Sam Moulton - Outside Media
Today, I'm talking to another awesome human being, Sam Moulton, who is the VP of marketing at "Outside" magazine. And I'm talking with Sam today because he as the marketing chief, he is the guy who is responsible for making sure that "Outside" gets clients and that they can pitch them beautiful stories, awesome campaigns, and just give them as clients forever. So Sam has a lot of battle tested pitching capacities that are gonna come really handy doing COVID and after. And I want you guys to hear some of these approaches so without further ado let's talk to Sam. (air whooshing)
Good, how are you?
Lovely. Just getting off a call and then now doing the fun part of the day which is interviewing you. Cool, so today I'm talking to Mr. Sam Moulton, "Outside" magazine's marketing manager, marketing boss. So Sam, I wanna say thanks again for being here for all the creators out there because you deal with a vast array of clients just from having talked with you in the past that are in the tr...
avel in the outdoors industry. So we know that especially travel has been one of the most affected industries in what's going on with COVID and just hearing your pulse on what is going on and what you think is gonna happen 'cause nobody really knows, what's the indications you're seeing will immensely help all the photographers and filmmakers and designers who work in the outdoor industry. It will help them immensely through these times.
Well, great. Well thank you, it's good to be here. Thanks.
So yeah, can you just start by telling us what you do at Outside?
Yeah, absolutely. So I'm the marketing director and I've been working at Outside on and off for over 20 years. I actually started as an intern believe it or not.
One of the success stories.
Yeah, in 1999. And I would've never imagined that I'd still be working here, but I spent a great ride. Was an editor for the first part of my career and then switched over to the business side of the company about six years ago. And so our main job is obviously oversee all the marketing for the brand, a lot of that. We have a few events and we create a lot of the marketing materials, but then a vast majority of what we do is essentially we're an in-house creative agency. And so we work with all of our brand partners to create custom ad campaigns, brand campaigns, custom videos, branded content, social media contents, all that stuff. And so that's a huge part of our job and probably the most fun part of it as well.
So you deal with clients on a day to day basis pretty much.
That's right, yep.
Okay, beautiful. Well, that is gonna be great. Terrain experience.
So first off, how have you been staying productive? I'm just curious to hear how everybody's sort of adapting to this new life.
Yeah, well, so we had a lot of custom content projects already in the pipeline. So we've been finishing those up and launching those and there with clients like Filson, Under Armour, Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, Sierra Nevada Brewing. So a wide range of clients who are still moving forward with campaigns so that's really positive.
Yeah, that's beautiful.
And then we've obviously been proactively pitching a lot of our brand partners. So sending them ideas like, hey, this series is called the resiliency is the theme. That's the theme of our August issue. And so we've been pitching that. I think that's the theme of a lot of people's lives right now.
Also you've been literally pitching resiliency.
Yeah, I've been pitching resiliency.
That's awesome. Okay, we're right on the money then.
Yep, totally. So yeah, I mean, we've actually been really quite busy now.
That's good to hear.
Yeah, I mean, it's not bringing in the same amount of revenue as it used to be.
Yeah, and that's a major major concern for us, but we are still staying busy and sending out a lot of ideas and I think one of the things about Outside that's unique is that we have really established and real relationships with some of our brand partners. We've been working with them for years and years. There's a lot of trust. There's real human fundamental relationships there. And so we have a synergistic relationship where we've been helping each other out, right? Helping this brand grow and launch new products, et cetera. And so I think that's been really helpful for us because we're helping each other out right now. And so that's been a glimmer of hope for sure.
Almost like an institution. I think it's really interesting what you're saying about building trust. How can freelancers because most freelancers can outlive a brand like Outside like some of them their careers end and begin. A lot of people have started making photography in the last few years. I was just reading actually in the latest issue about glamping how it started and it was really interesting 'cause I've been part of that just myself as a photographer. How can the newly come photographers, freelancers, build trust and relationship with the brands?
I mean, the old fashioned way, right? Which is pitch your best ideas and then follow through and find that fine line between being pesty and persistent, right? And then follow through.
I love that. I was taking some notes.
