Bonnie MacPherson has been a shining light for Okemo Mountain Resort for the past 12 years as director of public relations, after PR stints in New Hampshire at Bretton Woods and Booth Creek properties, which owned Waterville Valley, Loon and Cranmore.
“This is the job I’ve held longest in my life,” MacPherson said, “and I love it.” Any conversation with Bonnie reveals how passionate she is about her work.
New England Ski Journal: I understand you were an art major in college. How did that land you in the public relations field?
Bonnie MacPherson: I attended Mass. College of Art, majoring in art education. But along the way I discovered that I didn’t want to teach. After graduation I went to work as a graphic artist for a jewelry manufacturer. I spent a lot of my free time in New Hampshire. I wanted to ski, hike and generally enjoy the outdoors. I was able to use my graphic arts skills to land a position at the Mountain Ear in North Conway as production manager. This was back in the days before electronics when everything was done by hand. I actually did a little bit of everything at the paper, using my art background while learning a lot about newspapers, press releases and dealing with people. When Bretton Woods was looking for a PR coordinator, I read the job description and said, I can do that. And so my PR career began.
MacPherson: It has changed a lot. Much of the change is due to the advent of the Internet. That has changed the whole way we communicate. It can be much less personal. We are pitching people differently. I look at someone’s work, see what they’re doing and then pitch them for a story. Twenty years ago the relationships were more personal. It was a matter of meeting people, talking to them in person. Now it’s all digital. Back then if I had video I wanted aired in a timely fashion I would have to get in the car and drive it to Boston, sometimes in a snowstorm. Now it can go instantly electronically. Electronics have made everything more convenient now and allowed us to be more productive. The media landscape has changed and is still changing. PR used to be dealing with magazines and newspapers. While that’s still part of it, now we have bloggers and influencers.NESJ: How has the job changed since you first began?
NESJ: What do you consider to be the most important aspect of PR?
MacPherson: It’s still ultimately about relationships and personal interaction even, if it’s not face to face. And connecting on a personal level, even if it’s not about a story. I have to do my homework so I’m making the right pitch to the right people. It’s also much easier to vet someone now. We get a lot of requests from writers, bloggers and others who want to come to the resort to do a story and want lift tickets, perhaps lodging. I can check their credentials using a service we subscribe to or even just googling them to make sure they are legit.
NESJ: What are some of the more serious issues you deal with?
MacPherson: Crisis communication is essential. It’s a question not of “if” something happens, but “when.” It is vital to be prepared. We have a crisis communication plan and we have ongoing training. Should there be a crisis, we need to respond quickly. Everyone has a phone now and can put photos or comments on social media instantly. We have to be prepared to act just as quickly. Also the realm of what can happen at a resort has expanded. We have always prepared to deal with the PR aspects of serious accidents, lift evacuations and that sort of thing. A good crisis plan anticipates every possible situation, even the unimaginable.
NESJ: There must be some lighter sides to the ski PR business. Care to share any?
MacPherson: Once at Bretton Woods I was going on live TV in North Conway, stopping in at the station on my way to work. I called the resort to see if anything special or new was going on to talk about. I was told the roof blew off the Mount Washington Hotel the previous night. Literally a section of it peeled back, exposing rooms on the top level. There was a wedding scheduled for that day as well as a corporate group doing some training there. And the hotel was full! I suddenly had to deal with this on live TV. And everything went off as scheduled. Guests were moved around, the wedding proceeded as planned and no activities were interrupted even though workmen were walking through the lobby carrying giant planks to repair the roof. Despite the disruption, everyone ended up happy.
Here at Okemo I was called up by someone who claimed he wrote about skiing for a website and wanted a free trip to come here — lodging, lift tickets, meals — for himself and his photographer. I told him I’d look at his website and let him know. Most of the site seemed to be about smoking pot, fast cars and hot women. Nothing about sports. I called him back to say he wasn’t a good fit for us. He got quite aggressive and called my boss and our parent company complaining. Further research was done and we found he was quite the con artist and had a reputation even within his company for getting free trips. And the photographer was his girlfriend. Needless to say, we did not host him.
On the more humorous side, when I was at Bretton Woods the resort decided to use the Cog Railway for skiing. We built ski racks on the side of the coach. I planned a media event, filling the coach with reporters — they’d be the first to ski Mount Washington. It was a very big deal. The train went up the side of the mountain and pulled off at a siding where the trail down began. There was a water tower right next to the tracks because the train had a steam engine and water had to be replaced. As we went by the water tower, everyone’s skis in the rack were leaning out a bit. We hadn’t done a trial run with skis in the rack and there wasn’t enough room. The skis got caught between the tower and the train. Some of them got bent, twisted and completely trashed. No skiing for the owners of those skis — they had to ride back down. Bretton Woods had to replace a few pairs of skis. Everyone had a great time and skiing on Mount Washington via the Cog only lasted one year!
NESJ: Do you have any funny stories from here at Okemo?
MacPherson: Not that I can tell now. The people involved are still around. Maybe in my memoirs.
NESJ: What do you like best about your job?
MacPherson: It’s about the people. I’ve made so many friends. A lot of professional relationships have developed into real long friendships that last beyond public relations.