Sun Valley often has to transform from a ski resort to a golf resort in a matter of weeks. On a tight schedule, Mike Fitzpatrick uses a clever content strategy to quickly shift the resort's brand, message, and tone.
Gregg: Mike, give me the 30 second version of your background.
Mike:When I was about 10 years old, my family went to Tahoe for a ski weekend. I had never skied before and we went to Ski Incline (now Diamond Peak). As I took my first ski lesson, from a lady instructor named Brownie, and started to slide down the slope, I thought to myself that “I am going to do this the rest of my life” and that I would lead a ski resort one day. During my high school years, I was the student rep for Mogul Ski Club and would head to Alpine Meadows every weekend. I got a couple hundred kids from my high school to join so I never had to pay for skiing. I definitely learned primitive marketing and sales skills! I spent a year at the University of Colorado with the delusion of trying to make the ski team. Well, that dream blew up and I transferred to The University of the Pacific. While at UOP, I got a degree in Mass Communications.
Gregg: How did you end up at Sun Valley?
Mike:I went up to Sun Valley with a plan to work one winter and head to grad school. I had worked at Sun Valley several summers during college and thought that ‘only’ one winter would be okay. So, I showed up with my backpack and skateboard and worked for Guest Services as an ambassador on the mountain. It was a great job. I decided to stay for a couple of years. That turned into several more and somehow, I ended up getting married, having two kids, a mortgage, a couple of cars, and a big dog. Working at a resort is great because you can work in several areas while developing your professional skills. So, I worked in F&B, Operations, Ticket Sales, Group Sales and probably a couple of other departments that I can’t remember at the moment.
Gregg: And you just kept working your way up?
Mike: After several years at Sun Valley, I decided that I wanted to go out and see the ‘real world’. I moved to Boise and then Portland while working for a large company in marketing, sales and operations. It was a great experience to see business from a different perspective. During the time I was gone, I could never really stay away from the ski industry. I coached for several years and ran the race program at Mount Hood Meadows, was on the board of directors of the Pacific Northwest Ski Association and the board of the Pacific Northwest Ski Education Foundation.
When Tim Silva returned from to Sun Valley from Northstar, I reached out to him and said that I would love to return to Sun Valley if there was a position for someone with my varied background. I was hired to develop the Idaho, youth markets and nascent CRM programs. We had good success with our initiatives and when the Marketing Director retired in December, I was promoted to the position. I have to say, that I have the best job in the world.
Gregg: Sun Valley is one of those places where I know many more people who visit in summer than winter. How quickly does that turnaround happen for the resort and town? Roughly how long after the lifts close is golf up and running?
Mike: The actual split for Summer versus Winter is really about 50/50. The summer season really kicks off early to mid-June and runs until mid-September. We have opportunities to increase the shoulder season. Generally speaking, the lifts close about the middle of April. This year, our last day was April 23rd. Golf usually opens about the first of May, so there is not much time before we switch operating modes.
Gregg: Wow, that is quick. Tell me a little bit about this video in the context of that turnaround. What was the key message? What was your goal with the timing of its release and the way you ran it as an ad for a few weeks?
Mike: The initial strategy was to build awareness and interest. Sun Valley Resort’s marketing plan is built on anticipating the consumer’s path to purchase. We have three primary strategic approaches;
The resort focuses on moving to the transactional aspect of the decision-making process to encourage potential and returning guests to make their lodging reservations, tee times, dining, etc., and then reinforcing the decision path.
Gregg: Very interesting, how does guest loyalty influence those touchpoints?
Mike: We have incredibly loyal guests. An amazing statistic from last summer was that the average visitor has been here 10.8 times. Sun Valley is a magical place where a person can truly find themselves and connect with the people and activities that make the memories of a lifetime. Our mission is to promote and provide the environment where this will occur.
We want potential guests to think to themselves that they not just want to, but need to, go to Sun Valley.
Gregg: When I look at some of the other ads in the series, I see a pretty even split in views between the golf and mountain biking versions. Is that a reflection of the share of golf’s role in Sun Valley’s brand as a summer destination?
Mike: Golf is a big part of the Sun Valley experience.People don’t realize that under all of the winter snow, the resort also has three spectacular courses. The Trail Creek course meanders along an alpine stream and water come into play on 12 of the 18 holes. Elkhorn is the last course that Robert Trent Jones Junior and Senior designed together and stretches over 7200 yards. The White Clouds course, the latest addition to the collection, is a tough nine holes that has stunning views of Baldy, Boulder and Pioneer Mountains.
Gregg: How did this particular video fit the overall series’ goals and strategy?
Mike: The video that you are referring to is a compilation of The Unbeaten Path – The Wise Ones. The series features 4 different Sun Valley experiences, Culture, Fishing, Golf and Mt. Biking.
There are so many things to do up here in Sun Valley that it was very hard to choose just four. Other popular activities include, tennis, hiking, SUP, galleries, horseback riding, destination spa, great dining options and even an ice show (think Disney on Ice) during the summer and many, many more experiences.
Gregg: Will the series continue to expand to cover those other experiences?
Mike: The resort adds to the strategic plan by releasing videos that reflect the people of Sun Valley. For example, this past winter, we did a series that included, ski patrol, guest services, the snowmaking team, our top chef, the hotel manager and several others. The supplemental videos have been very well received by our guests and locals. It helps add familiarity to new visitors when they recognize the staff during their stay.
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