Right? I mean, we're willing to roll the dice on young talent and I think a lot of brands are. One of the things that I see is you need to do your homework first, right? I don't care if you're pitching a story Outside or you're pitching something to an outdoor industry brand, you have to do your homework, right? Make sure you understand who their ambassadors are, what their brand messaging is all about, what their core pillars are and really show that you understand who they are and then figure out how you can add value and help them further their mission.
So that's an interesting point because there is different schools that I've come across in talking to other freelancers who pitched companies. And first one being, hey brand X, this is my plan for the summer. This is the stories I wanna tell. Do you wanna tell them with me? Can I sponsor me?
And D it's like hey brand X, this is what I've done in the past, I'd like to hear how we can help in the future. It's more complicated than that, but which ones would you say is more in tune with the Times? Because I've done both with different results with both. So I haven't really been able to kind of, it really comes down to preferences, but from a sales perspective, what do you think is more efficient? 'Cause sometimes you're pitching and you're trying to guess and then sometimes you can get it right and then 70% you get it wrong 'cause you can't guess what they need exactly.
Yeah, I mean, I guess I always err. Either one can work, but I'm gonna err on the side of pitching a specific idea, right? The marketing folks at all these brands, they get a lot of pitches, right? And they're very busy and they're juggling a lot of things. And so if you can immediately show how you're gonna solve a problem for them, that's gonna help you out a lot. So I would encourage people to take that risk.
I was talking to Chase Jarvis yesterday actually. He was saying, be an aspirin, don't be a vitamin.
Meaning fix somebody's problem.
Yeah, I'm with Chase on that one.
Boom, okay. This is gonna be really interesting 'cause I have almost an even split on people who have interviewed. There's a book about this 'cause there's like so many different school of thoughts with the right approach. So you're saying do your research to figure out the problem and then reach out?
Yeah. Yeah, because here's the thing. Even if the idea's wrong, it shows you that you've done your homework and that you've thought about how what you are gonna create is gonna help elevate the brand. And so I wanna see that kind of thinking.
You're putting some empathy.
Yeah, I mean, even if you're off pace, I'm gonna like, I like the way that this person thinks. She understands the brand. She understands how the game is played and yeah, that's where I am on that.
Love it. Just switching gears to more like client pulse. If you don't mind sharing, what are the things you've been hearing generally from clients? Like, we're on pause, we're going for it, but half production or we're doing this in December. What's the consensus you've gathered if any?
Yeah, I mean, a lot of people are just literally frozen, right?
Yeah. So their ad budgets have been temporarily frozen and so a lot of people are in that wait and see. And we have such a wide variety of clients. That's probably generally where people are, but like we're starting to see a lot of people like running shoemakers, clothing makers, liquor, beer. People are still buying running shoes and jackets and beer. And so those people are more active than some other areas. And then we're starting to see the domestic travel guys are really champing at the bit, okay?
Yeah, the DMOs and all the state tourism folks. If you read the data right everyone's first trip is most likely gonna be local, regional, in a car. And so they are dying to get their messaging out to people saying like, hey, we're open for business and we'd love to have you. And as soon as they feel comfortable and that they can safely and responsibly have people come see them they got those messages ready to go.
You mentioned the data. Where are your top places where you get your data from?
Well, I mean, a lot of different places. Obviously I read Skift for traveling.
Yeah, I was gonna say yes, the first one that comes to mind.
And then I just saw a really interesting study from Global Rescue, which is a brand partner we work with. They do among other things adventure travel insurance. I just read a really interesting survey from the Camping folks about the huge surge we're gonna see in camping.
And glamping, camping generally. And then just read the big piece in the "New York Times" about all the macro travel trends that was really interesting. There was a piece.
Is that something?
Oh, go ahead.
Oh sorry go ahead.
Well, I was gonna say there was a piece in the "Washington Post" about how rural states are really well positioned here moving forward as people really seek out (indistinct).
So is that something you encourage freelancers to do to keep tabs on the news like that on.
Yeah, I agree. It's something we don't do enough because we don't have the structure of a larger company and then you come from an editorial background so you know that you have to consume media to talk media. That's something we lack on. That's really good advice, man.
Yeah, for sure.
