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First Exposure to the Outdoors:
I found my way into the outdoors myself. I grew up on Cape Cod and my family was never into hiking or camping or anything like that. We were a big ski family, so we would travel up to Vermont. We had a place in Stowe, Vermont and we’d ski almost every weekend from the time I was about three.
The very first time that I did camp was on a sixth grade field trip to Mount Washington. One of my friends unearthed a photograph a few years ago and posted it on Instagram and it was hysterical. I had forgotten all about that trip. But then, as these things happen, you start to remember. I do remember climbing Mount Washington and summiting and thinking how amazing it was. I just loved the feeling of being up there in the mountains. It wasn’t until after I graduated from college that I had my next camping experience.
Things We Talked About:
The best thing that you can do if you’re passionate about the outdoors and getting into the business is to just stick with it. For me, I basically nagged my way into a job. I think if you know it’s what you want, don’t take no for an answer. You just keep trying and keep trying and keep trying until you break in. We are a passion-based industry, and people who do the hiring in this industry want that. It’s the secret to success. I think just sticking to it and meeting people and networking, that’s a big thing.
Favorite Books and Podcast:
Dispatches by Outside Magazine
Channel Mastery by Kristin Carpenter Ogden
Shantaram by David Gregory Roberts
Push by Tommy Caldwell
Favorite Piece of Gear under $100:
Connect with Kristin:
Kristin Hostetter – From Backpacker To SNEWS, Creating Great Outdoor Content
Kristin, welcome to the show.
Rick, how are you? Thanks. I’m glad to be here.
I’m great. Thanks for coming on. This is going to be awesome. We have a lot of stuff to talk about. I’m sure some things aren’t on the question list that we could talk about. Let’s start with your first exposure to the outdoors. How did you get into the outdoor lifestyle?
I found my way into the outdoors myself. I grew up on Cape Cod. My family was never into hiking or camping. We were a big ski family, so we would travel up to Vermont. We had a place in Stowe, Vermont. We would ski almost every weekend from the time I was about three. The very first time that I camped was on a sixth-grade field trip to Mount Washington. One of my friends unearthed a photograph and posted it on Instagram. I had forgotten all about that trip but as these things happen, you start to remember climbing Mount Washington, summiting and thinking how amazing it was. I loved the feeling of being up there in the mountains.
It wasn’t until after I graduated from college that I had my next camping experience. One of my best friends and I decided to take a road trip around the country after we graduated from college. We started in New England. We went South, West and came up through California. We started to run out of time, so we had to cut off the Pacific Northwest and head back through the Rockies, etc.
We drove her little Honda car. We were going to camp as much as possible. I had never done this before, so I went to my cousin who finished a NOLS course. He lent an MSR Whisperlite Stove and a Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight Tent. I don’t know if you remember that one but that was a classic tent. Those are the two pieces of gear that I remember.
That was an early indication of what a gearhead I became. I was fascinated with the stove and learning how to work those things. You’ve got to clean them and setting up the tents. I still love Whisperlite stoves because they are so field maintainable. If you like to tinker with your gear as I do, they are fun. It was an amazing trip and I had a great time. After our road trip, I moved out to Chicago, which is where my then-boyfriend, now husband, lived. I had no plans at all. My degree was in Art History, which is random but I enjoyed it at the time.
I started working in a bar and a gear shop called Erehwon Mountain Outfitter. Sean and I started taking all these road trips up to Wisconsin and camping. I mainly started working at Erehwon because I needed to gear up. I thought, “This is fun and I would get my employee discount.” The culture at Erehwon was so great. I started mountain bike racing with some of my colleagues. Up in Wisconsin, there were all these little races. I started rock climbing at Devil’s Lake and we started sea kayaking in the Great Lakes. We started doing everything. We started spending a lot of time up in Northern Wisconsin and got hooked. My husband did, too.
I started reading Backpacker while I was working at Erehwon. I fell in love with the magazine. I started fantasizing about having a career writing for Backpacker. I could travel. One day, I opened the front of the book and they were offering this writer’s workshop up near Lake Superior. They were offering a scholarship and it was being taught by a couple of their editors. I thought, “I’m going to apply for this,” so I did. I’ve got the scholarship and I went up to this course.
