Just when you think you’ve cracked the code to creating a successful communications strategy, things change. Whether it’s big data, UGC, virality, influencers, followers, fans…the communications landscape is fast-paced and ever-evolving (and full of buzzwords). In the midst of change, it’s important as an agency to take a step back and understand how we got here.
Backbone Media’s business model was built on telling memorable, authentic stories about the products, people and places we love. When you have great stories, you want to tell them, enjoy them, and maybe learn something along the way. This is a pretty basic concept, but one that won’t ever change because it’s based on a meaningful interaction.
More and more we’re hearing that “content is king,” “content is the new social currency,” and “content is the center of communications.” What is content? To us, it’s a great story, a memorable message or a shared experience. We want to help craft these stories in an authentic and compelling way, and we want to share them with the world. The only difference with telling brand stories today versus five or even two years ago is that these stories can now be multidimensional with, images, videos, animation, infographics and editorial. Change in the media medium is inevitable and attention spans may be depleting, but the value of good storytelling stays the same.
At Backbone, content isn’t a new trend we’re chasing—it’s something we’ve always been all about. It’s the heart and passion of our business. It’s a PR manager taking editors backcountry skiing in the Wasatch or fly-fishing in Argentina to build a story about that experience. It’s our digital team putting a great consumer testimonial into an ad unit and delivering it to a targeted audience across various media platforms. It’s our social team developing a hashtag strategy to bring a community together to be a part of the brand story.
We’re doing it right. We’re always adapting to change and new technology, but most importantly, we’re staying rooted in the basics—telling great stories. And to me, that’s the most refreshing and human approach to communications.
Dan Vaughan from Competitor Group explains native ads and the trend toward real time video.
We were excited to share the Competitor Group POV following OR. That sparked a great conversation internally at Backbone. Below we’ve included our thoughts and an update:
“Native” comes in all shapes and sizes, when done right it is that perfect alignment of advertisers’ and publishers’ message. It should be seamless, and it should not be obvious. The voice between brand and content should be cohesive. We think some of the following examples do this well, and others have a ways to go. It is up to you to decide what is going to be the best fit, and we invite responses and discussion regarding this emerging hot topic.
Backbone Associate Media Director Page Kelley recently put together some links native advertising to spur discussion within the media team. “Native” comes in a lot of shapes and sizes, so these kind of run the gambit. If you have additional comments or questions please feel free to reach out to Page at the link above.
The Yahoo! homepage recently launched native placements. These placements are designed to look like any other article, but they are shaded in yellow to indicate that they are sponsored.
Wired and Olympus cameras: this example is much more seamless and a less obvious integration. Wired and Olympus partnered on their Spring Camp edit, which featured a variety of different products and content. The catch was, all the photos used in the section were taken with an Olympus camera. The banners within the section are no longer Olympus, but for a program like this, they would typically have 100% share of voice at the time of launch. Their logo remains, as does the subtext below the fold that all photos were taken with Olympus. This is a much more subtle approach to “native”/content integration.
Buzzfeed: Probably the most widely referenced when it comes to native. Just go to their homepage, and you will find (similar to Yahoo approach), sponsored stories shaded in yellow for brands from Slimfast to Virgin Mobile to Levis. The idea here is for a brand to link themselves to highly shareable content that somehow ties to the messaging and personality they want to communicate. i.e.: Levis and creativity.
Afar: This is an example of placement that doesn’t perfectly fit in the definition of “native” as easily as the above cases. This is more about the actual banner placement, rather than the brand contributing to the content on the page. Afar is able to take a standard 300×250 banner, and help it look like a piece of content within their site. When the brand messaging aligns with what readers are already consuming, this can be highly effective. Their homepage layoutis a great example of this tactic.
On July 30th, the day before the start of the Outdoor Retailer show, Backbone hosted its first-ever Big Idea Day (BID). The concept behind BID was simple—bring together the most influential media outlets in the active lifestyle space and ask them to present their lens into the future of media, the outdoors and adventure. In a marathon of seven, one-hour sessions, Backbone met with Outside Magazine, Men’s Journal, National Geographic, GearJunkie, Active Interest Media (Climbing, Backpacker, Ski, Skiing, etc), the Competitor Group (Velo, Triathlete, etc) and Mountain Magazine.
