In Ep. 7 of Earned, Conor dives deep with Jamie Starr, Global Director of Sports Marketing at The North Face.
Jamie’s love of the outdoors originated as a kid growing up in Crested Butte, a small, close-knit community in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and the “epicenter of growth and genesis of mountain sports.” After spending most of his childhood as a competitive alpine ski racer, Jamie had a pretty clear path to becoming a professional skier, but instead chose the academic route, earning his undergraduate degree—and eventually his J.D.—from the University of Colorado.
Although he set out to use his law degree for good (he is currently on the Board of Directors for the preservation organization, Western Resource Advocates), Jamie shares how being a lawyer never felt like the right fit for him. He then dives into how he first entered the marketing space in the early 2000s, at a time when the media landscape was changing rapidly and the blogosphere and social networks were starting to take off. Jamie helped consult brands on how to develop authentic connections and create a two-way dialogue with their audiences across new digital platforms.
Conor and Jamie discuss the importance of engaging with influencers and consumers alike on social, asserting that doing so is a brand’s “best path to growth.” Having worked with several companies of varying sizes before joining The North Face, Jamie also speaks to the pros and cons of working at both big and small brands, and emphasizes the importance of a strong company culture.
Finally, Jamie explains what his “business-as-usual” days at The North Face looked like, and reveals how his day-to-day has changed post-COVID, including how the brand stays connected with and supports its team of athlete ambassadors in these trying times. We learn how The North Face is using its platform to fight for racial justice and promote more diversity in mountain sports.
We’ve included a couple discussion highlights from the episode below, but be sure to check out the full video above, listen to the podcast below, or tune in on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts!
The following interview highlights have been lightly edited for concision.
“It’s Been Really Powerful”: How The North Face Supports—and Challenges—Its Athlete Team in Weekly (Virtual) Townhall Meetings
Jamie: We’ve been having weekly athlete townhall meetings that I’ve organized in partnership with our Team Captains Hilaree Nelson and Conrad Anker, and we have a “guru” as well. His name is Tim Tate, he’s a licensed psychotherapist, and so he’s worked with a number of TNF athletes over the years, dealing with everything from sports psychology to processing through trauma and survivor’s guilt, if God forbid there is a death amongst our team, and he’s become a trusted advisor. It’s been a great opportunity to bring everyone together. Traditionally at The North Face, we would do an annual athlete summit, where everyone comes in, and there are some workshops in a professional sense, but usually it’s an opportunity to get everyone together and really bond as a team and talk about future collaborations and future projects in the mountains, and without [the summit], what we’ve found is a weekly opportunity to connect, and we’ve invited guest speakers in.
Lately we’ve had people come in to speak to DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) issues and help give the athlete team tools to be able to address this systemic racism we’re all trying to fight right now, and help certain athletes come to grips with their white privilege. And this opportunity to learn is even more powerful in a setting like that, where you can, in real time, have people collaborate and talk through the difficult things, but come out of that session feeling like they got somewhere in that conversation, and that they have the knowledge to be able to use their platform to help advance some of these important causes around racial justice. It’s been really powerful.
“You Can Use Your Brand as a Vehicle for Good”: The North Face on Championing Diversity in the Outdoors
Jamie: Especially in recent years—but this has been underway for a while—racial and gender diversity on our team are of paramount importance because we ultimately want our athlete team to reflect humanity, and this is a diverse world.
Conor: The problem is, you’re generally dealing with fairly privileged sports, right? So I imagine it can be particularly tough for you guys to represent people the right way.
Jamie: Yes, so I agree with that in principle, that’s sort of the status quo. But we also reject that from a future-forward perspective, because we really feel like we have the platform and ability to, in a grassroots way, change the fabric of these sports so that there is more diverse participation—and we have an active role to play there. A lot of our thinking goes into how we’re going to increase participation in these mountain sports across cultures, across genders. So a lot of the campaigns you’ll see from The North Face are specifically geared to do that, because we want to see this culture change, and we want this culture to be more diverse in the future.
Conor: Yeah, The North Face has such a big platform and the resources to do it, that’s a really cool mission. You’re big enough that you can actually make a really significant impact.
Jamie: Yeah, and if we’re talking about my career and how I navigated first being a lawyer and then moving to the brand space, one of the main drivers for me was, when I was a lawyer, I was struggling to figure out how I could use my profession to do the most good. And as I started to get to know the brand space, I started to figure out that if you play your cards right, you have the right leadership, and you use your brand platform in the right way, you can use your brand as a vehicle for good as well.
We’re seeing a moment in time right now when a lot of brands are trying to figure out what that looks like for them. And the community is speaking pretty loudly that it’s not enough for brands to sign on to a cause and put that out there on social. There needs to be meaningful action behind that. We’re really taking that seriously at The North Face right now. Something like that isn’t going to happen overnight, but we already have over a decade-long track record of supporting diversity in the outdoors through our Explore Fund, so what we’re envisioning right now is really a continuation of an effort that’s already been underway. But, we know that we need to show up right now, and we need to do it in a way that’s not only helping these organizations right now in this moment financially, but also sets those organizations up for success in the future. These partnerships need to be long-term; they can’t just be for this news cycle and then we move on. That cannot happen right now, this moment in time is too important.
You can watch the entire interview here, or listen to the full episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts to catch up on our first six episodes, featuring brands like ColourPop, INH Hair, Rare Beauty, and Glow Recipe.