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Episode 1: PR Pivoting During the Pandemic | Eric Henderson, founder of Meteorite PR


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When the coronavirus pandemic shut the country down in early 2020, the outdoor industry changed—and some changes might stick. Trade shows moved online, product sales shifted, and Meteorite PR founder Eric Henderson found himself looking at a different public relations landscape. In the first episode of the Straight Talk podcast, he sits down with host Kristin Hostetter to break down what’s changed and where the industry goes from here. 

Watch the edited video interview here.

Read the transcript

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Kristin Hostetter: I’m Kristin Hostetter and you’re listening to the Straight Talk podcast by Outside Business Journal. Today, I’m sitting down to chat with Eric Henderson, better known as Hende. Hende is the owner and founder of Meteorite PT, a boutique PR company whose clients include Rab, Sweet Protection, Salewa, Dynafit, Teton Gravity Research, and others.

We’re recording this episode in May, 2020 as we’re firmly in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic and its many ripple effects throughout our businesses and our lives. Of course, nobody knows how long this pandemic will be hanging over. 

Thanks for joining me today.  Obviously we are in a crazy time. It’s been a really disruptive, really strange to say the least, Q2 spring for the outdoor industry and for the world. So I thought it’d just be fun to talk about what’s going on in your world, what your take on all of this is. And solve some of all these big, some of these big problems right here.

Hende: No pressure on you at all on a Tuesday morning, thanks. Thanks for coming to me as a friend and someone that’s been in it for a long time. Yeah, it’s been a wild ride, honestly. I remember like literally on Friday the 13th. it was my last real ski day. And the next day, Jared Polis, the governor of Colorado shut the ski areas down in Colorado.

And it shifted the whole paradigm of our spring. And as a dedicated skier and outdoor person, the spring is my favorite time to go skiing and climbing and hiking. It’s been yeah, it’s been wild, to say the least from the retail, the wholesale small business owner as well as just trying to teach kids how to do school online.

So there’s been a lot of learning, I think, for all of us in the industry. And again, I think we can solve some problems, honestly. I do think that there are some solutions that will come out of this. I don’t know how much of it we’ll get to today, but I think the first thing that I’m really seeing is this type of interaction you and I can create.

Kristin Hostetter: So what’s it like in the world of PR today? It’s gotta be challenging, right? Budgets are being tightened. I think you and I had a conversation a couple of weeks ago and you’re like, Oh, Hoss. PR is the first thing to go and budgets start getting looked at. And I corrected you. And I said, no, Hende advertising is the first thing to go. PR is the second thing. But no, seriously what is it like in the world of PR today? What kind of conversations are you having with your clients? What have you shifted in terms of, the types of conversations that you’ve been having that maybe you’d never saw coming.

Hende: That’s a really good question. Ultimately, we did have to act fast and react pretty quickly on our feet. Spring is a time when we’re getting ready to launch new products, we’re getting ready to get short leads we call them so things that are hitting online, if it’s a new boot or a new jacket or a new helmet. That’s the engine around PR on the spring we quickly had to pivot, honestly, and go after more editorial-based opportunity with journalists and media, ultimately, because we want to be sensitive to the fact that brands were shutting down. They couldn’t ship. Budgets were being scrutinized or looked at in terms of every dollar counts. And so as soon as you ship a product from a PR standpoint, that hits your bottom line and then obviously the sensitivity around the unknown.

It’s really I think you and I both know, it’s really fun to talk about boots and skis and helmets, but in the face of COVID-19 P-tex or Pertex, or even Gore-Tex is really not that much fun to talk about. 

Kristin Hostetter: It’s funny, you said the word pivot, and if there is like a single word that sums up these last six to eight weeks , I think pivot, I’ve heard that word more than anything else from pretty much every conversation I’ve had pivot, pivot.

In fact, someone yesterday told me I’m not pivoting, I’m pirouetting now. Regarding your, some of the brands you work on because we’re working on obviously our spring issue of our magazineand we have a big package on the pandemic, in how we’ve all been impacted.

We have one story in particular that goes into supply chains and the disruptions in supply chains. And then how that trickles down throughout all aspects of the industry and really that the timeline of it all because the products that are in stores right now, aren’t selling.

And so when stores start to open up again retailers aren’t really going to be interested in bringing a new product. They want to get rid of what they have, right? Sell through is what I think is on a lot of retailers minds right now. Tell me what, you have any thoughts on that?

Cause I think  that’s going to have just all these ripple effects throughout everything and particularly in terms of launching new products, into the cycle. 

Hende: Right. And there’s a couple of things that come to mind on that. First, obviously just putting, keeping my PR hat on.

It affects how we traditionally have thought of the cyclical cycle of marketing and public relations, right? You always have six new products per six brands or 10 brands or whoever, how many brands you have in an agency. And so you’ve got, let’s just say 25 new products to talk about going into spring ’20 for ’21. The reality is that those new products for ’21 are, they were already in sort of production, but at the same time, what’s it going to look like for those retailers? Like you say and how many of those orders were actually cut? How many of those orders affected? So that affects us on a PR side, the other long lead, the other  long lead on this thing that I think really on a.

Maybe more like in a personal, but as well as like a ripple effect, like you say, is when brands make a decision to cut a fall order that affects those factories and that affects those workers that have been working on that particular product. As as soon as that is then cut from their SKU line for fall and or maybe even the ’21.

That’s going to have an effect on the global economy as well. And so it’s been wild to see certain brands, for example, go off map pricing. I think the map pricing conversation is a big conversation in the outdoor industry. 