So you've been hearing people are on pause, but generally there's a trend that's emerging towards local travel like in state, yeah. So it sounds like to win as freelancers, you wanna be playing in that game of local travel. This is my state and then pitching even your local DMOs.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think that you're in a good position if you live in a particular state, if you're already in that state's backyard so to speak to create content, I think that gives you a serious leg up. Absolutely.
It's quite interesting I've noticed that with some DMOs that from my experience they don't tend to hire people who are from that state. They'd rather get people from other states to come photograph or film. Maybe that's gonna inverse the trend. I never really know how that's been, but how has that happened?
Yeah, I don't know either.
I think this has certainly helped the local folks though.
Yeah, I'm pumped for that.
So do you have any approaches? I mean, this is very tactical talk. Do you have any approaches to share with freelancers on how they can be more useful to people like Outside or to brands in these times and then the future?
Yeah, I mean, I work on the business side, right? And so people are pitching me branded content ideas. So it's important for folks if you're pitching us to do branded content that you understand that we'll need a brand partner, right? And so if you understand our audience and that brand partners audience and then you pitch an idea that demonstrates that understanding, like I said before do your homework and understand, that's gonna give you a serious leg up. But the same thing applies on the editorial side too, right? I mean, the editors as you'll notice right now, I mean, resiliency is right is the big theme and they're focusing on road trips, micro adventures, things you can do safely during these times. And so I think that freelancers need to pivot their ideas accordingly as well.
I love that.
Strong advice. Because you mentioned that you get pitched all the time by other freelancers, what is some of the best pitches you've seen without citing any names or if you wanna site names is good, but what are the ones that have stood out over the years in terms of approach, content, angle?
Right. Boy, that is a good question. I mean, the one that comes the top of mind is a young writer, okay? But I think this will apply to a photographer or anyone.
Yeah, for sure any freelancer.
Yeah, any freelancer. He'd never written a feature story before, right? And so he's pitching a feature story to "Outside" magazine so he hasn't even played in the minor leagues and he wants to go to the big club.
And he wants to go to Mongolia and enter this horse race where you basically race horses across Mongolia. And it's a great idea, but not only does he pitch the idea, he says, I think I can win it. And mind you, he has never entered the race. Most people don't even finish the race, right? But this guy has the gumption to say not only is he gonna go over there and enter the race, he's gonna win it and write a great story for Outside. Yeah, and I talked to him on the phone. I was like, listen, I love your spirit.
To go on the phone with the person, all right. You just went for it.
He emailed me the pitch, I liked it so much, I picked up the phone.
And I was like, who do you think you are? And I liked him and has real cowboy experience. And he had legitimate horsemanship skills, newly graduated from journalism school.
Okay, ticking the boxes.
Yeah, so he is ticking the boxes and I love him on the phone and so I had to go to my boss and he said, "Who's this guy?" And I said, "Listen, you don't know who he is, but if anyone can do it I think it's him and if he doesn't, we'll figure out how to rescue this."
It's still a good story, yeah.
Yeah, it'll be a good story. We'll fix it and edit, but I'm pretty confident he'll bring back the goods and sure enough he did. And it launched a really great writing career for him.
Yeah, and I love it. I mean, he had such a strong voice in the pitch and such a strong point of view. There was no reason we should have dream lit it, but it was just irresistible.
So big dreams.
Yeah, I mean, I talk to a lot of people, they say they've pitched "Outside" or whomever 10, 15 times. And then they finally get the right story to stick. Because I like to tell people you need to have the right idea at the right time with the right editor.
Yeah, it takes a while.
And right, like so for those three things to line up, it's literally like playing slots, right? Because you might be like I don't understand, I pitched the best idea, but like the editor wasn't the right editor or it wasn't the right time. They just ran a similar story or whatever the case may be. It's just very competitive out there.
I like it though, that boldness was rewarded. That's good hope.
Yeah, go big.
But also know how to ride a horse 'cause if you didn't know how to ride a horse, we wouldn't be talking about it.
Yeah, but the other thing is like I used to be an editor and so I would read a lot into the pitch, right? How well crafted is that pitch? And so I would encourage people to work really hard on that.
Yeah, have tight emails.
