Three keys to ensuring a great staff every summer
Over the last couple of years, we have discussed many different aspects of marketing for your summer camp: Web sites, holistic branding, e-zines, podcasting and postcards Each is focused on maintaining a constant and consistent contact with the camp-going public, your prospects.
In this article, we are going to be talking about an aspect of camp marketing that may not immediately jump to mind–marketing for your staff.
As spelled out in an earlier column, one of the most important things you can do in planning your marketing is to understand who you are marketing to, what your message is going to be, and how you are going to reach them. In staff marketing, the three areas of approach are acquisition, retention and training. Acquisition is the process of actually recruiting counselors for the summer, retention is keeping your best people on board, and training is, well, about training. So let’s look at each step of the process and see how these things can work together to ensure your camp is staffed with the best people each and every summer.
Your staff is one of the most important aspects of your camp (I am sure you don’t need me to tell you that). It is the front line in how the children will be experiencing your camp. If it is not up to the job, then the image of your camp may suffer.
Finding the right people to become counselors at your camp need not be an impossible task.
Many camps have in place a counselor-in-training program, or CIT. With the CIT, you get to nurture and encourage the next generation of camp counselors from within the ranks of your regular campers.
Veteran campers make for the best CITs, as they have already come to know the camp intimately, and can really express with enthusiasm and excitement the experience to younger campers. You have the opportunity to develop future counselors from within the camper population, and have them trained before they become part of your staff … and go on salary.
Another way for reaching out to future counselors is through campaigns in area schools, both high schools and colleges. Postcards, letters and material created especially for these venues can give you an endless stream of potential staff to choose from every summer. Never underestimate the strength of establishing a strong relationship with a high school guidance department. The department knows the student population best, and is in a position to send you kids who would be most adept and skilled as counselors for your campers.
When kids return to your camp summer after summer, being able to see familiar faces makes the camp experience seem more like home. That kind of consistency can be invaluable in camper retention.
Using the same tools you use to find kids to attend your camp every summer can be used to ensure staff retention as well. Create a staff-based newsletter that goes out every month in the off-season. This can be written and put together by other staffers, so does not have to be a burden on you or your administrative staff. The newsletter will have news, events and recaps of past triumphs. It is designed to keep the family feeling strong among staff during the off-season.
You can also set up your Web site to enable a staff-only chat-room, where you can organize occasional online, live chats about any upcoming issues or ideas. A chat module is an easy upgrade for most Web sites, and can be controlled by you or another staff member. It does not have to be available every day, and can be accessed by password. With this kind of informal chat, you can help everyone stay together, people can catch up and stay in touch, and any problems or worries can be dealt with in an environment that is laid back and removed from the formal camp environment. They do not have to be long or involved conferences; in fact, the less formal they seem, the better they will feel to the staff.
More than a place for downloading staff applications or handbooks, the Web site can be a dynamic and exciting way to keep your staff together.
Once you have received all your staff applications for the summer, you can begin the training process long before the season starts, and you can do it through your Web site.
Unlike the less-formal chat-room format, where counselors and staff keep in touch with you and each other, you can use your Web site for more-formal training sessions, known as “webinars” in the industry.
A webinar is exactly what it sounds like: a seminar on the Web. You can use it to introduce new CITs to their expanded responsibilities before they show up for the first day; webinars can be used to introduce subjects that will require more in-depth training during the season, like mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, or other safety issues; it can be used to introduce people to new camp features, such as added recreational facilities.
Producing a webinar is relatively easy. It can be recorded using a digital video recorder, and then up-loaded to the camp Web site. Counselors and staffers can simply go online and watch it whenever they have the time. Access to the webinar password ensures that only your staff will view it, and it also allows you to see who has signed in to watch. Understanding your compliance rates with these types of things will allow you to better track and create webinars in the future.
A little innovation and thinking can go a long way towards creating and keeping a happy, cohesive and solid staff, the type of staff that campers will be happy to return to season after season, and the kind of staff the campers themselves would be glad to become a part of one day.
Tim Diering is the Vice President of Marketing at SumerCamp Design, a full-service marketing and design firm located in Amesbury, Mass. He can be reached at (800) 957-7175 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tim is also Camp Director for TTS Theater and Art Camp in Massachusetts.