Pelland Blog

Google Giveth and Google Taketh Away

May 23rd, 2022

Just about any business has an online presence in order to survive these days. When you are on track with a domain name and a website, the related third rail is inevitably business email. Back in the Internet’s age of innocence, most of the companies that hosted websites (often small, local service providers) also hosted business email accounts that were associated with the website domain names. This allowed the owner of Tallest Oaks Campground to have an email address such as camp@tallestoakscampground.com.

Soon afterward, most small to medium sized website hosting service providers learned that hosting email was not only a headache but an intense migraine. Incoming spam attacks – or outgoing spam attacks, after a customer may have inadvertently installed a virus on his computer – could slow down or crash a server just as effectively as a DDOS (distributed denial of service) attack upon a hosted website. It was time to find an email hosting services provider that was willing and capable of dealing with those risks.

I have always told people that “real businesses do not have email addresses that end in @yahoo.com, @hotmail.com, or @aol.com”, just like real businesses have physical addresses and not just a post office box. Most of the larger companies, such as GoDaddy, that provide domain name registration and website hosting services will also host business email – for a price. Oftentimes it will only be offered as part of a package that includes more profitable components such as website hosting itself. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the quality and reliability of service, many small businesses turned to Google for email hosting. The Gmail interface is intuitive and easy to use, and it is relatively easy to set up accounts to sync with popular third-party email clients such as Microsoft Outlook.

Either out of the goodness of its heart – remember that Google’s original motto was “Don’t be evil”, later modified to “Do the right thing” – or to get people accustomed to using its services, Google provided free hosting of small business email accounts until December of 2012. At that point, Google started charging for new business email accounts, but any existing accounts were grandfathered in to the free service. Well, earlier this year, Google announced that the grandfather arrangement would be ending this summer.

If you have been using this service, you have received email notifications as well as notices on your Gmail interface that read:

Act now and switch to Google Workspace
Your access to the G Suite legacy free edition will end soon. As a valued customer, you’re eligible to switch now to a new Google Workspace subscription and enjoy a special discount. Or, in the coming weeks, you’ll be able to join a waitlist for a no-cost option. If you take no action by June 1, 2022, we’ll automatically transition you to the recommended Google Workspace subscription.


Your access to the G Suite legacy free edition will end soon. As a valued customer, you’re eligible to switch now to a new Google Workspace subscription and enjoy a special discount. Or, in the coming weeks, you’ll be able to join a waitlist for a no-cost option. If you take no action by June 1, 2022, we’ll automatically transition you to the recommended Google Workspace subscription.

The Google Workspace edition that is the most similar to the previously free service is Business Starter. Other options include Business Standard, Business Plus, Enterprise editions, and Essentials editions. These all come bundled with added services that you probably neither need nor want but that help to justify the new expense. They all allow you to set up email accounts using your own domain, what they now call professional email.

Unless you make alternate arrangements or sign up for the less than clearly defined “waitlist”, you will be billed for the new service beginning on July 1, 2022. (As of this writing, Google is still yet to define this “waitlist”, but it may allow you to buy a bit of time. Speculation is that any free account may involve converting email addresses to @gmail accounts.) The Business Starter edition of Google Workspace will cost $6.00 per user per month; the Business Standard edition will be $12.00 per user per month; and the Business Plus edition will be $18.00 per user per month. Even if you transition to the least expensive Business Starter edition and have 6 employees with their own email accounts, you will be looking at a new expense of $432.00 per year.

All of these plans are less costly than comparable plans with Microsoft Office 365, but this is still a bitter pill to swallow. Alternatively, there are optional email hosting services available that provide everything that you need but without the added bells and whistles that come with Google Workspace at a fraction of the cost. One such company is Namecheap, where it’s fairly robust and most popular plan is just over $25.00 per year for 3 mailboxes, or an even more robust plan is less than $44.00 per year for 5 mailboxes. Of course, bargain email hosting plans are probably going to include popup ads, less than 99.99% reliability, and other compromises. You should also be aware that migrating email from one service provider to another can be a major task, even though many service providers claim that they will automate the process. Google is no doubt counting on these factors to help its subscribers to “grin and bear it” when it comes to the new expense.

My own company began setting up its new clients’ email hosting to run through the Rackspace mail servers a decade ago, when Google started charging for new accounts. This service is on a par with Google’s offerings and is affordable on a per-user basis under our enterprise contract, allowing us to provide the service at no charge to our website hosting clients. Individual plans with Rackspace Email Plus cost just under $48.00 per user per year, which is significantly less than the roughly equivalent Google Workspace Business Plus. At minimum, now is clearly the time to rethink whether individual employees need their own email accounts. I have previously made the argument against individual employee email accounts in this column, strictly on the basis of security risks, but now there is an additional cost to consider. At one point in time, most of us thought of email as something that was a free service, like over the air television, but somebody was paying the price. Eventually that “somebody” becomes the end users.

What’s next? Google recently announced that it will be discontinuing Universal Analytics and replacing it with Google Analytics 4. Unless you upgrade, the Google Analytics running on your website will stop processing new traffic on July 1, 2023. There will be better cross-platform tracking across web and app platforms, but I am willing to wager that pricing for the previously free service will be announced in the coming months.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Is it Time for Rebranding?

April 25th, 2022

Have you ever eaten a Chinese gooseberry? In their country of origin, the fruit’s original name translated into ‘macaque fruit’, in reference to the monkeys that found it particularly appealing. You probably do not recall ever eating one; however, you have probably eaten kiwifruit, and they are one and the same thing. Widely planted in New Zealand in the early part of the twentieth century, marketers adopted the name of the country’s iconic flightless bird with a similar color and shape to give the fruit a bit more name recognition and appeal. This fruit is now grown in many countries around the world, including the United States, and the ones in New Zealand have been distinctively branded as ‘Zespri’ in order to identify them as the “real thing”.

Kiwi Fruit

Here in the United States, the kiwifruit was popularized by Frieda Rapoport Caplan, the marketing genius and founder of Frieda’s Specialty Produce who died at the age of 96 in early 2020. Frieda also introduced Americans to such specialty produce items as spaghetti squash, purple sweet potatoes, brown mushrooms, star fruits, and over 200 other fruits and vegetables that were never previously sold in conventional supermarkets. Ironically, she was allergic to kiwifruit.

How about Patagonian tooth fish? Have you dined on that at an upscale seafood restaurant recently? Yes, you probably have, except that it has been rebranded to appear on menus as Chilean Sea Bass. Sticking with restaurant analogies, you know that you will pay more for an order of Boeuf Bourguignon than an order of beef stew, and you are more likely to consider an appetizer of escargots rather than snails. It is all about branding and in some cases rebranding.

