Industrial Profile 12/1/2006

Liz Randall, Manager of Corporate Communications, Spy Optic

Liz Randall, Manager of Corporate Communications, Spy Optic
Marketing, Advertising, Public Relations, and Communication are becoming more complex within the Action Sports industry on a daily basis.  This competitive market place demands companies to be on point from concept to consumer with products, and to have a clear brand message all the way from internal communications to every touch-point with the consumer, and all points in between.  Liz Randall has been involved in it for many years working in the publication business, and product business and currently as the Manager of Corporate Communications at Spy Optic.  When Liz isn’t doing what is discussed below, you might just find her knocking down a pow-turn as she is to the right, or riding her dirt bike.

How did you get your start in the industry?
I grew up here in north county San Diego, born and raised.  My dad was a really big skier and both parents were huge beach goers so it was always there.

I started snowboarding when I was 15, and completely fell in love with it.  After college I moved to Mammoth for a season and worked in a shop on the hill.  For about 4 days I wanted to be a pro snowboarder--a few bad wrecks into it and I knew that wasn’t going to happen.  But it was fun and I loved just being in the middle of it.  As I worked at the shop I would meet Reps, and in talking to them learned there were viable careers to be had in the industry.  I kept cruising around doing the post-college thing, not knowing exactly what I wanted to do, but just that I wanted to get in for sure.

I worked at a few shops in San Diego and OC, then got my foot in the door with Transworld making nothing-an-hour working on their Buyers Guides.  That started out as a part-time gig but turned into full-time.  I was there for just under 2 years and by the time I left I was on the editorial side.  In terms of editorial it was mostly compiling information and a little bit of writing.  Then I was offered a job by Smith.

What made you take the leap from San Diego to Sun Valley?
A couple of reasons.  One was because I had lived in Wyoming for 3 summers and I really loved the mountains and thought it would be a new and exciting opportunity.  It was also a step up on the ladder.  I wasn’t necessarily 100% qualified for the job but I took the leap and was fired up about it. Riding at lunch & before work on pow days was a huge incentive too! J

What were you hired on as?
Advertising & PR Manager

What do you think gave them the faith to bring you on for a big position that could’ve been a little over your head at the time, and from so far away?
I think a lot of it was my background at Transworld.  Coming from the publishing side I had a good grasp of how everything worked.  A unique thing about Smith was their interview process.  When they interviewed people for jobs you had to go through the ringer.  I had to go up there a few times, meet everyone, go out to dinner, and take a  test that lasted about 3-4 hours.  Everyone you would be working with really finds out if you’re going to get along with them. 

What’d they test you on?
A variety of things related to the job.  They made me do an ad buy along the lines of, “here’s all the magazines we’re thinking of advertising in this year – industry magazines and random magazines and a $150K budget, build an ad buy.”  They also gave me product info to write a press release, do some copy editing, and so on. 
I’m not sure if they are still doing it there, but this was a part of Kerry Marumoto’s process who was the VP of Marketing at the time.  He was an amazing person to work with and learn from.

Was he like a mentor to you?
I learned so much from him – being professional, how to be nice and yet put your foot down at the same time when needed.  Through example he taught me how to manage without being a micro-manager.  He was always open and accessible, not bugging you about stuff.  He just expected you to get it done, and would be a resource in the process.

There are definitely people in the industry that I look up to and Moto is one of them.

Before you left did you have people working under you?
No direct reports under me, but I managed the relationship with our design firm and PR firm.

What knowledge did you take away from Smith when you left?
I was so green when I started there.  Moto was so adamant about branding, and really staying true to the brand message.  Also really cool, and what’s helped me in this job, is understanding the design & development of the product behind the brand and linking that all the way through the product mix, brand identity and messaging, and advertising.  I also learned the importance of really enjoying the people you work with and how huge of an impact that has on the work you produce, and how happy you are doing it.  And the experience of living in Sun Valley is irreplaceable. 

