ACRA, Skico to team up? | AspenTimes.com

ACRA, Skico to team up?

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

When the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors meets on May 28, it will likely hear a recommendation that it hire the same advertising agency as the Aspen Skiing Co.

On Monday, the Denver ad agency Praco resigned the ACRA’s $400,000 account to market Aspen, citing a change in direction from the chamber’s marketing committee that was guiding the account.

Hana Pevny, ACRA’s new president and CEO, is currently working on a new advertising and marketing strategy to bring before the ACRA board. And the Sterling-Rice agency, which developed the “night and day” campaign for the Skico, is in the running.

“There are compelling reasons for that choice,” said Pevny.

Among the reasons is the growing sense among the members of ACRA’s Marketing Advisory Committee that working with the Skico’s “Aspen/Snowmass” positioning of the resort makes both economic and marketing sense.

The effort with Praco was funded with $400,000 from a new Aspen lodging tax, and the Aspen City Council has entrusted ACRA with effectively spending the money.

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According to Pevny, only about $155,000 was spent last winter on direct advertising, and the rest went to Praco in the form of fees for account management, research, planning, public relations and creative work. The agency’s winter campaign, which was launched in mid-January, generated $34,000 in lodging revenue.

“No, I don’t think it was a waste of the $400,000,” said John Sarpa, chair of ACRA’s marketing committee. “Was there a useful learning curve? You bet. Do things need to change? You bet.”

One thing that is likely to change is the ACRA embracing a much closer marketing relationship with the Aspen Skiing Co., which has a several-million dollar winter marketing budget.

“We could have done a much better job of coordinating, if not integrating, the marketing effort,” said Sarpa. “One of the things we are recommending is to do just that, to have a much higher level of coordination and integration with the Skico.”

After several years of rapid turnover in its own ad agencies, the Skico now seems confident on its positioning as “Aspen/Snowmass” and its targeting of skiers who have come to Colorado and Utah, but not Aspen, in the past two years.

And it also seems happy with Sterling-Rice’s recent creative work, which seeks to remind skiers that Aspen has a rare combination of both great skiing and great nightlife. Of course, that type of positioning may direct more visitors to glittering Aspen than sleepy Snowmass Village. In the past, that concern has prompted the Snowmass Village Resort Association to hire its own agencies and spend anywhere from $400,000 to over a million to specifically market Snowmass, winter and summer.

But Snowmass Village Councilman Bob Purvis said there is a way that both Snowmass and Aspen can work effectively with the Skico under the umbrella of the “Aspen/Snowmass” brand.

“I would look at Aspen/Snowmass as the brand and the various pieces, Aspen, the music festival, the mountains, Snowmass, etc., as products, all of which help create the brand, Aspen/Snowmass,” Purvis said. “It’s a two-way exchange of values. The products essentially demonstrate what the brand is.”

Purvis said, if an automotive analogy is helpful, to consider Aspen/Snowmass as Jeep, which has a variety of products it promotes under its brand, such as the Grand Cherokee and the Wrangler, both of which are clearly recognized as Jeeps.

While Purvis has been sitting in recently on meetings held by ACRA’s marketing committee, he is not a formal member of the group. He’s there to learn what he can as the Snowmass Village Town Council is planning to put a marketing sales tax before Snowmass voters this November, which could raise $2.5 million a year for a town-appointed marketing committee to spend.

And, he says, if that money was pooled with Aspen’s and the Skico’s, it could be an effective tool, especially if it was in a single agency’s hands. And Purvis made that point last spring when the ACRA, SVRA and the Skico were all looking for new agencies at the same time, but eventually opted to each select their own.

It’s a message that the ACRA committee seems now to have heard.

“If we could integrate the strategy and the creativity, so there is similarity to what you put in the market, that makes a lot of sense,” said Sarpa. “But that would not preclude individual efforts by the Skico, Snowmass and ACRA to have their own identity. Is that something that someone else could have figured out real quickly? Maybe.

“But we have a new level of buy-in, and we’re recommending this to the board.”