I believe it was a 10 or a 12-day course. Five days were spent sea kayaking in Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands, then five days were in the classroom. I thought that I wanted to pursue that as a career before that trip, I came out of it completely fired up. I met these editors. I talked to them. I heard about their passion and their travels. I was like, “This is what I want to do.” Before that, I started a Master’s program at DePaul University in Writing. I was able to get credit for that Nature Writing course and apply it to my Master’s.
At the time, I was also taking a Magazine Writing course. The thing that we were learning was The Art of the Query Letter. It’s a thing of the past these days because so much stuff is done on social media and that’s how a lot of writers connect with editors. Part of the assignment for this class was to write a query letter to your magazine and pitch an idea. I started bombarding this editor named Tom Shealey that I met on this trip with a query letter every week. He was kind and generous. He would send me back these written on his typewriter rejections one after the other but he would always tell me why. “Just cover this or you are a little bit off here. Our audience is more interested in this.”
If a brand has a message that they want to convey, one way to support those messages is through native content.
Finally, he said yes to an assignment. I’ve got this little 500-word assignment, and then I’ve got another one. One day, I’ve got a phone call from him saying, “We are hiring an assistant gear editor. We know you are into gear. Would you be willing to come out to Pennsylvania and interview for this job?” That’s how I started at Backpacker. I worked there for 22-plus years before I was recruited over to SNEWS, which is owned by the same parent company and focused more on the B2B aspect of the outdoor industry.
You were at Backpacker a long time. What did you find most interesting about it, the variety or glommed on to anything?
I was always the resident gearhead. I started as an Assistant Gear Editor, and then I became Gear Editor. I managed the whole gear testing program. Gear testing was and still is a big core part of what Backpacker does. We pride ourselves on thorough gear tests. I developed with my colleagues the Editor’s Choice Gear program back in the ’90s.
We spent a lot of time making sure that our gear program was the most authoritative, legit gear testing. I have talked to some people who are like, “We actually designed products for your award.” It was always about innovation for the most part. I was laser-focused on gear for a long time. I love to travel and I loved the people. When I was asked to lead SNEWS, I was hesitant at first.
How did that come about? Were they owned by the same outfit at the time?
Our parent company is Active Interest Media. We own SKI and Climbing, Warren Miller Entertainment, and a whole bunch of other brands that are in a healthy lifestyle. Active Interest Media bought SNEWS years ago. They asked me a few times to come to switch over to SNEWS. I was always hesitant because I loved my gig at Backpacker. I loved my travel. There was something sexy about working for a consumer magazine. I said no a few times. After 22 years, I was like, “It’s time for a change.” Anytime you are in something for that long, you’ve got to shake things up a little bit. They thought, “You have been in the industry this long. That transition to B2B will be easy for you.”
It was interesting because it’s different. I have been in the industry for so long, I thought I knew everything. Very quickly, I learned that I knew nothing. Suddenly, I’m talking to retailers, which is this whole constituency that I had never talked to before. Talking about business and zooming up to the 40,000-foot level on the industry that’s what it has been a few years now. The learning curve on switching to B2B has been so fascinating and fun.
You had some good experiences, though. You worked retail. It was a steep learning curve but at the same time, a relatively simple transition.
There were parts of it that were simple and another part of it was learning to trust myself, too. I know some things about this business. I have a lot to learn. Anytime you are in an industry for a long time, you become part of it. That’s what we want SNEWS to be. It’s the place where the industry comes together to talk, hear and learn about all of the issues that are impacting us as an industry.
It has been that way since it started. The transitions over the years of SNEWS have maintained that philosophy and that content. It hasn’t shifted gears completely. It’s still what it was. You mentioned that all the SNEWS content from here on out is free. Why is that? What does that mean for readers?
That was a fairly big decision I made. Historically, the business model for SNEWS was a subscription-based model. There were a lot of content that was locked behind a paywall. In this day and age, we are so digital. Unless you are The Wall Street Journal, people expect to find content online free. We started thinking if we put all the content in front of the paywall, we can expand our audience and our message. That was important. This is a digital-only site. That’s how you measure success. It’s your audience and your reach. We needed to grow that.
