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Putting the "pro" in your program.

Mention the word professional, and we think of someone organized, efficient, educated and well dressed. Professionalism comprises a whole lot more, but we establish a professional image by exhibiting just such qualities.

In today's competitive society, it is important for camps to convey a high-quality professional image. This image reassures campers and their parents that here is a well-run camp.

The funny thing about image is that the smallest details can work for or against it. So even when a camp has an exciting program and a well-trained staff, its professional image may be marred by its messy reception area.

The good news is, a little effort can go a long way in creating a professional image for your camp. Here are some ideas to consider:

First Impressions

First impressions are crucial. Look at your camp from a camper's perspective. As campers arrive, do they see litter in the parking lot and smudgy fingerprints on the door? When children arrive at the arts and crafts center, are supplies attractively displayed, or simply thrown on the table?

Small efforts can make a big difference. For instance, one year-round camp placed seasonal displays at the camp entrance. People arriving were greeted by a scarecrow in the fall, snowmen in the winter, and so forth. Guests frequently commented on th positive impression they received when entering the camp.

Staff members' appearance also help determine first impressions. Counselors sometimes mistake "casual" dress for "sloppy." Clean staff shirts or uniforms convey a pride in appearance, which carries over to a pride in programs and facilities.

Some appearance problems might even call into question a camp's compliance with health codes. A day camp serving breakfast received several complaints from parents about a staff person whose hairstyle caused her to constantly brush hair from her face. As parents dropped their children off, their first impression was created by an employee serving food while brushing hair from her eyes. A simple hair clip helped create a more favorable first impression.

Telephone Etiquette

Telephone technique plays a major role in creating a professional image. Staff answering telephones need to be trained to speak with a clear, upbeat voice. Intonation should rise, giving the impression of energy and sincerity. Keep a list of commonly asked questions by the phone -- with answers of course! When people request camp fees, schedules or directions, answers should be readily available. If staff are unsure about an answer, then have them say, "Let me find that out for you. What is a good time for me to call you back?" Then follow through with the requested information.

The initial contact with your camp can make all the difference. For instance, one parent phoned five residential camps asking for brochures. All five told her they would be sent out that day in the mail. Several weeks later, only two brochures arrived. The mother's impression: "If the camp isn't responsible enough to send out brochures, how can I trust them to be responsible for my child?"

Speech Patterns

Professionals speak with clarity and confidence. Unfortunately, while many staff feel comfortable speaking on a one-to-one basis, they have difficulty when speaking to a large group. For instance, at one family camp, the lead counselor kept addressing the adults as, "You guys." Later he introduced a game by saying, "Hey! Um, I'm not sure exactly, um, how to play this ahh game, but well, I'll try to, um, figure it out, you know?" His speech conveyed an unprofessional image to the fifty adults participating. Role playing various situations can help people prepare for speaking before groups. In addition, organizations such as Toastmasters can provide an excellent resource for improving public speaking ability.

Directional Signs

How easy is it for campers to find their way around your facility? Are signs clear and simple to read? When campers arrive on the first day of camp, do they and their parents know where to go? Neat, clear signs help campers feel in control of their surroundings. Be aware that signs placed on a table top are unable to be seen when surrounded by people registering. Elevate these signs for easy visibility.

Furthermore, camps should give thought to the naming of facilities. For instance, a group of senior adults using a camp facility were housed in a dormitory called "The Infirmary." While it had been an actual infirmary years before, it was now nicely remodeled to house guests. Unfortunately, the name remained the same, until people complained about spending the week in "The Infirmary."

Extra Touches

Professionals are known for going the extra mile and giving the extra touch. Your camp can rate high on professionalism by adding a few extra touches that show you care. Here are a few for starters:

* Take instant photos of campers participating in activities. In addition to being fun, they provide publicity whenever campers show them to family and friends.

* Take advantage of holidays to add a fun atmosphere. Give staff green bow ties on St. Patrick's Day, distribute candy on Valentine's Day and encourage everyone to dress up on Halloween.

* Make guests feel special. One camp in Germany rented their facility to community groups in the fall. As the groups arrived, they found fresh apple cider at the registration table. Each room had a bouquet of colorful dried leaves on the table. A little time and effort was involved, but they received numerous positive comments from the guests.

Adding as professional touch to your camp program means putting extra thought into small details that are easily overlooked. Think about which details affect your camp's image, and be sure to put the "pro" in your program.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Camping Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:camp image
Author:Clark, Silvana
Publication:Camping Magazine
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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