Catching up with former Patagonia CEO Casey Sheahan and his new job in PR

SNEWS talks to former Patagonia CEO Casey Sheahan on why he took his new job with Backbone Media and what he can offer clients.
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Incase you were wondering, it wasn’t an April Fools joke.

CaseySheahan_Backbone

The former Patagonia CEO Casey Sheahan, who left the job in January, is indeed heading back to the trenches with a public relations gig at outdoor media guru Backbone Media.

Sheahan, who joins the firm as senior advisor, will help Backbone turbo charge its expertise in everything from sustainability to social media practices for its clients.

“Backbone is a talented and vibrant agency that’s doing a lot of progressive work and I’m happy to be on the team,” Sheahan told SNEWS. It’s also a heck of a lot shorter commute for Carbondale, Colo. resident, who spent a lot of time traveling back-and-forth from his mountain home to the Patagonia headquarters in Ventura, Calif.

“I loved the Patagonia job, but I did it for nine years and the commute was getting old,” Sheahan said. Now I have a one-mile commute instead of a 1,000-mile one.”

While his commuting time has been diminished, his commitment to helping other brands learn from Patagonia’s lead hasn’t. “I’ll help them decide what to do strategically,” he said. “There’s a lot on the horizon as far as new frontiers in digital media and other forms of communication. I’ll also help in getting new accounts and enhance relationships with their existing customer base.”

In his eight-year tenure at the helm of Patagonia, the company tripled its profits while implementing cutting-edge sustainability and corporate culture philosophies (look no further than founder Yvon Chouinard’s book, “Let My People Go Surfing”). Sheahan was also the former president of Kelty and vice president of marketing at Merrell Footwear.

His contacts in the industry won’t hurt, either. An avid skier and fly fisherman, Sheahan once served as the publisher and editor-in-chief of Powder magazine, is a past president of the Conservation Alliance and serves on the Outdoor Industry Association’s board. “I have a nice Rolodex from 30 years in the industry,” he said. “I’ve been involved in everything from the supplier to the factory and marketing sides, so I have a lot to offer.”

Still, he admits he’s not jumping in full-bore. He just bought an Airstream with his wife, finishing a two-week desert tour before heading out for an early spring fly fishing jaunt to Wyoming’s North Platte.

“I’m not rushing into anything,” he said. “I’ll be working at Backbone part-time, as well as doing some board work and consulting. [Backbone partners Penn Newhard and Nate Simmons] are opening some new doors for me as well with all of their contacts.”

One thing he will bring to the table is Patagonia’s vision when it comes to sustainable business practices. “A lot of companies can learn from what Patagonia’s done,” he said, “from their cultural strategy to using social media to enhance their relationship with their audience. The nuances of environmental sustainability, transparency and social responsibility are continuing factors for any brand.”

He added that Patagonia has its finger on the pulse of promoting a vibrant corporate culture. “Yvon is very iconic and has become a brand unto himself,” he said. “Other companies can create a similar message as well. There are a lot of ways to weave customers into your internal culture. It’s about letting your customer shape your image and market your brand for you.”

Backbone, he adds, is “right on the sharp end of that sphere” and he’s glad to offer what he can to their clients. “There are some exciting new frontiers in the works as far as marketing and selling your brand and product,” he said. “I’m excited to join Backbone in a role that allows me to work with both larger established brands and smaller start-ups. I’m happy to be having fun and staying in the heart and soul of the outdoor industry.”

--Eugene Buchanan

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