Give Rebranding Careful Thought

There are many reasons for moving forward with name changes and rebranding. In some instances, it is time to move away from racial and ethnic stereotypes, the rationale behind the changes in the names of so many sports teams in recent years. Living in Massachusetts (admittedly one of the most politically correct states in the country) most of my life, I have seen the football team at the University of Massachusetts evolve from the UMass Redmen to the UMass Minutemen. Earlier in the school’s history, as a Land Grant college that was originally known as the Massachusetts Agricultural College, the football team was known as the Mass Aggies, so change is not something that is particularly new.

When you are ready, think forward. According to Wikipedia, when the Nissan Motor Company decided to rebrand its line of export automobiles from Datsun to Nissan, the transition took 3 years (1982-1984) at a cost in excess of $500 million in the United States alone. That would be about $1.4 billion today. Just changing the signage at 1,100 dealerships cost $30 million, and 5 years after the name change was completed, Datsun still had greater name recognition than Nissan. Just think how much money could have been saved had the Nissan name been used right from the start.

A Name Makes a Difference

Many people dreadfully fear the thought of changing their business name, always dwelling on the risks involved rather than focusing on the potential benefits. When it comes to campgrounds, let’s face it: nearly every campground that joins a franchise system or is purchased under a new corporate umbrella is likely to undergo a name change and a dramatic rebranding. Of course, those situations involve influxes of both financial and marketing support, but there are plenty of sound reasons to jump-start a park’s identity under other circumstances as well.

Particularly in instances of new ownership, the benefits of rebranding will often far outweigh the risks. In many instances, a park reflects the name of its original owners but does little else to create a unique identity. For example, years ago I worked with Len and Kay DeMerritt, the owners of Len-Kay Camping Area in New Hampshire. When Len and Kay retired and sold the park, it was wisely rebranded as Barrington Shores.

There are other instances, particularly in states like New York with hundreds of campgrounds, where there are two or more parks with either the same or very similar names. Campers, particularly first-time guests, can be understandably confused, sometimes making reservations at one park and showing up at another. Like the story of the Hatfields and the McCoys, far too often the owners in these situations are too stubborn to take corrective measures to end the confusion and move forward. If you are a new owner with little or no attachment to the original name, making the change definitely involves an easier decision. There might even be instances where a park’s name either says nothing or can literally scare business away. For example, who would want to swim in the water at someplace called “Leach Lake Campsites”?

I have recently helped the new owners of Camp America in South Dakota to successfully rebrand their park as Dakota Sunsets RV Park & Campground, the new owners of Whispering Pines RV Resort in Michigan to successfully rebrand their park as Starlight Campground & RV Park, and the new owners of “AAA RV Park” in Tennessee to successfully rebrand their park as Coyote View RV Park. In the first instance, the original owners probably had grand schemes of becoming the next nationwide campground franchise, and in the last instance the previous owners probably thought that their name would get them listed first in the yellow pages of their local telephone directory.

Due Diligence

If you are considering a name change and rebranding, there are a few preliminary steps to take:

  1. Consider potential names that are memorable, unique, and help to identify your park.
  2. Check to confirm that there is not already a park or other business with the same name or a similar name in your state or a nearby state. Use the online corporate identity search tools that can be found on the website of the office of the Secretary of State in your state. Rebranding is pointless if it causes confusion or could lead to a trademark infringement lawsuit.
  3. Confirm that your final name choice followed by .com is readily available, and then register that domain name and any .com variations.
  4. Hire a professional logo artist to make that new name visually distinctive.
  5. Be prepared to budget for marketing, signage, paint, employee shirts, and other incidental expenses.

Yes, there are costs involved, but the rewards can be substantial, both in short-term business and in the long-term value of your park to subsequent buyers.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Skiing and Camping: The Evolution of Two Industries

February 23rd, 2022

Back in 2015 I wrote about the corporatization that had taken place within the U.S. ski industry, with a not so subtle warning that the same thing could occur within the family campground industry. My article was inspired by my reading of “Downhill Slide: Why the Corporate Ski Industry Is Bad for Skiing, Ski Towns, and the Environment”, a highly compelling 2003 exposé written by Hal Clifford, a former editor of Ski Magazine. In the book, Clifford documents the evolution of skiing from its roots in Scandinavia, through a growth spurt following the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid (New York), through the development of Sun Valley (Idaho) as the first destination ski resort back in 1935-1938, through the return of World War II’s 10th Mountain Division veterans, through another growth spurt following the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley (California), through the “industrial tourism” that it became in the 1990s – when 3 major companies then controlled 24% of ticket sales from coast to coast. According to the latest (December 2021) report from the National Ski Areas Association, there are today 10 owners of the bulk of the ski resorts in the United States. The largest of those, Vail Resorts, Inc. is traded on the New York Stock Exchange and operates 37 ski resorts in 14 states plus Canada and Australia.

I have been working with the family camping industry since 1982, although I started my business in the New England ski industry back in 1980. With an intimate understanding of both industries, I believe that there are parallels between the downhill skiing and family camping industries and the corporatization that is taking place within both.

The “golden age” of skiing took place in the 1950s. In New England alone, there are 605 defunct ski areas (most operating in the 1950s) that are documented by the New England Lost Ski Areas Project. Most of these were “mom and pop” operations run on snowy hills, with rudimentary rope tows run by the likes of tractors or old Packard automobile engines. In some instances, former ski areas went on to be reinvented as family campgrounds. Over the next two decades, destination resorts made it more and more difficult for mom and pop ski areas to remain competitive. By 1975, there were only 745 ski areas operating in the entire United States, a number that would drop to 509 by the year 2000 and leveling off to 470 by the year 2020.

Lift Tickets Equate to Campsites

It is hard to believe, but it is a well-documented fact that most of the ski industry is no longer in the business of selling lift tickets. Currently, the price of a single peak-day lift ticket purchased at the ticket window at Steamboat (Colorado), one of 14 resorts owned and operated by Alterra Mountain Company, is now $279.00. That ticket’s counterpart at Big Sky (Montana), one of 10 resorts owned by Boyne USA, Inc., is $225.00 plus another $45.00 if you want to ride the aerial tram. Even at these prices that only the super-rich can afford to pay, those tickets do not begin to cover the expenses of the improvements that customers have grown to expect.

The costs of operations and improvements in the ski industry are simply astounding. Back in the year 2000, a Poma detachable quad chairlift would cost just under $3 million to install, plus another 15% for site preparation. Then it would cost about $14,000 per month for the electricity to turn the lift. At the same time, an 8-place gondola carrying passengers only 2,200 ft. would cost about $6 million, with a monthly electric bill of approximately $20,000. The newest state-of-the-art chairlift is the 8-person Kancamagus 8 chairlift that just opened at Loon Mountain (New Hampshire). Although its cost has not been disclosed, it is certain to have far surpassed the $8,000,000 cost of the 6-person Bluebird Express when it was installed at Mount Snow (Vermont) a decade ago.