Backbone isn’t stopping there, and we already have plans to follow the same format with partners like Wired, ESPN, The Atlantic, Rodale, Demand Media, Google, Sports Illustrated and On the Snow to name a few. Below is a summary of what we learned.
Without question, publishers are eager and open to partner with brands in new and creative ways. Almost every media partner now offers video production capabilities. Many are building slick, customized branded content for big and small brands alike.
Brands used to rely on media to deliver audience and scale. Now, through social media, many brands have their own audience that rivals the reach of many media outlets. The unique value proposition media offers today is engaging content with third-party validation.
A buzzword for 2013, Native advertising is advertising that is done in a style or format that is indistinguishable from editorial. This means greater collaboration between brands and media.
Regardless of whether it’s the brand or the media partner delivering content must be authentic in order to be valued.
While short stories, slide shows and lists like Buzzfeed delivers are driving a lot of digital content, there is still a demand for long-format journalism, especially if it incorporates multi-media elements and a beautiful presentation. For example this 5,500 word story on Outside.com is one of the most popular on the site right now.
Urban, Fitness, Technology
Obstacle racing, Cross-Fit and exercise in general continues to be a major U.S. trend. In many cities, people are using social media to schedule large scale fitness meet ups – or fitness flash mobs.
Marketers need to point their ideas beyond the outdoor niche. Consumers are becoming more urban. How can we engage and excite this segment? Whether it’s running, yoga, or SUP—there are many urban adventures to be had. Several media partners offer popular urban outdoor events.
Bike commuting is exploding in the U.S. Cargo bikes are everywhere. Ally cat races, gran fondos and gravel grinders are proving to be popular alternatives to traditional road racing.
Half marathons continue to be the fastest growing race segment but the explosion of fad runs (color runs, rave runs, neon runs, zombie runs, etc.) is unmistakable.
No longer is it a debate of whether technology belongs outdoors. Fitness is changing along side technology with the introduction and increased usage of mobile apps like Strava and Map My Run.
Social — bridging the social conversation to reality
Use and create local events to create a 1 to 1 relationship with consumers. Bring people with common interest together for an afternoon run, happy hour, scavenger hunt — something that fits your brand’s voice.
Scalability: Don’t cross your fingers and hope that people attending actually capture the moment with the right hashtag. Instead, make sure you have the right people and partners on the ground to capture the moment and distribute your branded content beyond the event.
Thank you for your interest in our Big Ideas. For more information please check out these posts:
A good friend told me the other day that we should share more insight into the gory details of what we do here at Backbone. He had a good point. At times we are misunderstood.
“So you guys just write press releases and send out product?”
Umm, not exactly.
Heavy boxes and light bikes
We started Backbone 16 years ago as a social experiment to see if we could create a company that provided skilled professionals an environment that blended their outdoor lifestyle with challenging, engaging work.
We strive to deliver best-in-class results in public relations, media planning, social strategy and branded content. Our roots are in the active lifestyle segment—outdoor, snowsports, hunting and fishing, travel, nutrition and beer; and we proudly represent a portfolio of over 50 brands large and small. We work with brands in which we believe, we partner with people we respect and we seek out clients that will push us to be a better agency. Yet beyond these overarching themes, it is the more tactical stuff that makes Backbone work.
So what are some of the nuts and bolts? Here are four mundane daily tasks (at the risk of sounding boring) and four more progressive trends we’re following (at the risk of sounding buzz-wordy).
1. Communicate – Duh? Right? We talk to our clients and the media all day, every day. With the media we’re pitching targeted, newsworthy and relevant stories that will appeal to their readers. With clients, we’re creating strategies, developing tactics and crafting stories. Regardless of the recipient, we work to keep our communication professional, succinct and on point.
Carbon oars, a proto ski, boxes to ship and a crash pad couch
2. Action- Every client asks us to THINK BIG, but to get those dream editorial placements or launch an innovative media program it takes a daily grind. Pick your favorite quote: “A goal without a plan is just a wish,” Antoine de Saint-Exupery or Jay-Z: “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business… man.”
