Thursday, October 17, 2013

Transworld Business Catches Up With Matt McClain On Protect Our Winters’ Initiatives For 2014

A striking image from Protect Our Winters’ 2013 “Hot Planet, Cool Athletes” campaign
One of the only constants in life— and especially lately within the action sports industry— is change.
For some, change can be really challenging, but it almost always brings with it new perspectives and opportunities—something that anyone in any industry can get behind at the moment. For Matt McClain, who has been a part of the action sports industry for the past 18 years serving in sales and marketing roles at Mammoth Mountain, Telluride, and most recently at the Surfrider Foundation, that sentiment couldn’t be more on point.
After heading up the marketing behind some of Surfrider’s biggest campaigns, most notably the Save Trestles push to keep a toll road from being built through the heart of San Onofre State Beach, McClain ended his 11-year tenure with the organization officially in June,  and switched career directions by taking on a new role as VP of Development & Operations with the non-profit Protect Our Winters.
Supporting POW’s trek to Washington, DC, to talk to senators and house representatives about climate changeduring his first few months on the job, McClain says has a renewed passion for giving back and hopes to apply his energy and inspiration to getting others on board. We talked with him recently about how he hopes to move the needle at POW, the evolution of the climate change campaign and speaking out in Washington, and what the change in his career means to him moving into the future.
Matt McClain, POW’s new VP of Development & Operations
What brought about the career change for you, and how did you get involved in Protect Our Winters?
I had been thinking about it for while. I’d  been at Surfrider Foundation for 11 years, and  things were great, but I wanted new challenges. I’d been toying around with going out on my own and doing my own thing. I knew I wanted to stay on the non-profit side because I like that work.
It was hard to walk away. In my time with with Mammoth and Telluride, and then Surfrider; it was hard to walk away from that lifestyle and all the friendships made. At the time, I had been sitting on the POW board for a few years, and I started thinking, I could start my own business, but then there’s all those hours and I started looking at the amount of time and energy that would go into it. That’s when it struck me—the idea, ‘hey maybe this thing with POW is something that would benefit both of us.’
I talked with Chris [Steinkamp] and Jeremy [Jones] and said here’s my ideas, I’m looking for challenges, and I want to take POW to the next level and  increase its bandwidth. I finished my tenure in February and started here July 1, so just over three months, and it’s been awesome, like a big rocket ship ride. The energy around POW is so inspiring, and I’m working with so many great people, athletes, and industry champions.
 I know you come from a strong marketing background. How is your role with POW different from what you’ve worked on in the past?
Chris [Steinkamp], POW’s executive director, spent the first half of his career working for big agencies and has serious marketing chops. When I was serving on the board, I was helping them more with providing a non-profit perspective.
My official title is VP of Operations and Development, and I manage the backend business and grow the strategic partnerships through grant programs and other initiatives. It’s using a lot of what I picked up on at Surfrider, and now I’ll be able to focus entirely on that every day.
I love marketing, and always have had a passion for it, but it’s a lot harder than people give it credit for. There is new technology and new things coming out everyday.
For me, this is not only a new challenge, but a much more rewarding experience.  I can pull from my time at Mammoth and Telluride and apply it here.
 What are some of the initial aspects of the business you plan to focus on, and what’s your strategy behind growing POW?
Similar to the strategy that I put in place at Surfrider;  primarily, what I call weather proofing the business. Through the addition of cause partnerships and events, I was able to add a million dollars to the revenue line and grow our business by nearly 20%, lessening our reliance on grants, donations, and memberships. For example, if there’s an economic downturn and donations drop off, you don’t feel that punch as much because you have additional revenue streams.
For POW, I hope to build out the membership program, and will be migrating to a new CMS system, which will make it easier for them to track their members and grow their memberships. So with people who are coming in at the 20 dollar level,  we can reach out and see if they want to be more involved.
Outside grants will also be an area of focus. I would like to go out and talk to some of the private foundations that are interested in climate change and bring that to the table, and start looking at other partnerships outside of our endemic world.
How long has POW been around? 
POW was incorporated in 2007, so we are just right over six years old. Again, that’s the great thing. It’s been around long enough so it has legs and stability, but it’s young enough where I feel like I’m on the ground floor where all the energy and challenges come into play, and I look at that as another opportunity.
 How involved are you with the day-to-day brainstorming around POW’s mission to protect against climate change?
Chris, Jeremy, Audin Schindler at Aspen, and the rest of the board members are really focused in on our mission. Climate change is such a big issue. We are dealing with a big issue that is going to take years, and in some cases, whole careers to address. It’s about being able to chart that vision and being able to execute on the strategy, and those guys are leading that charge. I will try to contribute where I can there, but my job is really to provide them with the stability on the business side, so they can stay focused on that, and make sure the business runs smoothly and we are servicing the members as best we can.