Then there are snowmaking costs. The air compressors to run a bank of snow guns cost at least $250,000 each, and basic snow guns cost about $5,000 each. Newer fan-driven snow machines cost about $35,000 each and have built-in air compressors. Either way, the electricity to make the snow might cost a large resort $1,000,000 per season. It is no wonder that many ski resorts have been investing in the installation of mountain-top wind turbines to offset their energy consumption. In Downhill Slide, Clifford cites an interview with the general manager of Sugarbush Resort (Vermont), who said at the time that his snowmaking costs were $1,000 per acre per inch, with a monthly electric bill of $300,000 to $400,000. For all of this money, whether skiers and snowboarders actually demanded the industry improvements, or whether they simply got caught up in the competitive one-upmanship of corporate skiing, the industry has changed.

In the ski industry, the profit center is now real estate development, with million dollar building lots for second homes, condominiums for every middle-to-upper income level, fractional ownership, absentee homeowners, and artificial “ski villages” that are designed to keep all of the dollars spent in the resort’s pockets. People who were once attracted to authentic ski towns and their ambiance have found those towns displaced by the new manufactured village concept, with bars, restaurants, shops and hotels all designed to capitalize upon that now lost romantic notion of the ski towns of yesteryear.

Yes, there are many parallels between what is happening in the ski industry and the family camping industry in North America, both based upon classic outdoor experiences. Any campground owner is intimately familiar with the costs of improvements, repairs and maintenance, utilities, mortgage interest, insurance, advertising, wages, licensing and entertainment. When your campers are expecting something new and exciting, a new spray park might cost $1,000,000, and a full-sized waterpark might cost $10,000,000 or more. It takes a lot of camper nights and other sources of revenue to recoup those costs even when amortized over the expected lifespan of the improvements. The bottom line is that there are forces that are driving up the price of camping and that profits cannot be based solely upon campsite fees. There is a strong demand for campgrounds as investment properties these days, with parks being bought and sold at a lightning pace, and most of those sales going from mom and pop operations to corporate ownership groups. One such group identifies itself as an investment firm that generates “long term wealth and cash flow while protecting investor capital”, a bit of a departure from friendly camping with mom and pop. Based upon what has taken place in the ski industry, the overall experience for camping consumers might improve, at the expense of losing its personal appeal and affordability. Is it a good evolution for the industry? I doubt it, but time will tell.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

A Fresh Perspective on Facebook

December 13th, 2021

It’s been nearly a year since I first wrote on the topic of Facebook in a column where I advised readers that “It’s Okay to Be Antisocial”. I am far from either a prophet or a clairvoyant, but the warnings that I sounded have proven to be true, and those who may have dismissed my advice may seem mighty foolish in hindsight. My advice today more than ever is, not to use Facebook more cautiously, but to abandon the platform in its entirety, with that same advice applying to most other so-called social media as well.

Yes, it was not that long ago that I was presenting seminars and writing how social media advertising – Facebook, in particular – was the greatest new development since the Internet itself. Five years ago, I was offering suggestions on how to beat Facebook at its own game, using guerilla marketing techniques on the platform. Sure, we all recognized that the intrusions into our personal privacy were a bit creepy, but the ability to reach targeted marketing prospects seemed to be worth the compromise.

In the beginning, Facebook (originally called Facemash) seemed to represent little more than an awkward attempt by nerdy Harvard undergrads with a lack of actual social skills to meet young women at neighboring colleges. When you think about it, even that original concept exploited the personal privacy of its users. For years, most people were baffled by the company’s continual growth while it failed to show even a penny in profits prior to 2009; however, it did not take long for Facebook to evolve into a money making machine that would be built upon ever-increasing exploitations of personal privacy.

On a personal level, I stopped using Facebook in its entirety in early September of 2020. I actually experienced what I would describe as a 7 to 10 day period of withdrawal, missing the ability to stay in daily touch with countless friends both old and new, but my sense of newly discovered freedom afterward was absolutely refreshing. Over the course of the 10 years or so when I remained active on the platform, I would often joke about how Facebook would “coincidentally” show me advertising that was related to one of my recent posts or comments. When I, along with millions of other people, started using ad blockers, Facebook started showing paid posts in lieu of paid advertising. These paid posts represent advertising content that is being disguised as editorial content, even when that advertising originates with foreign governments or domestic terrorists and clearly represents content that Facebook knows to be untrue.

Facebook’s business model is designed to amass huge profits by intentionally sowing discord among its subscribers. Simply put, the greater the controversy, the greater the profits. Regardless of where a person falls within an increasingly polarized political spectrum, Facebook will show that person paid content that pours fuel on the fire while demonizing those with opposing viewpoints. Whereas media outlets such as Fox News and CNN play to their specific audience demographics, and as such will never reach more than half of a divided population, Facebook profits by selectively appealing to the entire demographic spectrum and taking money from literally anybody who wants to influence them. It is the essence of the company’s algorithms, as has been only partially exposed in recent whistleblower releases of internal documents.

By being fed a one-sided diet that is often based upon disinformation, subscribers’ opinions and beliefs are reinforced in a manner that continually enhances the polarization. Varying opinions regarding the coronavirus pandemic, vaccines, and mask mandates have earned Facebook a fortune in profits. In fact, in a statement released the day prior to this writing, Facebook announced that its revenues increased by 35% to $29 billion in July through September 2021, while profits rose 17% to $9.2 billion as compared to the same time period in the previous year. It should not require an insurrectionist attack upon the U.S. Capitol for reasonable people to understand that these escalating profits represent a rapidly accelerating downward spiral for the platform’s users.

Where do you see your business fitting into this scenario?

Let us be clear that Facebook advertising is not a bargain. In the early days, businesses would pay to advertise on the platform in order to get users to “like” their page and then see their posts. Soon afterward, advertisers needed to pay Facebook so that even people who had already “liked” their page could actually see their posts. Think about it. If you continue to play along, you are paying Facebook an ever-increasing sum of money so you can reach not new customers but your existing customers. Why would anybody pay to do that when there are countless alternate means of reaching your customer base at a far lesser cost? Any why would anybody do this at a time when most campgrounds have experienced unprecedented occupancy levels and can barely keep up with the demand for campsites? In the campground industry, some of the same people who willingly pour money into Facebook advertising question the rationale for offering Good Sam and similar discounts that they feel cut into thin profit margins. Depending upon your available inventory, I would suggest engaging in dynamic pricing or offering customer incentives rather than feeding Facebook’s coffers. After all, your customers who use Facebook can still promote your campground, and even Facebook will admit that direct end user engagement is far more effective than paid advertising. Yes, Facebook and the other social media may be capable of sending you customers, but it is simply not worth the price. Should you decide to continue to pay to play, what is the percentage of your profit margin and what is the threshold for return on investment where you will finally decide that it is time to kick the habit? The costs to participate will only continue to escalate, as Facebook rolls out its next generation of social interaction, the so-called “metaverse” that is based upon 3-D virtual reality and the use of its Oculus VR headsets. There are people who will argue that you will have to be there as well, but I will argue that they are wrong and that Dr. Frankenstein’s monster is out of control. The Federal Trade Commission has wisely proposed the breakup of Facebook, a process that is long overdue. In the meantime, it is your decision as a small business owner to decide whether or not to continue financing a business model that you may agree is inherently exploitive and basically wrong.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Don’t Get Caught by the US Domain Authority Scam!

