12.29.2009

Outdoor trends of the decade ... I bet you wish YOU had thought of that in 2001

Low-elevation balance tricks: In previous decades, climbing took place way up in the mountains, far from prying eyes and flashbulbs (remember those?). But if there's no camera, who will see your rippling lats? I'll admit that at the time the rise of bouldering never made sense to me ... it seemed like a great way to sell a lot less gear to an even smaller segment of the population .... but then I saw a couple of the videos. Turns out climbing in front of a huge crowd that's amped up on (insert energy drink here) can be totally rad. And dovetailing in on the mass acceptance of bouldering's balance tricks, came the acceptance of slacklining: a campsite dare that's turned into a phenomenon -- and very likely the hottest item of 2009.

iPod pockets: It seems like yesterday -- or, holy shit, eight years ago -- that Apple introduced the iPod. According to the people I've never met at Wikipedia, the thing debuted on Oct. 23, 2001, about six weeks after the tragedy of 9/11 and heading into one of the darkest holidays on record. But not only did the iPod reinvigorate Apple and recast the portable music market .... it sent outdoor gear designers into a tizzy. The first "iPod pockets" that hit the market became the difference maker for hard shells and backpacks. Later on, they became de rigeur in everything from hooded sweatshirts to golf pants. For a spot I did back in 2005, I joked that a new jacket had an "iPod pocket for its iPod pocket." Nobody laughed (as usual), but I thought it was hysterical.

Merino wool: Once upon a time when warmth was wealth, wool was the currency. It never really went away, but we all recognize that wool took a back seat to synthetics in late 1900s. Look around though, and you'd be hard pressed to find a material better suited to being the outdoor world's choice of the decade. You've got your mega-modern wool hipsters. You've got your legacy brands that continue to make wool their bread and butter, even after 185+ years. And you've got your newbies jumping on the wool bandwagon ... and who can blame them? Not even Nostradamus could've predicted that three dozen+ brands would be making $30 merino wool socks in 2010.

Hydration: When I was kid we called it "drinking water," but in the last 10 years "hydration" became more than something you do when you get thirsty while exercising, it became an entire industry. There are rack upon rack of hydration packs made for virtually any outdoor activity. There are bottles that calculate your exertion and remind you when to sip. And there are even flavored Alka Seltzer tablets sold in $15 six packs that enhance your body's ability to accept the water that you put in your mouth. Just writing this makes me thirsty.

Energy drinks: I can't explain it better than this. LINK: "We're going to look back on this era of energy drinks, and history will not be kind."











Extreme gear for mild mannered pursuits:
It may be trade show legend, but it may be true as well. When Simms Fishing Products introduced the G3 Guide Wader back in the early 2000s -- a $400 fishing wader that was better built and arguably more spaceworthy than stuff the Apollo astronauts used -- few thought that the things would become more than a pricey footnote. When the G3 shattered previous sales records, however, both retailers and reps realized they were onto something. High end, high performance gear isn't just for guys on the Khumbu Icefall ... it's for everyone that heads outside. And while Simms embodied the spirit of "there's no bad weather, only bad gear" for a pursuit that primarily involves standing still, other brands spent the decade capitalizing on microscopically less outdoorsy items like $800 baby strollers named after premier mountaineering ranges.

Yoga pants: I have a friend who works for a major yoga brand. The one that makes those pants. Yeah, those pants. He swears that he has a file of letters written by guys who want to thank the company personally for "making women's butts look fantastic." I believe him.

12.23.2009

Incredibly painful, cringe inducing, OMG figure skating crashes

Sports Videos, News, Blogs

The Dark Side

I’ve gone over to the dark side,” said the ex-journo with a grin. His skin looked clearer, his eyes brighter and lacking the bags that so often framed them during his deadline days. Was he happier, too? I couldn’t be sure. But I think yes.

For those shifting from editorial to PR, it’s hard to call the “dark side” a euphemism anymore. It’s so common a term among communications career traders that it’s become a generic. A rock solid visualization for the transformation that just happened.

You were Luke Skywalker (living on a desert planet, eating unnamed organic geometric vegetables, targeting womp rats from your T-16 on Friday nights). You were living with your aunt and uncle. And you tried to marry the first girl that kissed you, until you found out she was your cousin.

