The Pikes Peak region has its own, built-in marketing strategy — America’s Mountain — but even the most relevant metros must strive to stay that way.
“We capitalize on what our assets are,” said Ryan Cole, executive director of Pikes Peak Country Attractions. “Pikes Peak is one of the many great assets that we have.”
Families and adventurers alike have for centuries shown interest in the region’s many natural wonders — including Garden of the Gods, which is rated as the country’s No. 1 park by TripAdvisor.com. Then later, as Colorado Springs began swelling beyond its borders in the mid 20th century, many organizations began to move their headquarters to Colorado Springs. Among those was the U.S. Olympic Committee along with its Olympic Training Center in 1978, which now attracts 140,000 visitors each year.
But a job that was once undertaken by attraction owners with help from the Roosevelt administration’s Works Progress Administration has transformed into a major competitive digital enterprise.
“We are now in competition with literally any other destination out there,” said Amy Long, the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau’s vice president of marketing and partnerships.
The city government of Colorado Springs has no marketing budget of its own. Instead, it partners with three organizations to help sell the Pikes Peak region to potential guests: the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance and the Pikes Peak Country Attractions Association.
“We do not budget or spend money on broadcast, print or digital advertising — rather rely on our city assets, like banners and signs, to get the word out,” said Krithika Prashant, the city’s senior communications specialist, explaining that most of the city’s communications are internal messages related to public education and awareness, not marketing.
While the CVB and PPCA (both focusing on Fremont, Teller and El Paso counties) work together to create informational materials and distribute them to potential guests, the RBA advertises the benefits of doing business in the Springs. Long said Denver also helps draw people south.
“We’re actually very collaborative … and they’re always very helpful,” she said. “We actually benefit from the traffic all across the state, and we try to capitalize on that.”
Aside from updating the Colorado Springs website and social media accounts, Prashant said the city does little to promote itself to those outside of the region, and instead depends on its partners to spread the word.
“We look to them for supporting us in those aspects,” Prashant said.
The crisis created by the fires and floods of the 2012 and 2013 tourist seasons not only resulted in a $150,000 boost in the CVB’s funding, but inspired a “multi-channel marketing campaign to generate interest in Colorado Springs and to inspire travel during the 2014 summer travel season,” according the organization’s 2013 Annual Stakeholders Report.
“The focus of the campaign is on the attractions most affected by the fires and floods to include Old Colorado City, Manitou Springs, Black Forest and Cañon City with a media mix of online, email, print, PR and social media.”
The CVB divvies its $1 million marketing budget among investing in such areas as print and online advertising, email marketing, search engine optimization, website development, public relations and social media. But despite the investment, Long said it’s “difficult to determine why visitors choose this as their destination.”
The CVB, which has nearly 500 dues-paying partners, reported that it attracted 20,000 visitor center guests and distributed 500,000 copies of its annual visitors guide in 2013.
Long said popular favorites have always served to market the community all on their own, namely Garden of the Gods, Pikes Peak, the U.S. Olympic Committee, the U.S. Air Force Academy, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway and other staples of the area.
“We try to highlight as many of those as we can,” Long said.
While some of the city’s premier marketers use taxpayer dollars to attract visitors, the budgets of others depend on membership fees and fundraising.
Much of the CVB’s advertising and PR budget (cut from $1.1 million last year because of grants related to disaster relief) came from receiving two-thirds of Colorado Springs’ $4.1 million Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax fund.
The $2.7 million that the organization receives accounts for 80 percent of its annual budget and is the largest of 35 LART shares.
“LART funding has gone up each year, but not as much as we’d like,” Long said.
Conversely, the PPCA is a private association of businesses and attractions and does not disclose financial information. Cole said the entirety of its budget comes from membership fees from its 25 partners.
The PPCA and CVB have a very close working relationship, he said, and collaborate each year on an 84-page visitors guide that is distributed to around 500,000 people.
“We’re a marketing co-op,” Cole said. “We work together to produce the guide and market the region in totality to neighboring states and to get people here.”
While the CVB markets primarily within a 500-mile radius of Colorado Springs, PPCA sends 550,000 of its own travel brochures to states such as Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma and Missouri. It also maintains a large online presence at pikes-peak.com, which Cole said is on track to surpass last year’s page-view rate of 2 million hits.
“We just have good working relationships and we share a common goal of promoting the region as best we can,” he said. “We all work really well together to try to paint a great picture of what Colorado Springs and the region have to offer.”
The CVB also partners with area organizations to promote and sponsor numerous events. One of the most significant in 2014 was the Colorado Springs stage of the USA Pro Challenge on Aug. 21, during which the CVB produced a 30-second advertisement in partnership with Colorado Springs-based Sports Corp. The commercial aired 22 times during the 550-mile race, which drew an estimated 1 million spectators across the state and 15 million more TV viewers.
Chelsy Offutt, the CVB’s director of communications, said the organization is currently “looking for other ways to extend its coverage” and is in the middle of producing a 60-second version of the piece.
Not business as usual
The biggest difference between the Business Alliance and the other entities is its focus, said President and CEO Joe Raso. While the others promote tourism, the RBA works to bolster business and economic growth in the region.
“The work that we do is about business relationships,” he said. “It requires a different type of marketing strategy.”
The Business Alliance, which is in the process of being stripped of its $200,000 in LART funding, receives more than 85 percent of its budget from the private sector, Raso said, and the remainder from the city and Colorado Springs Utilities.
“It’s about personal relationships and networking,” Raso said, adding that the Business Alliance also mails information to companies in “challenged business climates” that may be considering a move.
The RBA’s definition of marketing is much more akin to networking than advertising. Staff and RBA members form local partnerships, then go abroad to preach the good news of the Colorado Springs marketplace, which can be difficult with the socio-economic uncertainty that has surrounded such issues as Amendment 64, the effects of federal sequestration on the military, as well as the abundance of natural disasters in recent years.
“What we do is constantly evolving,” Raso said. “We need to think about how we are representing our region.
“It requires a community as a whole to come together.” n CSBJ