One of the bright spots in an otherwise unsettling summer for a few dozen Connecticut 6th -12th grade girls was the time spent participating in a virtual marketing competition known as Camp Erio.
Launched two years ago with an in-person summer session in New Haven, and expanded last summer to similar on-site sessions in New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford, Camp Erio was the brainchild of Erica Palmer, founder and CEO of Erio Marketing, as a way to teach young girls about marketing and entrepreneurship. Although conducted in-person the past two summers, this summer the Camp went virtual, with adjustments to its offerings to better-suit the online format.
It all culminated with marketing presentations – on video, of course – by the students/campers, highlighting products or services they developed and a marketing plan they individually developed to accompany their innovations. Each was judged by an industry panel, awards were presented, and presentations were made to friends, family and members of the community.
The program’s growth and popularity began simply enough, as Palmer explains:
“In the spring, I coach lacrosse for 7th/8th grade girls in Branford. One day we were at practice and I overheard one player complaining that her photo on Instagram didn’t get enough likes, and another player started explaining to her that she needs to post at a specific time when most people are on the app. I realized that they were already strategizing and branding themselves and that there could be a real opportunity to help them understand what they were actually doing is marketing!”
Palmer’s business, based in Branford, provides clients social media support, email marketing services, and website design or redesign, among a range of marketing services. Sharing that knowledge with the middle and high school girls, and recruiting other industry experts, was a natural fit.
She began Camp Erio with a commitment for the three-day sessions to be free for girls to attend, ensuring that any prospective participant’s financial situation would not be a barrier to education. The Camp relies on private sponsorships and volunteer mentors.
In 2018, there were 36 girls attending the inaugural session in New Haven. Last year, between the three locations, there were nearly 100 taking part. Not surprisingly, 2020 brought unanticipated challenges, but a thoughtful pivot and great results.
“We knew right off the bat we were not going to try to recreate the entire camp experience online. The topics we cover are advanced, so they really rely on their mentors for guidance and support, and there’s also a lot of group work which would be difficult to recreate,” Palmer explained.
“So we started kicking around the idea of a virtual competition, and started working through what that would look like. We knew we wanted to keep the online sessions short and interactive, and also decided that we would drop off packets to all of them in advance – so we could still make that face-to-face connection (even if it was very far apart and just for a minute).”
The result was a virtual marketing competition, held for just over a week during mid-summer.
The girls’ challenge was to develop a marketing and business plan for a company that will help improve the lives of others. Each of their ideas “can come to life in any form – it can be a tangible product, an app people can download, a website with resources, etc,” according to the rules of competition. “The Only Requirement: There are a lot of issues that our communities are facing. You must select one that is important to you, and your business idea/product must work to solve this problem and/or improve the lives of people being negatively effected by this problem.”
The participating students were required to produce the following deliverables: creative assets, a business plan, a marketing plan, and a 60-second video “introducing yourself and your business.”
They each accomplished that objective, with distinction. This year, there were 14 judges, all marketing professionals and/or entrepreneurs, and all impressed with the enthusiasm, dedication and end-products of the girls’ efforts. The judges, Palmer notes, “truly believe in the mission of the camp. They really understand the power of having successful and supportive people around you, and they love connecting with the girls and hearing their ideas.”
During a video awards ceremony, it quickly became evident that the participants had learned a thing or two. Awards were given for Impact, Innovation, Passion, Best Creative Assets and Most Effective Marketing. Some viewers couldn’t help but wonder if they might have an opportunity – at some point in their future – to develop and market the products they thought of during the summer.
The program has many benefits, which were evident in this year’s virtual version, as well as in previous years. This year in particular, it tapped into the girls’ community spirit.
In its original incarnation, Camp Erio is filled with guest speakers, small group discussions, hands-on work, and fun activities. They build vision boards, and end the last day with formal presentations. From a professional standpoint, the topics covered include advertising, branding, design, content creation, budgeting, and starting a business.
Along the way, there are personal development presentations on confidence, finding your voice, positive self-talk, similar topics. The campers are then divided into small groups of 5-8 girls based on age, and each group has a mentor that works with them throughout the three day session.
“They all really connect and form friendships and we’ve consistently heard these small groups are one of the best parts of the camp,” Palmer recalled.
“We hope that participants are able to determine whether or not marketing and/or business is a career path they want to go down,” Palmer observed. “I always tell people that even if they come to the camp and learn they hate marketing, that’s okay! As long as they had an equal opportunity to figure that out.”
There’s one important additional dividend, Palmer adds: “I also hope that they leave camp holding their heads a little higher, feeling more confident in who they are, knowing that their ideas are respected and valued, and their voice deserves to be heard.”
This content was originally published here.