We figured that this would be a good way to do it. That was a bit of a risk because that was our revenue model. It becomes like, “How do you make money?” You are a business. You’ve got to keep the lights on. Digital banner ads are not a thing anymore. Brands aren’t spending a ton of money on that. It has to be something richer and more meaningful than a banner. We are so accustomed to seeing them. How many times do you go on a site and there’s a banner there but you don’t need it? It doesn’t even register. You are scrolling past it.
How did you figure that out? How did you change the revenue stream?
One of the things that we started talking about was native sponsored content. I get 25 press releases a day. Everybody is telling me about why their new initiative, new product or company is amazing and why we should write about it. It started to occur to us that these brands have stories to tell. We would love to tell them. We can tell these stories but they should pay for us to tell those stories, too.
It’s not that we don’t do tons of news stories and editorial content. If a brand has a message or a story that they want to convey, one way to support those messages is through native content. I started doing these brand profiles. I knew nothing about this. It’s not like sponsored content was a new thing. It has been around. I said, “We are going to treat these articles the way we treat a regular article.” We are going to hire our best writers. We are going to edit them thoroughly. We are going to dive in and research. We are going to spend time telling these stories, not slapping up something together.
The first ones that I did were like that and I learned very quickly no one reads it. We started investing time and energy editing in these brand profiles. It turned out good ones. The clients have been happy. You package that with banner ads and with social posts. You create this little mini-campaign about this brand, and then suddenly, you have something that’s of real value.
That’s successful. I take it.
We are working on it. It’s getting some attraction. The more we can point to ones that were successful, brands will say, “I could see us doing something like that.”
Tell everyone about the SNEWS leadership initiative. You have rolled out a number of them. The Sexual Harassment Survey, Plastic Impact Promise, Retail College, Salary Survey, which is a good one that dropped and Cool Shop Award. How have they been received?
So far, so good. Some of those are fresh and new. We launched the Salary Survey and the Plastic Impact Promise. We will start with those. The Salary Survey is part of a big package that we are putting together for issue two of The Voice. We should talk about that print trade journal that we launched at the January show. We couldn’t find any real good current data about what we get paid in the outdoors. Everybody wants to know where they compare. All of us are in this industry because we love it. We are passionate about it. It’s a passion-based industry. Does that mean because we love it, then we shouldn’t get paid as much as the next guy? I’m interested to see where I fall into the realm. It’s a pretty comprehensive survey.
The show is a passion project, so I know where I fall.
It will be good because we are going to slice and dice the data that we get in many different ways. We will be able to see based on your experience level, your education, your ethnicity, your gender or your job title where you fall into the general mix. We’ve got almost 1,000 people taking the survey. I want to quadruple that. If your audience can take the time to take that survey, it takes about five minutes. The more data you have, the better these things always come out.
Are these going to be a combination of surveys and call to actions? The Plastic Impact Promise was more of a call to action. Get everybody to sign and let’s not take plastic to OR.
That’s something that I have been stewing on for a long time. It’s hypocritical of us. Our industry is all about sustainability and fighting climate change. Single-use plastic is one small part of it. It kills me when I walk around OR and 9 out of 10 booths that you go to for a visit say, “What can I give you? You want something to drink?” They offer you a plastic water bottle of Poland Spring. I thought, “Let’s see if we can start a movement and encourage people to bring their bottle to OR, and use it and reject single-use plastic.”
What the Plastic Impact Promise is we are asking people to click on it, read it, sign it, and then try to galvanize around this issue. The other thing that we are doing is we are reaching out to brands and exhibitors. We’ve already got a bunch that is super psyched about it. CamelBak, Stanley, United By Blue, Adidas and a bunch. I have more calls about this. They are committing to not bringing plastic into their booth. They are committing to providing water stations where people can refill. We hope that the show floor is filled with water stations at every other booth where people can tank up.
There are so many things around a trade show that you can pick on in terms of heating a trade show or flying to a trade show. We’ve got to start somewhere. I feel single-use plastic is a no-brainer. In this day and age, we shouldn’t be allowing it at our industry events. There are some shows and festivals in Europe that are already banning it and moving towards a zero-waste event model. Wouldn’t that be so cool?
