Are you looking for creative ways to increase the visibility of your camp business but know that the possibility of increasing your advertising budget is just not going to make it into the budget? The solution just might be to invest more time in cultivating earned media. Earned media is a concept that encompasses any media exposure for your camp business that is not paid advertising.
Any press release, feature story, public service message, even signage can be tool to raise public awareness of all the programming that your camp has to offer. In many cases earned media can be an even more powerful promotional tool than paid advertising because just because of the fact that it is earned. Any newspaper, television, radio message about your camp that is not paid advertising is essentially supported by the reputation of that media outlet. The editors have recognized that your message is serving the greater good and it is worthy of being publicized just because it will be of interest to their audiences. Research has also shown that when people view earned media, they have a stronger recall and recognition of your camp over many paid advertising messages.
You may have already benefited from earned media, especially if you already have a practice of sending out press releases about new staff or if you have had a reporter develop a feature story about one of your campers. You may also have experienced the benefits of this kind of exposure, when campers and their families remark that they saw the feature on your camp and how impressed they were that you made the paper or were on television.
But make no mistake about it, earned media is very rarely free or a product of serendipity. You really do have to invest in it to earn it. Earned media can be a powerful promotional and public relations tool with just a modest investment of your time. You can increase your ability to attract media attention if you can cultivate two critical elements: offer events and programming that interests members of your community and develop relationships with the editors and managers of the local media outlets.
Here are some easy ways to develop both these elements.
Put “earned media” on the next staff meeting agenda. Explain the importance of it and give some examples of how your camp could position itself to receive more of it. Here is an example that you could use: say that your camp has launched a campaign to reduce your campers’carbon footprint by arranging transportation to camp by carpooling and reducing wasted food and camper trash. This would very likely be worthy of earned media. Ask your staff for ideas about other opportunities there are in your camp programming that might be worthy of the local/regional media exposure.
Assign staff to observe what the local/regional newspaper, radio and television coverage is in earned media. Find out what businesses are featured and what did they do to earn it. Create an inventory of potential earned media events and activities at your camp.
Develop a media list of contacts that you can use to deliver press releases, pitch a human interest story, and offer photos opportunities. Also, be sure that you prominently display your camp media contact person on your website and in your camp literature. The person who is designated to be the camp media contact should be able to keep a 24-hour rule to reply to any media inquiries. In the age of instant news, reporters expect a quick response time from you and they may just move on to the next camp if there is a delay in your response.
Create a hometown press release system. Have campers provide their hometown newspaper on their applications. Not only can you can submit press releases about their camp achievements to their local papers, you can also send a letter (or e-mail) to the campers’homes letting them know that the press release was distributed and if they saw it, to let you know. This hometown press release system can pay great dividends beyond the earned media exposure. Campers and their families will see that you are investing in them. You can post the media coverage on a cam media board that can attract more attention to your success.
You will also be able to thank the media outlets, because you know that they delivered.
And thank them, you should. Be sure to follow up any earned media coverage with a thank you to the editor/manager. Take the time to go into detail about the particular aspects of the coverage that you appreciated and enjoyed. This can go a long way toward developing a “pick up the phone” relationship with the key media decision makers and it can lead to a long trail of future earned media features.
Dr. Susan Langlois has over 25 years experience as a college professor, athletic administrator, camp director and sport facilities consultant. She is currently the campus director at Springfield College School of Human Services in Manchester and St. Johnsbury. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.