by Gary Forster, YMCA of the USA
Create a year-round marketing / parent communication plan that puts special
emphasis on retention and word-of-mouth marketing:
Two basic concepts:
- The customer is ÛÏMomÛ, and her number one concern is safety.
- ÛÏWord of mouthÛ accounts for 85% of new campers, and we need
to direct a majority of our marketing dollars to supporting that sales force.
The Brochure must use its column-inches like
a grocery store uses shelf space: more space for programs with more beds (and
the most financial ÛÏmarginÛ). Summer camp needs twice the space
of any specialty program. Photos and photo captions must tell the whole story:
boys and girls, young to teens, multi-racial, safe, great staff, fun activities
to choose: swimming (showing the lifeguards, fun, and the natural surroundings
in the background), horses, kids on bunk-beds, showers, etc.
Counselor’s Parent Letter written Monday
and mailed Tuesday morning each week of camp. Parents are concerned about their
kids. Hearing from a positive role model who shows they already know their child
is a great reassurance and will alter the parents’ communications with
the camp, their child, and everyone they meet.
Camper’s Parent Postcard mailed Wednesday.
The result of a ÛÏthank those people who care for youÛ devotion or
Campers’ ÛÏEat your heart outÛ postcards
to their friends back home. Camp supplies postcards (with a photo of the pool
and the horses, and camp web site address prominently printed) and pays the
postage, even helps find the addresses using the internet for kids who don’t
Cabin Photos of each cabin group with their
counselors. Print 4×6 photos at one-hour photo and glue-stick them to the pre-printed
8 å_ x 11 card stock ÛÏframes.Û Give to every camper the last
morning so they can get signatures, addresses, etc. Counselor writes a positive
note for each camper in her/his cabin, and they are given out the morning the
campers go home (so they don’t get ruined before mom sees them!)
Director’s parent letter and Satisfaction Survey
with suggestions on how to ask ÛÏOpen-Ended QuestionsÛ when they
pick up their children.
Personal Letter of Invitation to all returning
campers, customized to their age and gender, to highlight those specific features
and benefits that we’d like you, (camper’s name here), to join us
for this summer!
Monthly contact with one of the following:
brochure, newsletter, or holiday card; each with the web site address prominently
displayed (and a reason to go there: ÛÏnew photos ofÛ_Û), and
each with a registration card, dates & rates for next summer. Each newsletter
should highlight a different program: summer camp, horses, teens, etc, matched
to the time they are most likely to sign up (teens are last), and pushing the
dates that most need selling. The full brochure should be designed to ÛÏhitÛ
on the third day of any school vacation. Second and third brochure mailings
should include a bright sticker: ÛÏplease share this with a friend!Û
Brochure displays for summer camp in the dining hall during
the spring-winter-fall, and keep them filled.
Brochure displays in every YMCA branch, refilled
by a camp part-time staff member (ÛÏMobile MarketerÛ) on a routine
basis (so the branch doesn’t have to store them). And bring fresh baked
cookies for the branch office staff! They are the ones that get the question,
ÛÏdo you have a resident camp?Û This has been a huge benefit to camps
that have done it this year.
Brochure displays at the camp dining hall for the Grand Rapids
YMCA family memberships and day camps. (Quid pro quo)
Registration Card and dates for next summer
ready for check-out days this summer.. ÛÏMany sessions filled completely
last summer. You can reserve your space for a $50 deposit, fully refundable
until March 1st.Û
Volunteer work weekends at camp (board, alumni
and parents), and Y branch ÛÏteamÛ work days at camp, to encourage
ÛÏownershipÛ by a diverse community base who will act as local cheerleaders.
All these same things apply for recruiting staff. Staff will be ready to re-apply
at all different months, not just when we want them too. And the best staff
have the most opportunities. They are being actively recruited to do other things.
That means you can’t just send them an application. Someone must call
them on the phone (or at least e-mail them personally) and individually ask
them to come back because you really want them.
And just as satisfied parents are the key source of new campers, good staff
members are the best source for new staff. But you have to give them the ammunition
they need to help you sell (web site, video, brochure, postcards, etc). And
encouragement. And thanks. (A little cash or a pizza helps, too.)
Other Specific areas:
Targeted Ages ÛÒFrom national experience,
if a camper comes to resident camp for the first time at age 7 or 8, they typically
have less than a 30% chance of returning for a second year. But if a camper
attends camp at ages 10 or 11, they have an 75 % chance of returning. The message?
Spend more time recruiting older kids than younger ones. (This relates to the
primary reason that only 20% of resident campers are members at any YMCA: local
Y’s don’t typically have members who are older than 9 or 10 years
Taking Phone Calls ÛÒ conduct coaching
sessions for everyone who answers the phone at camp. Hold brief ÛÏin their
officeÛ coaching sessions for YMCA branch front-desk staff. YMCAs may
have few kids of the right age for resident camps, but they get LOTS of phone
calls. Tom Madeyski just did a ÛÏsecret shopperÛ phone survey in
San Diego. Call him about it!
Phone registration: Why have parents (mom)
fill out a brand new registration card every year with all of the same information?
Promote phone registration; call those who haven’t registered by March
and offer to instantly register them over the phone. Or do as Camp Thunderbird
does: mail a computer-generated registration card to each family with all the
standard information already filled-in, so all they have to do is pick the weeks
and mail it or fax it back.
Offer Bank Draft as a camp payment option.
YMCA Branch Marketing: have a fun-filled bus
trip to camp for YMCA front-desk staff. Show the video on the bus, have a great
meal, give them a camp shirt and sing camp songs on the way back home.
Create a Video/DVD, produced this summer at
camp for next year’s marketing. Explore having it done for free by a major
Detroit area company’s in-house video department. If not, it’s still
a wise investment. Along with the internet, it can be the best supporter of
the ÛÏWord of Mouth Sales-force.Û
Rally the Alumni. Recruit a separate alumni
committee to create an on-line newsletter, and host alumni events like spring
and fall work weekends, and annual support phone-a-thon nights.
Improve the quality of branch YMCA day camps. Area YMCAs also
provide day camping, some of which is of good quality, others are not. A consistent
definition of ÛÏDay CampÛ would benefit all parents. The two key
components of ÛÏDay CampÛ are:
- A significant amount of time spent outdoors each day.
- Campers are assigned to a specific group and counselor (as apposed to the
ÛÏlifeguardÛ staffing arrangement of most child-care operations.)
When parents have good experiences at their local Y, they will
be much more likely to sign up for sessions of day camp and resident camp. Use
the ACA standards to identify priorities for each day camp.