Colorado is the perfect place. There are a lot of places around Colorado that you travel to that are supporting this already.
That’s exciting and I’m fired up about it. A lot of the people that I have been talking to are fired up about it, too. Hopefully, we can start a movement and make an impact.
Our industry is all about sustainability and fighting climate change.
Let’s talk about The Voice. It’s new. The first issue was awesome. What was the overall feedback?
It was so good. It was encouraging. We put that magazine together in eight weeks, from the day we decided to launch it to the day that it dropped on day one of the Winter show. SNEWS for years was hired by Outdoor Retailer to produce The Daily. It was awesome. It was fun. I did it for three years.
That was both print and digital?
Yes, we made a digital version of it, too. It was high energy. It was fun. It was cool to show up at the trade show and work with a team and ship that thing off to the printer at 5:00 PM, then see it land at your doorstep at 5:00 AM. I have never worked in a newspaper environment, so there was something about The Daily that was exciting and fun. Before the November show, which was the last cycle of The Daily that my team and I produced, we were informed by the show that they were not going to renew our contract. They were going to bring it in-house and use the team that they have in place to produce their magazine.
It was a financial reason. It made sense for them to use the same cost efficiencies. It was a bit of a sucker punch and it took us a little bit by surprise. It was part of our business model. We were like, “What are we going to do here?” We pretty quickly hit on the idea of producing a print magazine that drops at the trade show. It’s certainly not in direct competition with The Daily because it’s not a daily. It’s like a premium magazine. The thing that was cool about it is with that partnership with Outdoor Retailer. There were some drawbacks to that.
Probably a lot of things you couldn’t talk about.
I tried to convince myself oftentimes that I could still remain independent, unbiased and report on our industry with this partnership. It was very difficult because we had to tiptoe around the issue of trade shows a lot in our content.
With your experience with Backpacker, you know a bit about whoever is paying the bills is calling the shots on the content.
We can talk about that forever. I don’t agree with that. That’s not how magazines roll.
That’s not how all magazines roll. That’s not how all publications roll but that’s a big part of some of them.
The Daily was and still is a marketing magazine for that show. It always was. It always should be. They don’t want to be touching on controversial issues. They don’t want to be tackling tough topics in an unfiltered way. They are there to celebrate the brands that show up at the show and what’s happening at the show.
We saw an opportunity with SNEWS and The Voice once this relationship ended to dig into that stuff. We quickly got excited about it. We started working on this magazine. It came together in eight weeks. The support for it was so encouraging and strong. Here we are trying to sell ads for something that doesn’t exist. That’s hard. People are like, “It sounds good but what’s it going to be like?”
We will be at a mock-up and our actual cover didn’t look anything like what our mock-up did but we were able to sell it and make that happen. We have this beautiful magazine to show and it’s full of great content. Now that people understand what we are trying to do, the support for it has been amazing. We’ve got a cool issue planned. It’s all in the works. We are excited to get that done and see it. We are going to continue to do the original art cover on that nice, heavy textured stock. This big Salary Survey will be a big package in there.
You tackled great topics. What was the reaction to the Is REI too big article?
It was good. The article itself was well balanced. You see that cover line and you are either going to have a knee-jerk reaction like, “They are way too big.” Our goal going into it was to let’s ask the question and let’s report out the answer. We did. There are a lot of retail stores that are impacted when REI moves into town.
I heard that REI is opening up a store in North Conway, New Hampshire, which is a small town. It’s a seasonal town. They have three great outdoor shops. It’s like, “How is that going to impact these legacy outdoor shops?” That’s where it all started. It’s not that simple because REI does many amazing things for our industry. There’s not a black and white answer to it.
Back in the day, I was selling to Dave Baker down at Summit Hut when REI came to town and he said it made us better. It improved our game. That’s what REI does. If you have been the only game in town for many years, you have a tendency to get complacent as a natural state of being. An REI comes to town, we better dial up our game. That’s one of the good things that they do. What about the guy that was producing the trekking poles and wanted to build a better trekking pole? He went to Alibaba and found a supplier. How was that received?