September 27th, 2021

It has been nearly a decade since I wrote about a scam that was circulating by a company that called itself Domain Registry of America. Their modus operandi was to send out bulk mailings to domain name registrants like you and me, after harvesting our names, addresses, and domain names from public registry records. The letters looked official, exploiting the American flag and warning that you were ready to lose your domain name unless you took immediate action by paying them a “renewal” fee. Many people failed to read the fine print, panicked, and paid the fees. In other instances, company accountants handled accounts payable, failed to recognize the scam, and paid the fees – always without reading the fine print. If 1 or 2% of the people who received solicitations these panicked and made payments, these thieves made an absolute fortune

The fine print was buried at the bottom or on a second page of the letter, had nothing to do with protecting your rights, and had everything to do with protecting the interests of the perpetrators. Basically, the fine print said that this was not an invoice, that it was a solicitation for goods or services, and that by paying the fee you were authorizing your domain name registration to be transferred to Domain Registry of America. You paid the nonrefundable fee, whether or not the company was successful at transferring your domain name registration away from its current registrar. If you have wisely locked your domain, which would prevent its transfer, you would have nonetheless lost the fee that you had paid. Should you realize your error after the fact and demand a refund, or ask your credit card provider to charge back the fee, Domain Registry of America would be willing to sell your domain name back to you for an added fee of $200.00. Additional fine print stipulated that, if you attempted to sue them, you would be responsible for payment of all of their legal expenses.

The parent company was Brandon Gray Internet Services (dba NameJuice.com). Though the letters from Domain Registry of America had a return address in Buffalo, New York, the company’s offices were actually located over the border in Markham, Ontario. The scam was so successful that there were international variations such as Domain Registry of Australia, Domain Registry of Canada, Domain Registry of Europe, Domain Renewal Group, and Liberty Names of America (where the letters would exploit the Statue of Liberty instead of the American flag.) In December of 2003, a United States District Court order on behalf of the Federal Trade Commission prohibited Domain Registry of America from engaging in these practices, but that failed to stop them. Today, the NameJuice.com website is still live, hosted on the company’s own servers, and the DROA.com website of Domain Registry of America now opens a suspiciously similar site that is operating under the Domain Registry Services name.

Very similar scams (often involving email rather than more expensive bulk mail) include one where the recipient is warned as some sort of “courtesy” that somebody has inquired into registering the .CN, .HK or .TW (the country codes for the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, respectively) version of your domain name and thereby jeopardizing your online presence. They then offer to sell you these versions of your domain name, along with a laundry list of other worthless variations – for an annual fee. First of all, unless your business has an internationally recognized brand name – such as Microsoft – nobody is interested in wasting money registering alternate versions of your .COM domain name, nobody has inquired about doing so, nobody would legitimately warn you, and these thieves are looking out for nothing but your money and your credit card number.

Another similar scam is the yet another that looks like a domain name registration renewal invoice, also preying upon the common fear of losing one’s domain name. It is actually a “warning” that some sort of non-existent SEO (search engine optimization) services are ready to expire, which will result in Google dropping your website from its search engine listings. One that is currently making the rounds comes in the mail and says it is from a company called United States Domain Authority, operating out of a post office box in North Carolina. The letters look both official and urgent, and they once again exploit the American flag to add to their credibility among the naïve. The “notice” says that it is for an “Annual Website Domain Listing” at an annual price of $289.00. Basically, you would be paying this fee for an essentially worthless listing on its own usdomainauthority.com website. The fine print reads that “This website listing offer is provided to leading websites throughout the United States to enhance their Website exposure and expose them to new customers through our directory. We are not a domain registrar and we do not Register or Renew Domain Names.” It continues, “THIS IS NOT A BILL. THIS IS A SOLICITATION. YOU ARE UNDER NO OBLIGATION TO PAY THE AMOUNT STATED ABOVE UNLESS YOU ACCEPT THIS OFFER.” The company is covering the legal requirements, though ethics, decency, and honesty and tossed aside. Fortunately for them, many people do not take the time to read.

This mailing from United States Domain Authority encourages payments by return mail or credit card online, asking that checks be made payable to “Domain Authority”. It lists a Web address of usdomainauthority.com, a domain name that was registered with GoDaddy on March 12, 2021. In other words, this outfit is selling $289.00 directory listings on a website that has barely been in existence long enough to be recognized itself.

Why do you get these letters, emails, and junk faxes? Simply put, because there are thieves in this world. When you register a domain name, your contact information is publicly accessible unless you pay for a so-called “private registration” … an additional $5.00 or $10.00 annual fee with most registrars. If you are capable of detecting scams, save that annual fee and let these people waste their money on postage; otherwise, you may want to pay for a private registration, where your contact information cannot be readily harvested. It is also important to always keep your domain name registration in “locked” status until such time as you might want to voluntarily transfer to another registrar. Most importantly, if you receive one of these solicitations, rather than just throwing it away, try to do your part to help put these people out of business by forwarding a copy of the correspondence to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the office of your state attorney general. There have been instances in the past where several state attorneys general have banded together and have gone after people like this.

Now if we could only stop the TV commercials with Joe Namath selling Medicare supplements, Pat Boone selling walk-in bathtubs, and Marie Osmond selling weight-loss products …

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Another Step to Protect Your Privacy

September 3rd, 2021

You might be surprised to learn how much of your personal information is readily available online, easily accessed by just about anybody, and being packaged and sold at a profit by over 100 data brokers, so-called public records providers. There are over a billion searchable public records today, and both federal and state legislation passed over the last 50 years ensures the public’s right to access. It all started with the Freedom of Information Act, passed in 1967, guaranteeing that anyone can submit a public records request to any federal agency, and that agency (with few exceptions) is mandated to provide the information in a timely manner. This federal legislation was followed by similar “sunshine laws” that were passed in all 50 states, providing access to state and local public records. The public has a right to know what is going on behind closed doors with its elected officials and government agencies, but it is the access to public information regarding specific people – routinely exploited by profit-seekers who sell compiled data to marketers and others who have no business accessing your personal information – that is troublesome.

