Chelsy Offutt has found her ideal job, marketing the town she’s lived in all her life.
As director of communications for Visit Colorado Springs, she’s been touting the virtues of the Pikes Peak region for the past 11 years.
Offutt has deep roots in Colorado Springs. Her paternal grandfather moved his family here after getting a job with NORAD. Her mother’s parents moved here from Indiana after a visit.
“My mom was on vacation visiting them when she met my dad,” Offutt said.
Her parents, both sets of grandparents and other relatives are still here.
Offutt, 35, graduated from St. Mary’s High School, then earned a Bachelor of Arts in mass media from UCCS, graduating with honors in 2006.
After graduation she joined ProConcepts International, an advertising and public relations firm, as communications coordinator, and worked there for almost three years before joining what was then the [Colorado Springs] Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Offutt spoke with the Business Journal about why she loves her job and her hometown.
What did you think your career path would be when you were in school?
I started in the business school because that’s what they tell you to do [because] that’s where you make the money, and I just — you know, accounting and economics, it was just not happening. As soon as I changed over to communications, I got straight As. I always knew I liked advertising and public relations, and Vladimir Jones — which I think was PRACO at the time — had the state tourism account and actually presented at one of our classes. I just thought, ‘How cool is that?’ I didn’t really know a lot about hospitality in terms of a career, but I just thought that was so interesting that they got to market the state. So it’s funny how it kind of comes full circle: I was exposed to that in college and now I get to represent Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region as a destination.
How did you come to join Visit Colorado Springs?
In 2008, when the downturn happened, I just started putting my feelers out, and I reached out to some PR companies. Amy Sufak with Red Energy public relations [told me] the Convention and Visitors Bureau was hiring. I was like, ‘What the heck does the Convention and Visitors Bureau do, and who are you and how do you benefit us?’ The more I researched the organization, I was so excited. I was like, this is my dream job. I have lived here my entire life. I love this place. I get to wake up to Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods every morning. I interviewed and I was hired in December of 2008, and I’ve been here ever since. I started as PR manager but [was] promoted to the director in 2012.
Tell us about what Visit COS does and what you do there.
Our mission is to bring more visitors to Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak. A lot of people don’t understand how important tourism is to our community. It’s the third-largest employer and accounts for more than 20,000 jobs. It’s over a $2 billion industry being pumped into our economy, so it is big business. My role is to proactively and reactively gain awareness for the destination. This is anything from a journalist writing a story to somebody holding a convention here and they want some really beautiful photos, [getting them] the right details about experiences people can have here, the right branding for the destination, and pitching stories across the world. I host media in all facets whether that’s a newspaper … or an Instagram influencer. So it really runs the gamut. It’s really just trying to build relationships to keep that conversation going and selling the destination.
Do you do any video work?
Yes. Adobe Premiere can be the bane of my existence sometimes! But I was actually the one who started all of our social media channels. When I started, it was those conversations of, ‘Hey, this might be a way to promote business.’ … So it’s just so funny and crazy to see how that has evolved. I mean, it’s literally everything from writing, to getting the photography, to scheduling and posting, to monitoring and answering people’s questions. We’re on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, and I try to keep the blog up to date too. I love it all, but I have to decide where my creative power’s going today.
What do you love most about your job?
The things I get to learn. Even being a native, you don’t always appreciate your own community and what assets it has. So when I started here … I was astounded because there are things that I had never experienced or never even knew existed. I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to connect with so many amazing things here. I mean, going on a site visit — just hearing those stories or the passion behind these things. Like, this is why SCP Hotel wanted a living wall in their lobby, and this is how long it took to procure. I met with the owner of Kinship Landing, the new hotel downtown, and hearing their process and their passion, it gets me really excited. And then I try to harness their passion and turn that into pitches and really try to help them communicate their passion for the destination and project.
Tell us about a challenge you faced and how you overcame it.
I don’t think I was ever prepared for something like the Waldo Canyon fire. … I mean, we were getting daily calls from CNN, and it was just something I had never had to deal with in my career at the time. So it was definitely a learning curve in terms of having to put out information and making sure the right information was going out and making sure we were staying in touch with people that, ‘Hey, the city is not burning down’ — and to have to do it again the next year [during the Black Forest fire]. I put a lot of tools in my toolbox after those.
Do you also do any volunteer work?
I was on the board of the Public Relations Society of America for a number of years, I think 2011 to 2014, and president in 2014. I did foster interview calls for Retriever Rescue of Colorado for a while. And usually once a year, we’ll go do something as an organization — we’ve done a day with Care and Share; we’ve done outdoor trail cleanup. So I think it’s really great that they encourage us to be involved in the community. There’s a handful of us that are part of Colorado Springs Rising Professionals.
What would you tell other young professionals who are getting started and maybe haven’t decided on a career?
I think it’s just getting involved in as much as you can, because you don’t always know what lights your fire until you get to experience it firsthand. When I was at ProConcepts, my first job was to cold-call general managers of auto dealerships and cold-sell a newsletter. That wasn’t really my dream job, but I ended up being able to work very closely with the PR staff in California. And that’s where I was like, ‘This is what I want to do. This is where I need to be.’ So I think the more passionate you are about something, the better you’re going to be at it. … But you have to find it. It doesn’t always come right away.
What are the biggest changes you see in Colorado Springs?
Just growth in every section of the city. … I think we’ve always had things happening. But seeing the downtown renaissance and the amazing things that are coming to this community — I mean, we’ve always been moving forward. But Doug [Price, Visit COS president and CEO] was heavily involved with the City for Champions project, and I was very involved with it. There were some challenges to overcome, and I think it’s amazing that these things are coming to fruition. People don’t remember the naysayers or the people who said, ‘This isn’t going to work.’ They don’t even think about that now, because we have these amazing things happening and I’m so grateful that we’ve pushed forward. As a PR person, I always have something to sell, but I’m almost overwhelmed with how much is happening in this community right now. Years ago, the challenge was always, ‘How do we get young talent here? How do we get young talent to stay?’ And now we are known to be a Millennial hub and young professional hub, and I don’t see that going away anytime soon.
How can Visit COS help locals and businesses?
What we always say is: Whatever is good for visitors is good for residents. If we’re bettering infrastructure, transportation, or the different tours and things people can take — something I took for granted as a native when I was younger, I would just encourage everybody to see the value and how tourism betters our community. Whether it’s the new hotels popping up — Kinship Landing’s going to have a community space where they want locals to connect with travelers [and] the new Hilton Garden Inn has this amazing lobby. Go for happy hour. Be a tourist in your own town.