How to Create a Music Summer Camp Part II | Ep 222

Things To Avoid With Summer Camp


1. Targeting The Wrong Age Group

Typically, the sweet spot for summer camp is kids between the ages of 7 and 12. You can get some teenagers, but most likely in the 7- to 11- or 12-year-old age group.


From a marketing standpoint, you want to use an image of kids that is focused on the 7 to 12 age group, not showing teenagers. Someone might think, “Well, I do get a few teenagers in my camp,” but I have a hunch that the majority of your campers are in that younger age group. 


So it’s always recommended to focus your messaging on where the majority of your campers are coming from, at least in terms of age.


2. Being Too Academic

You want to avoid your camp becoming too academic.


Parents want camp to be loose, to be fun, to be casual. It’s great if they learn something. It’s great if they learn some skills.


On my previous camp episode, camp director Andy Brown talked about how parents do want their children to develop some skills from summer camp. Some of those skills don’t necessarily have to be music-related. They can include abilities in team building and leadership.


Focus on Fun and Experience

In my summer camp, I originally had a packet of different lessons that the students were going to go through on their instruments. Just to provide a bit more context, my summer camp offered private lessons in guitar, drums, bass, and piano for the kids.


And I had a little booklet with a few pages on developing skills for each of those instruments. However, it didn’t sit well with the kids. Presenting a book is the last thing kids want to see in the summer. So, focus more on fun and experience, and avoid being too academic.


3. A Lack of Structure 

Also, something to avoid—something I was guilty of in the early years—is a lack of structure in the camp day. You don’t want to have too much structure; you need to find that balance. What I have found is that it’s important for activities to exist within a 30-minute to 60-minute timeframe.


Be Flexible

Creating a nice, steady pace to the day is good, but you run the risk of things being too loosey-goosey if there isn’t enough structure. It’s also important for your staff to have some flexibility with the camp day. If a certain activity is a hit with the kids and it’s only scheduled for a 45-minute timeframe, let them extend it. Even if it’s something game-related that takes away from actual music time, so be it.


Community Building

You really want to focus on building community in the camp, and sometimes more game-driven activities are good for that. You want to avoid a lack of variety not only within individual camp days but also throughout the course of the week. In my case, I ran camps for both one and two weeks.


Unique Experiences

Each day should have its own unique feel and theme. You don’t want the camp to become boring, so one way to avoid that is to give each day its own distinct complexion.


How to Make a Great Summer Camp

So here are three ingredients that make for a great summer camp.


1. Create A Sense Of Community

One, as I alluded to a moment ago, is creating a sense of community and building a tribe within your camp. Additionally, games and competitions help create this community. They provide an opportunity for everyone in your camp to bond and connect.


In my previous episode about camp, Andy Brown talked about the value of dividing parts of the day into activities where kids are grouped individually, as well as activities where everyone comes together for a communal experience. This is where games or competitions can come into play.


You could even divide the campers into different groups for communal activities, competitions, or games. My camp focused on kids playing music in groups.


However, during the games and competition segments, kids were divided into different teams, allowing them to bond on a deeper level and form connections with other campers who were not in their music group.


2. Standout Memorable Moments

Another important ingredient for summer camp success is creating standout memorable moments. For instance, on Wednesday, you could surprise the campers with popsicles or another special treat, creating a memorable experience.


Pizza Friday or Summer Barbecue

Similarly, on Friday, instead of having the kids bring lunch, you could order pizza, which would also be a standout moment. Additionally, at the end of the summer, you could host an end-of-summer barbecue and invite all the kids who attended camp.


Rock Star Entrance

In a previous summer camp podcast, I spoke about creating a rock star entrance. This involves buying a red carpet, laying it out at the entrance, setting up security barriers with chain links to connect the poles, and having one or two staff members dress up as security personnel, complete with earpieces, sunglasses, and maybe even a suit and tie. They could hold a clipboard with the campers’ names.


On the first day of camp, campers would go through this security entrance to enter the camp, creating an over-the-top moment. You could really build on this rock star entrance.


