Is Summer Camp Marketing Unethical?
Do you think summer camp marketing is unethical?
Some camp directors -- especially those who’ve been running their camps forever -- often find themselves in a quandary about this. They fight like hell with themselves about whether summer camp marketing is an "ethical practice." The notion of marketing their own camps causes them a great deal anxiety, because they're afraid they'll be viewed poorly by the general public or even their peers.
Meet Jenny, a Camp Director from Maine
Take Jenny. She's a camp director in Portland, Maine who says camps and camp directors are looked upon poorly when we advertise. I don't know whether that’s Jenny's personal opinion or if she took a formal survey and she's repeating the results. (I didn't bother asking, even though she wanted me to.)
In any case, Jenny's point is well-taken. And it raises the threshold question, does marketing demean our profession?
Here’s my view.
If you've got a kick-ass camp, the world needs to know about it. If you run a safe, fun, well-organized program, you're doing families a disservice by keeping it a secret. So when you give your camp the attention it deserves with a well-put-together marketing plan, everyone wins.
Now if your camp has an established reputation, you're probably getting lots of word-of mouth-referrals by default. But these days that's not enough.
If you really want to thrive, and stay competitive, you need a constant stream of new enrollment every year. You're only gonna get that by proactively marketing your camp with a consistent, creative, effective marketing approach.
I'll go a step further. You need to market your camp or deal with irrelevancy.
Now if you don’t want to be competitive –- if you want to fall behind what others in the industry are doing -- don’t bother marketing your program. But if you want to sell out your camp each year, you need to market like crazy.
Let’s get something straight. I’m not saying camp directors should use sleazeball marketing tactics like you see personal injury lawyers doing on T.V. (Those 1-800 Bad Drug commercials make me sick.) I AM saying you need to find that "fine line" you're uncomfortable crossing, then promote, promote, PROMOTE until you're just about to cross it.
How I Market My Own Camp
At Aloha Beach Camp, we like to push the envelope. We have an “edgy” marketing style that compliments our image. We like it that way. Other camp directors might prefer a more low-key approach. You need to decide for yourself what you feel comfortable doing and how aggressive you want to be.
Hard-core marketers say the way to get maximum exposure for your camp is to be controversial. You could do that any number of ways. Maybe you'd pick an enemy -- a competitor -- and have a public war of words with them. You'd certainly get some press that way.
(In my opinion, that’s unethical, too. I wanna puke when I see one company disparage another in their marketing. Yet that’s exactly how marketing’s done in today’s world. It’s just part of the competitive landscape.)
Back to Jenny. This isn't the first time I've heard from her. She enjoys arguing with me and other bloggers, usually just for argument's sake. But I certainly respect her opinion. I respect everyone’s opinion, even when I disagree with them.
I’ll tell you what though. From the looks of things, the public isn't offended by summer camp marketers one bit.
If marketing diminished our profession, enrollment wouldn’t be growing, prospects wouldn’t call, your website would be a ghost town and nobody would ever show interest in your program. I doubt any of that's happening to you. At least I hope it isn't.
As one marketing guy put it, “If Coke stopped advertising, Pepsi would sell a lot more soda.”
What that means is this. You gotta keep marketing, otherwise kids will miss out on what you've got to offer. Worse, you could lose them to your competition no matter how good your camp might be.
And please don’t EVER be ashamed to market your camp. There's nothing unethical about it, unless you choose to make it that way.