Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Perfect PR

Me on Ski Utah fam trip
skiing at Canyons Resort

I met Susie English last February when she was hosting a group of journalists for a media jolly in Utah. She was great fun, really informative, genuinely hospitable, so accommodating to everyone's differing needs and, of course, such a brilliant skier! The trip - encompassing Salt Lake City, Canyons, Snowbasin and Alta for the whole group as well as Deer Valley and Sundance for greedy old me - was sensational. Great snow, really diverse, dramatic skiing and lovely resorts. And - contrary to many people's preconceptions - plenty of boozy beverages everywhere we après-ed. So, when I started planning the book on winter sports that I am writing with hubby, Dr Simon Hudson, I was keen to include Susie's experiences as a ski PR expert. Here's an excerpt: 

Susie English/Ski Utah
Skiing is in the genes for Susie English who grew up in Park City, Utah, home of the US Ski and Snowboard Team. Her father, Chuck English is Director of Mountain Operations at Deer Valley Resort where he has been since 1985 when she was two years old. English has followed in his footsteps and now works as Director of Communications for Ski Utah, representing and working with all 15 ski resorts in the state.

English went to school and skied with many future Olympians including two-time gold medalist, Ted Ligety. She was a soccer teammate of Julia Mancuso, a lifelong friend of Tanner Hall and ski buddies with silver medalist Jeret "Speedy" Peterson. “It was an amazing place to grow up and I've been so lucky to know a lot of amazing ski athletes because of it,” she says. “It's pretty fun watching the Olympics when you know the athletes personally.”

Susie English/Ski Utah
After majoring in Marketing and Finance at the University of Denver, she returned to Utah to work as marketing manager for Rossignol Ski Company where she stayed for eight years before moving on to Ski Utah. “Working for Rossignol was a great start to my career and I was able to learn so much, ski all over the world and live back in Utah,” she says.

At Ski Utah, her responsibilities include outbound media events, local media relations, hosting inbound media trips and pitching media nationwide. “My job is to create brand awareness and demand for the Utah wintersports product through earned media placements,” she explains. “Being back on the tourism side of the ski industry is great. I'm passionate about Utah skiing both personally and professionally!”

The job is a perfect fit, she says, and what better person to promote a ski area than a bona fide local who has grown up skiing there with a family history on the administrative side of the ski tourism industry. So what does the job of Director of Communications entail? On a day-to-day basis English liaises with the Utah Office of Tourism, Visit Salt Lake, Park City Chamber and Visit Ogden. “Ski Utah is a membership organization so I also work with members that help me host media including ski shops, restaurants and attractions,” she explains.

Susie English/Ski Utah
Another important facet of her job is working with international media interested in writing about or filming in various Utah destinations. This can have its challenges, particularly with tight deadlines and the increasing need for journalists to do extreme activities in order to create headlines. “I've had interesting requests from I don't eat anything that is red, to I don't ski (and they are on a Ski Utah press trip). It's always exciting in PR and keeps you on your toes,” says English. Ski Utah uses Cision Point to monitor media coverage. “I also work closely with our public relations firm (Mfa) to pre-approve press trip attendees and then to monitor coverage after the trip. We don't expect immediate coverage but hope to see something within two years of the trip,” English explains.

Like everything else in the ski industry, public relations has changed over the years, particularly with the advent of social media. “PR professionals have had to change their pitching methods from sending mass press releases to more targeted, focused outreach,” English explains. “Many media members now get many of their story ideas from social media, especially Twitter, so keeping up on all of the trends is more and more important.” Out of a total of 10 employees, Ski Utah has a team of three people managing online content and social media channels. 

Another focus for a communications director is to keep abreast – and ahead – of the competition. In Utah’s case this is Colorado, California and other areas competing for out-of-state winter visitation. “We definitely watch what other states and ski resorts are doing across the country for ideas and trends,” says English. “We also work with other states on specific programs, including Learn to Ski and Snowbird Month and the Bring a Friend Initiative.” 
Susie English/Ski Utah
So, what are pre-requisites for a career in winter sports PR? Firstly experience and understanding of the tourism industry, English says. In order to gain hands-on experience of the area, she recommends internships at resorts or with ski companies or state tourism agencies. “Ski Utah has a fabulous internship program and past interns have gone on to work at Visit Salt Lake, US Ski Team, Petzl, Ski Utah and more,” she says.

And the perks of a PR ski job: plenty of skiing and living in a beautiful mountain environment within a likeminded community. “I'll get 70-100 days on skis each year, mostly for work,” says English. “The people I work with, at Ski Utah and the resorts, are really amazingly, talented individuals. We are not just coworkers but friends who ski, ride bikes and BBQ together.” She also travels extensively throughout the USA meeting with intriguing, unique media, all snow sports focused. “It is so much fun to create new relationships with media, hear about all of their amazing travel adventures and ski with them in Utah,” she concludes.

Red Tail Grille, Canyons Resort (courtesy Canyons Resort)
When it comes to the winter sports product, English thinks that family appeal is one of the biggest factors that will ensure longevity for skiing. Utah's resorts, specifically Alta, see generation after generation coming out for the same week every year for their annual family ski vacation,” she explains. “It is pretty fun to see family grow up coming to Utah and introduce the next generation to the tradition.” She also thinks that enjoyment at every level – from beginner, through intermediate, to advanced – will ensure that snow sports perpetuate as a way to have outdoor fun in a beautiful, wintry setting.

One of the things Ski Utah has been addressing recently has been flat skier days and participation following the 2008 financial crisis. “Many of the participants are aging, so it is a big focus for Ski Utah to introduce young skiers and snowboarders to the sports,” English says. “The 5th and 6th Grade Passport is a wonderful program that Ski Utah has been doing for over 10 years to help make the sports more accessible for kids. We also have a 4th grade program where a staff member educates the kids on health benefits, costs and more related to skiing and riding and then takes them for a lesson. All of Utah's resorts have school programs as well.”

Alta Lodge, Alta (courtesy Alta Lodge)
Despite the fact that Utah encompasses two of the three ski resorts which do not allow snowboarding, English thinks snowboarding has been a plus for the industry: “It opened up the options and brought more young people into the sport. Snowboarding numbers have been decreasing in recent years, but a lot of those people are still on the mountain, just on skis.” And she says that Alta and Deer Valley re-evaluate their anti-snowboarding policy on a yearly basis.

For the future, English envisions an increase in joint, reciprocal or multi-resort ski passes. “With Vail Resorts Epic Pass program many other resorts are now offering additional benefits for their pass holders,” she explains. “It was been an interesting trend to watch and many of the Utah resorts are following suite. Utah's resorts are part of passes like the Epic Pass, Mountain Collective, Powder Alliance and Wasatch Benefit.” 

Park City Waldorf Astoria: the only ski hill Waldorf
(courtesy Park City Waldorf Astoria)

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