Erica Palmer founded Erio Marketing in June 2014. Last summer, she launched the Camp Erio | Marketing Academy, a free three-day camp for middle school girls interested in learning about marketing and business.
Erica spoke to MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about why she formed the camp and why she’s passionate about encouraging young girls to explore a career in marketing, business, or entrepreneurship.
NAN PRICE: How did you come up with the concept of launching a summer camp?
ERICA PALMER: It was an idea we had couple of years ago. Many of the businesses we work with employ people who have had the opportunity to become entrepreneurs or get their MBAs. We noticed there didn’t seem to be a lot of diversity with regard to women in these roles. We had some local connections to middle schools in the New Haven area, so, we started there.
We launched the camp last year. Just a couple weeks after opening enrollment we were booked, so we knew there was interest. The momentum was exciting. Then, based on last year’s success, we decided to expand further. The camp will be offered for the second year at Digital Surgeons in New Haven and we’ve added two locations reSET in Hartford and the Cardinal Shehan Center in Bridgeport.
NAN: How did you get people involved as instructors, mentors, and sponsors?
ERICA: We had a lot of support from people we work with locally and nationally, current or former clients who thought it was a good idea and were willing to sponsor. To find campers, we did some local press and Facebook ads and got support from a couple of different middle schools.
We held last year’s camp at District, specifically in the Digital Surgeons office. There’s a whole network of people who work there who helped promote the camp to their coworkers on our behalf, so that gained a lot of interest as well.
We also had organic growth from people we’ve worked with. They trust Erio Marketing as a company, so when we told them we were doing this spinoff camp, based on the relationship we already had, they had confidence in us.
NAN: What challenges have you faced rolling out this initiative?
ERICA: There were definitely a lot of questions—especially doing it the first year. We didn’t always have answers to those questions. But we knew what the end goal was hopefully going to look like and we knew our intent, which is reaching girls in middle school who may not otherwise have the opportunity to be exposed to something like this. Once we told people the mission and the goal, people started understanding what we were trying to do and the support has been great.
NAN: In what ways has the camp evolved since last year?
ERICA: The initial goal was to create this marketing academy, which it still is, but a lot of the girls who attended last year were interested in starting their own businesses. Some had already started putting something together or were just interested in doing so. So, focusing on the marketing is really important, but we’ve also added a second layer about entrepreneurship and how to start a business.
A lot of these girls are in grades six to nine. They think they have to wait to start companies. You don’t actually have to wait. You can start now. We explain how to get funding, provide business plan templates, and discuss questions they need to be asking themselves.
The only thing that has evolved is adding the entrepreneurship layer to it. We also do a lot around building self-confidence and how to brand yourself personally and focus on what makes you unique.
NAN: Will Camp Erio always have a focus on girls—and this age range?
ERICA: I actually get that question a lot. Right now, yes. This niche of middle school girls needs this focus. If we were ever going to focus on a younger audience, it would be less about marketing and business and more about public speaking, doing things like using improv to help girls build self-confidence and give them a voice. And, if we were going to go older, high school would probably be the next age group we would focus on using a similar concept of introducing girls to marketing and business before they have to make a career choice or a degree choice.
We always say, you can come to this camp and maybe find out that you don’t even like marketing and business, and that’s perfectly fine as long as you had the opportunity to make that decision for yourself.
ERICA: Each mentor is assigned a group of five to six girls who they work closely with over the three days. The relationships the girls have built with their mentors really impacted how much they learned at the camp—and how much fun they had.
They don’t realize it, but it’s a unique way for them to start networking. We have many speakers who come in each day to engage with the girls, and all the speakers, mentors, and sponsors are interested in helping the campers and staying connected after the camp is finished, too.
NAN: Camp Erio is creating lifelines for these girls.
ERICA: Yes. Hopefully too, if they are applying to different high schools, or colleges, or jobs in the future, their experience attending this camp is something that will differentiate them from others.