A HINT for your personal motivation (Clue: it will get you more 2017 campers) - Joanna Warren Smith

Summer Camp is Only 10 Months Away!

I say that not to encourage additional R&R but rather to provoke you into action.  In order to present the best version of your camp in 2017, you need every minute between now and opening day to refine, design, plan and execute.
But first, let’s start the camper recruitment process!  No matter how good you think your program was last year, campers will not 'magically' return and new prospects will not 'materialize' unless you are intentional about monthly connections with each of 5 Networks … 2016 Parents, 2016 Campers, New Acquisition Prospects, 2017 Parents and 2017 Campers.

Take Action Now!

  • Affirm for 2016 Parents that they made a good investment.  Before you send an Early-Bird Sales Promotion, give parents insight into what their children accomplished at camp and what they’ll be able to achieve next summer.  Private camps often communicate personally with families while not-for-profits usually do more generic communications by gender and ages.
  • Reconnect 2016 Campers emotionally.  By snail or parent email, encourage campers to use what they learned about themselves at camp in school to have a great year.  Or give them a link to view the slide show that you presented at the closing ceremony.  The purpose here is to keep kids ‘thinking camp’ so that at whatever point a parent asks ‘Do you want to go back to camp?’ the answer is an enthusiastic and resounding 'YES!'
  • Reach out to Potential Families.  Those who inquired for 2016 but did not attend, those who toured this summer and 2015 (plus previous) families who missed last year are the most logical first outreaches to capture new acquisitions.  Use short, powerful message of the benefits of your camp with captivating visuals.  The most successful of these campaigns are personalized or targeted to each specific group.  Parents report in focus groups that they want to be ‘courted to the sale.’
  • Affirm the choice made by 2017 Parents.  Warmly and professionally confirm registrations, thanking parents for their trust in you.  Be certain that automated messages reflect your personality and further your relationships with parents.  Please don’t assume that what you’ve been sending for the past few years will work now.  Camps all over the country have been horrified when they follow the communication trail that a registration commences.
  • Welcome 2017 Campers.  Send a postcard directly to campers, give a gift or both.  Just be certain to do something that will heighten camper anticipation.  The price of the gift is not the issue, the connection to camp is.

Start the recruitment year off with a full-court press and do it now for maximum impact.  And please, if your website is not current, get your 2017 Rates/Dates and new programs/facilities up ASAP!!!


Do you have an issue you want to tackle before the summer starts? Give me a call at 310-451-1876 or email joanna@camp-consulting.com

(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 these HINTS in your email - in the left-hand column of Joanna's website: http://camp-consulting.com/) 

A Hint to Increase Your Camp Enrolment - Joanna Warren Smith


Parent's Want to Be Courted by Joanna Warren Smith. Photo Credit: Travis Allison, CampHacker

Parent's Want to Be Courted by Joanna Warren Smith. Photo Credit: Travis Allison, CampHacker

In focus groups, parents are eager to share the details of their camp selection process. 

Unfortunately, a majority report that at least one of the camps that they were considering ignored their requests for information and a number of the others never followed up or ‘courted’ them to the sale.   Parents also indicated that when they received information, their names were often misspelled and when they spoke with camp reps on the phone, they were treated rudely and rushed.
The camps that made the final cut were the ones that were confident, proactive and accessible.  The camp that was ultimately selected helped parents see what the ‘return on investment’ would be for their child.
Take Action Now

  • Assess your ‘new inquiry’ protocols.  Listen carefully to your reps who speak to parents on the phone and in person.  Study the chronology, content and ‘warmth level’ of communications that parents receive via your website, snail or email.  Determine if it is REALLY EASY for parents to indicate interest via your website.  Parents are 'totally turned off' to the camps that request detailed sign-in information.  They want to easily ask a question and many like the 'chat' option.  Too many parents have indicated that they simply cannot find phone numbers anywhere.
  • Confirm that each and every inquiry is captured and stored.  Essential information includes email, parent’s name, child’s name/age and date of inquiry.  If you can secure the address and phone, that’s even better.
  • Determine a revitalized ‘new inquiry’ chronology of communication.  Establish a style that will set you apart from other camps.  Standardize your series of verbal, snail and email communications to be SUCCINCT, warm, professional and confident of what a parent’s ROI will be when they send their child to your camp.  Respond to all inquiries immediately.  Build relationships, ‘partner with parents’ through the selection process and ‘court’ them to the sale.