If you do a search on Google for your name, city, and state, you are likely to be shocked to see how much personal information (some of it highly inaccurate) is available with just one click, where public records are consolidated with information that you may have voluntarily provided on platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn. You will probably find your full name and address, former addresses, family members (including births, deaths, marriages and divorces), phone numbers, email addresses, year of birth, estimated annual income and net worth, real estate and property records, property taxes, professional licenses, voter registrations, campaign contributions, court records, arrest records, prison records, sex offender registrations, bankruptcy records, educational level, general credit status, liens, and corporation and LLC records. Is that enough? About the only records that are generally off-limits are your tax returns, school transcripts, library records, health records, and juvenile court records.

How Public Records Providers Operate

If you go to one of these public records providers’ websites, you will first be asked enter the first and last name of the person for whom you are searching, along with his or her city and state. You will then be presented with a list of results that likely include that person, along with links for “more information” or a “full report”. You will then wait several minutes for the report to be allegedly generated, teasing you with the categories of information that are being compiled, and presenting you with one or more payment or subscription options. If you are like me, you realize that public information must remain accessible, but you would like to see your personal information removed from websites that are packaging that information for profit and selling it to anybody willing to pay their fee.

If you live in California, you are in luck because the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) protects the rights of California residents regarding their personal information, including the right to easily request access to or deletion of their personal information, as well as the right to demand that businesses stop selling that personal information. Whether you live in California or elsewhere, you basically need to go to the website of each public records provider and click on the link (usually at the bottom of the page) that says “Do Not Sell My Personal Information”. You will then be directed through a multi-step process that will include email or text authentication in order to be removed from that one seller’s database. (If you live in California, there will be a secondary link that will streamline the process.) Of course, there are businesses that are willing to capitalize on anything, and there are companies online that will do the work for you for a substantial fee. Two of those are companies called DeleteMe – https://joindeleteme.com/ and OneRep – https://onerep.com/ that will provide that service for one person for one year at prices of $129.00 or $99.00 respectively.

Presuming that you would like to avoid that kind of fee and would like to go through the process of removing your personal data from these websites yourself, here is a list of some of the major culprits, along with their removal URLs:

  1. Instant Checkmate. https://www.instantcheckmate.com/opt-out/
  2. SpyFly. https://www.spyfly.com/help-center/remove-my-public-record
  3. TruthFinder. https://www.truthfinder.com/opt-out/
  4. BeenVerified. https://www.beenverified.com/app/optout/search
  5. CheckPeople. https://checkpeople.com/do-not-sell-info
  6. PeopleFinders. https://www.peoplefinders.com/manage
  7. US Search. https://www.ussearch.com/opt-out/submit/
  8. ID True. https://www.idtrue.com/optout/
  9. Spokeo. https://www.spokeo.com/optout
  10. Intelius. https://www.intelius.com/opt-out/
  11. Radaris. https://radaris.com/control/

Several additional websites do not maintain their own databases, basically repackaging the information from larger data brokers and earning a commission on sales. In those instances, getting removed from the source of the data will remove you from more than one site. Examples are the PeopleLooker, PeekYou, and PeopleSmart websites that run off the BeenVerified database, and InstantPeopleFinder that runs off the Intelius database. Then there are other companies – such as FreeBackgroundCheck.org (with a bald eagle in its logo and which at $19.95 per month is anything but free) – that seem to spit in the eyes of privacy rights. According to the FAQ page of their website: “As a courtesy (sic) we can ‘opt out’ your specific information. Contact customer support and request the procedure instructions to be removed from the database. Each individual that wishes to be opted out of must be accompanied by proof of identity and address. We will only be processing opt out requests we receive by fax or mail and no request will be processed without complete information. Requests for opt out will not be processed over the phone or via email.”

You probably already knew that we are living in a world where personal privacy rights are continually swept under the carpet, and where there are countless companies and individuals that are willing to compromise those rights through the use of dubious profit-based services. Although you may very well feel like David vs. Goliath, you can at least attempt to fight back!

This post was written by Peter Pelland

You Think It Can’t Happen to You?

July 4th, 2021

If you are aware of ongoing news events, you know about the recent online cyberattacks at big companies like Colonial Pipeline and JBS. In both instances, ransomware was involved. Colonial Pipeline reportedly paid $4.4 million in ransom, after shutting down the delivery supply of gasoline, diesel, heating oil and jet fuel across much of the eastern United States, causing a spike in prices that you have paid at the pump. In the case of JBS, the meat processing network across the United States, Canada and Australia has been affected, with the impacts being felt by consumers at grocery stores and supermarkets. It has not yet been disclosed at the time of this writing what ransom, if any, was paid by JBS, but it joins a wave of ransomware attacks against businesses and organizations since the start of the year that includes Molson Coors, E & J Gallo Wines, Kia Motors USA, and the District of Columbia Police Department. Most victims prefer to keep their companies’ identities anonymous for obvious reasons.

Lest you think that these attacks only target big businesses and our national infrastructure, think again. Also recently, a ransomware attack targeted the Steamship Authority, the Massachusetts transportation entity that runs the primary transportation network that connects Woods Hole on Cape Cod with the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, disabling its reservation system. You may be seeing a connection there that suggests that the tourism industry is more vulnerable than you may have imagined.

According to Cybercrime Magazine, the fact is that a new business will be targeted by a ransomware attack every 11 seconds in 2021. The primary points of entry are vulnerable software (generally the result of a failure to apply security patches or the installation of apps than are either unsecure or intentionally contain malware) and email phishing. According to Fortinet, 1 in 3,000 emails sent to businesses and that pass typical security filtering, contain malware that includes ransomware. The average downtime for a business that has been attacked is 19 days, and the average ransom paid is nearly $250,000.00. An attack on a small business would have a smaller ransom, but could you afford to pay $25,000.00 or be unable to access your reservation system for days on end? A large percentage of these ransoms are covered by cybersecurity insurance, for businesses that carry that coverage. The ransoms always require payment using cryptocurrency, making the perpetrators totally untraceable other than generalities regarding their country of origin.

Although it is true that the reports that we see covered by the national news media involve larger organizations where the impacts are more broadly disruptive, smaller businesses are generally far more vulnerable and even more likely to be targeted. The recent surge in employees working from home, where security standards are usually less stringent, has also contributed to the proliferation in attacks. The smaller your company, and the more personally associated you are with that business, the more likely you are to be an easy target. If you are one of the hundreds of millions of people with an account on either Facebook or LinkedIn, your personal data has already been stolen since the start of this year and is being freely distributed on the Dark Net. That data likely includes your name, address, email address, phone number and more. There is a connection between these data breaches and the phishing emails and scam phone calls that you receive.

One common point of entry in recent weeks has been email that allegedly comes from your email service provider, claiming that your email account has been put on hold pending some sort of “verification”. While writing this, one of my clients forwarded me one such email that she had just received. The “verification” link was a cryptic 200-character URL based in India. How many people, through either carelessness, naivety, or a sense of panic over the thought of losing their email access, will click on those links?

