A Shrinking Window

Last May, a camp director called me in a panic. “We’re way behind in registrations, and I’ve tried everything! I don’t know what to do!” While we talked, I pulled up his Web site. I asked, “Are you aware that your Web site still has the 2006 dates and says ‘2007 registration coming soon’?” Hmm. Tried everything?

When you hear “camp marketing,” what do you think of? Direct-mail brochures, postcards, Web pages, newspaper ads, camp fairs and an equally demanding amount of staff time dedicated to creating, mailing, distributing and attending? A major portion of a budget is invested in Web and print design, printing, mailing, advertising, fees, travel and hotels.

And why do all of this? To get a parent to sign a child up for camp, most likely by mail or online. And that’s where many of us make a critical error.

A large percentage of parents need to get a question or two answered before they’re ready to sign up. (After all, this is an expensive purchase involving their most precious possession–their irreplaceable child.) It might be as simple as “Do you have space in session four?” or as complicated as a first-time mom seeking assurance that your staff, activities, menu and facilities are a good match for her expectations.

The Telephone Battle

Here’s my experience calling many camps in February and March:- “Hi, you’ve reached camp, and our office hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.” (it’s now 2 p.m.). “If this is an emergency, dial this other number.” (Do emergencies happen so often it’s the first choice on the voice mail?) “If you’d like to reach the archery range, dial 1; the boathouse, dial 2; the kitchen, dial 3. For resident camp information, dial 23.” The extensions have been assigned alphabetically, so everyone must listen to the whole list! Why voice mail during the day? Possibly because the office manager decided, “Phone calls really slow my work flow.” I pointed this out to one director, and he responded, “I’m not sure I can convince her to change it.” Hmm.

And that’s if Mom can even find the phone number. I’ve seen dozens of camp Web sites where the phone number is missing, or hidden in small type on the “contact us” page. I asked several of those directors why, and (you guessed it), the response was, “Our office manager asked us to not put the phone number there, as the whole reason for the Web site is so parents don’t call us.” Better go check your own Web site!

Who answers the phone at your camp? Hopefully, someone who has been at campfires, knows what goes on in the cabins, has participated in activities, and worked with the campers and counselors. Some camp receptionists and registrars are real experts in helping parents and selling the camp. But too often, I’ve overheard conversations like this: Parent: “Hello, I’d like information about your summer camp.” Receptionist: “Can you get on the Internet? I can give you our Web address,” or “Give me your address, and I’ll mail you a brochure.” The goal apparently is to end the call quickly in order to “get back to work.”

So the parent calls the next camp on the list, and the receptionist says, “How can I help you?” When the discussion goes to areas she’s not familiar with–like supervision issues or specific program offerings–she says, “Our camp director is here today, and I’m sure she can answer your question for you. Let me connect you!” Where does the camper ultimately go?

Trial By Fire

Page 1 of 2 | Next page

Related posts:

  1. The Elevator Speech
  2. Campers Take Notice
  3. Ready, Aim, Fire!
  4. Your Year-Round Resource
  5. Answer The Phone!
  • Columns & Features
  • Departments
  • Writers