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Baby Boomers & The Death of Print: Eric Wagnon Interview

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Since starting SlopeFillers, I’ve noticed that among the discussion on resort marketing are folks that aren’t resort marketers. Heavily involved in the industry, they have incredibly insightful perspectives on trends and changes. I’m going to be collecting more and more of these “perspectives”, and we’ll kick things off with the one, the only, Eric Wagnon:

SlopeFillers:Eric, give me a little background into your history and involvement with the ski scene?
Eric: I went to journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill and have worked primarily on the television side for almost 20 years. As an avid recreational skier for more than 30 years, I first combined my professional career with the ski industry about eight years ago when I was working for the ABC affiliate in Chicago. I was producing a weekly lifestyle and entertainment show that periodically did travel episodes. Being that Colorado is a major destination for Chicago travelers, we did a few shows featuring Colorado resorts such as Aspen/Snowmass, Copper Mountain and Winter Park.

A little more than two years ago, I started writing online about recreational skiing as the “National Skiing Examiner” for That exposure led to other opportunities with ski-related websites such as,, and I’ve also done a little work for Ski Canada magazine in the print world.

SlopeFillers:So, over those 30 years of skiing and 20 years of professional perspective what has been the biggest change in the ski resort marketing landscape that you’ve witnessed?
Eric: I would say the changes in ski resort marketing reflect the changes in the resorts themselves. For example, snowboarding and terrain parks really didn’t exist 30 years ago, so any marketing in those areas is obviously completely new. As someone on the receiving end of “pitches” from resorts to do stories, I would also say that more and more resorts like to tout their non-skiing offerings that have expanded in recent decades. For example, one “ski” travel show I did included tubing, winter fly-fishing, snowmobiling, sleigh rides and dog sledding. As you might guess, this is particularly true for marketing departments dealing with general mainstream media outlets such as Chicago’s ABC station where I worked.

In reaching out to the dedicated skiing population, it seems resorts have increased their emphasis on a more natural– or even more “extreme”– skiing experience in the last decade or so. The resorts try to offer “backcountry light,” meaning natural terrain, but avy-controlled. I’m not sure if it’s true, but the logic I’ve heard is that shaped skis have helped put this more challenging terrain within reach of a larger percentage of the skiing population. The cat-accessed terrain at Keystone and Copper, Vail’s Blue Sky Basin, the expansion at Telluride, Highland Bowl at Aspen Highlands, Stone Creek Chutes at Beaver Creek, and Vasquez Cirque at Winter Park would all be examples of this trend. If you’ll notice, all these new examples are in Colorado. I think the more rugged spirit of hike-to-terrain and such has long been instilled in other Western locales such as Alta, Jackson and Squaw. Interestingly enough, Park City in Utah is going the other way by marketing their groomed “Signature” black runs.

SlopeFillers:Great points, Eric. What about the future of resort marketing? Do you see these trends continuing or is there some “next big thing” on the horizon?
Eric: My speculation is that the “next big thing” in resort marketing will be related to the demographic reality that the first baby boomers are just now entering retirement age. Marketing to this group with time and money to spend will likely continue an emphasis on the total winter resort experience of sleigh rides, dining, etc. I wouldn’t be surprised if you start to see lodging packages that allow retirees to spend an entire ski season at the resort (kind of a “ski-bum year” at the age of 65 instead of right out of college, albeit likely much more luxurious in nature). You may also see marketing to multi-generational families– grandparents, parents, kids all vacationing together. Those situations are profitable for resorts in all the ancillary revenue sources such as lessons, rentals, and dining.

SlopeFillers:One final question. If reaching baby boomers is the next big step, what do see as the next resort marketing trend to fade away?
Eric: In terms of delivering marketing messages, print media will continue to fade away. I’ve talked personally with Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz about their shift away from magazine advertising into an emphasis on social media. Marketing through social media is here to stay, but I think certain social-media avenues will fade away. Remember MySpace. The problem with social-media marketing as it now stands is that it’s very difficult to come up with ROI in dollars and not just “Likes” or “Followers.” Leading a publicly traded company, Katz may be in a honeymoon period with his social-media vision, but eventually shareholders are going to demand real return data in dollars. Whoever can design a social-media interaction platform that is appealing to consumers and also provides companies with real ROI data will be a very rich person. Perhaps Facebook can morph into something that provides those benefits or it’ll be an entirely new concept. Whatever that turns out to be could supplant today’s hot social-media models such as Twitter.

  • Yes I am a magazine publisher, and yes the "death of print" title to this post sucked me in.

    While I'm a print guy, we simultaneously have the largest social media audience in skiing, the largest video podcast distribution in skiing and more unique web visitors than just about any one else in skiing. You know why all of this has happened? Our brand – which is driven by the magazine. And that brand that has allowed us to monetize our social media audience. Yes real ROI.

    To anyone that believes print is dead or dying…I say good luck building and maintaing a brand online. Especially in the social media space.

    And don't even get me started with marketing to baby boomers online.

    • SlopeFillers – Gregg

      Greg, great points. It does seem like a strange crux that baby boomers are the next big segment while their favorite media, print, is going away. Love to hear more, I'll shoot you an email.

  • Eric Wagnon

    I should clarify. I do think there is real monetary ROI from the social-media effort. The problem is measuring it and coming up with dollars-and-cents data.

    Greg makes a good point about print brands driving online/social-media presence. That's true for broadcast media too such as Huffington Post would be a counter-example though.

    "Death of print" might be a bit of hyperbole. (Obviously a catchy headline to start discussion though!) I wish it wasn't so, but I do think the print media (magazines and newspapers) decline still has a ways to go. However, I doubt they'll totally disappear. Think of the technology we already have and people still buy plenty of books that look basically like the Gutenberg Bible of the 1400s.

    • SlopeFillers – Gregg

      Eric, hyperbole, yes :) Although, headlines address topics, not the opinions of the interview. Wasn't saying you expected print to die, but an opinion contained therein was about that topic.

      This idea of social media ROI is an interesting one, Eric, and you are spot on. Social media is amazingly huge, but the revenues generated from it seem to be a number that is either ignored because it is too hard to measure or something hoped for down the road. Most of the time I see "ROI" and "social media" used together, either one or the other is merely a hollow buzz word with no real meaning.

  • Shawn

    Hey Gregg, sorry for double posting the same post as I did on another thread but thought this was a great case study to add to this debate as well:
    I believe that good marketing includes both, but to those who want to abandon print completely and go solely with social media then look at Pepsi as a case study:

    Pepsi recently cut back significantly on their traditional advertising spending, and took that chunk of change over to the social media side. It's likely the largest allocation of money to social media by any company so far. There were some good statistics including 3.5 million 'likes' on the Pepsi Facebook page and 60,000 Twitter followers.

    But the one stat that matters most – sales – looks grim. For the first time ever, Pepsi slipped from 2nd to 3rd on the list of most-consumed soft drinks. Do you know what drink moved up the board to take 2nd place behind Coke? Why, Diet Coke, of course.

    Overall losses to Pepsi's bottom dollar is estimated to be somewhere between $350 million and $500 million dollars.

    Full article here

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