Getting the Story Straight - Guest Post from Michael Thompson

Making the most of your summer camp marketing opportunities

Excellent overnight summer camps - Lantern Camps

I love it when I pick up the phone to interview a camp director.  With rare exception, there’s a palpable passion that comes through, an absolute joy and pride in his or her camp home and the experience that’s created each summer.  When this shines through, it’s difficult not to get swept up into the director’s personality and love of camp. 

I’m struck, however, by the common refrains I hear once a director begins to explain his or her camp.  I’m in a unique position, having spoken to nearly 80 camp directors in an in-depth way that most parents don’t get to hear.  Part of the reason I get behind the curtain is that I know the right questions to ask. Without those, I confess that I’d be lost in a sea of commonality; left in a cloud of confusion about what is truly unique among camps.  Are we all really just the same? I fear that some parents think so.

So what do I hear?  Let me ask how many of us have ever uttered the following phrases, or something similar:

  1. “We’re a family-run camp” or “have a family-feel” or “become a part of a summer family”
  2. “We are definitely top-tier” or “we have a top-tier ‘x’ program”
  3. “Our camp is set along a pristine lake” or “nestled next to a gorgeous lake”

The list goes on…

I have no doubt that each of the statements is true, and that each is somewhat consumable among families who drink the camp juice.  Also, I am not suggesting that these aren’t valuable marketing points.  

What I’d like to challenge, however, is the messaging.  As parents try to sort through the noise of summer choices, these common refrains are not distinctive.  They become hollow, sound well-rehearsed, and dare I say, seem disingenuous.

So what are we to do?  Yes, a family-run camp is a potentially powerful marketing point.  Yes, lakes are lovely locations for camp, and yes, if you believe you have one of the top facilities or ‘x’ programs, then it should be noted.  The key is how you message it.  It is about authenticity.

I’m an advocate for story-telling to connect genuinely with prospective families.  A good story is engaging and illustrative in a way that catch-phrases or slogans aren’t.  Anyone who’s run a camp and loves kids has no shortage of great stories.  It can be a powerful way to illustrate what a family-run business means, how homesickness can be overcome, how hiring top-talent to run programs produces results, etc.  It speaks to parents in an authentic way and allows your passion to shine through.  I often advise parents to ask specific questions to get to the heart of a camp director. I am a believer that a camp is a direct reflection of its leadership, so if you discover more about the passion of the director, you will be more likely to learn more about the camp.

Great stories aren’t long ones.  They are succinct and often humorous or poignant.  Take a little time to think about the “why” for each of your selling points, and then think back to a moment, a time or an experience that illustrates it.

~Michael Thompson, Guest Contributor

[Travis' Note: Michael is one of our partners in the CampLighter Marketing Awards and the owner of Lantern Camps - a directory of fantastic sleepaway camps. He's a righteous dude.]