, doing joint ventures and marketing partnerships is the easiest way to reach new markets and grow your enrollment quickly.

3. Get Customer Reviews

A few years ago folks turned to trusted friends or family members for referral or recommendations before making a purchase. These days they might consult Yelp or Google first and, rightly or wrongly, generally believe what they read. Considering how influential online reviews can be, its imperative you accumulate as many positive customer reviews as possible. Just ask your customers if they wouldn't mind spending a few minutes online to share their impressions of your program with other families who might be considering it for their kids. If you can grab four or five new reviews every month starting now, you'll be sitting pretty when new prospective families start checking your online reviews next year.

4. Stay Connected on Social Media

Camp is seasonal, but social media isn't. You need to stay connected year-round, but don't go overboard directly promoting your camp since this isn't the time of year most people are interested in hearing about your arts and crafts activities. Some of most ideal ways to engage followers and fans won't have anything do to with summer camp anyway. Posting questions relevant to people's family situations or current events can get you spectacular results. Try some of these examples (or some variations) and I'll be you'll be happy with the level or engagement you get:
  •  "What's the best bedtime for a 9 year old?" 
  • "Anyone know of any great cupcake recipes for kids?"
  • "What's a great local restaurant to surprise my husband or wife with?"
  • "Anyone have a good recipe for apple pie?"
  • "I'm looking for a karate class for my kids...anyone have any recommendations? 
  • "What's your opinion on private vs public schools?"
  • "Anyone here home school their kids? Would you recommend it?"
Contests also work really well to create engagement. Offer a great prize, and people will participate. I own a beach camp, so when I run contests I give a new surfboard, boogie board or wetsuit to the winner. People go nuts for these!

How about a photo contest?  You can tell people to share the contest with their friends or even tag their friends, too. You just need to figure out what works best for your situation. What's great about all this is that you're out there on social media getting exposure for your camp. And even though you personally aren't talking directly about camp, your customers, prospects, friends and followers will be talking about you.

5. Clean Up your Database and Email Lists -- Cut Costs to Save!

Remember what I said about getting a big return on your marketing investment? One strategy that works great is cutting your marketing costs. Even if you don't view cost-cutting as a marketing "strategy" per se, it's a valuable undertaking especially in your non-peak season when you need to keep an extra eye on what you spend. There's any number of ways to cut your marketing costs. One of the best I've found is by cleaning up your marketing database and email lists. Cleaning up your lists can be a time-consuming project if you haven't done it lately (and especially if you've never done it before), but it's more than worthwhile from a marketing and financial standpoint. For instance, if your email marketing service (Constant Contact, MailChimp, whoever) calculates your monthly fees according to the number of contacts in your account, you're wasting time, money, and energy by hanging onto, and continuing to email, old and outdated contacts who are no longer, or never will be, customers for your camp (not to mention you might be bothering them by continuing to reach out). While it's always important to have a customer reactivation strategy so past customers return, sending marketing information to people who attended your camp 6 years ago probably aren't decent prospects anymore. Similarly, there's no sense continuing to email families who stopped coming to your camp a few summers ago because they outgrew it or were less than thrilled with your program. You need to examine each individual subscriber in your account to decide if it's feasible to keep them active. If it is, great. If not, cut them. Getting hammered each month with unnecessary bills from Constant Contact (or whomever you use) is NOT something you should be doing. You could be pocketing that money or allocating it to other marketing investments or program improvements instead.

If I could just wrap this up, I'd encourage you to use this "down" time to plan and execute wisely. The fall (like every season) passes quickly, so I hope you'll get started today! Whatever you do now might not pay off in actual dollars today, but that's not the point. The point is to think long-term, so when the more traditional summer camp marketing season starts again in several months, many new prospects will already know about you.

[EDIT: Looks like there's actually FIVE, not four, summer marketing tips included in the post. I gave you a bonus! Enjoy!)