Industry Profile: BNQT Content Director James Sullivan
16 Aug, 2011
Job Title: Content Director – BNQT Media Group
Employer: USA Today
Years on snow: Learned to ski at 3. Been on a snowboard 19 years.
Days on snow: Lost count – average 20-30 days a season since moving to So Cal from Vermont five years ago.
Currently Riding: Less than I used to, but more than most of my colleagues. Gear = Lib Tech board, Thirty Two boots, Burton bindings, North Face outerwear, Oakley goggles, NXTZ neck warmer, Dakine gloves, 686 first layer, and my Dad’s OG generic wool beanie.
Currently I am: Navigating my early 30s as an action sports desk jockey in Los Angeles. Living the dream, right?
Shay: Tell us a little bit about yourself
James: Grew up in CT in a family of avid weekend warrior types. Beaches and boating in the summer, road trips to Vermont in the winter to ski. Started snowboarding in Jr High via school sponsored ski trips b/c one derelict kid made money stealing boards at the resorts and selling them to kids at school. There were no snowboard shops around so (I hate to admit it) that was how I first learned to ride… backyard boarding on a bootleg board. Interestingly, I’m goofy naturally but the board I learned on had its bindings epoxied in the regular stance, so I learned to ride regular. To this day I skate/surf goofy but snowboard regular.
After high school I went to college in Boston, then moved to California for awhile, then to Hawaii, then moved back east and lived in Vermont for a few years before returning to California five years ago. Been here since. All the while generally working in the action sports industry in one way or another.
Shay: How has snowboarding changed your life?
James: Snowboarding made (for the most part) all my adolescent dreams came true. It acted as the conduit through which to experience life, meet like-minded people, explore the world and grow as a person. As long as I had my family and snowboarding in my life I never felt lost. Nothing but good things have come out of that line of thinking and acting.
Photo: Christy Chaloux
Shay: How did you get your start in the industry, who or what opened up more opportunities for you?
James: It started when I attended Boston University and worked at Ski Market / Underground Snowboards. I joined the Boston University Snowboard Team “BUST” (it was really just a club) and did winter weekends and holidays in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Met a lot of New England reps and regional industry types.
Then my senior year at BU I studied abroad in Sydney, Australia and interned at a surfing magazine. It was owned by the same international publishing company that owned Snowboarder Magazine back in the States. After graduation I applied for a Copy Editor position then open at Snowboarder. Between my internship, East Coast roots and the fact that we shared the same last name, then editor Mark Sullivan had no choice but to hire me. It was fate. That was my first real industry job (not counting working in the shop).
Since then it’s been a 10+ year joyride in the snowboarding and action sports industry. Great times with great people and one amazing experience after another.
Shay: How has your previous education or work experience helped you in your current job?
James: I feel that it’s all interlinked. My life and career really has been a domino effect. My time in college provided me tons of free time to ride, but also opened the door to the internship, which led to my first job, which led to the next job and so on… each gig laying the groundwork for what followed.
Shay: Tell us about your role at BNQT and a description of the work you do?
James: BNQT, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of USA Today. It exists both as multi-action sports destination website (BNQT.com) and larger advertising and content syndication media group consisting of over 50+ action sports and male lifestyle websites. My role includes overseeing the content and contributors for BNQT.com, working with sales to develop branded content concepts for advertisers interested in targeting the media group’s overall audience, and writing the weekly action sports column in USA Today.
Shay: What’s an average day like at work for you?
James: Generally 9-5 routine in an office when not attending events or content productions. Morning’s spent working with contribs to keep BNQT.com updated with relevant content, afternoons spent planning future content and/or collaborating with our partners. After work I try to hit the boardwalk in Venice for a bike ride or grab a surf when time allows.
Shay: What are some memorable experiences from working in the industry?
James: The most memorable experiences are the trips that combine riding a new or favorite destination all while being surrounded by entertaining people that can burn the candle at both ends and know how to enjoy themselves and have a laugh. Best trips of my life include: Tailgate Alaska, Switzerland for European Open, Japan for Nippon Open, Snowwater Heli in BC, Vegas tradeshow madness, and two summers spent working on the Vans Warped Tour.
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?
James: The biggest challenge I see is the barrier of entry to participate. Skateboarding, BMX, surfing require a one time investment in your apparatus and then it’s free for life. Just walk out your door and you’re doing it. Snowboarding (and skiing) are inherently expensive — gear, travel to resorts, accommodations, lift tickets, food, entertainment, etc. — those are hard costs a lot of people just cannot absorb with any frequency. Now that’s always been the case to a certain extent, but what’s been happening in the last decade is outpacing people’s ability to keep up. Mega resort expansions, multi-million dollar condos, village constructions that are tacky and overbuilt for the area. Those developers need to recoup that investment and they do so via expensive lift tickets, hotels, meals, parking and other associated fees. It really takes the fun out of it. If I didn’t work in the industry there’s no way I could afford to ride as much as I’ve been able to. That said – this year ski resorts reported the most skier visits in history, so maybe they know something I don’t.
Photo: Kevin Westenbarger
Shay: Education vs Experience…which do you think is more important?
James: Really depends on the individual – I’ve seen plenty of individuals reach success without a college education but all those people had something in common. They were goal-oriented. They had vision, purpose and a disciplined work ethic. If you have that at young age and can carry yourself through it’s quite possible to succeed without a four-year degree.
That said, for those who are unsure of what they want, exactly, or have typical young adult ailments including laziness, a propensity to party and a general lack of ambition to ‘get there first,’ I recommend the college route. It’s four years where you can generally f-ck off and have a good time. Ride, socialize, live cheap and travel…but then at the end you have something tangible with which you can market your skills. That assumes of course you do your coursework.
Shay: What advice would you give to people wanting to work in the industry?
James: Look around and find the industry wherever you live. If you’re in So Cal it’s everywhere. If you’re in nowheresville it might be a Pac Sun at the mall. Volunteer, take a menial job, swallow your pride. Network. Work hard and learn from those around you — be it at a resort, or an event, or a shop or a company. The action sports industry is filled with incredible talent. It’s an amazing realm to grow both professionally and personally and have a heck of a lot of fun along the way. A few warnings: (1) – the industry is not a get rich quick scheme, (2) Never loan money to anyone unless you’re ok with not getting it back. (3) Avoid burning bridges b/c you just never know…
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