Tight emails. Yeah, well crafted because that tells me a lot. If you can craft a pitch then I'm more confident you can actually tell a longer form story.
Okay, yeah, this is really good. I'm still digesting it. Got a sheet full of notes already for these guys. I do a recap at the end of every episode so this will be in it for sure. I'm gonna try something new here. I'm gonna share a personal idea. I think this will help a lot of folks. So because like you're saying, I've been adapting to the current conditions and I had many tickets booked all across the world for the summer. Most of them got canceled automatically by the airlines, which tells you, I mean, how much they've gotta be hurting. And I've changed some of my ideas to more local travel. So one of them which I'm really excited about walking, I've been reading walking literature for the past two years from a lot of French writers, German philosophers like Nietzsche, Kant. And I've just been reading into walking because I think it's very simple, everybody can do it. Kinda like the idea of micro adventures that Alastair came up with like a years ago. I think it's just so approachable that it's so easy to get into it. And I really like getting people into stuff. So I'm just sharing my background and what I like to do so I can build into this story. So I wanna pitch a shoe company that is not overly technical. The idea to walk across Montana because that's where I live. So I leave up north Whitefish almost like the border. And I wanna walk all the way to the border of Wyoming South following perhaps some parts of the Continental Divide Trail and some other parts outside of it just to make it more interesting. So that's my idea. I got the brand contact. I've talked to them a few years ago. I have this idea. So what do you think for me is the best way, something like me to go about it? Have the idea, I have the brand and sort of loose plan of leaving June, arrive 15 days after, 20 days after.
Well, first of all, I think it's a great idea.
Thanks. And I think that that company would be insane not to green light it.
I think they will if their funds are unfrozen.
And I can say that because we're about to launch a walking package.
Resiliency walk in, what are we not working together in June?
And that is one of the trends I've read about as well.
Yeah. And I think you know what, it's a great way to slow down and slow travel and see your backyard, your home state. So I think it's a great idea that way. Obviously you take beautiful photographs.
Oh thanks, that helps.
So yeah, I think you lay out that idea in a pretty concise deck and send it over to them. I would probably include all your deliverables on all your platforms and the budget right off the bat.
Hit the budget right off the bat. So this is an interesting one because historically, we've discussed with this brand budgets that were, how do I put it, near the six figures in the past on June projects, right? So this is not a production at all, but at the same time you don't know all of a sudden be discounting yourself just because it's COVID. And so how would you go about approaching the budget because I'm not gonna take accrual or anything?
Yeah, I mean, well, I would.
So there's a precedent at least with this brand, that's what I'm trying to say. There's a precedent of sort of minimum spend.
Yeah, I mean, I would figure out maybe your time is obviously super valuable and what you create is.
Well, right now, I mean, we're kinda sitting around, but I get it.
Right. So that's what I mean though, right? So you've got more time on your hands. And so maybe that adjusts what you're willing to do it for, right? Certainly we're doing that, right? We're working with our brand partners that have support us for a while and saying, hey, let's find a middle ground here. We understand budgets might not be what they were six months ago, a year ago, what have you.
But at the same time I wouldn't sell yourself short. It's a great idea. So I wouldn't just think, all right, pre-COVID I was gonna charge X, now I'm gonna discount it 50%. I wouldn't go that route. I think you hook them with the idea and you put what makes sense. And then if they come back to you, right? Everything's in negotiation.
Yeah, you can go from there.
I love it. Thanks, so put it all into the deck and then get on a call to walk them through the deck.
With my deck's got deliverable, I mean, it's got the idea, it's got my deliverables, it's got my budget. This little detail, but I rarely get into budget breakdown. It's more like this is the package. How do you feel about that?
Well, ultimately I think that might be fine for a opening pitch, but pretty soon I'm gonna wanna see a more granular level where all that's going.
Okay, so even you guys as Outside, you just break it down for clients if they want to.
Yeah, I mean, we send something to a client, they're like, okay, how many Instagram posts?
Oh yeah, for sure. But do you put a price for each or is it just social whatever?
We do price everything out, but we're a media brand and we work with media buying agencies and so a little different story. Yeah, I wouldn't say you have to get at that level like where each thing is priced all apart, but if you have a rough idea of what your team is gonna be and how much is devoted to that, your creative fees and then your media, I think you're fine.