Photos and Autographs

Imagine the first day of camp: nervous kids entering through the security entrance. When each kid says their name, the camp counselor could respond with enthusiasm. For example, if a kid named Connor McDonald says his name, the counselor, checking the clipboard, could exclaim, “Connor McDonald, the rock star! I love your music, I love all your albums. Can I get an autograph?”


This interaction would help break the ice and make the kid feel welcome. The parent might even want to take a photo of the moment. The counselor could suggest, “Why don’t you take a picture of me posing with your rock star son?” Such moments are likely to be shared on social media, which kids love.


Creating standout, memorable moments is crucial. These are the moments that kids will remember throughout the school year. You want them to daydream about your camp during those long days in the classroom.


You can achieve this by creating experiences that are over-the-top and incredibly fun, igniting excitement in the kids.


3. Tribe Building

I want to talk about building a tribe. How do you do that? I mentioned team building earlier; it’s crucial for creating a sense of culture and community.


Camp Names

One thing you could do is have the kids come up with their own camp names. I remember my older brother went to a camp where they did this, and I was so jealous of him! I wanted to go to that camp just because of the camp names.


So, that’s something the kids could do on the first day: come up with a camp name, and then you refer to them by that name throughout camp. You could pitch it as their stage name.


I do this in my Kidzrock and Piano Jam classes, where I encourage the kids to come up with a name that starts with the first letter of their first or last name. It can be an animal, a food, or a descriptive word. My stage name was always Dynamo Dave.


Quite often, kids would say that one of their favorite aspects of the program was having a stage name.


Customs and Rituals

Customs and rituals. Again, that’s something that Andy Brown and I spoke about on the previous episode: creating these different customs and rituals like the rock star entrance is a good one.


At my music school’s camp, we had a music game show, and one of the counselors served as the host. He would don a cheesy 70s mustache, which made it quite silly. However, the kids absolutely loved the game show.


Customs and rituals are fantastic because they give returning campers from the previous year something to look forward to. They’ll be excited to return and participate in these familiar rituals, and it’s a way for them to demonstrate to new campers how these traditions are carried out.


Games and Competitions

Ideally, even with just six kids at your camp, you can divide them into two different groups.


If those six kids are rehearsing music separately, that’s great. You can have them compete band against band or tribe against tribe. As I mentioned, you can mix the kids up for different activities. For instance, if they’re going to participate in a competition, they can have an opportunity to work with another camp counselor who isn’t with them during music time.


Games and competitions create drama and excitement in camp. They’re always a great go-to activity if you’re worried that the camp day might drag on or become boring. These games and competitions often create standout memories for the kids.


So, here are a few standout moment ideas. I’ll define a standout moment as one that’s surprising, exhilarating, over-the-top, unexpected, and story-worthy. It’s a moment or experience that a child is likely to share with their parents when they get home.


The last thing you want is for your campers to get picked up by their parents and respond with, “It was all right,” when asked how the camp was. If a parent picks up their child and asks about their day, you want the child to excitedly reply, “It was awesome! We had ice cream at the end of the day!” For a kid, that’s a big deal.


Water Balloon Fights, Ice Cream Truck, and Popsicle Fairy

Water balloon fights can create memorable moments. Consider renting an ice cream truck for the day. You can contact an ice cream truck company and inquire if they can visit your school. You’ll pay for the ice cream, and everyone gets a treat.


Another idea is to introduce a character like “Pinky the Popsicle Fairy” for special days, such as “Popsicle Day” on Wednesdays. Have a staff member dress up in a tutu with wings and introduce themselves as Pinky the Popsicle Fairy, distributing popsicles to the kids. It might seem silly, but children adore such experiences.


It’s important that you can reconnect with your nine-year-old self. Things that may not seem impressive to you now as an adult can mean a lot to a kid.


Ice Cream Parlor and Evening Concert

Organizing an ice cream meetup, perhaps on the day before the last day of camp or even in the evening of the final day, where everyone gathers at a local ice cream parlor and you treat them to ice cream, can be a great idea.


The kids enjoy the opportunity to see their camp friends and counselors outside of the camp setting. Another idea is to host an evening concert, which can create a standout moment.


Now the kids are coming back to camp in the evening, bringing their parents, which breaks up the day a little bit.


Summer Camp Marketing Strategy

1. Ask Questions

Now, I want to discuss a summer camp marketing strategy. Successful summer camps should implement a year-round marketing process.