Kristin Hostetter: Yeah. It’s like a map vacation is the way that I’ve heard some people refer to it.

And most people that I’ve talked to believe that once stores start to open up again, we’ll see those prices bump back up. But it has been really interesting to watch that. And, there’s so much unknown about what the scene’s going to be like when stores open up again and what buyers’ appetites are going to be to bring in new products 

Hende: And what sell through is there.

And then what brands are bringing unique programs to the market for their specific retailers. And then what retailers or what brands are also doing really well online. There’s been a big spike in e-commerce, and you’ve seen a lot of people buying products from specific wholesalers that maybe weren’t doing super well initially, and now they’re like, wow, I could get this at X price on X brand’s website for a really big deal. So we’re going to open up and we’re going to get back to normal, but we are going to see residual effects for many months. 

Kristin Hostetter: Yeah. I would say years, probably. But so that kind of leads in nicely to another question that I had because, obviously e-commerce has been around for years, and brands and retailers are at various stages. Some very sophisticated and X amount of their business is done online.  E-commerce in and in making transactions online is something that we’re very used to by now. And I think this has brought a lot of that to the forefront for brands and retailers that maybe weren’t set up as well to do that.

It’s forced everyone to get up to speed. But one thing that I think has been really interesting is another type of online transaction, which is these trade show world virtual meetings. You’re probably like me, like you’ve probably been invited to 50 webinars in the last six weeks. Calls, we’re all having those and a lot of conversations about trade shows and what’s going to happen. Outdoor retailers canceled grassroots is canceled. So many events have been canceled for the spring. I’m curious. Have you attended or. Or, read about any of the virtual offerings, trade show offerings that have happened like last week was the reveal conference, which I dipped in and out of, which I think was the first one that I’ve seen come to market.

I’m just wondering what your take on all this is because obviously it does not replace all of us being together at a show. But it’s what we have right now, and just wondering what your thoughts are on that. 

Hende: I’m going to get to the answer of it, but I’m going to back up a little bit before I go there. I’m old guard and we knew that something was going to change. We’ve been talking about it. You and I have talked about it. What’s this model going to look like in five, 10, 15, 20 years? And I think we  all had this in our minds and we know that there’s this gen Z that’s coming.

We know there’s a more digital savvy buyer and or marketing manager and these brands that have the skills and don’t have the term that you and I have used in the past. They don’t have the time in the trenches. We’ve got 20, some odd or shows under our belts. And we’ve got X amount of media trips under our belts. There’s a younger generation that is way smarter than I am, but they just don’t have the time in the trenches. So I think this dawn of this new digital age, as much as it’s like maybe difficult for me, on a personal level, like I’m not the most digitally savvy person, it was going to come. So what I feel about it in my business is still unknown. Honestly, I don’t know how we’re going to adapt. I don’t know how brands are going to get that personal interaction, that chispa, if you will, around face to face or a high five.

Kristin Hostetter: Yeah, because how do you get people stoked about your new products when you can’t stand there and show it to them. How do you do it? Like what you guys have to be talking about that? 

Hende: We’re talking about it quite a bit, Kristin,  and I think there’s multiple ways of doing that based on the tools that we’re given. So we’re working right now with some content creation teams to build some highlight reels.

We’re working with local restaurants and breweries in these hotspots that do have media in them where we can deliver and build these sort of curated care packages, if you will, that allow some sort of engagement with the journalists and media to learn about the new really amazing pen that you can rappel off of, and also have some sort of digital engagement we’re also doing and working on It’s like schwag grab or schwag scavenger hunt around different hotspots that have media in them. Denver/ Boulder obviously is a big one for us, but ways to engage with journalists in that regard is a big piece of it. And we really want to use those tools to also share with our retailers and reps. So evolv climbing shoes has done everything through digital and it’s been well received. So where it goes, I don’t know.

I do think though that this was going to happen. I hope that we can get back to seeing each other in the hallways.  You know how I love just hanging out on like the mainintersections and just high five  people as they come by. I miss that. I miss the thought of not being an Outdoor Retailer, but us older folks are going to have to somewhat adapt and hopefully mentor the younger generation, that’s creating these great ideas. 

Kristin Hostetter: Yeah, and one thing is for sure everyone is saving a lot of money by not going to these big shows. And it sounds like your brands at least are probably going to be taking some of that money and using it to send out media samples because that’s the only way.

You gotta be able to see them and doing these scavenger hunts. I love that idea. That sounds super fun. I hope you do one in Boston.

Hende: I’m looking at, we’re looking at it, actually. 

Kristin Hostetter: I don’t know how many other journalists are here in Boston, which means the chances of me winning would be pretty high. Not that I’m competitive or anything.

Thank you so much for talking with me today. It was great to see you

Hende: Thanks for having me.

Kristin Hostetter: And thank you everybody for listening to this episode of the Straight Talk podcast by Outside Business Journal. The outdoor industry is full of fascinating people doing bold things, whether it’s in sustainability, diversity, equity, and inclusion, specialty retail, activism, marketing, or brand building.

And here at Straight Talk, we dive straight in. This episode was produced by me, Kristin Hofstetter. Our executive producer is Jeff Moore. Our executive audio engineer is John Barcklay. Our associate producer is Aashish Threstha. Our production assistant is Louisa Albanese. Please subscribe today to the Straight Talk podcast, write us a review, and of course stay up on the latest outdoor industry news at OutsideBusinessJournal.com