Summer’s End

The end of summer is really just the beginning of the next one. Or, in other words, the best time to prepare for next year’s season is before the memories and lessons of the current one disappear forever.

Hopefully, all camper evaluations are in and accounted for, parent evaluations are probably still trickling in (and will continue for the next few weeks and months) and, if you’re really ahead of the technology curve, the results of your online evaluations have already spit out a report of trends and suggestions for the future of your camp.

All of this information will be useful. Here’s how to take advantage of it.

Time Is Of The Essence

Advance planning is no longer a luxury. In order to be successful, advance planning (one year is good, two is better) is a necessity. Why?

Because pushing your planning out one or two years provides you with:

1. Time to market and recruit campers

2. Time to create urgency among your parents

3. Time for word-of-mouth advertising to work

4. And, time to adjust your programs and offerings

A good way to start is during your summer programming. Provide your campers with a complete exit packet at the end of their session. The packet should include:

1. Next year’s basic schedule

2. Next year’s early registration form

3. Questions for parents to ask their camper using “camp language”

4. Fall calendar of events

5. Camp update newsletter providing information on camp projects and initiative

Right away you might be saying, “I don’t know what I will be offering! How can I ask them to sign up?”

Guess what? You’re right. You probably don’t know what specialty camps or special one-time programs you will be offering next year, but you do know the general dates, session lengths and basic camp programs you’ll be offering. Give these dates to your camp parents and encourage them to reserve their son or daughter’s spot early. As an incentive, keep the rate the same for all early reservations AND give parents who register early a camp T-shirt and card to wrap and place under the Christmas tree.

In addition to helping your parents with their holiday shopping, you may also have enough takers to dramatically change your cash flow during this typically slow period and you have early registrants – reducing the stress of the late winter and spring.

Just an idea – but the important thing to remember is this type of marketing is most effective if you start it on the first day of camp and continue it all the way until the next summer.

In the end, the more information you give your parents over the longest amount of time the greater the chance of word-of-mouth working for you.

But, I Didn’t Hand Out An Exit Packet!

If your camp has not already handed out early registration forms or did not provide exit packets this summer, don’t worry. There’s still time!

To take advantage of early registrations (and kick-start your marketing program), send a one-page flier to each of your summer campers with a basic program description and early registration form. Make sure they receive the flier before October 1st and that the deadline for early registrations is clearly communicated. (The deadline you set should allow enough time to process the form and mail out the card and t-shirt for arrival several days before Christmas.)

It’s also a good idea to let your parents know your new brochure will reach their homes in January and they can, if they wish, change their early registration to a specific program at that time.

The Big Mo — Momentum

One of the big advantages to planning a year or more in advance (and accepting early registrations) is it shows parents (and their friends) that you’re ready and professional. It also translates into momentum, which, in turn, translates into even more registrations.

Like all good word-of-mouth campaigns, this momentum is created when both your parents and your campers tell their peers they’ve already reserved space at your camp. When this discussion takes place eight months to a year out from the start of camp that really resonates with the listener. That’s powerful marketing.

Some camps work to build this momentum internally by training their staff to respond to inquiries with statements like, “That particular session has a few more spaces open but is filling fast.” One note of caution here, it’s important not to create a sense of urgency in an unethical manner, which means no lying. It’s better to create the idea of urgency by presenting prospects with advance registration packets, session information and actual early registration numbers.

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