Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cities endorse marketing plan

First-year efforts to focus on websites, social media


By TREVON MILLIARD
Express Staff Writer

Candice Pate, interim leader of the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance, listens to the Jan. 20 presentation with marketing board members Zach Crist, center, and Tim Silva, Sun Valley Resort general manager, center-right. Jack Sibback, Sun Valley Resort spokesman and marketing director, sits farthest to the right. Photo by David N. Seelig

Not a cent of the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance's $800,000 budget will be spent on print advertising during its first year of promoting the resort area. Instead, spending will focus on the World Wide Web and social media.

Jake Peters, president of the marketing board behind the newly formed alliance, revealed the alliance's entire marketing strategy during a joint meeting of the Ketchum and Sun Valley city councils Thursday, Jan. 20, saying spending will be "concentrated" online. The cities each allocated $400,000 to the alliance for its first year of marketing, previously a duty of the now-disbanded Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau. The alliance includes the restructured chamber—renamed the Sun Valley Chamber of Commerce—but the marketing branch is separate.

Peters said a trend toward online advertising is already established. He showed a video of Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz at the 2009 Cable Communicators Forum in Denver saying the company has abandoned its long-held advertising practices in print and now focuses on online videos. Katz said that's long been desired since videos are the best way to promote a ski resort's active offerings, but technology hasn't been able to meet that demand. That's now changed, he said.

"It's turned the entire industry upside down," he said.

Peters acknowledged that Sun Valley is "microscopic" compared to Vail's five resorts, 20 hotels and six golf courses, but, he said, Vail's program "does provide a lay of the land."

The good news is this method for reaching an audience is "much more affordable," according to Candice Pate, interim leader of the alliance's marketing efforts until the permanent position is filled. But how is Sun Valley going to stand out on the Web?

"This place is an original," she said, "and 'original' is a powerful word. But we stopped being an original."

Pate advocated focusing on the area's status and heritage as the first American ski resort, on creating short video stories to exemplify this stand-alone attribute. She said authenticity is highly sought after among guests.

"You've really got to earn it and own it," Pate said. "And we have it in spades."

She said people are yearning for a retreat from their complex, tech-heavy lives, reverting back to simpler times. She said that's not only witnessed in vacations but also in daily lives, in which people are growing their own food, buying local and more.

Connecting these people with Sun Valley's video stories is the difficult part, Pate said, but it must all be done in collaboration with Sun Valley Resort. A website, www.discover.sunvalley.com, will be created within the resort's pre-existing www.sunvalley.com site to show all these videos.

The resort has agreed to provide half the $200,000 estimated cost to build the site, and will match much more of the alliance's costs geared toward attracting traffic to the site, such as paying San Francisco marketing firm Eleven to produce the videos. The $100,000 estimated to be required for that will be shared equally by the alliance and resort.

"Sun Valley [Resort] has not said 'no' to anything we've asked yet," Peters said, adding that even though the alliance will no longer be spending money on traditional print ads, the resort will. Sun Valley Resort General Manager Tim Silva is a member of the five-person marketing board.

As part of their online push and partnership, the alliance and resort now have a single Facebook page—www.facebook.com/sunvalley—that went live Jan. 13 and has 10,000 fans. Peters said it doesn't look great yet, but it's a work in progress. The two have hired Backbone Media to run the Facebook page and a public-relations campaign to attract media coverage, a $150,000 cost this first year.

Changes to the chamber and visitors center

Peters said the alliance will still maintain its website, www.visitsunvalley.com, but the site will undergo an overhaul to align its appearance with the Sun Valley branding and improve its functionality. He said the alliance is launching a one-stop site for lodging reservations at no cost to the alliance.

The overhaul isn't just happening online but also inside the visitor center on Sun Valley Road in Ketchum.

"We want to blow the walls out," he said, which would open up the building's now-partitioned interior. Video monitors would then hang from the rafters, playing the video stories on a loop.

"That thing's got to have energy," he said.

Peters said plans are also under way to put computer monitors in the Friedman Memorial Airport terminal and in the Sun Valley Village mall, allowing visitors to speak face to face with visitor center staff in Ketchum.

As for the numerous events that the chamber-visitors bureau used to help plan and fund, Peters said that would come to an end.

"We're not in the events-planning business," he said. "We're in the events-promoting business."

For that reason, he said, the chamber will step up its community calendar.

"We should never miss a community event on the calendar," he said.

An immediate and robust round of applause followed the alliance's 50-minute presentation. Both Ketchum and Sun Valley city councils were all smiles, passing around responses such as "extraordinary," "wonderful," "totally impressed" and "beyond expectations." They especially noted the encouraging partnership among not only the cities but also Sun Valley Resort.

The enthusiastic support for the plan comes after months of debate and some disharmony in 2010, after the two cities decided to fund a new marketing effort and effectively dismantle the longstanding Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau.

Sun Valley Councilman Nils Ribi acknowledged that contention and doubt followed the transition over the past year, but said it's now apparent that it was the right thing to do.

"I know it was difficult, but we're there, and that's the most important thing," he said.

Trevon Milliard: tmilliard@mtexpress.com

SVMA's first-year spending

- $290,000 to marketing firm Eleven for building discover.sunvalley.com and produce content. Sun Valley Resort to match spending plus unknown amount.

- $150,000 to Backbone Media for Facebook and public-relations campaign. Resort to provide additional $100,000.

- $82,500 to plan 2011 Sun Valley Nordic Festival (only this year) and 2011-12 USA Cycling National Mountain Biking Championships.

- $138,500 for visitsunvalley.com and visitor center remodeling.

- $30,000 for Boise shuttle bus.

- $147,600 for staffing.




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