Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Marketing Alliance has a crucial mission

Jake Peters is the president of the board of directors of the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance.


I represent the city of Ketchum on the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance board and serve as its board president. I chose to participate in the SVMA because I think our local tourism economy needs the marketing that SVMA produces.

The SVMA is a destination marketing organization.  It does two things:

- Operates marketing, PR and social-media campaigns to increase awareness of “Sun Valley.” This represents 74 percent of its budget (including the Ride Sun Valley mountain bike event).

- Operates the Visitor Center on Sun Valley Road in Ketchum.  This is 8 percent of its budget.

The remaining 18 percent of the SVMA budget is for standard overhead tasks—compliance, reporting, accounting and member outreach.

This narrow focus on creating more awareness and reviving the Sun Valley brand has been consistent throughout SVMA’s existence.

The simple fact is that “Sun Valley” has a tourist-based economy and our competitors market their resorts very well. Sun Valley has been undermarketed for a few decades. Fixing this lack of awareness will take years—not months. So far, the cities of Sun Valley and Ketchum, as well as the Idaho Travel Council, have decided to fund SVMA. If you disagree (or agree) with that decision, let your elected officials know.

SVMA has been criticized for its lack of transparency. This is in spite of:

- Quarterly reports to the two city councils sitting in joint session.

- An operational highlight report every six weeks, available to the public at

- Member meetings twice a year (moving to quarterly).

- Board meetings twice per quarter that are open to the public.

- A budget that is available to the public.

I find it surprising that many people in our community have strong opinions about SVMA, but few people seem to bother to review what is regularly disseminated.

Blame me.

SVMA’s board has been charged with making the following mistakes:

- We merged the new SVMA into the old Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber and Visitors Bureau, thereby becoming a member organization. We should have created an entirely new organization (although please note that all the employees, except the accountant, of the Visitors Bureau had been terminated before we merged and after the two cities ceased funding that organization).

- We accepted a structure that was essentially imposed upon us by the Sun Valley City Council. We did this to get their funding, without which we could not operate. I’m not sure that was a mistake, but it was problematic, particularly with SVMA’s members.

SVMA agreed to be a tenant in a building that also houses Starbucks. SVMA was a tenant in that building before its remodel and before the Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency (the building’s owner) leased a portion of that building to Starbucks. To be clear, SVMA did not lease a building that it didn’t own to Starbucks. Rather, SVMA is a tenant in that building and is happy to co-locate with any business that generates significant foot traffic for the Visitor Center.

We have been called secretive, as noted above. We may be guilty of being lousy PR agents for SVMA, but I would rather that SVMA’s four full-time employees focus on doing their jobs rather than self-promotion. Their good work is commendable and they already spend a considerable amount of their limited time on public reporting.

It was asserted that SVMA is bloated with overhead. SVMA has 18 percent overhead. It is not bloated—far from it.

It has been stated that compensation expenses are too high. The employees of SVMA produce the marketing campaigns that the organization is contractually obliged to deliver. SVMA can either outsource marketing campaigns or produce them in-house. It does both, based on an assessment of value for money. The SVMA’s fiscal 2013 SVMA budget allocates $287,000 to campaign-related labor. An additional $385,500 is outsourced for the creation of advertising media, paid media placement, etc. Employees are paid market wages, not more.

If you take exception to these choices, blame me. The staff of SVMA works hard to produce the marketing that Sun Valley needs. Commend them. Encourage them. Help them. If you disagree with the mission, the budget or the communications, blame me. My office telephone number is 725-5561.

Last week, the Sun Valley City Council decided to cut its funding allocation to SVMA without any prior notice, thus reducing SVMA’s total funding by 9 percent. This is the second year in a row of reduced funding by that city. Mayor Randy Hall (with the support of the Ketchum City Council) had made an offer to the city of Sun Valley that Ketchum would consider increasing its funding if the city of Sun Valley maintained its current level.

It’s probably time for a summit meeting on this topic—hopefully before the volunteers, the employees and the donors all quit.

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