I love it, okay. Well, I'm gonna go for it and pitch this. So yeah, you'll hear about it and people in the workshop hear about it. If they see me doing it, it's worked. Well, and this is another topic, just site thing. Let's say the brand says no for whatever reason, how do you feel about going and shopping it around?
You're fine to do that. I would just let people know that it's first come first serve or just be upfront and honest and be like, hey, you could just pitch it to them if you feel really good about them, you have a relationship with them and then if you don't hear back or whatever a week later say, hey, I love this idea so much, I'm gonna pitch it elsewhere. I just wanna make sure you guys aren't interested or you're still think thinking about it let me know, but otherwise I'm gonna start pitching elsewhere.
So just over-communicating.
Yeah, I love that. So what are some of the practices you've developed through the years to have a tight pipeline? Pipeline meaning what's lined up, what's coming, what's your follow ups, who's doing what, who's saying what? Do you use any specific tools?
Yeah, I mean, we rely very heavily on Trello.
Yeah, and so that's been a lifesaver. We're based in Santa Fe, right? We're Outside Integrated Media by the way which is our new name. Probably should let people know that.
Yeah, check new email.
Our new email. But anyway, then we've got offices in Boulder and Chicago and New York and sales people all over. So Google Docs and Google Slides has allowed us to collaborate on projects in real time. And we've used other systems and so we just try to keep it simple with rely heavily on all that suite of products as well as Trello. And that seems to be working pretty well.
How's your personal pipeline organized? Do you use paper or do you just go off Trello?
Yeah. Well, and Google Docs. We have a small team here and Google Spreadsheets for sure because under normal times we'll have to 30 custom content programs in the system and we'll be pitching 10 to 15 new clients a week. So there's a lot of moving pieces.
What's your ratio?
Our win ratio?
I could actually give it to you specifically if I pull it up, it's around 30%.
Same. I was gonna say, yeah, it takes 10 to get three.
I'm glad that I'm not the only one in this, okay.
Yeah, no, we've been trying to inch that up, but man, it's hard.
Especially now, yeah, it's definitely the hard time to be inching it up.
Earlier you were mentioning, you were talking about potentially discounting. So Chase and I were talking the other day like I said, Chase was adamant about not discounting the creative, but discounting the production. Is that something you are aligning with? What's your take on that?
Yeah, we're in a similar camp, right? We're different 'cause we're a media brand. So some of our properties and various digital products we are discounting, not majorly.
If somebody gets a package you mean like there's efficiencies in there?
Totally, right? So like if you run a brand campaign or you want a bunch of social media with us, we'll discount some of those prices right now temporarily, but for us like we don't make a ton of money on production. So I don't have a lot of wiggle room there because there's a minimum investment required. So if a brand wants to do a video with us, they need to also have a brand campaign. They need to buy some working media.
So they gotta get a minimum package you mean?
Would you advise freelancers to have a similar approach so they don't get tire kicked.
So meaning this is the minimum to get involved kind of thing?
Wow, I like that. It's powerful.
And then you build that price based off what?
Yeah, I mean, for us it's like we have an internal ratio because production for us is so time intensive, right? Because we're a small team and we hire all these freelance videographers and photographers and writers to create all the content with us. So creating that and managing all that is super labor intensive. And so for it to be worth our while, we require like oftentimes a media spend of twice as much as production or ideally three or four times as much.
It depends on the project.
Yeah, I get it, okay. Now, just switching gears to storytelling.
I know we have a little bit of time left. How do you think freelancers, creators on social media, whatever you wanna call them should adapt to not being able to travel everywhere and what sort of content do you wanna be seeing on these feeds, old photos? I'm just curious on your take on that.
Yeah. The best stuff I've seen are the people that are getting super creative, right? Like the photographer that's shooting the tiny people in the broccoli forest. I can't remember her name, Aaron something.
Yeah, that's cool.
Amazing or the ski mountaineer that did the stop timeline.
In his house from the top.
That was really cool.
Yeah, like those kinds of things obviously are really fun and compelling and original.
But it's important to nail those every day.