Is there a noticeable difference, aside from location, between working in Sun Valley, ID and San Diego, CA?
Yes and no.  Obviously with email and teleconferencing you can access anyone you need at anytime.  At Smith, our design firm was in Portland and PR firm was in LA, and had we had great working relationship even though face-to-face meetings were few and far between.  So, not in that aspect of being able to accomplish goals.

Being here in So Cal and being in the Action Sports industry is a benefit because you go out in your daily life whether it’s to the grocery, for lunch or a surf, or to ride dirt bikes it’s all around you.  It’s not an effort to stay in tune.  Sun Valley was a little bit like that in relevance to skiing, but not so much to action sports in general.

And because the industry is here I have time to see people face to face, there I didn’t have much personal interaction with editors.  It was a huge undertaking for them to come to us or us to go to them.

What made decide to go to work with Spy?
It was really good timing and a great opportunity.  The position is similar to what I did with Smith, but there’s more responsibility and a lot going on here.  There’s a lot of development and content creation to get done.  Spy is a good clean brand with strong product so it felt like an open-book opportunity.

What is the ultimate goal in your work with Spy?
Personally, it’s to grow into the position.  There’s so much to do and to get done. I hope to do a really amazing job at it and making myself indispensable.

Business-wise my real goal is to corral and control our communications strategy.  My immediate plan is to improve our internal communications within the company, get everyone on the same page, and then broadcast that outward to our sales reps, international distributors, media partners, and of course our customers. 

What are you doing to develop & manage corporate communications on a global basis for Spy?
I’m still in the process of getting my bearings, learning and gathering information that will enable me to make good decisions.  Really I think getting things streamlined internally will emanate a better brand strategy from within that will help our distributors.  And it will help define both the brand statement and our communication tools to help everyone understand and live it.

How do you think the process of getting fully up to speed will take?
I imagine a couple of months or so.  There are some things that need to be done right now whether I’m “ready” or not, but the more I know, the better decisions I can make down the road. 

What knowledge and experience do you rely on to successfully handle things such as media relations, corporate news, product launches, athlete press, and advertising buys?
It makes me laugh a little bit because both here and my last position have nothing to do with my education.  I was a Fine Arts major.  I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by a lot of really great people.  I have a good instinct on branding in general, and I’m a little bit of a media junkie—I love it all and absorb it all.  Being an Editor for a little bit was a big bonus too.  As an Editor you have people calling you all day long wanting your attention. Knowing that helps me understand how not to be that “annoying PR person” but instead be a good resource.  Being a shop kid for a little while was really important too because they are the end of the line and its easy to forget how important they really are sitting in an office all day.  Also, my boyfriend is an Outside Sales Rep and our constant back & forth is really helpful as well—whether we’re talking about shipping or handling in-store displays it helps us both to build knowledge of the big picture.

Is that a lot to balance?
Yes.  It’s definitely overwhelming at times.  We have a really cool team here at Spy and almost an entirely new marketing team right now.  My Marketing & PR Coordinator Valerie Gee is awesome, and a huge asset.  Whether it’s getting a press kit put together and out the door or product on an editor’s desk, she makes it happen.  Even though it’s mayhem, you know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel--even if it is only for a few weeks at a time!

What is the biggest challenge in being able to handle all of it?
I really don’t like not calling people back, or acknowledging inquiries.  I feel like everyone deserves a returned call but it’s hard to do that and get all of your work done.  Another thing is staying organized.  I like to think I’m organized, but if you saw my office right now you might think differently.

It’s so easy to get derailed from doing bigger projects.  We’ve started to go “off campus” to get things done sometimes so that we don’t get interrupted.

What could make it difficult for someone who wants to work within Marketing or PR in the industry, but has not grown up in it, doesn’t do the sports, or comes from a mainstream background?
It really depends on the person.  If you don’t know those unspoken rules you could get pretty batted around.  It’s also a personal interest thing.  If you live the sports & lifestyle it really helps.  Without intending to be rude in any way, I would say you kind of either get the lifestyle and its unspoken “rules” or you don’t.  And even then in some cases, if you do get it, it doesn’t mean you’re automatically in. Its pretty brutal to be honest.

