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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!

Conclusion


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!

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