Aspen shifts gears in its marketing | AspenTimes.com

Aspen shifts gears in its marketing

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A revamped marketing approach that may produce more bang for the city’s bucks won a general nod of support from the Aspen City Council on Tuesday.

Coming off a disappointing first year of results after spending some $400,000 in lodging tax revenues on marketing, the council reviewed the Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s latest strategy to boost tourism with the money.

New ACRA President Hana Pevny outlined a list of marketing initiatives, with a 2003 budget of $400,000 in anticipated bed tax proceeds. Though the council voiced no qualms with Pevny’s ideas, it does not have to decide whether or not to renew its contract with the ACRA to administer the marketing program until this fall.

Pevny has already changed course with the dollars available for this summer’s campaign, canceling a direct mailing to 125,000 target customers in Los Angeles and Dallas in favor of three months of online advertising in the two cities on various AOL/Time Warner Web sites.

A 1 percent return on the mailing represents 1,250 inquiries vs. 9,750 from the Web sites, she noted. In the first 28 days, Aspen ads were delivered to 263,467 Web site users. Of them, 1,919 clicked on an ad and were linked to the Aspen Effect Web site still intact from last winter’s marketing campaign, according to Pevny.

“I’m very pleased to date with where we are on the summer campaign,” she said.

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Pevny could not, however, tell Councilman Tim Semrau how many of those “hits” translated to reservations.

“Obviously, the end result is we want people to book,” she said. “Before people make a purchase decision, they have to be aware of our brand.”

The online advertising will continue through Aug. 20. The ACRA can then evaluate it before it finalizes a direction, and the target markets, for a winter campaign. The marketing fund isn’t big enough to run a national online ad campaign, she said.

Pevny is hoping regional Web site ads are an effective means of getting the Aspen/Snowmass brand name out with a limited budget.

“If people don’t know you have a product you can buy, you’re not in the buying decision,” she said.

The limited print ads that appeared in magazines last winter as part of a marketing campaign designed by a Denver firm were probably not terribly effective, Pevny concluded.

“We don’t know how many people in L.A. picked up a magazine in February, but we do know how many people look at a Web site,” she said.

Praco, hired to develop a two-year campaign that debuted last winter, resigned the account after a year. Its $429,000 campaign, approved by the City Council, produced an estimated $34,000 in lodging revenues though Praco predicted a six-to-one return on the city’s investment.

Pressed by Semrau to assess the perceived failures of the last campaign, Pevny diplomatically replied, “I think that’s evident in my plans for the future.

“One or two ads in select markets isn’t going to have any impact at all,” she added. “I think there are more effective ways of using the money.”

To that end, she outlined plans to leverage the ACRA’s marketing dollars with the marketing efforts of other players, including Snowmass Village, the Aspen Skiing Co. and the Aspen Music Festival and School.

She has also hired an interim marketing manager on a contract basis and has proposed contracting for an assistant, as well. Taking on the marketing duties is Paul Rossi, formerly director of business development for C4, a Sony digital-media venture in San Diego.

E-mail follow-ups with anyone who contacts ACRA, public relations and chairing a community committee that will explore the potential for new events paired with national sponsors are also in the plans, according to Pevny.

Andrew Kole, a member of the city’s Commercial Core and Lodging Commission and frequent critic of the city’s past marketing efforts, urged the council to leverage its marketing dollars to produce new events that bring in visitors rather than spending it on advertising.

“Isn’t it possible that is more effective?” Semrau said.

Generating a boost in visitors year-round is more beneficial than luring people for one event, advised Bobby Burkley, marketing director for the Aspen Skiing Co.

The ACRA will also look to boost convention and meeting business. It will, for example, have a booth when the American Society of Association Executives convenes in Denver. Every meeting planner for every association in the country will be there, Rossi predicted.

With the new marketing approach, the ACRA will not attempt to measure its success in dollars and cents, according to Pevny. It will, however, attempt to track its efforts and watch what happens to lodging occupancies and sales tax proceeds.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com.]

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