Step 5: Advertising and Propaganda
When I've passed out brochures in fairs and events, I've seen parents scan the brochure for 4 facts: how old are the kids, what kind of camp is it, where is it, and how much does it cost. These should be prominent and easy to find on your brochure.
You'll also need a few more facts, like:
How do people sign up or get more information? We listed contact information (email, phone, web site) where people could ask questions and find a pdf of our enrollment form online. We later created an online form , which cut down on a tremendous amount of paperwork.
Pictures are really nice, but if it's your first year, you won't have any pictures of kids rocking out at camp yet! You can still use pictures of the projects you're going to do, pictures of staff, or pictures of the site. (We dealt with this our first year by finding pictures of children on the Internet and then turning them into silhouettes and putting them over our logo, so that we'd have some sort of depiction of our kids on our site.)
Information or short biographies of the staff are helpful. Including experience, education, and skills and interests suffices.
You may need a blurb saying your licensed that is required by the state department of public health. Like -- we're required to say "This camp must comply with regulations of the Massachusetts Department of Health and be licensed by the Somerville Board of Health." I wouldn't worry about it if you're not licensed yet: as you go through the licensing process and you find out what the required legal fine print is, include it in all future brochures.
A copy of our current brochure is attached.
But what do you do after you've made your brochure and your website?
-If you're doing a maker-style camp like we've done, contact local maker organizations -- some of these people have kids and/or know people who do! Dorkbot, local hackerspaces, Make chapters, etc.
-Flyers can be useful but they can also be a huge sink of time and energy. We've had pretty good luck posting flyers in libraries
-Private schools are likely to let you hang a flyer/brochure on their messageboard, and if you talk to the principle they might be willing to distribute information more widely for you. In Boston and Cambridge, and I imagine many other places, people in public schools can't distribute information about programs without the explicit permission of the superintendent's office. Whenever I've talked to people in power in the school system about getting word out about camp programs, they've said "sorry, we run our own programs," and quickly ended the conversation.
-PTA organizations, on the other hand, are a good and unmediated link with parents. Most schools have contact info for PTA heads posted on their websites. Give these people a call and tell them about your project as enthusiastically as possible!
-Childcare organizations at local universities can be knowledgable and helpful. Because we had some MIT affiliation, it was a small matter for us to get listed on the MIT childcare website, and we got a lot of referrals from them.
-Email lists. These are like flyers, but better. There are lots of parenting email lists in cities. Homeschoolers/unschoolers are particularly well-networked. They're also used to sharing information among themselves and passing good ideas along -- I've found that one enthusiastic homeschooling parent very quickly turns into a small group of homeschoolers who want to be a part of what you're doing. If you have any close relationships with parents in your area, have them write an email recommending your program to the local parenting lists. This will be a lot more convincing than you writing something about how great you are. And make yourself an announcement mailing list and get folks at events and visitors to your website to join it.
-Word of mouth. This is the most effective publicity that we've ever been able to come up with. Run events whenever you can, wherever you can. Ideally for free. Talk to all of the parents and kids who come. Make sure they have a good time and that they know about summer camp.
During the year before camp, as we were starting to grow it, we ran monthly "family building nights" at a few different places in Cambridge. We started out having 1 or 2 kids show up each night, and ended up with 30 kids or more. And had to move to a bigger space. In my experience, it's easier to get kids to come to something on a weekday that fits into traditional after-school time slots (3:30-5:30), than it is to get them to come to something in the evening after parents are off of work. Weekends are best -- parents are always looking for cool things to do with their kids on the weekends. Some people will have religious problems with coming to events on saturdays, other with events on sundays. Mix it up!
It doesn't take very many enthusiastic parents to turn into a community. Most kids want to come to camp with a friend. Start publicizing early enough to capitalize on slow, organic growth. Many parents have signed up for summer camps by February.
That said, many parents _haven't_ signed up for summer camps in May, and being the cool camp that still has open slots isn't a bad selling point. We didn't start advertising for our first year of Camp K or Parts and Crafts until May, and it turned out okay.
The "market" for interesting child care options during winter and spring vacation weeks seems to be less full than for the summer, so running something during these weeks can be a good way to get to know some parents and kids and starting building a network.