Yeah, I've seen people doing house calls, right? With people in their network which is really fun. We've been doing some of those.
What do you mean? I know they're out there.
Their Instagram live interviews.
Oh yeah, okay.
Stuff like that, those have been fun. I love to see a new creative thinking, but I also understand that's really hard right now.
So I don't think people should feel bad if they're going back in the hard drive and finding some of their best stuff and tuning that up.
No, that is true.
You get a state type of mind anyway you can, I guess.
Cool, well, what is the biggest advice you'd give to freelancers out there right now for 2020, 2021, if you have to give them some wisdom?
Man, I would say hang tough. We're in the right business, right? Media's always gonna be hard, but COVID has been exacerbating a lot of trends that were already happening. And the outdoor industry, adventure travel, those are not going anywhere. People are gonna even more so I think are gonna crave, travel, open spaces, camping. So it might take a while, but we're gonna recuperate and brands are gonna start green lighting projects again, people are gonna start buying stuff again, right? 'Cause at the end of the day that's what we need to have happen, right? People need to actually travel to the destination or buy the running shoes or the tents.
To get there, yeah.
Yeah, and that's gonna happen. It's gonna take a while though because some people they're gonna be cautious and they're gonna wait and see before they figure out if they're gonna take that next trip or make that next purchase and that's gonna have a ripple effect. And we're feeling it. Freelancers are gonna feel it certainly. They already are, but I do think we're in the right industry, right? I think some other industries, food, fashion, events, to name couple.
Events, it's going to be rough.
It's really gonna be rougher for some of those guys.
No doubt. But adventure travel is out in open spaces. You can do it relatively safely easier than you can do some other things. And then again, I mean, humans we're curious, we wanna travel.
So many places, yeah.
There's probably a side note, but there's probably a story in small mountain towns right now more than before you've seen COVID exacerbate some trends. Just locally here I keep a good pulse of real estate agents and builders just because I'm interested in that stuff in land.
And then usage and the last few weeks, I've been crazy amounts of action on land purchases from outta state, like pieces of land that we've been looking at for a year that have been sitting on the market have all gone on in the contract in the past few weeks. And then builders are getting calls from the coastal states for people who wanna be up here when shit gets bad again. It's still bad actually, but for people who just wanna be out here. Yeah, so there's gotta be a story out there. Can't just be happening here.
No, I mean, look, our cities have been slowly deteriorating I think. A lot of them are really fundamentally flawed places and can be really difficult places to live, unless you have a ton of money. And so I think a lot of people are realizing that maybe that's at the best spot for the next pandemic or whatever, but I think, yeah, you're seeing a lot of people are gonna start fleeing the cities for open spaces in general and obviously mountain towns, coastal place, beach communities will do really well.
That's what we're seeing. Well, Sam, is there anything else you wanna add?
Oh, I don't know.
We've covered a lot of it so feel free. It's all good if you don't wanna add anything. Probably got things to do.
(indistinct) off the top of my head, I really enjoyed chatting with you and I would just say that like I'm really proud to work at Outside and of the work we're doing right now. I think a lot of brands will be judged on how they handle themselves during this, right?
And I'm giving them the editors props really 'cause it's not me doing the work. I think they're doing a great job of helping people get through this, right? Whether it's telling them what to eat or how to stay healthy, inspire them with great stories and keep their wander less stoked because like I said, life's gonna go back to whatever the new normal is and it's gonna be different, but it's still gonna be fun. It's gonna still involve all the things you love to do. And we're helping people stay sane until that happens.
It's good to have you guys.
Thanks Sam. Thanks for being an open book. This is gonna be immensely valuable. I'm so pumped for these guys to listen to this. I can wait to put this thing out just so we can hear all this. Yeah, it's been really good. Your perspective will help them a lot.
Happy to help. I used to be a freelancer myself.
Yeah, that's what I'm saying. Yeah, I was watching your LinkedIn. Yeah, you've walked the rope.
Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I put in time. I was pitching stories to all the paddler and ski and skiing and backpacker.
Yeah, you've sold your stuff then now you know how to sell bigger stuff.
Beauty. Well man, I'll let you know how it goes with our friends at dinner confidentially. I'm pumped. I think that's it.