Email service providers are getting far more vigilant about trying to stop malicious emails before they reach your inbox, but it is a frustratingly endless task. Users get upset if legitimate emails they either send or receive are falsely flagged. One of the large email service providers that my company uses for many our clients’ email accounts found itself blacklisted by Microsoft about a month ago, after a single user had sent out an email with malicious content. As a result, thousands of subsequent legitimate messages were not reaching their intended recipients with either Outlook or Hotmail email addresses. Then yesterday, an email account for one of our clients was automatically disabled after she had sent out an email to a couple hundred seasonal campers with a Microsoft Word document attached, a risky violation of typical email terms and conditions. She was unaware that Word documents are frequently used to harbor malware and that this would trigger a red flag.

In other instances, we have clients who ask us to set up email accounts for every new employee, typically designating a weak password to be used. We reluctantly follow instructions, but include a link to Security.org’s HowSecureIsMyPassword.net website, which can show that the designated password could be cracked by any computer in a day or less.

When it comes to employee email accounts, the questions you should ask yourself are:

  1. Does this employee actually need his own email account?
  2. Are you prepared to pay the costs and disruption to your business if your network is breached as the result of using a weak password?
  3. Are you prepared to pay a ransom because a minimum wage employee with little or no training in cybersecurity standards clicks on a malicious link?
  4. Do you give every employee a key to your front door and access to your cash register?

Ignoring these concerns comes at your own peril. Would you leave your car unlocked on a city street, maybe with the windows open, and maybe even with the keys left on the seat? If your car would be stolen, you would only have yourself to blame; however, if the car was then used to intentionally drive into a crowd of people, you would be guilty of criminal negligence. Another example would be somebody working the night shift at a convenience store, having a handgun for security and leaving it on the counter. That would be an invitation for an armed robbery and potential injuries or deaths.

If you would never think of doing anything as careless as either of those two examples, why would you use a weak password, or use the same password for multiple purposes? Using the same password to access more than one email account or online application is like leaving those keys on the seat of your unlocked automobile, except that the key ring including the keys to every other vehicle that you own, the front door to your office, and the front door to your home. You think it can’t happen to you? Think again!

This post was written by Peter Pelland

It’s Okay to Be Antisocial

March 11th, 2021

Let me be the first to admit that I am guilty. It was not that long ago that I was presenting seminars and writing how social media advertising – Facebook, in particular – was the greatest new development since the Internet itself. As recently as four years ago, I was offering suggestions on how to beat Facebook at its own game, using guerilla marketing techniques on the platform. Sure, we all recognized that the intrusions into our personal privacy were a bit creepy, but the ability to reach targeted marketing prospects seemed to be worth the compromise. After all, when I was a child watching television in the 1950’s, Captain Kangaroo would seamlessly segue from visiting with Bunny Rabbit and Mr. Moose to selling Kellogg’s Rice Krispies and Schwinn Bicycles, and what was wrong with that? Actually, there was plenty wrong with it, prior to a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ruling in 1969 that prohibited children’s show hosts from directly promoting commercial products.

In the beginning, Facebook (originally called Facemash) seemed to represent little more than an awkward attempt by nerdy Harvard undergrads with a lack of actual social skills to meet young women at neighboring colleges. When you think about it, even that original concept (an extension of the sexist freshman photo books that had been sold on college campuses for decades) violated the personal privacy of the young women whose photos were being used. From that start, it did not take long for Facebook to reinvent itself into a money making machine that would be built upon ever-increasing exploitations of personal privacy.

On a personal level, I stopped using Facebook in its entirety in early September of 2020. I actually experienced what I would describe as a 7 to 10 day period of withdrawal, missing the ability to stay in daily touch with countless friends both old and new, but my sense of newly discovered freedom afterward was absolutely refreshing. Over the course of the 10 years or so when I remained active on the platform, I would often joke about how Facebook would “coincidentally” show me advertising that was related to one of my recent posts or comments. When I, along with millions of other people, started using ad blockers, Facebook started showing paid posts in lieu of paid advertising. These paid posts represent advertising content that is being disguised as editorial comment, even when that advertising is originating with foreign governments or other unscrupulous characters. The only way this can happen is by Facebook’s algorithms monitoring every word that you type, just as craftily as the National Security Agency (NSA) monitors the telephone conversations of known terrorists.

What made me see the light was when I realized that Facebook’s business model was designed to amass huge profits by intentionally sowing discord among its subscribers. Regardless of where a person falls within an increasingly polarized political spectrum, Facebook will show that person paid content that pours fuel on the fire while demonizing those with opposing viewpoints. By being fed a one-sided diet that is often based upon disinformation, subscribers’ opinions and beliefs are reinforced in a manner that continually enhances the polarization. It should not require an insurrectionist attack upon the U.S. Capitol for reasonable people to understand that this represents a rapidly accelerating downward spiral.

Let us be clear that Facebook advertising is not a bargain. In the early days, businesses would pay to advertise on the platform in order to get users to “like” their page and then see their posts. Soon afterward, advertisers needed to pay Facebook so that even people who had already “liked” their page could actually see their posts. Think about it. This means that you are paying Facebook so you can reach your existing customers. Why would anybody pay to do that when there are countless alternate means of reaching your existing customer base at a far lesser cost? In the campground industry, some of the same people who willingly pour money into Facebook advertising question the rationale for offering Good Sam and similar discounts that they feel cut into thin profit margins. I would rather offer a customer incentive than to take that same money and pour it into Facebook’s coffers.

Yes, Facebook and the other social media may be capable of sending you customers, but at what price and in what environment? If a drug dealer approached you and said, “Yes, my main business is selling heroin, but I can also send you customers”, would you do business with that person? I doubt that many of us would enter into that sort of deal with the devil.

The Federal Trade Commission (yes, the same people who ruled that Captain Kangaroo should not be hawking breakfast cereal) is currently proposing the breakup of Facebook, a process that is long overdue. Facebook has steadily grown – with the acquisition of Instagram, WhatsApp and related platforms – and a breakup of its monopoly would be the first such action since the breakup of AT&T four decades ago. Many of my peers in the advertising industry will disagree with me, and I welcome that debate. I remember the days when tobacco products were extensively advertised on television, a practice that contributed to countless deaths. Today, I believe that many other types of advertising should be banned because they either mislead consumers or actually prey upon vulnerable segments of our population, typically the elderly. These include the advertising of prescription pharmaceuticals, advertising by class-action attorneys (think “mesothelioma”), advertising directed at children (think about Saturday mornings), and advertising directed at senior citizens (think about Medicare supplements and the aforementioned pharmaceuticals). In the meantime, it is your decision as a small business owner to decide whether or not to continue financing a business model that you may agree is inherently wrong.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Website Design Considerations

December 1st, 2020

Part 1
The Basics

I recently presented a webinar titled “Best Practices: Website Design Considerations” before members of several state campground associations. Although my company has been building campground websites since 1998, it was not my intention to promote my company in that webinar, nor is it my intention to do so in this column. What I would like to share is objective advice on how to make the right decisions when it comes to what is almost certainly the single most important tool to market your business both today and in the years ahead.

