REI’s #OptOutside Campaign: A PR Zeitgeist

Last week, REI shocked the retail world with the announcement stating that they would close all 143 locations on Black Friday. The outdoor retail giant launched their campaign with the social media slogan #OptOutside to try and bring families outside during the holiday season.

“Any retailer that hears this will be startled by the idea,” REI President and CEO Jerry Stritzke told USA Today, “As a co-op we define success a little differently. It’s much broader than just money. How effectively do we get people outside?”

Whether or not they made this announcement out of genuine care for their customers or if it was simply a publicity stunt, REI’s PR move certainly shaped the way other retail companies have been behaving. The pressure is on.

PR for Big Brand Names

Along with Kellogg’s, Apple and Fisher Price, REI has for decades been a family name and a leader in providing outdoor enthusiasts with equipment for one’s next adventure with Mother Nature. Maintaining a positive image for their growing fanbase and consumers is crucial for the future success of the company — and PR is what creates that image.

Public relations is centered around establishing and maintaining relationships with the general public (and not just for the shareholders). Keeping a reputation with as broad an audience as REI has is difficult, and it requires creative minds and fresh ideas.

Where Social Media Comes Into Play

It wasn’t enough to create an entirely new page dedicated to #OptOutside to make their campaign successful, REI needed the help of social media. After making a formal announcement of their Black Friday intentions, the company took to Twitter and Facebook to reach out to the public.

Taking to social media to announce a change in a product or service, to promote a sale or contest, or simply to check in and say “hi” to your users is important when it comes to maintaining a positive public image. Word travels faster through these networks than it would with the old school use of Press Releases. Gone are the days of one-way news travel — and REI totally gets that.

They realized their customer following was a tight knit community of outdoorsy people that were likely to share just about any information the retailer would post on a regular basis. Why not tap into this already well-established network of followers?

Having a company tap into their existing network via social media ensures that those already loyal customers will promote their favorite company to others. Sure enough, REI’s announcement made waves with current customers who were quick to take to their own social media accounts, thus growing a larger following for the outdoor equipment company.

The Impact on Other Companies

Delving further into the effect of successful PR with the help of social media is looking into how other companies have responded to REI’s #OptOutside campaign. Whether you want to call this “hopping on the band wagon” of a great publicity stunt, or simply a call to arms against the Black Friday rush, other companies such as Outdoor Research, Clif Bar and Gregory Packs have joined in the cause.

So far, the PR move to opt out of Black Friday has been met by the general public with enthusiasm and support. Outdoor Research has even taken the opt out one step further by donating $10 to Paradox Sports for every photo a user Tweets showing them enjoying the outdoors on Black Friday. Paradox Sports helps those with physical disabilities better enjoy the outdoors. Companies hopping on REI’s marketing strategy bandwagon are guaranteed to reap the benefits increased brand awareness.

Could This Move Change the Future of Marketing and PR?

We’ll have to wait and see how successful this #OptOutside movement is at the end of the month. Clearly, REI has stirred up some serious positive publicity for itself — and all in the name of the good cause to get active — and great publicity means more sales.

The use of social media has been a means of blurring the lines between PR and marketing. There is no faster and easier way to engage an audience and claim more followers than taking to social media. Companies big and small should take note that building a reputation and gaining customers isn’t all about pushing promotions for new brands or services. Give the people what they want. Try to connect with them in some way that is meaningful for them.

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