But after going to the dark side? Now you’re Anakin Skywalker. Not only do you have full access to a skin-tight black leather wardrobe, but you’re nailing Natalie Portman and you’ve got the star cruiser-sized cohones to rock a sweet rat tail. Don’t even TRY to tell me it doesn’t feel good.

Tactically speaking, when a journo says they’ve gone to the dark side, what they mean is that they've put their creativity up on the selling block for the highest bidder. It means that they've traded a business card that says "reporter/editor" for one that says "public relations account manager.” It means that they’ve gone from being a content creator, to being a content advocate. And most importantly, it means that they haven’t gone to “the Jedi Side” (a euphemism for taking a teaching job that hasn’t quite caught on yet).

The thing is … for PR folks who’ve made the changeover, going to the dark side doesn’t feel like the easy way out to anything. It’s a challenging career on a shifting landscape that makes newspapers seem stable. It's a stinging relinquishment of your byline rights. And it’s deadly competitive.

It may seem more stable than the deadline-driven world of journalism. It may seem more healthy to head home at 6 pm, rather than putting a paper to bed at 3 am. It may even be more lucrative than working as $14/hour reporter for 75 hours a week.

But make all the generalizations you want about the differences between the dark side and whatever-the-other-side-is-called – and you’ll never be able to knock a single truth off it’s pedestal.

The dark side needs journalism like the PGA Tour needs Tiger. Maybe more.

12.21.2009

2009 VERY Unsafe Outdoor Games For Christmas

* Dean Potter's Fabulous Flaming Flying Squirrel Kit

* Hey, sweet man breasts! The BPA Drinking Game

* Croc Stock Limbo

* "LOST": Special Fly Fishing Retailer Edition.

* Design Your Own Gene Simmons Ski Kit

* Stand-Up Paddlesnipers

* "Honey I just cashed in our 401Ks to start a t-shirt company based on optimistic slogans and cute stick figure dudes."

12.14.2009

Grace Potter & The Nocturnals at the Fillmore, 12/14/09

Saving the best for last, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals lit up the crowd at the Fillmore last night. Arguably, they laid down the best 45 minutes of music I've ever seen.

The stretch began with the last couple songs of the set and continued through a hard charging encore that left the not-quite capacity crowd pounding the floor and cheering for more. As the opening chords of "White Rabbit" roped through the San Francisco crowd, I thought people's heads were going to pop off.

The ending jam was loud and spirited and real, as only Grace and the crew can do. The only bummer is that it seemed like an entirely different band from the one that started the show.

Maybe it was the camera crew. Maybe it was end of the tour fatigue. Maybe it was the new material with the radio play hooks and the soft rock touch. But for the most part, the first half of the show failed to move the not-quite-sold-out crowd.

"I hope you're ready to hear some new material," grinned Grace after the opening jam. "Cause you're going to get it." I seem to remember that she also tacked on "whether you like it or not" to the end of that sentence, but maybe that was my imagination.

When Grace Potter is on target, she's mesmerizing. That hair, that smile, and that unforgettable voice are a formidable combination. Her brand of music is beautiful and inspiring, and it's an amazing thing to watch her and the band work the crowd.

But as with any band .... or brand .... the debut of new material is Darwinism at it's best.

After they've been played, it's easy to recognize the ones that never should've been there in the first place.

But when a new song or a new product survives, it's not merely because it's fitter than the rest. It's because the new thing is a natural progression of the old thing.

It's true to your roots. It's a reflection of your heritage. And it's pure.

12.08.2009

Iceland redux

You've heard it before ... "Iceland is green, and Greeland is icy" ... but after you visit the world outside Reykjavik, you've got to know that the countryside can turn dark. And nasty. And, yes, cold.

Ragnar Axelsson got some love in the NY Times recently for his pix of Greenland, but go to his site and check the Iceland gallery to see some images that will inspire you to turn up the heat and put on a nice cozy wool sweater.

LINK: Ragnar Axelsson Iceland Gallery

A marriage made in the outdoors

The last rebranding of RSN was in 2000, when the company had more than 130 employees, owned a travel agency, had regular appearances on Headline News and the Weather Channel, and was getting regular fill ups from the seemingly inexhaustible gas tank of the Dot Com boom.