So let’s say you run a camp this year. From September through December, you could send occasional summer camp memories via email, including photographs and videos. Perhaps you could send one email a month to your campers from the previous summer.


Some Data You Might Need

And then in January, what I like to do is survey the families in my school to get a sense of their typical summer activities:


  • How many weeks do they usually travel?
  • Do their kids attend sleepaway camps?
  • Do their kids attend day camps in town?
  • If yes, how many weeks do they typically attend day camps?


It’s important to understand the typical summer routines of your families to tailor your marketing strategies effectively. This information will help you decide whether to offer a one-week camp or a two-week camp.


In my market, I found that two-week camps outperformed one-week camps. Additionally, they were more profitable. They were easy to fill.


2. Run an Early Bird Special

Then in February, I like to open enrollment for camp, offering an early bird special.


But be cautious with the early bird special. You don’t want to offer too big or aggressive of a discount. I lost $10,000 one year because I had a very aggressive early bird special that ran for two weeks. All of my campers from the previous year took advantage of it, but these were people that I probably would have enrolled anyway.


So even if it’s a 5, 10, or 15% discount, consider running the early bird special for just a week. From January through March, you’ll want to start attending summer camp fairs in your area.


3. Make Your Booth Stand Out

If you’re in a highly populated market, there are likely summer camp fairs taking place. It may be too late to get into them for this year, but you’ll want to identify who hosts these summer camp fairs, where you can set up a booth and present your summer camp.


At the summer camp fair, I always made sure that my booth was really over the top. I brought stage lights and set up an instrument petting zoo. I also became skilled at engaging people as they walked by the different booths.


I really invested a lot of time and money in making my booth look exciting. What’s nice about the summer camp fairs is that they also provide an opportunity to promote your school in general.


It’s a chance to connect with people and not only sell your camp, but also promote your year-round music lessons.


4. Build Your Email List

Typically at these camp fairs, I would offer a drawing. People could give me their name and email, and I would let them know that we’d pull a name out on March 1st. The winner would receive a free week of summer camp. Additionally, I would inform them that even if they didn’t win, just by entering, they would receive a consolation prize of a hundred dollars off a camp.


So, with all of these strategies, I would typically receive over a hundred emails each year from these fairs. This means I can market to these people throughout the year. Therefore, the summer camp fairs are huge.


In March or April, I would hold my free week of camp drawing. This was an opportunity to not only involve the people from the fairs but also to re-engage with the other emails I had received from the camp fair.


5. Reach Out Through Phone Calls

Then in April through May, as camp approaches, I start making phone calls. My alpha staff also join in on the calls, perhaps with less aggressive promotion, or maybe no promotion at all.


We might reach out to people who had responded to earlier email marketing efforts by clicking on the links. Our approach would be simple: “Hey, we have three openings left in this camp session. We’d be more than happy to reserve a spot for you.” While making these calls is labor-intensive and time-consuming, it’s definitely worth it.


6. Launch a 24-Hour Flash Sale

And then in May, if I was really concerned about camps not filling up, I might consider doing a 24-hour flash sale with a discount on camp. I didn’t do it every year, but occasionally I would.


You want to be careful not to run too many promotions as it could devalue your product.


Avoid being too aggressive with your promotions. For example, if you offer a 50% discount on camp, you’re essentially signaling that the camp’s value can be reduced by 50%, even if it’s just a 10% discount.


But the May flash sale was something I only had in my back pocket if I was worried about camps filling up. I typically ran 10 weeks of camp from the end of May through mid-August. There might have been one specific camp session that I was particularly concerned about, so I would run a flash sale just for that session.


7. Offer Discount for Fall Sessions

Now, I want to talk about marketing during the actual summer months. One strategy is to offer discounts to your current campers who are not enrolled or maybe new to your music school for the fall session.


During the summer months, you want to focus on building relationships with parents who have children in camp but have never enrolled in the school.


You don’t want to be pitching them lessons throughout the camp week, but I would always take note of any new campers joining for a particular session.


For example, in the June 1st to June 15th session, if I noticed three kids who had never been involved here before, I would make a note of it.