Is there a significant difference in what you do compared to say a Marketing Manager who is always out in the field and focusing on promotions such as a contest sponsorship or working with bands and so on?
I’m sure that varies from person to person and company to company.  In my case I can say yes, it’s different.  Popular perception is that Public Relations people are always out on the road as the constant “face of the company”.  In my job, I consider myself the beacon of information.  Content and anything along those lines is disseminated through me, and is pretty much the most important aspect of my position here.  If I’m continuously out of the office, then I’m not going to do my primary job very well.  When the media wants to get a hold of you, they usually need to get a hold of you RIGHT NOW and when you don’t respond they won’t call back.  It’s kind of a balancing act.  I will definitely be on the road traveling and do really like it, but it doesn’t drive what I do.

Today, 80% of your time goes to:
Exactly right now, meeting with both internal marketing department people and with other departments to find out what their needs are, and planning what I can do to help it all move forward.  We’re working on our media buy for ’07, which involves getting data from all of our ad reps and assessing our strategies for next year.  A lot of time is also spent developing content for press releases, working with the art department, writing copy for press kits and catalogs, fielding various requests, and learning everything I can about Spy Optic.

20% goes to:
Right now 20% of my time goes to initiating media contacts and developing editorial content. A year from now I hope to have these two percentages a lot closer to even. 

What is the most enjoyable aspect of what you do?
Every day I’m stoked to get up, go out the door and go to work.  There are so many smart, passionate people that I get to work with and in our industry at large.  And we get to do all these fun things in the name of work.  Over the last 5 years many times I’ve been in some sort of work scenario and wondered to myself, “Wow, I really get to do this for work…?”

What are your most effective resources for reaching your customer, and delivering your brand message?
I don’t think there’s any one “best” vehicle, I look at it like a huge puzzle and you have to consider all the pieces to make a complete strategy. Print is having a harder and harder time, but I think it will remain with us as a vehicle for the true enthusiasts. Obviously web is relatively inexpensive and quick to get up and running, but its definitely a bear to keep on top of—but, that’s the way its going—ever faster demand for current information. Correctly executed email marketing campaigns are definitely replacing direct mail… In our world, most brands don’t have the dollars to effectively penetrate television in the advertising realm, but there’s ways around that through product placement, etc. Then of course there’s always going to be new media outlets—podcasting, texting, who knows what. I think using them all together with a well-planned cohesive strategy is the way to go.

What do you feel is the next step in the evolution of your profession, within the Action Sports industry?
As far as where its going? Wow, who knows. I think a designated PR/Communications person within the marketing department in this industry is still a fairly new concept. Advertising will always be around in its different forms, but public relations has so many arms and possibilities and more freedom in ways to communicate a message. I think as we go forward and kids get more and more and more savvy to traditional advertising (they already are so savvy), that untraditional communication methods are going to be pushed to the limits. Instead of just using a traditional static advertisement or hanging a banner at an event, its going to be more and more about experiential marketing that your consumer is directly involved in. Kids don’t want to be talked at, they want to be involved and feel like they belong to something bigger.

What’s it like to be a female working in the Action Sports industry?
It takes a pretty tough girl to work in this industry.  So many characters to deal with on both sides..! It’s definitely a boys club but you get used to it—I honestly don’t even notice any more.  At the end of the day maybe it’s harder as a girl? I don’t know. Regardless, if you’re smart and driven you’ll find a way.

“If I only knew then, what I know now” in relation to what you do, what is the number 1 thing?
Patience.  Not to freak out or beat myself up when things don’t go exactly as planned.  Especially in between jobs, having that feeling of I’m never going to get the job. But, when you really want it, it’ll happen, just probably not exactly how you think it will.

Oh yeah, and don’t over do it the first night of tradeshow, you’ll be sorry the next 2 or 3 days!