A recent explosion in coverage of outdoor life has eschewed snowboarding for hiking, hunting, and fishing. David Ward discovers a vast number of niche titles within this splintered genre, as well as coverage in general-interest magazines.Despite trends that show the US is being increasingly developed with everything from tract homes to mega-malls, there remains an American fascination with outdoor life. Whether it's traditional sports such as hunting and fishing, or newer activities like snowboarding and mountain biking, people enjoy spending weekends outdoors - or at least thinking about a wilderness adventure. Fuelling many of these plans is a surprisingly strong and vibrant media dedicated to outdoor activities.
"We've seen outdoor media explode in recent years,
notes Douglas Spong, managing partner with Minneapolis-based Carmichael Lynch Spong, which represents Harley Davidson and its Buell subsidiary, as well as Rapala fish and tackle products. "And that's not just in terms of the number of new outlets that continue to arrive, but also in terms of segmentation of the market."
Perhaps more surprising is that much of this recent growth hasn't necessarily been driven by new "extreme
outdoor activities like snowboarding and para-skiing, touted in everything from soda commercials to the Olympics.
Instead, it's been the coverage of traditional fields such as hiking, climbing, and especially hunting and fishing.
Two decades ago, hunting and fishing journalism was dominated by three titles: Sports Afield, Field & Stream, and Outdoor Life. Today, there are more than 200 magazines dedicated to fishing alone, along with dozens of newsletters catering to niche markets, like turkey hunting and turkey calls. There are even two magazines - Extreme Predator and Varmint Hunter - dedicated to, yes, varmint and predator hunting. "There's been this tremendous growth in regional and niche publications,
notes Mike Walker, head of the Scottsdale, AZ-based Walker Agency. "There's a lot of splintering in what constitutes outdoor coverage."
This can have its drawbacks from a public relations perspective. "It's a lot more work on our part to identify and track these publications, as well as the editors, contributors, and freelancers who write for these books,
Spong says. "But it's also a blessing in that there's a larger and more specific news hole that we can go after."
And it also challenges the traditional public relations theory of the bigger the outlet the better. "The really good books that are editorially sound certainly have the largest circulations,
says Bruce Bear, head of Bear Advertising & Public Relations. "But that doesn't mean that's the market you always want to go after. There are a lot of little publications that may be better suited for your clients, so you always have a choice of whether to go national or reach out to the grassroots guys."
A narrow, defined audience
To its credit, outdoor sports media outlets seem to have learned the lesson of trying to appeal to too broad an audience. Take, for example, Sports Afield. Two years ago, the now 115-year-old publication decided to change its focus away from hunting and fishing, toward newer activities like snowboarding and mountain biking.
"It was an abrupt about-face toward the Gen X market, and it really failed miserably,
says Chris Dorsey, who was brought in as editor-in-chief to steer the magazine back to its original roots. "Now it's showing great signs of life. It's a huge market: More than 50 million Americans hunt and fish, which is a lot more than the number that snowboard or do extreme whatever. The other interesting thing is that the traditional hunter and fisherman spends a hell of a lot more money than a snowboarder."
Classic outdoor writing has always held great appeal with traditional men's magazines such as Playboy and Esquire. But PR execs say there are also opportunities for coverage alongside video games and DVDs in newer men's publications, like Maxim, Stuff, Gear, and FHM. "The difference is when you're dealing with those books, you're not getting in-depth articles,
explains Doug Freeman of Irvine, CA-based Freeman/McCue, which represents Kawasaki ATVs and motorcycles. "But you will get your product covered with the right photography and the right caption. The presentation of those particular publications lets you deliver the message you want to send."
Steve Peckham, VP of consumer products with Weber Shandwick Worldwide's Minneapolis office, points out that these newer men's outlets do need a different PR emphasis. "We focus a lot less on the hard-core features and benefits, and more on the thrill of the riding experience,
says Peckham, whose office represents Polaris ATVs and snowmobiles. "We still do the journalist demonstration rides, but now it's part of a lifestyle story."
Attracting female readers
But while outdoor sporting activities remain primarily male-dominated, Spong also points out that some outdoor sports, such as fly fishing, are beginning to attract a sizeable women's audience. This has led not only to a handful of outlets aimed specifically at fisherwomen, but also to increased coverage of women in the outdoors, in both general-interest newspapers and magazines and gender-centric outlets such as Self.
Among the leading outdoor reporters are author and writer Jim Zumbo; Tim Tucker, senior writer with Bassmaster magazine; Field & Stream editor Slaton White; Men's Journal executive editor David Willey; Hal Epsen of Outside; Outdoor Life Radio host Scott Linden; and Jim O'Rourke of In-Fisherman Radio.
Walker notes that many of the top outdoor writers are freelancers (like Zumbo), who also do seminars and sports shows, as well as write books.
"That's one of the reasons the internet has been such a boon for outdoor media,
he says. "Many of these writers now have their own websites, where they have books or pictures to sell."
Freeman also points out that despite the fact that many people who participate in traditional outdoor sports are rural and blue-collar, "there's a high percentage of internet users among folk in this category."
They also tend to consume a lot of other media, including radio and television.
Hosts such as Linden and O'Rourke, along with Ducks Unlimited television host Marc Pierce, have huge followings that cut across geographic lines.
But Spong points out that many of these programs are sponsored, adding, "There's a strong link between advertising, sponsorship, and editorial." That works out great if your client just happens to be one of those sponsors, but it can be hard - though not impossible - to get a product reviewed if they're not.
As far as advice to PR professionals pitching outdoor life journalists, Walker suggests taking the time to understand each publication, and also to track the interests and outlets for the key freelancers who dominate the industry. But he adds that one of the unique issues facing outdoor life PR is that a lot the clients have products that demand a hands-on review - but in many cases, that's very hard to do. "Sampling works very well, but a lot of the equipment is expensive,
Walker explains. "And, for one, you can't ship a firearm just anywhere."
WHERE TO GO
Newspapers: Minneapolis Star Tribune; Chicago Tribune; San Diego Union Tribune; St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Magazines: Mountain Bike Action; Trail Runner; Climbing; North American Hunter; North American Fisherman; Sports Afield; Field & Stream; Outdoor Life; Marlin; Outside; Men's Journal; Fly Fisherman; Guns & Ammo; Rock & Ice; In-Fisherman; Backpacker; Maxim; Playboy; Esquire; FHM
Trade titles: Boat and Motor Dealer; Shooting Sports Business; Fishing & Tackle Retailers; Archery Business; Power Sports Business; Rev
TV & Radio: ESPN/ESPN2; The Outdoor Channel; In-fisherman Radio; Outdoor Life Radio; Ducks Unlimited TV; Let's Talk Hookup; Babe; TNN Outdoors; Winkelman's Good Fishing
Internet sites: Sportfishing.com; ATVillustrated.com; ESPNOutdoors.com.