When contemplating whether to take on the role of group publisher at Active Interest Media’s Backpacker and Climbing titles, Jeff Tkach picked up a few recent issues of the magazines.
“As I was flipping through the issues I thought, ‘These are the best issues of Backpacker I’ve ever seen,’” Tkach said. That sealed the deal. By Thursday, Tkach will have loaded up his five bikes and hit the road for the big cross-country trek from Allentown, Pa. to Boulder, Colo., where AIM is headquartered.
The move marks a return home for Tkach, who worked as an account manager at Backpacker from 2002 to 2006. Most recently, at Rodale’s Organic Gardening Magazine, he re-launched the publication’s print and digital editions. He’s already set goals for Backpacker and Climbing and has started work on a few of them, including building his team through promotions and new hires.
“There’s no higher calling in life than when someone could couple their passion and profession,” Tkach said. “That’s exactly what this platform has done. It’s given me the opportunity to live and breathe healthy, active living, being outdoors and connecting with nature.”
Tkach’s first order of business, he said, is to strengthen the advertising and marketing teams at the two publications. He’s promoted Sharon Houghton to advertising director of both titles, a move he said will allow Houghton to expand her portfolio and take on a higher level of management responsibilities.
Houghton said she’s looking forward to coming up with creative programs alongside Tkach and the rest of the team.
“We have such a solid sales and marketing team in place currently, and working with them is an honor,” Houghton said. She foresees she and Tkach will work well together because his marketing-centric approach is similar to her own.
“With my MBA in marketing [from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs], I understand that marketing programs are the key to any successful media campaign,” Houghton said. “Jeff and I are like-minded in this regard, so I’m looking forward to putting our heads together and getting creative.”
Tkach said one of his favorite things about his work is developing marketing programs for emerging brands.
“I love to be very hands-on with entrepreneurs,” Tkach said, recalling his first go-round with Backpacker, when companies like GoLite, MontBell North America and Jet Boil were up-and-coming.
“Jeff brings experience and insights from the natural foods industry, which is one of the most forward-looking markets out there right now. It's such a great fit for the outdoor space, and he's already concocting ideas that bridge trail, food and fitness in interesting new ways,"said Jonathan Dorn, senior vice president and general manager of AIM’s Outdoor Group. "He's also been a leader in the organic market in developing consumer events, which is a Backpacker staple that he is intent on building on — quite possibly by extension into underserved communities whose participation and spending habits are rapidly growing."
Tkach’s goals also include broadening and reinvigorating the Get Out More and Adventures NYC events Backpacker sponsors and restructuring the team so staffers work on Climbing and Backpacker Magazine simultaneously.
“This quadruples the sales force working on Climbing Magazine,” Tkach explained.
Tkach said he looks forward to being back in the outdoor industry after several years in natural foods. He said he has maintained his relationships in the outdoor business, and also anticipated bringing in new advertising opportunities from other industries.
“Climbing and Backpacker are mission-driven brands and we really want to remind our clients in the outdoor industry that we’re unwavering in our mission,” he said, adding the mission of the titles is to inspire people to enjoy the outdoors and seek new challenges.
Dorn added Tkach is more than ready for the leap back into the outdoor industry.
"Once you've backpacked with Bill Gamber from Big Agnes at 13,000 feet, you pretty much understand the heart and soul of the outdoor industry," Dorn said.