Industry Profile: 686 VP of Marketing Kristin Cusic
29 Jun, 2010
Job Title: VP of Marketing
Employer: 686/Westlife Distribution
Years on snow: Wow, I can’t believe it but 19. Since 1991.
Days on snow: Not enough, that’s for sure!
Currently Riding: A few different boards – Omatic, Never Summer, Lib Tech and Elan, all different sizes and shapes, depending on the conditions.
Currently I am: Sitting at my desk nursing a sore throat and a headache and wondering why catalogs take so damn long to shoot…
Shay: Tell us a little bit about yourself
Kristin: I am an East Coast transplant living in Southern California, I’ve been out here for over 10 years, but you know what they say about girls from the East Coast, and especially Boston. You can take the girl out of Boston, but you can never take the Boston out of the girl, and I would have to say that phrase is 10,000% true.
I grew up playing soccer, snowboarding and falling in love with books and writers. I moved to California to attend UCLA when I was still a teenager and came out of it with a degree in American Literature and Communications and a few years of crazy experiences. During school, I ran the collegiate snowboarding program and also worked for a company that ran student trips to the mountains during the winter and spring break trips to Mexico. I graduated in 3 years and went straight into working at TransWorld Media in Oceanside, CA.
I had been an editorial intern at TransWorld Snowboarding when I was in college and luckily enough, an entry-level marketing position opened up at the perfect time and I got hired. I worked there for just about 5 years, starting as a marketing and event coordinator and eventually handling the PR and e-marketing programs. I became well acquainted with a lot of people from around the industry and had hung out with Mike, Jono, Doug and Brice from 686 on numerous occasions. When a marketing position opened up with them, they called me to interview and one thing led to another…Here I am, almost 5 years later!
Shay: How has snowboarding changed your life?
Kristin: How has snowboarding not changed my life? Snowboarding has done more for me than I ever could have imagined. Snowboarding has allowed me to see the world. It’s brought some of the most amazing and talented people into my life, who will continue to be a part of it long after I’m too old to shred. Snowboarding has helped me become who I am today and all it takes to renew that energy and passion is one solid day on the hill. I know it sounds wicked cheesy, but snowboarding is my religion. It’s my church and where I go to purify myself and absolve my sins. Ok, I joke about absolving my sins, but nothing heals like a day on the hill with good friends, crazy powder and a huge blue sky.
Shay: How did you get your start in the industry, who or what opened up more opportunities for you?
Kristin: My first “industry” job came as an editorial intern for TransWorld Snowboarding magazine. It was during the edit tenure of Andy Blumberg and I also worked with Joel Muzzey, Jen Sherowski, Nick Hamilton and Cody Dresser. I got to know the staff pretty well there, so when I was done with school and a marketing position came up, those guys were able to throw my name into the hat and I was hired. Once I was on staff in the marketing department, I was under the tutelage of Laurie Bergthold and Louise Balma, who both taught me SO MUCH about events, promotions, marketing and PR. We had a really cool team back then – there were 5 of us total in the department and we ran the events and marketing for the 6 titles – snow, skate, surf, moto, bmx and TW Biz. We worked really hard, but we had a lot of fun too. That job opened up a lot of doors for me – I was constantly meeting people and learned the ins and outs of the industry from a media perspective, which definitely helped me when I made the move over to manufacturing.
Shay: Tell us about your role at 686 and a description of the work you do?
Kristin: As the VP of Marketing, I handle anything and everything that has to do with the marketing and image of the brand. One of the coolest things about working at 686 is that we have less than 25 employees, so every day and every season is different. We’ve all got our hands in a little bit of everything – I work really closely with sales, operations, and design and production. Everyone here has a voice.
My department is directly responsible for all the global imagery, catalogs, advertisements, POP, team riders, events, promotions, product placements, PR, websites, in-store merchandising, tradeshows, videos, e-marketing, special collaborations and limited releases, and consumer and trade communication. I have a staff of 4, not including myself, which share those responsibilities. My job is to oversee all of the above, plus manage my employees, set the budgets and work very closely with our management team on future business and brand development. To say everyone here at 686 has a full plate is a dramatic understatement. It’s more like we’re all working with our own buffet. But, being so busy makes the days go by quickly, and when you love what you do, it’s not necessarily work.
