I’ll be at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City next week, but I won’t be wearing my blogger hat. I’m attending on behalf of Verb Nerd Industries and pitching my track record as a Senior Hiking Blogger to companies that need to improve their company blogs (which is pretty much everybody).
So I won’t be dashing from one booth to another to be pitched by dashing young publishing relations professionals who have memorized every nook and cranny of the packs, tents, shoes and kayak paddles due to arrive in stores next spring. This is the hard way, perhaps the worst way, to cover Outdoor Retailer and I’m having none of it.
Outdoor Retailer exists to unite sporting goods store buyers with the producers of those goods. The success of everybody’s business is riding on buyers and builders making the right calls, so both sides are obliged to work their fingers to the bone preparing for their OR appointments and making sure their customers get what they want.
The rest of us are moons in this solar system. Though we might influence the tides, we orbit the affairs that really matter. That distance frees bloggers to dwell on the Big Picture: None of this stuff will be in stores for six months.
Back when I worked in newspapers, we judged news according to how many people the news affected. A noxious-gas leak that forces a town to evacuate is inherently more important than a love triangle that embarrasses the mayor, his mistress and the chief of police.
But both of those stories end up on the front page. One because it informs, the other because it entertains.
There’s no compelling need to inform consumers about gear they can’t buy till next spring, and they won’t be reading anyway. Your reader is the devoted gearhead who is entertained by reports of the latest, greatest stuff. With that in mind, here are my suggestions for bloggers covering Outdoor Retailer:
1. Be exclusive
You’re there, your readers aren’t. Show people the stuff they’d see only at Outdoor Retailer, if only they could attend. Much of the coolest stuff is happening on the fringes, among the up-and-coming companies and the obscure niche brands. Make people wish they could be there on the show floor with you.
2. Find celebrities
Famous mountain climbers, surfers and other sundry adventurers are always hanging out at Outdoor Retailer. Get your picture taken with one, or, better yet, do a short video interview. Some are on the official schedule but you might have to ask around to find out who’s where.
3. Play “stump the brand rep”
That means asking probing questions about obscure details that your gearhead readers care about. The best reps are uncannily well-informed about the products they’re pitching (you can’t help wondering why they care so much about EVA midsoles), so this’ll be a singular challenge.
4. Award Oscars
OK, so you’re not Outside Magazine and your Gear of the Year won’t move a million units. But the real reason for prizes is that we intuitively enjoy declaring winners, and besides, this’ll oblige you to really pay attention to the separating the great from the average, the cool from the ho-hum.
5. Listen to your heart, not your head
If you’re mad about the workings of backpacking stoves, geek out on how Company X has made an arcane adjustment that makes their stove burn better in January above 12,000 feet.
If you don’t much care about how Patagonia tweaked its Capilene T’s or The North Face introduced a Denali Jacket for dogs, don’t force yourself to cover those brands just because you think the keywords will be good for your search engine traffic.
You’ll do your best work on the topics you care most about. Leave the rest for people with other obsessions.
6. Have fun, within reason
Free beer is the devil’s plaything. While it’s true that many of the world’s greatest writers have been boozers, there’s not much benefit to blogging under the influence.
7. Stay true to yourself
Everybody wants positive coverage of their products; can’t blame ’em for that. Nor can you blame them for plying you with freebies in the hope that it’ll tilt the scale in their favor a bit.
Your audience is depending on you to call it exactly as you see it. They have this crazy idea that gear is built for their benefit, not the investors of whatever global conglomerate owns the brand.
Credibility and trust build readership far better than anything else that’s been tried to date. Never forget that.