Action, everyday. We pack lots of boxes. We chase down the UPS truck to ship product. We build action plans and then we execute them. We create content and we share it. We put a ton of stock in the blocking and tackling of daily tasks, making sure we have a list and we’re performing against it to achieve our goals.
3. Incubate – This one is a tough one–but we encourage people to get away from their computers and think. We have a ‘quiet’ conference room with overstuffed couches where our team can collaborate. Even better, we urge people to get out and exercise–ride their bikes, run, hike, to process and think.
A view beyond the espresso machine and keg – into the comfy conference room
4. Measure– building the media side of our business has made our PR work much stronger. Why? Media is metric driven. It’s acronym central. But looking at your KPI’s to maximize your ROI and CTR’s has helped us challenge subjective and intuitive rationale to become more defined and objective with our PR strategy and measurement.
So to get just a little more buzz-worthy–here are four more progressive themes we’re focused on:
1. Channel segmentation – social media is becoming a more complex matrix. The Facebook lemming effect days are over; brands and influencers have to win their followers with true value proposition. Instagram just added video. Zuckerberg tours Samsung. Vine integrated into the marketing for the upcoming Monsters University film. Within each channel there are sub strata that need to managed individually but that ladder up into the overall brand ID.
2. Frequency and relevancy – in all marketing the frequency and relevancy is critcal. These metrics have always been primary to a paid media plan but now we’re using them to evaluate our PR strategies as well.
3. PTAT – people talking about this – (sorry I couldn’t resist at least one of these). PTAT is a metric derived from Facebook that tracks engagement and thus quantifies WOM (word of mouth). Good article here in terms of how it is measured.
4. Endgame – perhaps the most common mistake we see consistently is the loss of focus on the absolute goals that pertain to a business. Disciplined systems help counter the fast paced nature of business as does a dogmatic adherence to the endgame. The common mistake is to campaign instead of sustain. Beware of the trend to make a big splash and move on.
The last example here comes from our friend Jason Kintzler at PitchEngine. He was researching a brand by spending time on their site. Wanting more he went to their Instagram feed. After a quick run through their photostream he knew everything he needed by seeing what the brand’s users had posted.
The takeaway is that a new school social media channel gave him what he needed more effectively than the traditional model. Through imagery he clearly understood the brand he was reviewing was better represented by its consumers than by the brand itself.
Spring is the best time of year in Colorado. The abundance of recreational opportunities matches the sunny outlook for new and exciting business programs, campaigns and projects. It is a great thing when you can be equally inspired by colleagues and work as well as shared experiences ski touring, cycling, paddling, running and climbing.
Full house at Steve’s Guitars
With so many heavy hitters in Carbondale for the 6th Annual 5 Point Film Fest, Backbone once again hosted a POV event; inviting a mix of filmmakers, artists, editors, creatives, brand marketers, CEOs and dirtbags to talk about trends in marketing and social platforms.
(former) Striped Mullet curbside with the Lama
Even a Christian knows you have to be Semi-Rad to get the girl
Our panel included Mary Anne Potts from National Geographic, Mark Deming, Marketing Communications for NRS, and Anson Fogel from Camp 4. The audience was stacked with the likes of Fitz Cahall, Travis Rummel, Chris Davenport, David Lama, Kelly Cordes, Michael Kennedy, Jeremy Collins, Malcolm Daly, James Mills, Brendan Leonard, Chris Kalous, Aspen Skiing’s Dave Amirault and Meredith McKee, Black Diamond’s Holly Merriman, Jonathan Thesenga, Brittany Griffith and Ryan Gellert, Christian Folk from Outdoor Research, Amanda Boyle from Google, Len Zanni and Colin Osborn from Big Agnes and Honey Stinger and folks from New Belgium, Comcast, The Timbers, Patagonia, River Restoration, Black Dog Digital, and many more.
Digi Dave and filmmaker Matt Hobbs playing Uncle Sam
Always interesting panelists Anson Fogel from Camp 4 and the elegant Mary Anne Potts
Topics covered the ongoing changes in digital media, the pivot points between social platforms, and branded versus unbranded content. Overall, it was a super fun time in a great local venue – Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale.
