Businesses look at resort-wide recruitment 

Brand-neutral marketing strategy discussed at brainstorm session

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED. - MEETING OF THE MINDS Participants in the Dec. 11 brainstorming session, from left: Val Litwin, Josianne Fox, Charlie Easton, Craig Beattie, Kyle Hannay, Joel Chevalier, Pepe Barajas, Sara Hardie, Cayley Dow, Camille Keep, Kathryn Swanson, Noel Fox.
  • Photo submitted.
  • MEETING OF THE MINDS Participants in the Dec. 11 brainstorming session, from left: Val Litwin, Josianne Fox, Charlie Easton, Craig Beattie, Kyle Hannay, Joel Chevalier, Pepe Barajas, Sara Hardie, Cayley Dow, Camille Keep, Kathryn Swanson, Noel Fox.

There's an informal group that meets once a month or so in Whistler, made up of human resources directors from some of the biggest brands in town — Whistler Blackcomb, The Fairmont Chateau, the Westin — primarily just to stay up to date with some of the recent goings-on in the resort.

During one such meeting this summer, the topic of Whistler's labour shortage was broached.

For the organizations represented at the table, the problem wasn't as dismal as it was for others.

"Whether that be bigger brands, bigger organizations, more resources, it's hard to say, but we weren't having those challenges," said Joel Chevalier, VP of employee experience for Whistler Blackcomb, and one member of the informal meeting group.

But even if it hadn't affected them to the same extent, the group knew it was a problem that needed to be addressed.

"So as we started to develop the conversation... we realized that it needed to be broader than our HR group," Chevalier said.

Now that same group of HR specialists, in partnership with other local business owners and the Chamber of Commerce, is exploring the idea of a resort-wide, brand-neutral marketing strategy to solve Whistler's labour shortage in the long term.

On Friday, Dec. 11, an all-day brainstorming session was held with Vancouver marketing firm FreeBird Agency to talk about what such a project might look like.

Most of the discussion in that first session revolved around what makes Whistler special, who it is the resort should target and how employers can get them here, said Noel Fox, founder of FreeBird.

"Our ultimate goal with everything that we do, when creating a powerful brand, is to establish a deep emotional connection with our target market," Fox said. "And a lot of what we did in that session was, first of all, just having a lot of discussions and finding out who are the people who are really needed? What are we missing here?"

The next step is to put all of the discussion notes into one document and reconvene for another meeting in the New Year with an eye to developing a master strategy, Fox said.

But it's a little early to tell what the end result will look like.

"A lot of thinking and planning goes into what approach might be taken, but just off the top of my head, it will definitely have a name and a brand of some sort. It will have a look and a feel and its own tone of voice," Fox said. "There's probably going to be a website. There's going to be some sort of social media play."

Coming out of the session, the mood was positive, Chevalier said.

"At the very least what we're going to walk away with... is the concept of a brand that's going to give local businesses that don't necessarily have the resources to get their name out there, a bit of a stronger brand attachment to create additional applicants for themselves," he said. "That's the very least that we're going to get out of this, and from my perspective that's a success. I think that on a grander scale, we will see a bigger plan that I think will be able to get some momentum behind it that will help local businesses that don't have the resources like ours does to create interest."

To have so many different business owners — many in direct competition with one another — collaborating for the good of the resort is "huge," said Chamber CEO Val Litwin.

"It's the difference between one person singing and a whole choir," he said. "There's just strength in numbers. If we have a unified brand and message and call to action when we're recruiting out of market that we can kind of marry with our own individual strategies, it just means we're looking a little more unified out there in the market place, which means we're easier to understand."

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