The rebranding targeted two goals: to reign in the massive variation in current branding (remember “the hurricane logo”?), and to set the stage for a multi-platform, multi-galaxy explosion of content into the world of the outdoors.

Based on the wisdom of the times (publicly announced venture capital x 2), the company was worth at least $60 million, if not twice that. You had a core of proven television success that was going to be amplified by the newfangled total awesomeness of the Internets. Look out world, here we come.

And then, as we can see in the rear view mirror, the bottom fell out. First came a plunging stock market, then came the massive personal and business anxiety that followed 9/11. As web money went away, so did web strategy… and so did employees. Myself included.

It was a nasty, painful time that saw the funeral of numerous well-intentioned outdoor.com entities.

But RSN survived because they were able -- like no one else -- to retreat to their foundation. They went back to the one thing that they always did better than anyone else. Destination market television.

If you live in an RSN town – Park City, Vail, Crested Butte, Sugarloaf or others – you know what I’m talking about. RSN has raised the quality of the local channel to previously unheard of levels. They didn’t do it by imitating the low budget small market content of places like Idaho Falls and Burlington. They did it by creating their own version of wicked outdoorsy television: snow reports in the morning, eye candy during après ski, mellow movies at night, and nothing at all between 10 am and 3 pm when everybody’s outside doing something fun.

And if you advertised on RSN in the last 10 years – you also know the secret: that TV exposure on RSN delivers a ridiculous value. It’s targeted and constant, constant, constant, and though it costs far more than a print ad … it’s far, far less than playing in the big pool of TV anywhere else.

Despite all the cash and hours that were spent on branding in 2000, the sad reality is that the weakness of RSN lies in the brand. While product recognition is superior (“I love that local television station”), brand recognition is almost non-existent. Would a skier going from Sugarbush to Lake Tahoe make a connection that the TV content is coming from the same place? Not in a million years.

Strong in operations, weak in brand … the delivery of a partnership with Outside Magazine is music to the ears of anyone who has watched RSN struggle to find an appreciation for their true value.

The Outside Television Network, as it will become known in 2010, is the rebranding that RSN needed. Not the branding that provides a new fancy logo and orb to drop into the lower third, but a branding that jams a stake in the sand to provide direction, consistency and purpose.

At the same time, Outside will get what they need as well. Outside will gain unparalleled access to television viewers in America’s best loved outdoor destination markets. Outside will have a kick of positive news heading into a dark Christmas for many print publications

Best of all, Outside will have an outlet for their content franchise, and it’ll be the right outlet.

12.04.2009

Wagging the Tiger

I was lucky this week. I was in meetings, in dinners, in planning sessions ... and away from the 24-hour news cycle. Had it been the opposite, I would've seen the car crash about the car crash, and learned all that there isn't to know about Tiger Woods.

Without judging the rightness or wrongness of his personal transgressions, I can say this: I'm rooting for him to win one for privacy.

I've read a fair bit of knee-jerk chatter about how his statements are too lawerly, and not PR enough. And I've seen others say that he needs to go on Oprah or Barbara or some other show and spill his guts before the world in order to make this shitstorm go away. But I couldn't disagree more.

Would Tiger's life would be better today had he given a titillating mea culpa to Larry King last Tuesday? Unlikely.

Look at the size of the media circus right now. It's galactic, and they barely have a shred of information to move on. Imagine if they had a 60 minute press conference to dive into, to parse for every hidden meaning, and to use as an excuse to dig deeper into his family and friends' lives. It'd be like pouring gasoline on a campfire. For a year.

It's true that one role of PR is to maximize media coverage. But that does not mean that every situation calls for catering to the spotlight.

Feeding red meat to scandal-ready "journalists" is not PR. It's pandering, and it weakens the cracking foundation of journalism.

Tiger may well be a total jerk, and he may be a serial philanderer. But while his personal life is none of my business, advocating for a healthy media culture certainly is.

Somewhere, someday, somebody is going to stare down the paparazzi media culture and win. I hope I'm there to see it.