For your camps, leagues or any other recreation programs, word of mouth is your strongest tool for marketing your programs. In order to gain traction via word of mouth, you have to prove you are running an excellent program. When you get to the point that your program is filling to capacity well before the registration deadlines, and you have long waitlists to get in, you know you have a strong program. If you are not at that point yet, you may need to find creative ways to get the word out about your program to get people in the door, without spending a lot of money.
Here are some ways to help you market and promote your programs to the community on a local level:
Be active on social media to advertise your program, specifically Facebook. During programs, use it to post pictures and highlights from the program. Engage with parents and potential participants. This is a great way to show those that are not in your program what you are doing within your program. If you have a marketing budget you can also boost posts or run paid ads to a targeted audience.
If you do not have a website, go set one up immediately. If you work for a larger organization, get with your administration to set up a page if you do not have one already. Once you get a website for your programs, keep it updated! It is frustrating to finally find your programs online and then see that there is no current information posted.
Build relationships with local media outlets and keep them informed regularly. Send press releases to promote your program and registrations, the benefits of your programs, and highlight any accomplishments or benchmarks.
Get your participants' email addresses and use them. Not only will email communication help you promote your program during the off-season, but it will also help you communicate with participants while you are in season. Be active with your email list, keep it updated, and always keep your parents in the loop before, during and after each program.
Start a Newsletter
Newsletters can be a great way to engage with your participants and community on a regular basis both in session and out of session. During a program's season, use a newsletter to recap the week of activities and as a way to send updates and reminders. Come up with engaging content out of season to promote upcoming registrations and all the great things your programs provide to the community.
There are many programs out there you can use to communicate information via text to your participants. If you can, use it! Texts are great not only for promotion, but also when something time-sensitive comes up — like a last-minute game cancellation.
There are apps, websites and software out there that can help you manage and organize your programs. You can also use them to connect with parents, engage, market, promote and improve communication.
All programs should have a program flier. Post it on the website, find places around town with display boards, get permission to distribute in your local schools, etc. Make sure your flier has all the program information on it such as the “who, what, where, when and why.”
Signs and Banners
Anywhere you can get permission in your town to put a sign or banner up, it is worth the visibility. If you are not working for a city or county, make sure to check your local sign rules before you try to put anything up around town.
Partner with other local community-based groups in your area to cross-promote each other’s programs. Groups such as scouts, schools, churches, etc. have youth programs and are more than happy to distribute your information, especially if you can do so with their activities, as well. Create shared community calendars to help reach more potential participants.
Most local newspapers, local news websites, chambers of commerce, HOA’s and other local community civic organizations will have community calendars either online or at their location. Search around for these and get your information on as many of them as you can. They are free, so even if only a few people see it there, it’s worth it.
Make sure to recruit advocates in your community, such as your most active volunteers and community leaders, to be a part of your program. These are your biggest cheerleaders outside your organization and can help you build the strong word of mouth you want to bring in lots of participants. If you want to take it a step further you could place all your advocates on an advisory board to oversee certain aspects of the program while continuing to be your biggest cheerleaders within the community.
Attend any community events you can that will allow you to set up a table to promote your programs. You can get information face to face to a large number of people in a short amount of time to help promote your programs.
Host an Event
Use your facility to host an event to get people in the door. Whether it is a general community event, fundraising event for your program, or just an open house, getting future participants in the door can sometimes be the hardest part, so use the opportunity to show off your facility and everything it has to offer. Once you get them in, make sure to collect contact information and have them leave with all your program’s information so you can follow up with them soon after.
Use Third-Party Websites
There are directory websites out there where you can post information about your programs for free. Take advantage of as many of these as you can find. If you have a marketing budget you can also target websites and run paid advertising online.
You can never put enough information out there on your programs. Using these guidelines and more will help you create awareness about your program throughout the community. Get creative, have a plan, and build a network of advocates to generate word of mouth and take your marketing and promotion to the next level!
Jason Schaitz, MBA, CPRE, is a parks and recreation director in the state of Florida with 15 years of experience managing youth sports, camps and recreation programs. He also created and manages League Source and The Summer Camp Source with the goal of providing free high-quality resources for any type of youth sports or camp program. Take your leagues and camps to the next level by visiting our websites for free resources and education!