I'm riding a Stromer e-bike that goes up to 30 mph, yet Eric "Hende" Henderson biking with a trailer full of packrafts and gear is still hard to keep up with. We're pedal pushing along a 10-mile stretch from his office to the Boulder Reservoir for a mellow morning of paddling and talking about the world of outdoor PR. "No better way to spend a Friday morning," he tells me in the same cheery voice he uses to greet other cyclists and the homeless man on a street corner. At the reservoir's entrance, we buzz past a line of cars and the attendants, even though the water is technically closed to the public for the Boulder Ironman. Hende, 45, in board shorts, a tank top, and Luna sandals, fits right in.
Down at a shady area called Dream Cove, we inflate two Kokopelli rafts and that's when Hende realizes he forgot a connecting piece of one oar. He dwells on it for a minute, muttering a few places he might've left it. "Is it in my office? Did I leave it on the steps?" But he insists on making it work and pushes off the shore to get a closer look at a great horned owl that just perched in a tree. (He officially snaps the paddle later during our race to a buoy.)
Winging it with conviction and confidence is the Hende way. Like when he traded a dime bag of weed for a badge to the first Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City because he desperately wanted a pair of Scarpa boots. Or when he left his mountain guiding career for PR after breaking his neck skiing one of his best lines. Or when he went out on his own to form Meteorite PR, which now represents 15 outdoor clients including Snowsports Industries America, RovR, Sweet Protection, and the entire Oberalp Group. Each time, he's found success.
How did you make the switch from guiding to working in PR?
In April 2009, I broke my neck skiing off Meteorite Peak in Alaska. My wife and I started a farm-to-table restaurant called On The Farm in Victor, Idaho. Chris Denny, founder of Denny, ink., came to one of our farm dinners in Victor, Idaho. We didn’t really know each other, but I was walking him to his car with a glass of wine and he looked at me and said, "What are you going to do, Hende?" I was still broken and couldn’t get back to guiding. I took off my hat and I looked right in his eyes and I said, "Waiting for someone like you to give me a job." He called maybe a week later to tell me he had just signed Dynafit and Salewa and wanted to give me a chance. He gave me wings and set my career in motion.
When Salewa purchased Pomoca, they offered me an in-house position as the communications director in Boulder. A few years later, Penn Newhard at Backbone Media offered me a position in Denver as a senior account director for YETI, Smartwool, and Teton Gravity Research. My next stint was at Active Interest Media. During that time, I laid the groundwork for my own firm and when the timing arose, I launched Meteorite PR in summer 2016.
What niche are you filling in PR?
I implement the stuff I learned from being in-house, but at my own company. One of Meteorite's strengths is our understanding of service, dealer relations, and the business-to-business component of the job. You could have a great marketing initiative and you could have a great sales team and endless dollars, but if you don’t have strong customer service or operations people, then you don’t really have a brand. We consider our brands family. We're an extension of them. Most of our brands, with the exception of Purist and Stromer, are based in the Rocky Mountains. We meet with or speak with every client for up to two hours a week to talk metrics, but we also make sure to check in about personal stuff.
Brands in Meteorite PR's portfolio as of Aug. 7, 2019: Oberlap Group (Salewa, Dynafit, Wild Country, Pomoca, Evolv), Cusa Tea, Wave Tool, Kokopelli, Purist, Stromer, Sweet Protection, RovR, SIA, TGR, and mountainFLOW eco-wax
What are the biggest challenges facing PR today? And how will you rise to meet those challenges?
We’re the first line item to get cut. They either bring it in house or they don’t see the value in it if you don’t present yourself as being valuable. If a brand isn't selling the paddle, well then they're going to save $90,000 by cutting PR. We have to make sure we’re indispensable.
Our secret sauce is working closely with key accounts. I have a database of retailers that represent Kokopelli and resource our reps. We communicate with them so if we know the Dynafit Hoji Free is going to be in a publication or win an award, we can use that knowledge tool to drive sales and prepare everyone. Often what we find, especially in today’s digital age with the millennial market is they think they’re smarter than the shop kid. But we want the shop kid to know more. They have to know the product that is in the press because that’s where the connection comes.
What’s your hidden talent when it comes to PR?
The phone. It’s not a hidden talent, but I’m really good at finding people through social media, reading what they’re writing about, finding their phone numbers, and then calling. Maybe I'm still archaic in that regard, but the phone is a valuable tool. You can’t get everything across in an email or in text message like you can in voice. My words don’t translate to the written word as well. My gift is my voice. So I use my phone a lot.
How can brands be good partners to their PR partners?
Never be afraid to overshare. That’s our biggest issue. I hate finding out about a project the day of or not knowing about the project when it’s going on. We work for brands and our job is to make their job easier. Brands have so much going on that they forget to share a lot of things. That’s why we do weekly check ins with each of our clients so that is avoided.
Who’s your dream client?
I want a client that’s investing in consumer-facing events and recognizing the importance of the younger people who are looking for experiences. I also really believe in the CBD and cannabis industry, so a dream client for me would be Floyd’s of Leadville. I use it, I believe in it. It’d be a good addition to our portfolio.
Do you have a passion project?
My five-year plan is building a foundation to mentor the next generation of human-powered athletes in the outdoor space. I want to give them the skills they need to succeed: retail relations, public speaking, blogging, balancing checkbooks, and other things to become really well rounded. It's really easy, for lack of a better word, to become a professional athlete if you've got the skill and proper certifications. But you don't know your value or what you bring to the table when you're first starting out. I got so lucky. I could just still be broken neck guy in Jackson Hole. I didn't have the skills. I didn't even know how to type. I'm in PR because I like helping people and connecting the dots. I'm like a tastemaker or conduit. And I think the younger generation needs someone like me to help navigate this landscape because it's going to be challenging with how it's changing.
What’s been your best, proudest PR moment since you started Meteorite?
The response to Meteorite and that people are willing to take a chance on us. It's really flattering and it feels really good that they've been like, "You're just starting out and yeah, you're really small team and your hashtag is #stillghetto and you break shit. But we trust you." There's been great placements in media; that's part of the job. But I'm most proud of people and brands taking notice, being excited to jump onboard with us, and liking our model. Because we're just getting started.