OIA Brings “Let’s Take it Outside” Message to ORSM
For a moment, Sutton Bacon was stricken with terror. After he introduced himself as the CEO for the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) to U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC, 5th) at the OIA Capitol Summit, Foxx exclaimed, “I know you!” She then explained how she had gone kayaking at NOC, tipped over and had to swim downriver with her kayak. “I had the best time of my life,” she said.
The encounter reminded Bacon just how powerful the outdoors is in building relationships, whether with parents, peers or politicians.
Sutton’s insights were part of panel discussion during the biannual Outdoor Industry Association® (OIA) Thought Leader Dinner on the eve of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market last week. A record audience of more than 400 industry executives attended the invitation-only dinner, which delivered a strong message of the importance of advocacy by the outdoor industry.
More and more, industry leaders are realizing that we need to band together to promote our industry and influence policy issues that affect it. This is why OIA and our members are embarking on a campaign to help policymakers understand the importance of outdoor recreation to the U.S. economy.
“Outdoor recreation is not just our way of life, it’s our business… It’s time to demand our seat at the table when decisions are being made.” So goes the script to the rallying “Let’s Take it Outside” video OIA produced to inspire and activate outdoor industry. After screening the video at the start of the Thought Leader Dinner, OIA moderated a panel that included Bacon — an OIA board member, Will Manzer — CEO of Eastern Mountain Sports and OIA board chair, and Bob Bennett — a former U.S. senator (R-UT) who now operates the Bennett Consulting Group lobbying firm in Washington.
Sutton and Manzer have been among the industry’s most effective advocates on Capitol Hill not just because they travel to Washington, D.C., each April to participate in the OIA Capitol Summit, but because they work with elected officials at every level back home.
OIA convened the three to explain why advocacy work is essential to the future of the industry in today’s economic and political climate, and to provide practical advice on how to become more effective. In today’s highly polarized Washington, outdoor executives have a unique opportunity to affect policy because of their credibility as business people, job creators, innovators and conservationists.
The trio said effective lobbying hinges on three things: building personal relationships with members of your local Congressional delegation, illustrating the economic impact of the industry in their districts and suggesting politically sensible solutions.
Manzer said he has gained traction by tying the gross domestic product of EMS’s home state of New Hampshire to the 53,000 people employed there by the outdoor recreation industry. He urged everyone in the industry to download a copy of The Outdoor Recreation Economy, which OIA released in June to quantify the economic benefits of outdoor recreation in the United States.
As a lobbyist for J.C. Penney early in his career, Bennett said he got great results by working through the company’s then 1,700 stores. When an issue arose and he needed to meet with a Congressman, he would try to find a store manager from their district who knew them and have them request the meeting. The formula rarely failed.
Bacon said he has also gotten traction with the economic message.
“NOC is a testament to the value of outdoor recreation to rural communities,” said Bacon, who has testified before Congress on the topic. “Politicians understand, no matter their persuasion, that it’s about jobs and we are creating good, sustainable jobs that are based on the experience economy not the extraction economy.”
Bacon urged outdoor executives to invite their Congressperson to visit their business or an event during the August recess. Better yet, he said, would be to provide them with an unforgettable outdoor experience. Nothing builds bonds like rafting, fishing, hiking or mountain biking.
Bennett urged politicians to be mindful of the political realities their Congressman is facing. “Never propose something to a Congressman that is not in their self interest,” said Bennett. “Be prepared to say, ‘this is how your political career will benefit.’”
He also noted that members of Congress put a premium on accurate information.
“The currency of good lobbying is correct information,” said Bennett, adding that the reason some lobbyists are so influential is because they are policy experts who can be relied on to provide accurate information.
OIA equips the industry to speak on behalf of outdoor recreation
Once Outdoor Retailer was in full swing, OIA’s government affairs team hosted two seminars to equip the industry to advocate on behalf of the industry. The sessions highlighted steps that industry representatives can take to build relationships with elected officials and effectively communicate the strength of the outdoor industry:
- Promote the National Outdoor Recreation System – from backyard to backcountry
- Talk to your elected officials
- Invite an elected official to your business
- Link to local and state government and community leaders
- Get to know and build allies — support those who support outdoor recreation
- Share your story of how your company contributes to the outdoor recreation economy so OIA can write a case study about it (examples here)
If you were unable to attend one of these sessions, don’t worry. OIA will post a recording as well as advocacy toolkits on our website shortly. In addition, we will continue to campaign and host more advocacy sessions around the country in the coming months.
In the meantime, if you’d like a copy of the advocacy toolkit or more information about how to amplify the industry’s message about the importance of the outdoor recreation economy, contact David Weinstein, OIA’s advocacy and outreach manager.