Let me start with some history. In the early days, websites were built to be viewed on computers, usually with small monitors and slow dial-up modems. Until Apple introduced the first iPhone in 2007, what was a smartphone? Websites were designed to fit narrow computer monitors and limited bandwidth. As time went on, cutting edge sites used Macromedia Flash, later acquired by Adobe. Flash is no longer supported on iOS (meaning any Mac or Apple device), Android devices (in other words, no mobile devices, which are two-thirds of the market), and will see the final nail driven into its coffin at the end of December. Websites now need to be built so that they present full content across all platforms and devices. If you have a narrow website that is not mobile-friendly, and perhaps uses animated GIFs and maybe Flash animation, you are probably wondering what happened to that Blockbuster store where you rented your VHS videotapes.

Mobile-Friendly

Just like we have both lifelong friends and recently made casual acquaintances, there have been many approaches to the presentation of mobile-friendly website content. In the early days (in this case, 2005), as website designers were feeling their way around in the dark, there was a proliferation of separate websites that were intended for smaller displays and limited bandwidth, typically with stripped down content and a .mobi URL. This was sort of like having a car that you drove in the summer and a separate vehicle that you could drive on snowy mountain roads in the winter. When somebody visited a website, they would encounter a link that said “Click here for a mobile version of this site.”

That was inefficient, and the search engines hated it. There were essentially two websites to maintain. Fortunately, these were soon replaced by adaptivewebsites, where the website did its best to detect the device being used and then presented one of two alternate versions of content. There were still two versions of content to maintain. This was sort of like having a big SUV where, when the roads got sloppy, you had to get out and turn the hubs on the front wheels and then engage the transfer case to drive in four-wheel drive.

Finally, responsivewebsite design came along, where one website was designed to detect the device being used and then present content that was scaled to the size of the display, whether it was a phone, a tablet, a laptop computer, or a big monitor. This is essentially the all-wheel drive of websites and could have been the brainchild of Subaru. This is the standard today, and Google and Bing love it.

There are no simple fixes or upgrades to turn an old website into a new responsive site. It is an entirely different framework, and it requires the construction of an all-new site. When a responsive site is being built, there are different approaches: Some website designers tend to first design for mobile devices then let the chips fall where they may on larger displays. Others tend to first design for larger displays, and then optimize the fluid content for smaller displays. Others yet, with no real design experience, rely on templates to do the job for them. In my opinion, due to the small display, almost any responsive website is going to look fine on a phone. Looking really impressive on a larger display, on the other hand, requires a more sophisticated level of design skills that go far beyond just making a bigger version of the content that appears on a phone.

The End User Experience

When you want a customer to get from point A (your site’s point of entry, usually its Home page) to point B (the call to action, the reservation request), you do not want to send them through a maze. This is the same reason that there is a consistent clockwise traffic pattern in almost every major supermarket, where you enter into the produce, fresh bakery, and prepared foods departments; proceed to the deli, meats, dairy and frozen foods; then find the impulse items like candy bars and the National Enquirer at the checkout stands.

Navigating the supermarket aisles is an intuitive process that has been carefully crafted and fine-tuned to maximize sales. The same sort of formulas should apply to your website. People expect to find the navigation either at the top of the page or the left-hand column, floating so they do not have to scroll back up for access. The content should be presented intuitively, organized in a logical fashion that translates into page structure, and nobody should have to search or click to access essential contact information.

The Easiest Approaches

Most small business owners have been convinced in recent years that a content management system (CMS) is essential, giving them the ability to directly maintain their website content. Most have been persuaded that CMS is their key to escaping dependence upon webmasters who charge exorbitant fees and take forever to make changes, a situation which may be far from truthful. Another temptation is to use one of the many “free” website building tools that can be found online. One claims that you will “make a website in minutes … (with) zero code or design skills required”. If you do not quite want to do-it-yourself, another company claims that it will “build you a stunning website in 48 hours” for only $400 per year, including hosting and a domain name. In both instances, try to find a “contact” link on their websites with an address in the United States (or anywhere, for that matter). Then, before getting burned, do a Google search with one of those companies’ names followed by the word “complaints”.

There isn’t a single larger-sized business in America where the owner pretends to be his own webmaster. Can you imagine Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk working on his own website? Recognize the value of having professional guidance and valid marketing advice incorporated into your website. Probably the most important factor is hiring one of the many reputable companies with both an extensive and an intimate understanding of the campground industry. Your business depends upon making the right decision.

Part 2
The Acronyms

Continuing on the theme, allow me to address some of the acronyms that you will want to implement either on your existing website or its successor. These ideas apply whether your site has been built by a company that understands your business and industry, a computer-savvy kid down the road, or that person who you see in your mirror every morning.

CTA

No, not the Chicago Transit Authority, CTA in this instance stands for call to action, a marketing term that references the next step that you want your website visitors to take in order to finalize the intended transaction. Typically, this means guiding people from their point of entry on your site’s Home page to your reservation process. Without smooth navigation and an intuitive end user experience, there can be a disconnection that breaks that intended path from point A to point B. A call to action tends to present an incentive, whether real or perceptual, that keeps people on track and focused.

In an e-commerce environment, that incentive often takes the form of a limited-time discount, a purchase bonus, or free shipping. Another e-commerce incentive that applies to campgrounds takes the form of limited inventory. When somebody wants to camp on the Fourth of July, it is a safe assumption that the demand for campsites will far exceed the available supply. Subtly stress how people should “avoid disappointment” by making their reservations early, with an accompanying “click here to reserve now” link. If they need more information or would like to communicate with you first, be sure that every means of direct contact is immediately accessible, whether they would like to call, email, or send you a private message on a social media site. Both on your website and in any direct communication help them to visualize the difference between everything that your park has to offer versus staying home and dipping their toes in the inflatable kiddie pool in their back yard.

SEO

Whether or not they really understand how it works or what it means, every website owner is at least vaguely familiar with the concept of search engine optimization. Although SEO is treated as a profit opportunity by many website development companies, it is essential if you want your website to be found and highly indexed in online searches. Beware of companies (often contacting you via spam email or telemarketing calls) who promise you #1 search engine placement on Google. 99% of those are scams. You know those telemarketing calls. The caller ID probably shows a local phone number, you answer the phone, wait a second, then hear a “bloop” sound, followed by somebody from a boiler room in Bangalore who tells you his name is Michael. The same people might be calling you another day, pretending that they are from the “Windows Help Desk” or “Apple Care”, telling you that your Windows computer or iCloud account has been compromised and that they are coming to your rescue.

