*This article is part of our summer-long outdoor events series.
Nylon and mesh UFOs float in an aspen grove at the base of Deer Valley Resort in Utah. As I step into the trees, I spot ratchet straps anchored to tree trunks. Lofted tents and hammocks take shape. “Come on up,” says Venessa Castagnoli, the production and design manager for Tentsile. I follow her through the central hatch of a three-person Stingray tent, which gently cradles us six feet off the dirt. Founder Alex Shirley-Smith joins us, and tells me how the 2008 recession prompted his career shift from luxury treehouse architect to tent designer. The leafy canopy shelters us from bright Utah sun, and birds sing in the background. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
The unscripted, in-depth, experiential meeting is by design. It’s late June, and I’m at Outdoor PressCamp, a five-day event that brings manufacturers and outdoor media together for scheduled meetings, networking meals, and supported excursions dedicated to gear testing. “This is a small-batch, high-touch, curated event,” says Keni Haroutunian, a 29-year industry veteran who produces the event for Efficient Collaborative Retail Marketing (ECRM), an event services firm focused on business solutions. Now in its second year, 16 brands and 21 journalists representing 25 consumer titles attended the 2017 edition.
How did PressCamp disrupt the outdoor industry’s crowded calendar? It started in the bike world. Lance Camisasca, who organized Interbike for 10 years, launched the model with Bike PressCamp in 2009. After ECRM acquired Bike PressCamp, Camisasca enlisted Haroutunian, who spent 15 years as an Outdoor Retailer show organizer, to build an outdoor-specific event.
For 2017, brands paid a $9,900 fee to participate, which included lodging, meals, drinks, lift tickets, and activities. The event was capped at 25 manufacturers. Organizers invited select media, targeting editors, freelancers, bloggers, and a podcast that cover outdoor recreation and adventure sports. “Trade shows use a shotgun approach,” says Haroutunian. “But you can’t fast-track relationships. PressCamp lets you get deeper with the people behind a brand.” Unlike events hosted by PR agencies, PressCamp does not promise category exclusivity—in fact, competitors add value for editors who can evaluate categories as a whole and tease out industry trends.
On the ground, Outdoor PressCamp feels like a mash-up of trade show and FAM trip. Each brand moves into a Lodges at Deer Valley condo and outfits the space for 40-minute, one-on-one meetings with editors and writers. Come afternoon, media types field test gear on Deer Valley’s trails, crags, and lakes.
“At some gear-focused events, you drink from a fire hose with a series of quick meetings,” says Nathan Borchelt, a freelancer and former editor of National Geographic Traveler. “PressCamp lets you get into the particulars, which leads to better story ideas. And having the afternoon to play with product creates the perfect recipe for discovery.”
More snapshots: I got a product line walk through with Altra Running CEO Harper Golden. Ryders Eyewear presented lens tech on a patio in actual sunshine—not under fluorescent lights. I used a chair lift assist to see how the 2018 CamelBak Sequoia 22 pack and next year’s women’s specific Oboz Sapphire Mid Waterproof boots performed on 9,400-foot Bald Mountain.
The set-up also benefits manufacturers. Paddleboard maker Jimmy Styks plans a 2018 rebranding, with a complete product overhaul. I scribbled frantic notes during our meeting—but it was the quarter-mile test laps on the pond below Silver Creek that revealed the savvy design features of paddleboards meant for beginners, yoga aficionados, anglers, touring, and endurance racers.
PressCamp delivers guaranteed access and dedicated time with journalists for an ingredient brand like 37.5 Technology, whose engineered yarns maintain a comfortable body temperature of 37.5 degrees Celsius during athletic endeavors.
“At trade shows, we were only meeting with existing brand partners,” says CTO Greg Haggquist. “Here, we reach media who write stories that directly explain the technology to consumers.”
Everyone networks over meals; this year, PressCamp included timely lunch panels. On Wednesday, Utah’s lieutenant governor and office of outdoor recreation director fielded questions on public lands management; Thursday brought us a political operative and an academic who discussed how Indian lands fit into that debate.
The civilized pace and experience-based agenda resonates in an industry where development, media cycles, and retail deadlines accelerate each year. Trade shows like Outdoor Retailer remain essential, but PressCamp’s disruptive model fills a necessary role—an event where doing business feels fun again.
Visit presscamp.com for more information.