Camp Representatives Part 1: Turning Viral Moms into New Camper Applications

Developing a Camp Ambassador Program for Your Summer Camp

[Note from Travis: I talked a lot on our Summer Camp Marketing Wall Calendar about developing a Camp Ambassador program.  A couple of camps asked for some more clarification and ideas.   Instead of making up some stuff off the top of my head I figured I'd reach out to the woman who's taught me everything about Camp Ambassadors - what Green River Preserve calls Camp Representatives - one of our Camp Code Podcast co-hosts: Ruby Compton!  Part II coming next week]

This morning I logged into CampMinder and was delighted to see the pink notification in the upper right hand corner. Tadaah! Another camper application and it is one of those golden ones that all directors are excited to see. It was a new camper application. Naturally, I peeked at the hometown of the child and it was from a market that we hope to grow into further and have had campers from in the past but do not currently have a strong camper population. How did this camper, who seems to be handing me an in to a relatively untapped market, find out about us?

“Lead Source: Camper Parent”

My next thought: “VICTORY. The system is working!” Over the past couple of years, our focus on word of mouth marketing has ramped up and accounts for half of our 180-200 new camper applications we see on average each year. One component of that is our Camp Representative program.

On Closing Days during the summer, parents have the opportunity to sign up to become a Camp Representative. In the fall, camp sends them a Camp Representative Handbook and some promotional materials.

In the Handbook, it sums up the role when it states, “You are the camp advocate in your community.”

In August and September, my co-director calls the folks that have signed up to be Camp Representatives and asks them two questions. First, “do you have people in your network who are interested in learning more about summer camp?” If their answer is no, then she asks if they have any questions about spreading the word about camp and lets them know we are happy to support the Rep as he or she shares about camp.

Offers of phone calls and videoconferences are presented if the Rep does end up with a family who has some questions. However, we always point out, the word of a current camper family is far more powerful than anything our camp directors will ever say. After all, it is my job to sell camp. In contrast, it is a parent’s reputation and friendship on the line if they recommend an experience for another person’s child that does not go well.

If a parent does have prospective families, then my co-director moves to the second question, “We plan to be in your area on these dates. Do you want to schedule an event?” Note that the question is not the open-ended “When do you want to host a party?” After coordinating with dozens of Reps over the past four years, I have learned that schedules are tough and families are busy. Unless you come to the table with some concrete dates, it can be very difficult to settle on a time for your event. Check out this follow up post for a common agenda for what a Home Show looks like.

Why should the parent bother with the trouble of hosting their child’s summer camp for what essentially boils down to a sales pitch? Many parents feel such gratitude for the experience their children have had that they want to help and are not seeking specific financial gain. However, most camps do offer some sort of referral incentive to their Reps. The most common amount I have heard in our area is offering $100 tuition credit per new camper that is referred. My camp offers that credit as a refund at the end of the summer or as a tuition credit towards the next summer to ensure that the referred child actually comes to camp (no Ponzi schemes here!). Another camp in my area offers a 10% discount per new camper referral. Basically, refer ten campers and your child’s tuition is free.

Ways to utilize this group of people who want to help camp

1. Every other fall, my co-director and I call our entire list of current Camp Reps and ask if they want to continue to be Camp Reps. Then we ask some specific questions about the community where they are including events, publications, or other organizations where our camp would be well-served to have a presence. This generally provides some key marketing and demographic information and is worth the time as well as generating a personal connection with the Reps themselves.

2. Send an exclusive periodic email newsletter to your Camp Representatives or have them join a unique Camp Representative Facebook group. At GRP, I send a monthly email newsletter during the off-season. During January-March, the newsletter is sent weekly with updates from travels, suggestions on how to talk about camp, information about which staff are returning, and other pertinent info that helps these families feel like they are getting the inside look into camp.

3. Did you see this post from Sarah Kurtz McKinnon on the Summer Camp Professionals page? It is brilliant.

4. Ask your Camp Representatives to send out invitations for any camp events to their networks, whether the Rep is hosting or not. Any camp event is a great way to inspire discussion about camp. Your Reps can help you generate a buzz about camp even if the prospective families don’t attend the event.

5. My Reps are the network of people I turn to when a prospective parent calls camp to ask for parent references.

6. Get them on video talking about why they chose your camp for their children and why your camp is different. This is amazing content that can be recorded at home and shared with you or more professionally done when they come to pick up or drop off their campers.

7. Encourage them to contact relatives in other cities. Their ability to share camp is not limited by geographic boundaries.

Other best practices for getting the most out of your Camp Representatives

1. Provide them with information on how to talk about camp. It’s their personal experience that will be most impactful but it doesn’t hurt for them to know what your camper to staff ratio is.

2. Join’s email list for fantastic tips on getting your customers to talk about what you do. {Travis' add: and their sister email Damn, I Wish I Thought of That)

3. Be patient. Understand that a family starting to look at camps this year may not actually be ready to sign up for camp for another year or two. It may take a couple of years for a Rep to feel comfortable or ready to share about camp. They need to know that you will be there to support them when they are ready.

4. Know your Camp Representatives and their children. One of their benefits of being a Camp Representative is really getting to know some of the camp directors. Be prepared on closing day to tell a story about their child and reach out throughout the year to check up on their lives. In my experience, your commitment to a personal relationship and interest in their family will benefit camp (and, perhaps, you as a professional) in the long run.

5. Encourage your Reps to communicate with their networks via text. Also encourage them to consider the time of day your Reps are communicating with the prospective families. When does a mom start thinking about what she is going to serve for dinner the next night? That's when she needs to get your Rep's text message reminding her friend about coming over for pizza tomorrow night (when the camp director will happen to be there to share about camp too!).