Fitz talking fishing
James, MK and Travis, purveyors of pure edit and creativity
In the most recent issue of Outside, Backbone is listed as one of top 100 Best Places to Work alongside a few of our clients: Boa Technology, SmartWool, Horny Toad, and New Belgium Brewery. Here is what they had to say: view on outsidemag.com
Location: Carbondale, Colorado Number of Employees: 31 Digs: Large open work spaces and a huge gear room stocked from floor to ceiling with the latest outdoor products from the 40-odd brands Backbone represents. Culture: If you’re an elite skier, mountain-biker, climber, backpacker, runner, or fly-fisherman, but don’t quite have the inclination to go pro (and live a dirtbag existence), chances are you’ll fit right in. More often than not you’ll find employees working in running clothes or a bike kit after just returning for a lunchtime run or ride. Backbone has a standing rule that employees can ski (or cycle or fish) in the morning as long as they return to the office by mid-day to get their work done. And as media representatives for many of the most recognizable brands in the outdoor industry, employees also have access to outdoor gear that everyone is encouraged to demo (product research).
Sweet Perks: Yearly all-staff charges (Backbone staffers don’t “retreat”) —camping in the summer and backcountry skiing in the winter. Plus, there’s a kegerator stocked with New Belgium beer (one of the brands they represent) and a fleet of New Belgium cruisers to get around town.
We are thrilled to be a part of the roundup, and yes there are some incredible athletes under the Backbone roof, but working here is about way more than free gear and lunchtime bike rides. I polled the staff on their favorite things about Backbone on and off the clock. I created a bar graph to sum up the top responses.
That about sums it up.
Beyond the obvious, our team had some more serious recommendations for why you should work here.
1) CLIENTS- My college professor used to say “A lemon is a lemon- no amount of glitter will help.” Nothing is better than good product. We are lucky to have clients who are constantly innovating and pushing the limits of what is available in the industry. They keep us on our toes, give us great stories to tell, and become friends off the clock as well. When you are talking about your clients every day, all day, this makes all the difference.
2) CROSS POLLINATION--(no not like that..) We manage social, PR, and media for our clients as well as doing a large amount of marketing consulting, and a range of other assorted consulting so there is always something new to learn to strengthen your personal skill set and mix things up.
3) BACKUP- There is always someone to cover you if clients need help and you are out of the office, on vacation, etc. so you can relax, turn your phone off and know that things are being handled.
4) GOOF FACTOR- some offices are serious and we are very serious about our work. We work our asses off in fact, but when you’re cranking on work and a bit stressed, this is one of the funniest groups of people you could hope to share an office with.
5) PROPS- We work hard and people notice- there are lots of high fives both inside and outside of our office for our hard-earned successes. Backbone generates over 2.5 billion impressions annually for our clients, we buy over $20 million in advertising annually, we have run over 30 social campaigns this year, and we manage a unique suite of services for over 50 industry leading brands in the active lifestyle, hook and bullet, travel, and beer markets. We are very proud of the reputation that we have built and stand behind the work that we do.
Thanks so much to Outside for recognizing us in this issue, we are going to go drink some Fat Tire, and play some ping pong to celebrate.
Backbone Media started over 14 years ago as a small agency of skiers and climbers representing the premium gear brands we used and loved in the outdoors. While that attitude is still at our core, Backbone has come a long way as an agency. We have increased the sophistication of our PR services, added a media planning and buying department and developed a full suite of social media capabilities. We have also expanded our client base to include broader active lifestyle brands like New Belgium Brewing and Eddie Bauer, technology clients like iOmounts, as well as several non-profit organizations, including Big City Mountaineers, the Roaring Fork Conservancy and 1% For the Planet.
In recent years, Backbone has also expanded into destination PR and marketing, utilizing the talents of our team members who have years of experience working with Vail, Aspen Skiing Company, Banff and more. We began in our own backyard with Snowmass Village. Tasked with improving Snomass’ social media presence to engage both new and returning visitors, we developed a voice unique to Snowmass and launched a series of interactive Facebook applications including a recent Instagram promotion. We’re also on the verge of launching a market research study to understand the who, what, when and why of Snowmass tourism in order to help the town more effectively attract and retain visitors.
