2.17.2009

Red Bull on Ice

Decently likely rumor of the day: the ball is rolling for this event to come to Portland, Maine ...

2.10.2009

The fortune hunters

Three times in the last month, three unique individuals from three different business sectors all made the same exact comment to me.

"Fortunes are going to be made in our industry in the next few years. No doubt about it."

These are not early onset Alzheimers patients. They are not Middle East oilmen. They are entrepreneurs, successful businesspeople, and they all have their heads firmly out of the sand and their eyes wide open right now.

While most are thinking about what used to be, these hunters are keenly aiming at what's next.

2.06.2009

Chasing cool

Why is there more camo at the golf show than the outdoor show?

There's a puzzler for you.

And if that doesn't get your Tiger-Balmed temples going, try this one: Why is tactical/military gear proudly displayed at the front of Outdoor Retailer booths (with accompanying PR support), but anything remotely capable of supporting a hunting trip almost invisible?

"I can understand that," said a Hall of Fame gear columnist to me just a few days ago. "The tactical stuff has a certain coolness that the Billy Bob stuff just doesn't."

For the outdoor industry, chasing cool remains the order of the day. And part of cool, as always, includes a not-so-subtle dig at what's not.

As the most rampant outdoor industry success stories of the last two decades have been cool brands with cool designs and made-up names that sound like planets from an alternate Star Trek universe, today's CEOs have a manic focus on trying to be the next cool thing. And based on history, who can blame them?

The determination of cool, of course, is one of the slipperiest of relative terms. Who's to say which is cooler, a mustard yellow softshell with a diagonal zipper, a camo frame pack with a removable payload or Nordic walking poles?

It's true that hunting doesn't appeal to everyone. But neither does ice climbing.

The era of the blockbuster is dead. We've known that for years.

And if there's one takeaway from the last year, it's that clinging to old ways of doing business are a good way to find yourself out of business.

2.05.2009

And now, a word from our sponsors .... a response

Reprinted from an email received this morning, with permission.

As to your back from the trenches missive on the 'Wicked' site, I think you can go a little deeper. Of course everyone in the outdoor/action sports industry is a competitor in some shape or form, and there is perhaps nothing stranger than the kind of sibling rivalry between pr and mags right now (especially how they work so well together to create editorial excitement for the same brands that they are both pushing for marketing dollars). But I think the lack of transparency or in some cases even objectivity among some of the magazines in the market exacerbated the situation - I mean, seriously, when's the last time you saw a bad review, or the kind of Consumer Reports copy that actually advises readers against buying certain products (Rolling Stone, Uncut and others that publish magazines focused solely on media are much more effective at this, while most of the magazines in our market mirror the everybody gets a medal mentality that is so dismaying in kids sports right now).

'Gear Reviews,' originally devised as a reader service, have expanded into the kind of multi-page catalog copy that you could easily find on any given brand's website, and have done so at the cost of real journalism, and the tougher to get, harder to research, real features that were originally the staple of so many of our favorite magazines. When Ski Magazine is writing extended 'features' on major advertisers like Deer Valley and Vail each and every year, outdoor pubs are celebrating Christmas with 'Giant Holiday Gear Reviews' and the best writers in our market are making most of their monthly check from swag stories, then it becomes pretty obvious how heavy a hand pr and marketers can have in creating a magazine's editorial. I picked up a handful of competitors mags at the OR show and was flat out bummed by the many different flavors of vanilla. Not only was there extended middle of the magazine advertorial that was at direct odds with the magazines own editorial mission, but in some cases the majority of the copy was written by the same small cadre of freelancers, making them even less distinguishable.

In the past, marketing was based on partnering with media that each brand felt best matched its own messaging, with reach to a specific demographic. Now, unfortunately, the marketing is the media. And with the price of a single ad page in many of the most popular national pubs out of reach for the majority of small outdoor brands, it makes sense to give that money to pr firm that can then create the opportunity for positive editorial. On the media side, I think the short-term result of this is going to be more publishing companies offering custom media opportunities that merge the best aspects of print and pr, the rise of regionals that speak directly to a community with more timely and targeted information that is not watered down for a national audience, and more media that has a direct sales angle. The line will continue to blur, but I believe the consumer will push for more transparency, and that the publishers who provide that will be best served in the future.

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2.04.2009

And now, a word from our sponsors

During the 85th day of the recent Outdoor Retailer trade show, or at least what felt like the 85th day, we squeezed into a capacity crowd at the Hotel Monaco bar in hopes of ordering a few burgers.

The bad news was that tables were impossible to come by. The good news is that an old friend was there.

An ad rep for a quintessential outdoor magazine, this old friend has an infectious smile, a contagious affinity for ginger and Crown Royal, and a gets pure satisfaction from twisting my arm, metaphorically, by tossing out not-so-subtle hints that we're competitors.

As much as I try to play it off ... muttering through the Crown haze that public relations and advertising are two completely different things, that the process is different, that the results are different, that the impact on the public is different, etc, etc .... he just smiles and nods and points out that many of his possible future ex-advertisers use the shield of a public relations program to explain why they're not buying a page this year. And every time I hear him say it, it stings.

It stings because I love magazines (almost as much as I love newspapers, which is considerable and legal in only a few states other than Nevada and North Dakota). They have been the storytellers and muses of the outdoor world for longer than I've been around, for sure, and to imagine a world without them is a truly painful vision. Magazines strike a remarkable balance between commerce and art, and the truth is that without one ... the other starts to die.

But my friend's comment also stings because he's right. Public relations is competing with advertising.

It doesn't matter that traditional media relations is only one component of a strategic PR program. It doesn't matter that there is no media relations without media. It doesn't matter that we recommend that all our clients maintain a strategic advertising program.

All that matters is that today's marketing dollars are limited, at best. And when the going gets tight, there's always room for PR.