The Copycat Gear story. That was a pretty spicy one too. We have to face these issues head-on in our industry because they are happening with the Amazon competition and all the direct sales that are impacting all of our retailers. We came across these two guys that were profiled in that piece that were essentially skipping the design and knocking off proven designs and doing it cheaper.
We went into that thinking, “These guys are such jerks. They are stealing intellectual property.” The reality is nothing is black and white. These are good people. They are passionate about what they are doing. They are trying to provide gear for a lesser cost but there is something a little icky about the similarities of the products that they are producing to the people that invested so much in the design.
There’s so much of it now. There’s no shortage of different types of trekking poles to climbing pants. Are we making too much at some point?
I know. That is a big question.
It’s pretty broad. What are a couple of the accomplishments you are proudest of so far in your short life with SNEWS or with The Voice?
Launching The Voice, I’m proud that we were able to pull that off. To pivot quickly and pull out something that was well received by the industry. We have gotten so much good feedback from people saying that they appreciate the level of reporting, the independent, unfiltered nature of the stories, and the tough topics that we are tackling. That felt good.
Who are some of the mentors that have helped you along the way?
I have many people who I go to for advice on all different kinds of topics. I haven’t had any real specific mentors but I have to think about that very first editor who saw something in me and spent a little bit of time guiding my pitches and teaching me how to understand the magazine you are trying to write for and tailor your stuff towards that. His name is Tom Shealey. He was great. John Dorn is someone that I still work with. I hired John at Backpacker back in the mid-’90s, shortly after I started. We worked as gear editors together. He’s now Senior Vice President at AIM. He’s still someone who I consult on many different things, a ton of people. People like Sally McCoy are always there to offer advice. Chris Goddard of CGPR is someone I bounce things off of. The late Anne Kirchick was someone who was always there for me. I have been fortunate. It takes a village.
You must do some nonprofit work. Who are some of the nonprofits that you support?
The best way that SNEWS can support nonprofits is by covering their initiatives. We have good relationships with many of our nonprofit groups, from OIA to Conservation Alliance, to Camber, to Big City Mountaineers. We always try to celebrate them in the stories that we do. One of the things that I was excited about that we were able to do was going back to that Salary Survey that we have out there. For every person that completes that survey, we are donating $1 to Outdoor Foundation, which is the participation arm of OIA to help to get kids outdoors. I’m psyched about that.
We have to face these issues head on in our industry because they’re happening.
We are up to $1,000. When this is all said and done, we are going to make a big donation to them. Our company has had a lot of involvement with Big City Mountaineers. I have not personally been on a trip but it’s on my list of things to do. A lot of my colleagues have led trips and done the summit for someone to raise money.
What other outdoor activities do you participate in?
I love to ski, both backcountry and frontcountry. Hiking and backpacking are my absolute favorite things to do. I’m headed to Nepal to do an awesome trek with some of my Backpacker colleagues and some of our Backpacker readers who have signed up for the trip. My absolute favorite thing to do is to take a two-week hiking trip. I did the Haute Route with my son. The year before that, we did the Tour du Mont Blanc. He’s my favorite hiking partner in the world.
You can keep up or you can keep up with him, still?
Barely. There’s nothing stronger than a boy. He carries the brunt of the gear.
Do you have any suggestions or advice for folks wanting to get into the Outdoor Biz and grow their career?
The best thing that you can do if you are passionate about the outdoors and getting into the business is to stick with it. I nagged my way into a job. If you know it’s what you want, you don’t take no for an answer or you take no for an answer and you keep trying until you break in because we are a passion-based industry. People who do the hiring in this industry, they want that. It’s the secret to success. Much of it is sticking to it, meeting people and networking.
Do you have any daily routines you use to keep your sanity? Do you meditate, exercise, walk the dog?
I have a Yellow Lab that is very active. The thing that I do on a most regular basis is Yoga and Pilates. I have a studio a mile away from my house. Now that I’m in training for this Nepal trek, I put 20 pounds in my backpack and I make the walk to Yoga and Pilates. That’s my podcast time, too. I’m trying to listen to more podcasts, yours included.
What are some of the other ones you listen to?
