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Interview with a Ski Resort Marketing Genius Factory

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When it comes to print ads, I am sometimes harsh with my critiques. But when it comes to Origin Design’s resort print ads, I’m speechless. I’ve already featured their stellar Whistler/Blackcomb ads, but they’ve recently showcased Jay Peak’s new line-up that is as beautiful in a marketing sense as they are to look at. Interested in Origin’s history, background, and reason for such stellar work, I got in contact with Danielle, one of the original Originians, for some answers.

SlopeFillers: How did Origin get started working with ski resorts? Who was your first resort client?
Danielle: We opened our first studio in Whistler in 1993 and that location obviously defined for us the types of clients we would be working with. We (and when I say “we” I mean “me”) were open about a week when Whistler Mountain handed us our first project. We were three people the next year, four more the year after that, and now 16 or so years later we’re about 25 people with two offices —one still in Whistler and one in Montreal.

SlopeFillers: What is a unique challenges about working with a ski resort on a project?
Danielle: We’re in a really fortunate position as we work with some of the leaders in the industry, and so our challenges are definitely outweighed by the benefits associated with having clients who are driven to be the best in their field, in marketing as well as operations. With that said, most ski resorts—even those that are evolving toward year-round business—have seasonal swings that are difficult to build a normal, steady business around. We’ve worked to diversify our portfolio of clients to compensate for those that have a real seasonality to their marketing. Beyond that, I’d say that having a marketing business where weather is a wild card is a bit of a bummer. We’ve seen our business effected when our clients have gone through lean snow years. And that’s not just our resort clients, but snowsport brands can have down years when weather doesn’t support the sale of their goods. This typically results in marketing budgets being cut somewhere down the line. On the flip side, it is extremely hard to measure the success of an advertising or marketing initiative if it coincides with snow. If it snows, skiers and riders show up in droves, and although I hate to think it, I sometimes wonder if we should have told our clients to save their dollars. (Perhaps I shouldn’t say that. Do resort marketers read your blog. ;-)

SlopeFillers: Where do you go to find inspiration and ideas for ski resort clients?
Danielle: The obvious answer would be the great backyard that we have. Whistler is the mountains, and Montreal is renowned for its proximity to an amazing number of ski areas. But I think there’s more to inspiration than that. Montreal, if you haven’t been there, is one of the most culturally rich places in the world. If you can’t get and stay inspired in that city, you don’t think with the right side of your brain. Whistler, if you haven’t been there, is this crazy melting pot of people from all over the world visiting, staying and passing through. The result is a culture that appreciates travel, and all of our people travel. Seeing the world is the best form of inspiration. We also take the time to surf the web, in the most old fashioned sense of the phrase. Get on, let it take you, you’ll go crazy places that will spark your brain in awesome ways. Oh yeah, we have another major source of inspiration. We count some of the most amazing action sports photographers and filmmakers in the business as our friends and collaborators. Their imagery is our continuous source of inspiration. How can you not design something great around images that are amazing?

SlopeFillers: Why do you feel your team has been so successful in working with ski resorts?
Danielle: Since opening our first studio in 1993, Origin has recognized that our unique understanding of our clients’ products, customers and markets allows us to stand apart from the competition. Our immersion in mountain culture keeps us at the forefront of its trends, innovations, research and events. If it belongs in the mountains, we live it, breathe it, work and play it. As we like to say, “You are where you live.”

SlopeFillers: What advice would you have for resorts looking to work with you or any other marketing agency? What should they have on their end that would make the process of designing an ad or campaign as smooth as possible.
Danielle: I think if you’re working with a professional agency, the best advice I can give to a client (or potential client) is focus just on your business goals or marketing objectives. Resist the temptation to solve the problem for them or tell them exactly what you want. If the agency is worth its salt it will provide strategy creative solutions to reach your objectives. In situations where our clients say something like, “we want to move the mark on early season pass sales to baby boomers” we dig into the project in a completely different way than when the solution is already prescribed for us, like “design a microsite that’ll attract people over 55.”

Beyond having their objectives, a client should have a budget to share. There is no benefit to keeping that budget a secret. There are a 100 ways to skin a cat when it comes to solving marketing problems. A good agency will take the objective, look at your whole budget and recommend the best way to get the biggest bang for your buck.

About Gregg & SlopeFillers
I've had more first-time visitors lately, so adding a quick "about" section. I started SlopeFillers in 2010 with the simple goal of sharing great resort marketing strategies. Today I run marketing for resort ecommerce and CRM provider Inntopia, my home mountain is the lovely Nordic Valley, and my favorite marketing campaign remains the Ski Utah TV show that sold me on skiing as a kid in the 90s.

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