Treat each and every prospective parent with respect and you’ll significantly increase your ‘inquiry to conversion’ rate.

Happy New Year!  Here’s to a great summer in 2016 …



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

(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: http://camp-consulting.com/) 


A "New Acquisition" HINT from Joanna Warren Smith


Too many camps rely solely on retention and ‘word of mouth’.  They assume that because they are doing good things for kids that new interest will naturally evolve.  Unfortunately, that kind of thinking has marginalized lots of camps and has led to compromised program and financial uncertainty.

A steady stream of New Acquisitions is critical to guarantee viability with capacity populations, but it takes an unwavering commitment to make it really happen.  That being said, I challenge you to make this time until the end of the year really productive.


  • Psych up the troops.  At the end of day today, call your team together for only 5 minutes.  Explain that for the next week, you are going to focus on identifying methods by which to increase New Acquisitions.  Make it fun, encourage true ‘out of the box’ thinking and identify ‘an incentive’ or 'bragging rights' to engender  enthusiastic participation.
    Encourage a new mind set.  Eliminate past restrictions.  Embolden the team with an attitude of ‘people are superhuman’ and that ‘money is no object’.
  • Keep it real.  Focus on connecting with families who can afford your programs.
  • Feed their imaginations.  Suggest that they look for new camper opportunities with schools, youth organizations, communities where you’re connected, zealots in your camp family, uncultivated geographic areas, alumni, pediatricians, vendors that moms frequent (e.g., grocery stores and gyms), membership connections, friends of the organization, donors, board members, mommy bloggers, previous inquiries and other clients of your business.  Encourage them to look for events in your service radius that are kid focused (e.g., athletic tournaments and community festivities).
  • Meet at 11 AM on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday for ONLY 20 MINUTES.  Set an alarm, start precisely on time (even if some folks are not there) and stop immediately when time is up.  Have a neutral 'scribe' take notes and at the end of each session, share them with all team members in a running format.  Encourage each participant to consider all ideas, identify those that have the most potential and determine a methodology by which to make the promotion successful.  The next day, ask them to bring their best new acquisition idea to the table and 'sell it' with a 2-minute promotion.
  • Empower individuals.  17 minutes into the meeting on Friday, stop the conversation and request that over the weekend, they consider all suggestions and zero in on the one that really has the potential to develop a solid base of new buyers of your camp product.  If your team is large, suggest that two or three like-minded folks join forces.  In a small shop, each individual must present.
  • Evaluate opportunities.  At 11 AM on Monday, December 14, team members should make short, but complete presentations, after which everyone in the room  votes for the 'best' new acquisition methodology.  Discuss the winners.
  • Make a commitment.  Identify only one or two promotions that can really be managed well and plan the details for the January launch.

Trust me, the process works and your enrollment will definitely be stronger with an intense focus on new acquisitions.

  Joanna                                     Let me know which New Acquisition strategies you implement.

Email campconsulting@verizon.net or call 310-451-1876.

(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: http://camp-consulting.com/) 

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 wordofmouth.org’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]

A 'HINT' To Encourage Your Camp's Unique Identity - Joanna Warren Smith

"Summer Camps All Look the Same!"

That's what parents tell me in focus groups.  They reflect back on their process of investigating possible camp options and lament that the websites generally look the same and the visuals show the same smiling faces.  They agree that copy seems to say the same thing in too many words, the camp reps all use the same language (some more engaging than others) and that generally, there are no distinguishing factors.

