“This post is part of a new chapter for SlopeFillers that breaks the old anything-and-everything topic lineup and organizes weekly posts into themes. This week is content marketing.”
Every once in a while I’ll get in touch with someone for a reason driven by what appears to be nothing more than happenstance, and it turns out to be absolutely perfect timing.
A recent email I shot to Pat Crawford is the latest instance of such serendipity.
After long stints with both Freeskier and OnTheSnow, this master of content (literally, I’m 50 pages into his thesis) informed me that he couldn’t reply to my questions because he was starting a company in 3 days. Once things settled down, we swapped some emails about why resort marketing content fails and what you can do about it.
Here’s what he said.
Gregg: Pat, in just a few sentences, tell us about who you are, what you’ve done to this point in your career, and what’s next.
Pat: I started out bouncing between freelance writing and a few editorial jobs in skiing and travel. Then in 1998, I became the first editor of Freeskier magazine, where I stayed until 2006. I took a few years years off to pursue a Masters degree, and I ended up writing my thesis on user generated content and social media, which totally changed the direction of my career. I came back to Storm Mountain Publishing as Editorial & Online Director, and oversaw Freeskier and Snowboard magazines, the websites, and custom publishing.
In 2011, I took a position as Global Content Director for Mountain News Corp, where I led the global content team for 22 sites around North America and Europe. Now I’m starting my own company, Cadence Media Strategy, which is going to focus on content strategy and custom content production.
Gregg: You know content better than possibly anyone in the industry. When you look at ski resorts and the increasing volume of marketing content they are churning out, what are some of the issues you are seeing?
Pat: Ski resorts are lucky in that they all have great stories to tell, and they’re full of people who are passionate about the sport and the environment. Resorts tend to be really good at taking advantage of that.
Whenever I see issues, they seem to stem from underestimating the content process. Good content requires massive planning (media companies plan 12-18 months in advance), really savvy strategy and workflow. When you dump content management onto some poor marketing person’s already full plate, you fall behind, systems break down and your content becomes visibly inconsistent. The intern posts a photo on Facebook, the event staff writes two sentences about the spring festival in the calendar, some other department handles a page or two.
That’s not a sustainable strategy that grows your audience and tells your story. You have to plan and research your ideas, distribution strategy and workflow on every channel so that when you spend money on your big idea, you have a strategy for success. I’m not saying that content creation isn’t a true expertise, but none of it works without the governance and systems.
Gregg: I’ve often called some of my feelings around this the “if you build it, they will come” mentality. Do you think resorts approach it this way because of skewed expectations about social media and content marketing, lack of time, or something else?
Pat: Resorts approach it this way because it’s totally natural. We all tend to think, “I know this is good, so people will find it.” Every media company is having this conversation, too. They have great content, great ideas, but they’ve lost so much of their power of push marketing. There are fewer subscribers and fewer people checking our sites every day.
I think that because we all work in the snow industry, and are so passionate about the sport, we assume the public is as well. But not very many people wake up in the morning and Google “skiing news” or “videos of fresh powder,” the way they might football or baseball. That’s a big hurdle to overcome.
I’ve found that consistency and partnerships are the keys to success. You have to serve your audience every day so that they’re primed when your best ideas come. When you see a video with huge traffic, you have to remember that the company probably hit a hundred singles before they got that home run.
And then you can’t rely on just your own networks. How about the writer, photographer, or the sponsors of the skier in content? Are there other entities that might have a stake in the success of the content? Even if you have a large and involved social audience, bring in every partner you can find to boost that content. It’s still marketing.
I had an interesting experience along these lines this year. OnTheSnow.com created a four-episode video series in which we visited one resort in each episode. Great videos, but one of the resorts refused to share its episode socially because we said the name of its rival resort at the very end of the video, in a promotion for the next episode. It took several months for that episode to catch up with the others in the series. When it finally did, it was because the resort eventually decided it was better to share the video.
Gregg: Maybe to get more specific on a piece of content with more visible metrics, when you see a resort YouTube channel with great videos but each with 150 views, what is your first thought? Where do you feel it went wrong?
Pat: First thought, why did they make these videos? If this resort didn’t define what it was trying to achieve with video in the first place, then how do we ever know what success looks like on YouTube, or anywhere else?
You have to assume that they worked the process backward: Make a video first, then figure out what to do with it. You have to invert that: Do keyword research, make sure you have best practices in place for posting video and SEO, define your metrics for success, define who’s in charge of monitoring the content, and cross-promote like crazy. It’s not too late, keep measuring and iterating until you see a pickup.
And finally, maybe you don’t have the resources to be doing much on YouTube, and that’s OK. I strongly believe we all need to pick the places where we want to succeed and let some others go. You can streamline the process, but very few of us have the resources to be successful in every social network, so pick the spots where you can really engage with your audience and work there.
Gregg: We’ve touched on a few content types – video, text, etc. – what process do you go through to decide which medium to use for each story? Is it a matter of budget or is there a preferred medium that should be utilized no matter what for specific types of content?
Pat: There’s no single answer. Yes, you need to maintain a steady flow of communication with your community, and you’ll only rarely have that big hit that gets a lot traffic. You’re often posting a quick story, linking and sharing, maybe making a short edit, and I don’t spend too much time worrying about the medium. It’s more important that, taken as a whole, your content has the right mix of elements for your brand. You have to keep publishing, keep measuring and iterating. As long as you’re really measuring and reviewing your data, the answers will rise to the top over time.
Then you have the signature projects, and for those you must frame the medium, topic, content, budget and promotions as a single piece. You really have to understand the goals up front, and why you want to tell this story, and those choices will generally dictate the best medium.
Gregg: You’ve seen more content pass through your inbox than most, what has been your absolute favorite piece of ski / resort marketing content during the last few seasons?
Pat: That’s an impossible question, because there’s so much great content coming out of ski areas. But I particularly liked Whistler’s Embedded program two years ago. The content was amazing, of course, but it showed a great plan and execution. I loved that it was early season, when there’s massive excitement and relatively little competition for attention, so they weren’t fighting 20 other deep pow videos. Whistler surrounded it with good communications. They had a nice microsite and integration onto their main site. I loved how real it was; Mike Douglas talked about how terrible the weather was the night before opening day. The product fit the brand, it was well executed, and it was compelling.
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