Jess Clayton Q&A: Former Patagonia PR manager sets out to help smaller sustainable brands

The most cheerful person in outdoor public relations ... that award could easily go to Jess Clayton.

The most cheerful person in outdoor public relations ... that award could easily go to Jess Clayton. The former Patagonia PR manager — now leading her own public relations business, Wilder PR — always keeps her spirits high while delivering the information journalists need on deadline. And in today’s PR world, she’s not only spreading that cheer with the press. There’s a whole new set of “influencers.” Clayton shares with us the opportunities and challenges for PR, plus why every new brand should be founded with a sustainable story. Hint: It’s worked pretty well for her former employer.


In what ways do you see the public relations business changing these days? What are PR folks expected to do today that perhaps wasn’t part of the job several years ago?
It’s not just about connecting with the press anymore. Influencers, i.e. people with a wide reach, can use social media to get their voices heard in such powerful and effective ways . This makes a PR person’s job harder and more complex. Not only are we keeping up with mainstream media such as newspapers, print magazines, digital media and the trade, but we also need to stay engaged with the individuals who are effectively using social media. It’s a similar story with brands as well. The brands that are successfully using digital media are now essentially a part of the media landscape. PR folks need to be paying attention to all of the ways people consume their news.

Brands are demanding and producing more content to keep themselves engaged with the consumer, but it’s getting to be a crowded sea on social media. What do you see as the most effective forms of distribution of that content, beyond just Facebook, Twitter and Instagram?
Despite my answer to No. 1, I do feel that people are craving more experiences away from the screen. Activations and energy spaces, both slightly overused buzzwords right now, are a way for brands to engage with their customer in a real way. The key is to plan activations that are unique, genuine and authentic to your brand. We are also seeing more brands investing back in the print medium, but in a timeless, beautiful way that focuses less on selling and more on storytelling. The content in these print pieces can’t be found online. These are pieces you don’t dump right into the recycling bin.

Your new company focuses on sustainable brands. What led you to picking that niche? What are some of the stories and trends in the sustainable business world that you think need more attention?
Both my business partner and I come from Patagonia. We drank the Kool-Aid — lots of it! In my opinion, at a minimum, every single brand should be using organic cotton. There are no more excuses. Organic cotton, recycled polyester and nylon, sustainable wool, hemp, responsible supply chains, fair trade… these trails have all been blazed. I am still amazed when new brands pop up with zero commitment to the environment and sustainability. Wilder’s mission is to give the smaller brands that are truly doing what’s right a voice in the press right next to the Patagonias of the world. We also want to help the brands that are moving in the right direction and need that extra communications support to help get them there.

What’s your favorite part of Outdoor Retailer? On the flip side, what needs to change?
The best part is seeing all of our friends. At this point, it’s basically a family reunion! What needs to change? The food! I have always joked about quitting my day job to push a delicious organic food cart down the halls of the show. I would probably make enough money to not have to work between trade shows!

--David Clucas



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