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*This article is the second in a three-part series about developing women’s events in specialty outdoor retail shops. Part 1 covers the development and goal-setting; Part 2 covers securing speakers, sponsors, and brand involvement; Part 3 covers marketing the event.
It was exactly one month before the start of our 2018 Women Outside Adventure Forum, and I was freaking out. We still didn’t have a headlining speaker.
There was a big fat TBA on all the publicity materials. Although I had found the perfect candidate months ago, negotiations over her speaking fees fell through at the last minute. Day by day, I nauseously waited for my email to refresh, hoping one of the many athletes I’d contacted would be interested, available, and affordable: the winning trifecta. Then, one afternoon climber Steph Davis emailed. She was in!
Finding speakers can be challenging. Finding speakers specifically for a women’s event can be even more challenging, in part because we are so underrepresented. A quick look at the athlete listings for most major outdoor brands shows almost twice as many sponsored male athletes as women. I’ve run into similar discrepancies when looking for speakers in film, the arts, and publishing. (That—right there—is one of the many reasons events like Women Outside are so important to retailers and communities.)
Despite the chaos and stress inherent to booking talent, this is the most rewarding aspect of building an exciting consumer event. When you score a great headlining speaker, the crowds will follow.
Here are my top tips for locking in great speakers.
Plan ahead. I start reaching out to speakers at least six months in advance. Athletes in particular are frequently traveling and need plenty of notice to fit your event into their schedules.
Start with your brands. Which brands do well in your store? Your first stop should be their ambassador page. Look for someone you think will resonate with your customer base. Either your rep or someone within the company can reach out to the athlete on your behalf. We’ve hosted Beth Rodden, Steph Davis, and Alison Gannett thanks to support from Osprey Packs and Outdoor Research.
That said, don’t be afraid to reach out directly. A lot of athletes have emails or contact forms on their website. Your best brand partners can also provide support beyond making introductions. Osprey and Outdoor Research have been title sponsors of Women Outside from the beginning, helping to offset the cost of the event. We’ve found that many brands have women’s initiatives and are just waiting for an opportunity to partner with their retailers.
Be prepared, set up a meeting with them to discuss, and be ready to let them know what you’re planning, how it will promote their brand, and exactly what you need from them: dollars, swag, or speakers. Be specific!
Think beyond athletes. Because everyone experiences nature and the outdoors differently, it’s important to also feature speakers who aren’t sponsored athletes. It gives you access to different audiences, exposing your business to new customers. I will frequently cruise through the lineup at Mountainfilm and Banff, looking for female filmmakers to invite for a screening and Q&A session. I also work with our local independent bookstore to find authors to speak at Women Outside.
Partner with another local business. Two years ago, we hosted National Geographic Adventurer Shannon Galpin at a private event in Durango. Tickets included a drink, hors d’oeuvres, and a signed copy of her book. Our local bookstore sold additional copies of her book, Mountain to Mountain, on site and helped promote the event. Partnering with another business can be a tremendously rewarding experience, establishing you as a team player within the community and (again) introducing your business to new customers.
Coming up next in Part 3: How to promote your event to draw maximum crowds.