Industry Profile: Backcountry.com Communications Manager Marit Fischer
09 Jun, 2011
Job Title: Communications Manager
Years on snow: 30
Days on snow: Just asking the years made me sound old. Don’t push your luck.
Currently Riding: BD Kilowatts
Currently I am: Watching my baby daughter traipse around naked trying like hell to bust into a Lara Bar.
Shay: Tell us a little bit about yourself
Marit: I’m a PR girl. I’ve been in the industry for 17 years. I love what I do. I make a mean pie. I’m good with a sword.
Shay: How has snowboarding changed your life?
Marit: Well, I ski, so this may not be the answer you’re looking for. But when I was 25 and living in Boulder, I dated a guy that was a big snowboarder. I wanted to give it a shot, so I bought a board. I thought it’d be a good idea to go out a few times before riding with him, and I also thought the best way to learn would be to go to the top and point down. I mean, I’d skied since I was 8 so I didn’t think it’d be that hard. I was wrong. I was so beat up and pissed off by the time I got to the base that swore that I’d never get on a board again. I didn’t. Snowboard Guy and I broke up. And for some reason shortly after that, I shaved my head clean. I’m pretty sure the breakup and the shaved head were a direct result of the snowboard fiasco, but I can also say that I gained a ton of respect for snowboarders.
Shay: How did you get your start in the industry, who or what opened up more opportunities for you?
Marit: My first real job out of college was as a marketing intern at Women’s Sports + Fitness magazine in Boulder. I had actually found the magazine on the rack at the gym where I worked in Spokane, Wa. and after reading it, decided that’s where I wanted to start my career. I’d always been an athlete and I couldn’t think of a better place to work than at a magazine dedicated to women in sports. I researched the company and wrote a letter to the president, John Winsor. A few days later he called me and asked me when I was moving to Boulder. I didn’t have any plans to move or not to move, I just knew that’s where I wanted to be, so I said, “Friday.” I think it was Wednesday when I talked to him. He invited me in for an interview the next Monday. I packed up my 1972 Volkswagon Camper Van with paisley curtains and drove to Boulder with my dog, Shunka. I knew I could live out of the van until I found a place to rent. I got the job and worked my way up the ladder a bit until the magazine sold to Conde Nast in 1997. John Winsor and the people at Sports + Fitness Publishing definitely set me on my path.
Shay: How has your previous education or work experience helped you in your current job?
Marit: I was a Liberal Studies major at Notre Dame. It was an intense program with really smart people in small classes. We read voraciously and then engaged in critical conversations and philosophical debate about everything we read and everything remotely related to what we read. If you couldn’t think on your feet and communicate effectively, you didn’t last in the program. I can’t think of a better preparation for PR, let alone life-in-general. I use the writing, speaking, and thinking skills I developed in college every day. But there’s a ton to professional marketing communications that you can’t learn through a liberal arts education. That’s what I picked up through lots of years of experience in the industry. I learn constantly and I love it. And then there’s always good judgment. That can come from experience, but it’s also rooted in your personality and the way you’re raised. So, um, thanks, mom and dad.
Shay: Tell us about your role at Backcountry.com and a description of the work you do.
Marit: I’m the communications manager. I’m in charge of public relations, external communications, and some internal communications. I provide strategic direction to our PR firm, Verde PR, and oversee external messaging whether in press releases, media interviews or via social media. I also directly handle crisis communications and situation management. I advise our executive team on communications issues as well.
Shay: What’s an average day like at work for you?
Marit: Average days aren’t as much fun as deadline days or days when something’s come up and I have to devise a creative solution to make sure our brand is represented well. The average day consists of responding to loads of emails, monitoring buzz on forums, blogs, and in the press, writing press releases or articles, and attending lots of meetings to make sure that I’m in the loop on other marketing initiatives in the company.
Shay: What are some memorable experiences from working in the industry?
Marit: One of the most fun things about working at Backcountry.com is that I get to be involved in projects promoting various athletes in different sports. My favorite of all time was being with endurance trail runner Karl Meltzer on the Appalachian Trail as he attempted the thru-hike speed record. Crewing for him and blogging along the way, while securing press coverage, was something I’ll never forget and always appreciate. I also enjoyed celebrating Greg Hill’s completion of two million vertical feet of climbing while ski touring in 2010. I love that the work I do, no matter if it’s sometimes challenging, is always in the industry I love, representing brands that I love.
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?
Marit: I think the biggest challenge will be for specialty retailers to combat the big-boxification of snowboard and action sports sales. It’s not going to be brick and mortar vs. retail anymore. It’s got to be specialty vs. general/multi-sport/department megastores. Online specialty retailers and brick-and-mortar specialty retailers have to figure out a way to work together to keep the industry healthy.
Shay: Education vs Experience…which do you think is more important?
Marit: It’s a combo. Experience is a form of education and education is a form of experience. What I think you’re asking, though, is whether I would put my money on a horse named Formal Education or a horse named Experience in a career race. I believe in formal education, but to fine-tune your skills and do well in the industry in which you specialize, you need on-the-scene training. Being formally educated isn’t a ticket to success, but what you learn in school can come in handy when you hit the ground running. Along the same lines, a new guy on the job is still a new guy on the job whether he’s come from Harvard or high school. Either way, he has a lot to learn.
If you were to push me further on this, I would say, yes, I do look at a job candidate’s education when considering him/her for a job. I don’t care what school you went to, but I do care that you pursued your passions in choosing your course of study, that you excelled in whatever it was that you declared as important to you, and that you did more than just study while you were in college. Were you an athlete? Did you work yourself through four or five years of education? Show me leadership, dedication, and passion, and I will want to talk to you. Also, and this is a special consideration in my line of work, your spelling must be impeccable, your grammar must be dialed, and sentence structure should be something you think about on a regular basis. If you can’t communicate like a pro, you should choose something other than professional communications as a career.
Shay: What advice would you give to people wanting to work in the industry?
Marit: Actively seek opportunities, be flexible to get in the door, and always do your best work to establish your reputation as a strong contributor. Experience outside the industry is experience that will be very valuable to the industry when you finally get here.
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