Connect with Parents

I need to make a point to connect with the parents, introduce myself to them. I’d send them an email the first day of camp:


“Hey, just wanted to give you a quick update. Connor seems to be having a good time at camp. He really seemed to be enjoying himself while everybody was having a blast doing our music game show.”


It’s a short email like that, but nurturing that relationship with no sales intention whatsoever until camp is over. And then you reach out. You want to spend that week or two that the child’s in your camp really focused on getting that parent to like you, to trust you, and just to feel good about your music school.


8. Provide an additional camp with a discount

Another very powerful marketing strategy is offering an additional camp session at a discount. For instance, while most kids who have attended your camp year after year may sign up for the whole summer, new campers might only sign up for one session initially. However, as you’re building a relationship with the parent of the new camper, you can offer them an additional camp session at a discounted rate.


9. Optimize Email Marketing

Next, I want to talk about email marketing. That’s where I focused most of my marketing efforts for summer camp. While I also ran ads on Facebook and Google pay-per-click, it was my email campaigns that really yielded results.


The key with email marketing is that your emails, even though they’re promotional, should look, feel, and read like personal one-to-one messages.


This means no images, a single message, maybe one or two paragraphs, and a format that resembles a genuine email.


Use a Mail Merge

Hopefully, you can perform a mail merge if you have ActiveCampaign, MailChimp, Constant Contact, or some sort of email platform. This allows you to customize each email.


I would start rolling these out in January or February. Let me share one email with you.


Capture Attention


Firstly, the subject needs to capture attention. You don’t want it to scream “Marketing Email.”


Avoid subjects like “Announcing Summer Camp” or “Summer Camp Promotion.” Instead, consider a subject like this: “Are you counting down the days?” This piques curiosity and encourages parents to open and read the email. I prefer using all lowercase letters, with only the first letter capitalized, and the subject should be in sentence format.


Here’s an example email:


Subject: Are you counting down the days?


Does this sound like the scene in your house? Kids fighting, fussing, and getting more screen time than you’d like. And just think, it’s only the middle of June—60 more days until school starts.


In this email, I use mail merge to personalize it with the parent’s name.


Okay, so this is an email to my current students. I’m painting a picture: kids fighting and fussing, and it’s only the middle of June—60 more days until school starts.


Write Genuine Emails

The next paragraph reads:


Our music summer camp allows kids to experience the ultimate thrill of playing in a band, making YouTube videos, and performing in a concert. Your child will join a band and live the ultimate music fantasy. One difference is this is no daydream; this is real. Get your child out of the house and onto the stage—click here to enroll.


This email even has a little bit of a sales or marketing feel to it. It’s cute, it’s clever, it’s telling a story. You could even take it a step further and go super real and organic. For example:


Hey [Name], we have a couple of openings in our summer camp still. Could we hop on a phone call today or tomorrow so I can tell you more about our camp program and see if one of our sessions might be a good fit for you?


That’s it—a whole email. It’s an email that’s trying to elicit a yes response and it’s one or two sentences long, just like a real email that you would send to a parent.


Avoid Being Salesy

So, in general, I encourage you to take this approach with all of your email marketing. If your email subject implies that it’s sales or promotional, it’s less likely to get opened.


And if it’s not opened, it’s not going to be read.


However, if they open the email and it looks like a real email and it’s short, it’s more likely to be read.


Place a Call-To-Action

Every email should have a call-to-action. The call-to-action can be a “Click Here to Enroll,” or you can ask them a yes or no question. For example, “Would you be available tomorrow for a phone call?” It’s pretty simple, just yes or no.


10. Incorporate Social Media

One thing that’s also really important to incorporate into your camp is how you’re going to use social media and technology to enhance the camp experience.


Work with a Video Editor

You know, one thing you can do is have the campers make skits and film them on your phone. Then, work with a video editor to put together promotional commercials for the end-of-camp concert. Script it out, have the kids act it out, use different camera angles, and collaborate with a video editor. You could find someone to complete each video for maybe $10, $20, or $30.


Create Exciting Content

You want to create content during camp that excites the kids and is likely to be shared by parents on social media. This empowers the parents to do marketing for you.


Ultimately, you’re creating an exciting experience for the kids, resulting in a win-win situation for everybody.

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