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Tent Poles: Not Just for Campers

While you may not be familiar with the term “tent-pole marketing” you have certainly seen it and perhaps been influenced by it. It’s a marketing technique that builds off a single, popular, wide-reaching event, a tent-pole event. The term was first popularized in 1987 around the film industry but couldn’t be more relevant than in the context of today’s content marketing landscape. Take a well-known event, create themed, audience-relevant content around the event, and disseminate it across your marketing platforms before, during, and after the event.

Beholding the buzz

So what is an example of a major tent-pole event? Christmas. Decorations spring up in stores in October with carols close behind; you can watch a Christmas TV special every day of the week after Thanksgiving; stories about outrageously decorated houses pop up on newscasts everywhere only a few days into December; parades, ballgames, and the ubiquitous Yule Log are abundant on the holiday; and clearance sales and gift returns are hot topics after Santa has his big day. Christmas Day is the tent-pole, the single strong event driving talk around the water cooler. Everything else is built around it, not necessarily to support Christmas Day but to compliment it and drive interest and sales as a result of being part of the buzz-worthy event.

Our industry tent-poles

The outdoor hospitality industry is fortunate to have a number of tent-poles relevant to what we have to offer. Of course there are the holidays such as Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, and Halloween as well as well-known theme weekends or events including Christmas in July, Wet and Wild, Western Week, or a variation on a chocolate theme. And let’s not forget Great Outdoors Month and the numerous themed days or weeks during that time period.

With a little imagination, several more relevant and interesting tent-poles can be unearthed. What about a celebration around the start of the fishing season, your business’ anniversary or opening/closing dates, National S’mores Day (August 10), Summer or Winter Solstice (June 21 or December 21 respectively), National Dog Week (last week of September), Superbowl Sunday, the Academy Awards, or even a popular TV series.

Successful tent-pole marketing

With the goal of rallying your customers, driving traffic to your web and social properties, and ultimately booking sites, the first key to successful tent-pole marketing is to choose events that will spark your audience’s interest and spur them to take action. Do this by reviewing what’s worked for you or others in the past and sketching out an event calendar with at least one major tent-pole for each month you are open.

Once you’ve decided on the most popular, relevant tent-poles – the one’s that will have people talking and booking – and have thought through the event planning process, begin to design your content marketing plan in writing. There are a number of ways you may want to promote tent-poles:

  • on your website
  • via e-newsletters and blasts
  • on your blog
  • through another’s blog
  • across social media
  • through video
  • via wearable buttons for all staff members
  • using promotional tools such as Groupon and Yelp
  • QR codes on local flyers
  • print ads in appropriate media

Content release dates should be well in advance of the actual tent-pole event. Don’t hold your news or posts until the week before. Instead, give the camping public time to think about what you are doing and make plans to join you.

Consider how long it will take you to create video, connect with influential bloggers, or design a print ad and plan accordingly. Say you’ve decided to roll out a National S’mores Day weekend to take place August 8th through 10th and you feel a short video would add to the sizzle. Begin planning the video production and content in early May, schedule filming over the Memorial Day weekend when the park is busy roasting marshmallows, and edit/finalize and release the short clip prior to the Fourth of July weekend – remembering to add a call to action at the beginning of the video. Post it on your YouTube channel, your website, mention it in your e-newsletter, talk about it on your social networks, share the link with influential bloggers, and post in-park flyers with a QR code that links to the video. Create excitement around your tent-pole.

Ancillary tent-pole income

Using the National S’mores Day example above, you may create a s’mores pack giveaway to take place at the park and/or on social media beginning in July running up to the August weekend event. Put together a s’mores-fixin’ package to sell at the bonfire or community firepit. Develop a Groupon or Yelp deal that might motivate campers to book that weekend. Consider offering a special on firewood or crafts and activities that relate to s’mores. What other ideas do you have to capitalize on your chosen tent-poles?

Review the results

Once your tent-pole event is complete, measure it’s success by reviewing occupancy numbers, social media and other online marketing engagement and stats along with your guest and staff’s feedback, taking copious notes. If it was a success, plan to do it bigger and better next year. Build on your reputation and soon you’ll be the toast of the town.