Last fall, we expanded our work in Snowmass with the new Westin Snowmass Resort and the Wildwood Snowmass hotel, new properties opening in late 2012. In our constant effort to promote collaborative opportunities between our clients, we recently hosted a party with the Westin, Wildwood and New Belgium, which has plans to open a Ranger Station bar adjacent to the Westin as well as a New Belgium-themed bar inside the Wildwood.
We also handle the media for Telluride, Sun Valley Resort, Mount Bachelor Resort and Taos Ski Valley. We customize our work for each client, but the extensive research we’ve done in this space has paid dividends for all our resort clients.
Sun Valley’s Winter 2011-2012 Travelocity campaign is one of our most successful to date. The ads generated 162,390 click-throughs, resulting in a 90 percent increase in hotel sales, 350 percent increase in package bookings, and 146 percent year-over-year revenue increase. During the three-month campaign, Travelocity recorded $342,596 in bookings for Sun Valley.
Our tourism client roster extends beyond the mountain community as well. In a PR partnership that began late last year, we’ve helped to promote Catalina Island as a reemerging tourism destination. We focused on several specific audiences: local Californians who may have overlooked the island for short weekend getaways; an affluent nationwide audience for longer stays; and an outdoor audience with events like the Gran Fondo Mountain Bike Race and the Catalina Eco Marathon. We’ve seen great results in just a few months, with coverage in the LA Times, CBS News, the Chicago Tribune, and Runner’s World. We’re not taking all the credit, but Catalina is reporting busy summer bookings
Life at Backbone becomes even busier with each new project, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. We’re excited by our growth into the tourism industry and the ambitious goals of our clients. As the lines traditionally associated with PR and media buying/planning continue to blur, it’s difficult to be certain about where the next few years will take us. We plan to stick to our tried and true recipe: exceed expectations with outstanding services and an authentic representation of our clients’ ideals.
People ask us all the time “What exactly does Backbone do?”
It’s a legit question, as we offer custom services for each of the 35+ brands we represent with work far reaching beyond our PR, social/digital and media focus.
Looking beyond our defined scope of services we range from researching media plans and markets to creative concept and execution/management of branded experiences in FB and mobile apps. We build partnerships and help coordinate events, like the Sylvan Sport/Jordan Romero tour and participate in them when time allows as evidenced here at the recent Teva Mountain Games. Kudos to Ian Anderson and Sage Williams (Greg’s 10-year old daughter) for competing in the Bouldering Comp.
Ian takes Silver in between penning PRs (press releases not personal records)
We recently worked with Teton Gravity Research to launch the Co-Lab a $100K open source video contest, launched apps providing triple digit percentage gain in engagement for Ocean Kayak, SmartWool, New Belgium/Pandora, Redington and Snowmass/Instagram and as always kept the press flowing with releases and news from SNOCRU, Black Diamond, Eddie Bauer, MIPS, Big Agnes, La Sportiva, Horny Toad and others.
And coverage? Yes, blocking and tackling is what we do everyday – right after crossfit workouts and before mid-day bike rides, travel to NYC showrooms, sales meetings and R&D. Whether Inc., Oprah or Outside – it’s all in a days work.
BD athlete Angel Collinson in Outside Mag
So, “Who is Backbone?” No doubt, Backbone is defined by the acumen and quality of the people we hire. We’re proud to announce a number of new hires. Danielle Grivalsky comes to Backbone with previous experience from MRI, and as the Research Director from Men’s and Women’s Health (Rodale) for 12 years. Danielle will integrate with the media team bolstering research and planning.
Mike Shea joins the PR team from Ripple Media, an industry leader in on-mountain resort advertising. Mike is wicked fast on a bike and part of the shaved legs men’s club at Backbone. James Logan and Brian Kinslow, interns, are fulfilling critical support to our entire crew and working on ongoing research projects.
New business continues to roll in on the media side via collaboration with agencies such as Hammerquist on Taos, and on the PR side work with MIPS Sweden AB, brain protection systems, Avalanche Ranch and Crystal River Meats a Carbondale based healthier and more sustainable food source. Say what? No, we are not going all Zuck on you here – and only eating what we kill with our bare hands. Simply put, Crystal River Meats is all about serving the local economy and putting food on the table while respecting uncompromising land stewardship. It is a great local story that scales as Crystal River supplies meats to local restaurants, regional farmer’s markets, Whole Foods and Vitamin Cottage.