We just launched a new iteration of our “Hot Planet, Cool Athletes” campaign, where we take our athletes out and show a presentation on climate change to youth at schools across different states. We used to do this in partnership with an organization called ACE, but are now taking it over ourselves. We’ve created a new presentation  in conjunction with The North Face. The quality and how spot on it is to reach that audience and capturing the athletes voices is amazing. We also just finished principal filming and are currently editing our Momenta film. The film is tentatively scheduled to be released later this Fall or early Winter.
The one thing that is challenging for POW is that it’s tied so closely to the snow community and there’s a seasonality to the business. As we roll through the snow year and get to the backside of that in March and April, we will start to shift gears from our leading edge programs to more human interest programs.
Have a look at some of the latest stops the POW team has made on its 2013 Hot Planet, Cool Athletes campaign:
It seems like Jeremy has been one of the main spokesmen for POW and leading the charge in Washington, and you were recently just there at the beginning of this month addressing some of the senators and house members. How successful was that for furthering POW’s mission?
POW went up to Washington October 1st, which was the day the government shut down.  We were freaking out, because about four or five days out it started to become a  reality that this will happen. The night before everyone left, they knew it was going to happen. [POW] had a pretty full group—Gretchen Bleiler, Chris Davenport, and Forrest Shearer, Seth Wescott, Danny Davis, and John Jackson.
[Burton's] Donna Carpenter and Ryan Gellert from Black Diamond were also there, so we had some heavy hitters who all volunteered their time. Keep in mind we are headed into winter, so these people are pretty busy and for them to take time off to do this was pretty impressive.
Maybe because nothing was going on, we got to meet with US Senator Susan Collins, US Representative Henry Waxman, just heavy hitters. It was a great opportunity to meet with senators on both sides of the aisle, primarily in those states like Maine, Vermont,  Colarado, Alaska where they are being affected by these issues. We talked with them and let them know how climate change impacts our $12 billion snow industry, and I was surprised at how accepting those people actually are and think they have potential to change the landscape.
 It sounds like it was a pretty inspiring way to kick off the first few months of your new role.
 I really wanted that kind of inspiration in my life, and now, almost on weekly basis, I get goosebumps and jump out of my chair excited about what we are doing. It makes me feel like a kid, and I think if you can have those moments a couple times a year at your job, or even monthly, you are winning. You are doing something right.
When you come out of college, everything is in front of you, and it’s like, ‘I’m going to do this  and change the world.’ I don’t want to be pessimistic, but shortly thereafter you get all these responsibilities and challenges, and you start to understand how things work at a deeper level and some of that excitement is worn off. As you get older, you become a little more pragmatic, so now to be given this opportunity  I feel so fortunate. And it’s not just me; I talk to board members and athletes, and everyone who just got back from Washington, and they are all so full of energy, and are emailing each other and Instagraming about how stoked they are.
DCP and Megan [Pischke] just came out and did a presentation in the Pacific Northwest. These are pro athletes who are giving their time to come out and talk to kids.  ”I saw Ralph Backstrom – a guy who’s done heaps of school appearances and other promotion for POW –  at the Nation premiere at TransWorld a few weeks ago and the first thing he said to me; he apologized for not doing more for us. How can you not be humbled by that?”
There seems like there’s an overall sense of change and movement happening in the industry across the board. What are your thoughts on that?
If there is a silver lining in all of this,  it’s that sometimes those life changes can precipitate people making moves that they wouldn’t otherwise. There’s a risk there that I had to take. It’s like, ‘okay what am I going to do? Am I going to pursue something I’m really passionate about?’
Looking at what some of the other companies are doing in sustainability or giving back to community, there’s that energy that comes with starting a new brand. Across the board the snow, skate, and surf industry is in the process of not reinventing itself, but renewing and growing new legs. That’s exciting and the people who are leading these efforts are people who have good experience and perspectives. For example, Flanny [Kevin Flanagan} at People’s MOVMNT. We talked to Kevin about what he’s doing and and he talks passionately about the recycled plastic and it’s clear he’s really gotten into this issue. For me I’ve been given this opportunity and I want to make the most of it. I’m a big advocate of leading by example so hopefully the people out there— the teachers and doctors and car sales guys of the world who like to go out and ride and surf on the weekend—I hope I can get  them inspired. My way of giving back is supporting organizations like POW and championing this cause so people are inspired to get involved.
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