Outside’s Dispatches podcast is great. I listen to Channel Mastery, Kristin Carpenter Ogden, and yours. Those are the three main ones that I listen to. I’m totally open to suggestions for other ones that you like. I’m trying to make time to listen to podcasts.
There are many good ones. I listen to one not regularly but frequently, which is by Tim Ferriss. He wrote The 4-Hour Work Week. He’s got some interesting guests that are completely outside the outdoor industry and have some interesting concepts of how business works or how they have built businesses or tech companies. People that are very learned in their discipline.
You are the second person to suggest that one to me.
They can be pretty long, though. He goes for hours sometimes. The one I recommend that everybody start with is when he interviewed George Raveling, who was a Black basketball player. He played at UCLA and coached the Olympic teams. Super smart guy. He’s in his 80s, and he outworks most people I know to this day. He’s phenomenal. He starts out with a story about how he ended up on the steps when Martin Luther King gave a speech. He happened to be there, which was very cool. It’s a long one but that’s a good one to start with. Do you have any favorite books you read frequently or give as gifts?
I’m a huge reader. The all-time favorite that I recommend to everyone is Shantaram. Have you ever heard of Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts? It’s this big fat book. It takes place in India. My husband is half Indian, so we have this connection to India. I started reading it when we went over there on a family trip. It’s this amazing adventure story about this guy who escapes from an Australian prison. He finds himself in Mumbai and he creates this life for himself. It’s based on a true story. That’s the one that I recommend when anyone asks me what my favorite book is. It’s part of adventure and culture. I have also been recommending this one a lot to people. Push by Tommy Caldwell. Have you read that one?
Not yet. I haven’t heard of it.
He’s got an interesting story. The first thing you think about when you hear his name is the Dawn Wall but his journey to get to that, the guy went through some crazy stuff. He got kidnapped in Kyrgyzstan. It’s well written. He’s a great writer. I love a good old-fashioned adventure book.
This might be a tough one for you. How about your favorite piece of outdoor gear for under $100?
It’s way under $100. I am never without a Buff around my head or neck. I have one on now, whether you are skiing, hiking or cycling, it’s a multi-purpose piece of gear.
As we wrap up, is there anything you would like to ask of our audience?
Your audience is my audience. It’s people that work and who want to work in the outdoor industry. I would love to encourage people to engage with SNEWS. Our website is SNEWSNet.com. We are on all the social media channels. We have a newsletter that we put out three times a week. We would love to start to engage with your audience. I encourage people to take our Salary Survey. Sign the Plastic Impact Promise. That would be great.
The best thing that you can do if you’re passionate about the outdoors and getting into the business is to stick with it.
Where can people find you if they want to follow up with questions? Email, LinkedIn, what’s the best way?
It has been great catching up with you. I look forward to seeing you at the show.
It was fun, Rick. Thank you so much.
Thank you. Have a good day out there.
- Kristen Hostetter – LinkedIn
- The Voice
- MSR Whisperlite Stove
- Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight Tent
- Erehwon Mountain Outfitter
- Active Interest Media
- Plastic Impact Promise
- Salary Survey
- The Daily
- Is REI too big
- Copycat Gear
- OIA – Outdoor Industry Association
- Conservation Alliance
- Big City Mountaineers
- Outdoor Foundation
- Channel Mastery – iTunes
- Tim Ferriss – The Time Ferriss Show
- The 4-Hour Work Week
- George Raveling – Tim Ferriss Show Past Episode
- Facebook – Outside Business Journal/SNEWS
- Twitter – Outside Business Journal/SNEWS
- Instagram – Outside Business Journal/SNEWS
- LinkedIn – Outside Business Journal/SNEWS
- Facebook – The Outdoor Biz Podcast
- Twitter – Rick Saez
- Instagram – Rick Saez
About Kristin Hostetter
Experienced Business Editor-in-Chief with a demonstrated history of working in the outdoor publishing industry (print and digital). Skilled in Media Relations, Marketing, Strategic Planning, Marketing Strategy, and Social Media. Strong support professional with a Bachelor’s degree focused in Art History from Boston College and a Master’s degree in Writing from DePaul University.