What are some of your best practices for working with your Camp Representatives?

[Travis' Note:  Check out Part II: What is a Home Show and Learn From My Mistakes]

Keeping Kids at Summer Camp Safe

Child Protection & Safety Training at Summer Camp

The summer camp season is quickly approaching. As you work hard to finalize preparations for a busy and fun summer, it is also important to spend time focused on child protection safety training.

Training and educating camp staff, volunteers, and anyone else who comes in contact with child campers about how to best safeguard these children is a key component to preparing for a safe and fun summer season. Child safeguarding includes a range of health and safety issues, from protecting children against overheating and dehydration to preventing abuse or physical harm of children while in your care. 

Here are four useful tips to share with your staff to help ensure your child campers remain safe. 

Employ a Structured Safety and Risk Management Program

The most effective safety training is accomplished through a series of orientations, training sessions and skills assessments for all staff and volunteers. If you don’t already have one, consider developing a written Safety and Risk Management Handbook, which includes procedures to follow during a critical situation or emergency as well as safety regulations, standards, and inspection information.

Ensure Medical Care Policies are Written and Shared Among All Staff

Your camp should have written health policies and protocols that have been reviewed and approved by a physician with specialized training in children's health, preferably a paediatrician or family physician. Be sure to inquire about the previous training and camp experience of the camp health care provider and all staff, so you can identify any knowledge gaps and plan for additional training before the busy season kicks off.

Also consider establishing relationships with local dentists, orthodontists and mental health professionals who are willing to treat emergencies if the need arises.

Communicate Zero Tolerance Policies Regarding Abuse

Clearly worded, written and published rules of conduct consistent with law and camping industry standards must be established. Campers and staff must be trained, supervised and evaluated on their performance and appropriately disciplined should a breach occur, including expulsion from camp or termination from employment. It’s wise to always employ “two deep counsellor supervision,” which means that no adult will be allowed to be alone with a camper in an isolated place.

Staff should be trained to recognize signs of abuse as well as misconduct and report these to their supervisor or manager.

Train Staff to be “Upstanders” to Prevent Bullying at Camp

Bullying is prevalent and has a high impact on emotional functioning, so it is vital that summer camps take steps to tackle the problem head on. An “upstander” is someone who recognizes, responds to, and reports bullying behaviour. Dedicated anti-bullying training for staff, and campers, will stop cycles of abuse before they even begin and ensure a positive camp experience for every camper.

About the Author

Keir McDonald MBE is founder and Director of EduCare, an online training solutions company that specializes in child protection, exploitation and online safety, and bullying and child neglect. EduCare is associated with both Kidscape and Family Lives and customers include over 4,000 schools and colleges and 12,000 pre-schools as well as councils, the NHS, charities and more.

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.]

Could this be the best summer camp video ever?

Making great camp marketing videos is so important!

Birch Trail Camp for Girls just released their new 2015 marketing video and it is AWESOME.

[We're totally biased, of course, because we were involved in the production of the video but even if we weren't we'd still LOVE it.]

BTC's director, Gabe Chernov, came to me this past winter and said that he'd like to be the one to create the video that I've been talking about in so many of my presentations. (such as 10 Things Every Camp Should Do On YouTube)

I've been so inspired by how photographer Sue Bryce's promo video so clearly talked to her ideal client.   It was focussed on the life of a woman who would love to have her portrait shot by Sue - it wasn't a video about Sue at all.  Because her client could see herself in the video she would be much more likely to purchase a session from Sue than another photographer who's video is all : ME, ME, ME, BUY FROM ME.

The elements that make this video a success:

  • It's narrative (it has a story) so people will watch longer that 60-90 seconds.  I don't know how to say this any plainer: your camp video is too damn long!
  • The music pulls you through the story with a great melody and a wonderful message.
  • It's high end.   Yes, you absolutely can create great camp marketing videos on an iPhone (so long as they are SHORT). This video, however, shows what you get when you're ready to invest in video as a marketing tool.
  • It's emotional.   Yet another camp video of sailboats, kids swimming and your oh-so-clever-grouping of multi-ethnic kids hugging... not emotional.  Boring.
  • It surprises you.  The camera work includes some great angles to really immerse us in the story (I loved being there to see the UAV camera work!).
  • It plainly shows the ways that Birch Trail Camp transforms the lives of the girls and young women that go there.

 Check it out:

What elements of this video do you like or dislike?  Leave us a comment below!

A "HINT" for Wrapping Up Your Summer - Joanna Warren Smith

Scrutinize Your Summer Camp Product

Every Camp Director boasts that he or she had 'the best summer ever.' But even if that is the case, there had to be issues.  No program is perfect and 'good enough' is not the place at which to position your camp in a very competitive marketplace.


  • Debrief with your Leadership Team.  If you've already done this, great, but if not, get everyone together via conference call if necessary to pick apart the summer ... and encourage them to be brutal in their analysis.
  • Prioritize issues to be addressed.  There are 'no brainers' that can be easily fixed and those that will require more attention.  Take care of the obvious ones and focus on the 2 or 3 elements that will cause parents NOT to have their children return.  Solve those issues.
  • Market the changes to parents now.  Along with valid reasons for campers to return, mention the issues that have been resolved.

Consumers do not expect your product to be perfect, but they do have every right to expect that you will be constantly improving both the parent and  camper experiences.


Need an objective perspective on any aspect of camp?  Give me a call at 310-451-1876 or email

(Note from Travis:   We are so thrilled to be posting the always brilliant HINTS from camp consultant Joanna Warren Smith!  If you don't already you should sign up to receive theses HINTS in your email - in the right-hand column of Joanna's website: