Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Marketing Alliance touts new strategy

Approach is ‘labor-light, media-heavy’

Express Staff Writer

Arlene Schieven

The Sun Valley Marketing Alliance's new chief marketing officer appeared before a joint Sun Valley-Ketchum City Council meeting, presenting an organization that not only has new staff but a new direction as well.

Arlene Schieven and alliance board president Jake Peters offered a quarterly update to the councils during a regular meeting of the Ketchum City Council Monday, detailing a revised approach to marketing the area.

"It's labor-light; it's media-heavy," Peters said. "It's dramatically different in its prioritization of spending from our predecessor organization."

Marketing initiatives include digital and social media, magazines and cinema promotions.

The alliance is creating 30-second films from existing vignettes that will be shown in movie theaters in targeted areas such as Boise and higher-income neighborhoods of Seattle.

The emphasis on summer activities and promotions has boosted that season, but the alliance wants to renew focus on winter.

Nordic skiing publications will see ads promoting that sport in the valley.

"It doesn't cost that much to get a good amount of presence (in those magazines)," Schieven said.

She said creating an image of Sun Valley in potential visitors' minds is the first step, but doesn't address short-term needs.

"Yes, we need to build awareness long-term, but we also need to get people here now," she said.

Schieven noted that the valley's events are a draw for new visitors, many of whom said they'd return.

"People are saying the event brought them here, but Sun Valley will bring them back," she said.

The area still has challenges, however.

"Access remains a barrier," she said.

Another issue is that the Sun Valley area has a relatively small marketing budget compared to other resort destinations, she said.

In the current fiscal year, Ketchum contributed $450,000, while Sun Valley chipped in $350,000.

Fewer dollars means fewer marketing initiatives. It also on Monday meant more scrutiny of Sun Valley's commitment to the organization it helped establish.

The Marketing Alliance was formed by the cities last year. Ketchum Councilman Larry Helzel asked about Sun Valley's long-term financial investment in it.

"What I'm concerned about is commitment," he said. "Something happened along the way."

Each city kicked in $400,000 to the alliance in its inaugural year.

"We in Ketchum anticipated that was going to be repeated this year," he said in an interview. "We also realized that (amount) was just for starters."

Although cities cannot make multi-year commitments for external contracts, per state law, the idea to launch and support the alliance came in large part from Sun Valley, Helzel added.

"We did anticipate Sun Valley's lower funding amount," he said. "They backed off of it on the first anniversary. We had to go up to $450,000 in order to make up what they didn't put in."

He likened the partnership to one between President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner.

"Clearly the direction is not sustainable," he said at the meeting.

Sun Valley Mayor Wayne Willich said his proposed fiscal 2012 budget had more in it for the Marketing Alliance, but the council adjusted it.

Sun Valley did not take the 3 percent property tax increase allowed under state law. That would have collected about $90,000.

Part of the reasoning for that was because the county is taking a 6 percent tax increase, Willich said.

To impose the city's 3 percent "was not palatable for our citizens," Councilman Dewayne Briscoe said.

Ketchum Councilman Baird Gourlay was unmoved.

"It's a critical time right now," he said. "To me (it's) very frustrating and unfair."

Visitor center makes progress

Greg Randolph, general manager of the Sun Valley Chamber of Commerce, updated the councils on the renovation of the visitor center. The building on Sun Valley Road is undergoing a major facelift, with an anticipated reopening in November.

"We see this as being a landmark building," he said. "It's got good bones. It's a good space. It's going to turn heads."

Ketchum-based architect Susan Desko as well as many other professionals have been volunteering to push the project forward.

"She's there every single day," Randolph said of Desko. "She's keeping everything moving."

More than $60,000 of cash and in-kind contributions have been given to the project so far, he said.

Rebecca Meany:

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