Shay: What’s an average day like at work for you?
Kristin: I like to start my day REALLY early, before anyone else is in the office. Those few hours before people get here are incredible – I can get more done before 9am than any other time of the day. So, I come in around 6:30 or so, check e-mails and answer international questions from our distributors or our European office for a while, and then try to start to work on whatever projects I have looming. Once the marketing crew gets in, we usually will meet 1-2 times a week as a group to discuss upcoming initiatives or ideas. I am really lucky to have such an amazing crew that works in my department – they are all so different and bring such a wide-range of skills to the table that sometimes the creativity and brainstorming sessions blow me away. I’ll usually have a bunch of meetings throughout the day, sometimes a catalog shoot, ad shoot, rider meeting, or product meeting and the in-between time is spent working on future projects and organizing current ones. I’m a big planner, I try to leave nothing to the last minute, but of course, sometimes it happens. I also always try to be available – I’ll answer emails and phone calls constantly; on weekends, late at night, on vacation, just to try not to fall behind.
Shay: What are some memorable experiences from working in the industry?
Kristin: There are so many, I don’t even know where to start! I guess my most memorable riding experience was two seasons ago at a heli resort outside of Nelson, BC called SnowWater (www.snowwater.com) . There were 12 of us from the industry, we all worked at various companies, and we spent 3 days shredding amazing late season snow on private cats and in a heli. The snow was incredible, the people were amazing and the resort was top-notch. It doesn’t do it justice describing the experience here. It truly made me appreciate my lifestyle and how fortunate I am to be able to have the opportunity to go on a trip like that.
Shay: What do you think are the biggest challenges that the snowboard industry faces and what changes would you like to see for the future?
Kristin: That’s a loaded question! We could talk about climate change, Chinese production issues, black market goods, market saturation, the economy and so many other things, but I’m going to take it back to basics. One of the biggest challenges we’re going to face over the next few years is the struggle to keep our sport affordable. I was at a resort earlier this season that shall remain nameless where it’s $92 a day for a lift ticket. $92 a day means a family of 4 can’t get on the lift for less than $368. Throw in lunch, hotel, transportation, gear and our sport quickly becomes a wealthy man’s game. I know there are a lot of resorts trying to do mid-week and vacation deals and that’s great, and I also understand that the cost of running a first-class resort is sky-high. So, the challenge for us as an industry, on both the ski and snowboard side, is how to get people on the hill and keep them coming back without breaking the bank. We have to target other groups of people and do our best to keep them interested, offering great deals on gear, lift tickets, transportation, etc.
Shay: Education vs Experience…which do you think is more important?
Kristin: I am a big fan of higher education and actually have plans to work on my MBA soon, but in this industry, I do have to say that education is not as valued. A lot of people within snow, skate and surf did not go to college but have grown up surrounded by the sports they are incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about, so that’s a tough call between the two. When you’re talking about working in this industry, my final answer is going to be experience. My parents are going to kill me when they read that, but it’s the truth! Sorry Mom and Dad…
Shay: What advice would you give to people wanting to work in the industry?
Kristin: Be persistent. We all know that this industry is next to impossible to break into but we’ve all also been there at one point or another. Go to every event you can, meet as many people from as many brands as you can, get to know the retailers in your area, and befriend the editors and the bloggers. (I know a really nice one named Shay that I can introduce you to!) It’s really important to network and put yourself out there, because this is truly an environment where it’s about who you know. If you’ve never been to SIA, that would be a great place to start. It can be intimidating, but it will pay off when you land your dream job. If you’re in college, see if your school has a snowboarding team and if not, start one. Then start hitting up the companies you like to rock for sponsorships, raffle prizes and pro-form deals for your team. Something will hit, it just takes time and a bit of effort.
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