With more exciting news waiting in the wings, we’ll get back to our regularly scheduled programming now.
Thought leaders. Innovators. Entrepreneurs. Welcome to the annual WIRED business conference in NYC.
Nate and I had the good fortune to attend thanks to our friends at WIRED Magazine. I attended last year and was blown away by the quality and variety of speakers. I didn’t think I would attend a better conference, ever, but the lineup for 2012 was even hotter. The brilliance of the conference is taking a wide variety of topics and organizing them within a common theme. This year it was ‘disruption.’ The topics ranged from the Google car, fitness and technology, entrepreneurial approach to government, artificial intelligence, the car as a mobile app and, of course, social media.
The morning kicked off with a discussion with Marc Andreessen (founder Andreessen Horowitz and creator of Netscape) on The Future of Everything. Marc is clearly the smartest guy in the room and when he speaks about a trend or a possibility you have a good sense it will happen. Other highlights included Dick Costolo CEO Twitter, Alan Mulally CEO Ford, and James Dyson inventor. But equally compelling were lesser-known speakers that are doing equally important work. Yancey Strickler founder of Kickstarter, and Jennifer Pahlka from Code for America – incredible individuals that possess not only the skills but also the drive to make their ideas reality. In turn, they are also making their ideas, your ideas. Truly amazing.
The take-aways are simply too many to list – but also too important not to suggest that you watch the entire conference. Stream it through this link below. Stream it today:
A must-watch is Curtis Houghland speaking to The Myths of Social Media. His presentation is insightful and very relevant to today’s marketers. I especially like the quote, “P&G’s marketing goal is to have a one-to-one relationship with all customers.”
Too often – in my opinion – people dismiss the value of conferences. In this instance, the venue, production quality, speaker lineup and depth of discussion were of the highest possible caliber. If you can buy, beg or steal your way into the conference for 2013, I would highly recommend.
Much is being written lately about fans vs. revenue in social media.
JCD on the loose
It is a classic sales vs. marketing storyline/showdown. Companies exist to sell products but they won’t succeed in today’s markets unless they cultivate and work to attract customers and communicate with them fairly and transparently. Take this a step further and witness brands that try to de-categorize traditional consumer groups and instead focus on ‘just people’ and/or their online habits.
Obviously, emerging media is an awesome ally in terms of allowing better real time analytics and data sets to base decisions upon. What was formerly marketing black magic (perhaps educated/intuitive guessing may be a better term?) is now up-to-date, re-targeted, informed decision making.
Friends in high places
Accepting and adapting to these new dynamics is exciting and provides growth, learning and opportunity but equally important remains the human side of the equation. In a world that is accelerating in terms of media and information consumption, having a personal connection cuts through the clutter and naturally raises your awareness.
AC trying to hide the fact he is in a one-piece in deep snow
Next time you get 30+ new emails be aware of how you prioritize opening them. Be cognizant of how you scan and click through your tweets. Chances are (unless you have a super tight deadline or fire burning out of control), you open and read content from friends and trusted colleagues first.
Two easy examples are a new app whatshakin that a new friend Chris Hashley just launched. It allows you to follow locations on twitter instead of people. So, if you want real time tweets on what is happening at a conference, concert, sporting event, ski town or college campus just drop the pin and follow along. I met @hashley in Jackson recently and with more of Backbone’s business trending into tourism the app is super timely and relevant in terms of macro trends.
MP and Mr. Cutts
Another cool item came across my feed from longtime friend Jason Kinzler from PitchEngine. He posted on his blog about using Pinterest in press releases to give them visual elements. This theme of overlaying new social platforms is a trend we’d also discussed recently with another great colleague Roger Katz @ Friend2Friend.
the Minister of Fun shreds
As, for all the skiing images? Oh, well that was a March trip to Revelstoke with a mix of technical apparel designers, journalists, and brand people from Black Diamond and Polartec. Nothing like all getting together and sharing a few laughs, beers and some powder turns as friends.