There are no magic wands or shortcuts to effective SEO. Some people try to automate the process, typically using website plug-ins, but there is nothing like carefully incorporating it into the construction of the site. Important components are a carefully written page title, description, proper alt tags behind photos and graphics, open graph content, and a data feed for search engine robots. Most importantly, carefully written text where keywords are king. Many people comment that few people read text these days. Well, my answer is that the 10% of people who still care to read will appreciate the text on your site, and search engine robots devour every word. Make them count!

GMB

Another very important SEO factor is your listing on Google My Business. Your Google My Business profile is extremely important and under your full control. Start by claiming your Business Profile if you have not done so already. Then check that all of the contact information is correct. This includes the name of your business; your correct address, phone number, and website address; and your hours. Your campground is open 24 hours a day, so don’t let potential guests see the word “Closed”. Of course, update these hours in your off-season.

Choose the most appropriate category for your business, if it is not already showing, then choose appropriate secondary categories. There are over 3,000 categories to choose from, so be specific. The most obvious choices are “campground” and “RV park”. You have little control over the description that Google shows; however, you can write a “from the business” description. Select attributes (such as “free Wi-Fi” or LP gas) listing any of the full range of your park’s amenities. Be sure to add (and update!) photos on a regular basis, showcasing only the best available images. You can even add videos and Google 360 videos, all of which help to create greater engagement. Speaking of engagement, ask your best customers to write reviews; post questions and answers; and set up messaging.

KISS

Far from being unique to website, the acronym for “Keep it simple, stupid” should influence most aspects of marketing. Some people seem to think that, when it comes to websites, the more pages the merrier. Not true. Keep it simple and as concise as possible, with navigation that is consistent from page to page, that is located at the top of the page or the left-hand column, and is highly intuitive. Don’t make people guess because there is a chance they will guess wrong, and that is a source of frustration. For example, if the navigation says “Map”, does that mean your park’s Site Map, travel directions on Google Maps, or the “sitemap” of your website. Don’t waste clicks and your visitors’ time. Put your contact information on every page, without forcing people to click on a “Contact Us” link to access that information. Instead of just linking to your social media content, embed it into your Home page. Understand your target market, and ensure that your website is designed to appeal to those demographics – rather than missing the mark. Think smart!

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Gimme Some Truth

November 15th, 2020

“Gimme Some Truth” is one of my all-time favorite John Lennon songs, originally released in 1971 as “Give Me Some Truth” on the Imagine album. It is a song of frustration that addresses the nearly ever-present deception that was running rampant at the time. The song was produced by Phil Spector and featured a slide guitar solo by John’s fellow former Beatle, George Harrison. The song later became the subject of a 2000 documentary film Gimme Some Truth: The Making of John Lennon’s Imagine Album. Perhaps even more relevant today than it was in 1971, Gimme Some Truth is the title of a new deluxe box set of 36 remastered recordings that was released on October 9, 2000 – what would have been John Lennon’s 80th birthday.

I have been thinking the words “Gimme Some Truth” to myself quite a bit lately, not only when I watch the news or when I am presented with online or television advertising, but when I read press releases right here within the campground industry. I have always been a believer in the glass being half full, rather than half empty, and there is certainly nothing wrong with presenting things in a positive light. The problem is when the positive light crosses the spectrum into the realm of absolute deception. Having spent my career in advertising, I know the importance of putting a positive spin on things, but there is a chasm – not a fine line – between a positive spin and alternative facts. Keep this in mind when promoting your own business.

It has always been my belief that with the exception of an occasional run-down park with owners who are overdue for retirement, there are very few undesirable campgrounds, despite what might be suggested by sometimes negative reviews. There are simply instances where, perhaps due to the way that a park has been marketed, the wrong campers choose to book a stay at the wrong campground. Every campground has its ideal clientele, and it is important that your park is not marketed in a way that presents itself as something that it is not, encouraging reservations by the “wrong” campers. It is far better to be booked at less than full capacity than to book even a single guest who will spell trouble.

There is a long list of characteristics that determine the types of campers to which any particular park will appeal. Determine where your park fits within these parameters, then formulate how to positively but accurately portray your park to the masses of campers who are seeking out a park exactly like yours.

  • Is your park considered large, or is it small?
  • Is your park located near major attractions, or is it in a remote setting?
  • Does your park offer non-stop activities, or does it offer guests an opportunity to relax and “get away from it all”?
  • If your park is next to a busy highway, you may want to promote easy access but not peace and quiet. You should also not promote a peaceful setting if your park is down the road from a shooting range, a kennel, or other source of frequent noise.
  • On the same token, do not promote dark skies at your park if the sky actually glows with the light from a nearby shopping center parking lot.
  • Does your park cater to seasonal campers? If so, do your transient campers find it difficult to feel welcome?
  • Does your park cater to big rigs? If so, if tents and pop-ups are allowed, do their owners feel out of place?
  • If your park caters to an older, retired clientele, are families still welcome? Will visiting grandchildren feel like they are in a reform school rather than a campground?
  • Is your campground at the upper scale of predominant rates in your area, or is it highly affordable?

Then there is a set of questions where the answers are not quite black and white, but where the wrong expectations can lead to serious misunderstandings and the ever-dreaded negative reviews:

  • If you say that pets are welcome, do you have a list of breeds that are not allowed? Telling a pet owner that his dog is part of a “vicious breed” is comparable to telling a parent that his child is ugly.
  • If Wi-Fi is provided at your park, are you describing its coverage, bandwidth and reliability without exaggeration?
  • If you say that your park is “handicapped accessible”, is your park truly making an effort toward ADA compliance?

Finally, in the midst of a pandemic, are you making everything as clear as possible prior to your guests’ arrivals?

  • Are you flexible in instances of cancellations and refund requests, particularly during a pandemic?
  • If activities and nearby events are either cancelled or subject to cancellation, and if nearby attractions are closed or operating under limited capacities, are you informing your guests to the best of your ability at the time of reservation?
  • If your guests are required due to either state regulations or simple common sense, to wear facemasks, practice social distancing or avoid assembling into groups, are those policies disclosed at the time of reservation?
  • If your store, snack bar, swimming pool, or other facilities are closed, operating with restrictions or require reservations for use, are your guests aware of those limitations prior to their arrival?

As you can see, many if not most problems arise from a lack of careful and honest communications, and those communications start well in advance of the time of registration. Try not to present your park with the words that you might think your potential guests might like to hear rather than an accurate and thorough description of what the park offers, what it doesn’t offer, and why the majority of your guests like it for exactly what it is. Life is too complicated, and running your business profitably is more challenging now than ever. Help yourself to succeed in that endeavor by treating your prospective guests to the truth that they deserve.

This post was written by Peter Pelland