Coverage of outdoors branches out

Mainstream outlets have taken an interest in outdoor activities, giving PR pros increased - though oft seasonal - opportunities to win attention for clients

Mainstream outlets have taken an interest in outdoor activities, giving PR pros increased - though oft seasonal - opportunities to win attention for clients

Whether it's outlining family-friendly hiking trails or assessing the performance of a pair of specialty socks in extreme weather, media interest in outdoor activities is booming in both general interest and enthusiast outlets.

"There are more dedicated outdoor editors at the top 100 newspapers than ever before," says Angela Tucker, SAE at New York-based Hunter Public Relations. "Their job is to cover outdoor activities in their area, so Florida stories are very different from Arizona or New York."

"By covering the outdoors in a comprehensive manner, a lot of papers feel they're doing almost a public service, not only because of problems like obesity, but also because they're promoting family fun and also affordable [activity]," says Carson Stanwood, owner of Jackson Hole, WY-based Stanwood & Partners Public Relations.

Indeed while hunting and fishing remain solid media categories, the real growth seems to be occurring in outdoor sports that don't involve a gun or rod.

Kevin Rhoades, executive director of the 1,600-member Outdoor Writers Association of America, has seen this shift firsthand. "Over the past five years, the newer members joining our organization are writing more about backpacking, canoeing, and camping with the kids."

Eye on vacationers

Most outdoor coverage tends to mix destination and travel-oriented coverage with general advice stories and product reviews.

"We've got a strong 18-to-24 demographic, but we've also got a lot of baby boomers," says Jonathan Dorn, editor-in-chief of Backpacker magazine. "So we do a lot of [stories on] how to backpack with your kids, and we've been doing a lot of local day hikes. We actually began doing six regional editions earlier this year, which follows what we saw was a need in our audience for more information on close-to-home trips."

The economy might be driving at least some of surge in outdoor adventures.

"People are looking for a way to lower the cost of their family vacation, so it's a natural progression for people who grew up in the outdoors, backpacking or Scouting," explains Stuart Bourdon, editor of Camping Life. "About 50% of our audience is large four- to six-person tent campers, but, then again, about another 50% are in their first or second trailer."

Luring media interest

How you pitch an outdoor-themed product can vary greatly depending on the outlet.

"The traditional outdoor writers are still doing a lot of hands-on product reviews," says Ann Obenchain, marketing manager for Kelty, which makes backpacks, sleeping bags, and other outdoor equipment. "But deadlines seem to be getting tighter, so a lot of other outlets just want a photo and 25 words."

What is also encouraging is the breadth of outlets now doing some sort of coverage.

"We work with the folks at Maxim, Good Housekeeping, and Today to promote base and family camping," says Obenchain. "We've also successfully pitched music titles, promoting equipment to take to festivals."

Beyond the traditional, there are growing niches such as kite surfing and orienteering, which are enabling PR pros to pitch beyond the outdoor pages.

"As the programming has expanded, we've become more appealing to a broader range of journalists," explains MPH PR principal Mike Hiles, who represents television's Outdoor Channel. "The Outdoor Channel has a new show, Photo Adventure, about how to turn a novice photographer into an outdoor pro, which we've aimed at lifestyle editors."

The one caveat to outdoor stories is that - with only some regional exceptions - timing may be everything.

"As far as media interest, it's very seasonal, and definitely May through August is our big time period," says Ann Walden, PR manager at camping gear company Coleman. "But we're trying to extend the season with sports like backpacking, which can go more into the fall and winter."

For an audience looking to get back to nature, Stanwood says, outdoor enthusiasts are surprisingly tech-centric. "They love fabric technology, like breathables, and stories on how marine wool works," he says. "They're really into tech like GPS, too."

Dorn adds that the review process can be a lot more strenuous. "We have a long lead time because one of the hallmarks of our reviews is that we're testing things to failure to find out what [products] do and don't work," he says. "So we might have a tent, sleeping bag, or a pair of boots out in the field with our gear testers for three, six, or sometimes eight or nine months. We often work on things a year in advance, but the result is readers can really trust our reviews."

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Pitching... outdoor activities

  • Leverage the growing concern over obesity to pitch outdoor activities as a way for the whole family to get in shape

  • Most outdoor writers are looking for regional angles, so pitch stories on adventures that can be done close to home or in a quick getaway. Also, try to pitch stories on what equipment should be taken along

  • Vary your pitches to reach both the novice and expert outdoor person

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