Moms and dads say they would like to find a ‘partner in parenting’ and they want to know that their child will benefit from the experience.  One dad emphatically stated, “When I pay the tuition, I want a real return on my investment!”

All that being said, wouldn’t it be to your advantage to feature your distinguishing characteristics or at least the philosophical elements that guide you?  If your identity is featured appropriately, it may well grab a parent’s attention and give you the first opportunity to connect.

Take Action Now!

Test your messaging.

Test your messaging.

  • Confirm Authentic Outcomes.  What do you intend for your campers to metaphorically ‘take home in their back packs’?  What positive changes in kids do parents notice and write to you about?  Work with your leadership team to come up with a list of benefits that your experience actually delivers consistently to the majority of your campers.  Be certain that these outcomes align with your mission, reflect your philosophy and apply to all age groups.
  • Translate Your Outcomes to Resonate with Parents.  If you can get kids to ‘unplug’ and parents have trouble making that happen, they will likely respond.  If you’re building skills, increasing confidence or teaching social skills, parents might want to know more.  If your camp gets kids started on 21st Century Skills, there may be a connection.
  • Refine Your Key Message & Use It Consistently. Present your camp’s name, logo and key message, but please don’t use the attached examples because they are not likely to accurately portray your actual product.  Avoid using FUN & FRIENDS as parents indicate that these should be elements of every camp experience which should be conveyed through great visuals. 
  • Test Your Messaging.  Even if your team unanimously agrees on your ‘positioning statement’ or ‘tag line’, run it by your parents who are zealots and those who are more neutral about your experience.

For some camps, this process is easy; for others, it takes months to figure out the right words to capture the essence of their programs, but, trust me, it is definitely worth the effort.


Send me your statement finalists and I’ll give you my honest reactions.  Give me a call at 310-451-1876 or email campconsulting@verizon.net

(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 these HINTS in your email - in the right-hand column of Joanna's website: http://camp-consulting.com/)

A 'HINT' to Feature 'Return on Investment' - Joanna Warren Smith


In Focus Groups, parents tell me that they expect an immediate post-camp communication from the Director that speaks as personally and as specifically as possible to their child’s experience.  Parents are angered when the first thing they receive after camp is a sales pitch for the next year. 

Parents report that they want closure and you want the opportunity to help them understand why they should 're-invest' in their child.


  • Determine your direction.  If you can easily write personal letters to each parent, that's perfect.  If you are able to target sessions, ages or genders for similar reporting, that's good.  But many camps are absolutely limited to one blanket communication to all families at the same time.  If that's the case, based on parent input, it is still better than nothing at all and the effort should happen.
  • KISS.  You’re busy and it's the end of the summer.  This outreach will not happen unless you ‘Keep It Simple, Stupid’.  Commit to a date by which your email/letter will be sent to parents and then put the systems in place.  The easiest way to go is an email with YOUR CAMPER’S SUMMER EXPERIENCE in the subject line.
  • Create a short, powerful summary of the summer.  IN ONE PARAGRAPH, focus on what kids accomplished rather than what they did and how campers were positively influenced by their counselors.  Make certain that everything you report is accurate in terms of product delivery and reflective of your philosophy.
  • Invite parents to be in touch with you.  Most parents will not connect with you, but all will appreciate the offer.  Those who do outreach will be genuinely interested in enrolling for next summer.  Be certain to have as much information as possible about individual campers before returning calls or emails to parents.
  • Encourage parents to 're-invest' in their children next summer.  DO NOT use this communication as the time to announce your early-bird incentive.  This outreach is not a sales tool.  It is a timely opportunity to build relationships and help parents realize that another camp experience with you is what's best for their child and that they should prioritize and budget for camp for next summer.

When you connect with parents immediately after camp, you will have officially kicked-off your retention effort for 2016.  Go for it!


Want help with that powerful paragraph?  Give me a call at 310-451-1876 or email campconsulting@verizon.net

(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 these HINTS in your email - in the right-hand column of Joanna's website: http://camp-consulting.com/)