Industry Profile: Yobeat Creative Director Jared Souney
06 Sep, 2011
Job Title: Creative Director
Years on snow: If you count old skateboard decks, 25 or so.
Days on snow: 20 maybe? I’m not sure.
Currently Riding: K2 Raygun w/ Union Bindings. Graphically the Raygun was my favorite board at SIA, because RayGun magazine which inspired it, is what got me into design. I’m stoked to have one. That will go on the wall for sure after I’m done riding it.
Currently I am: Sitting on my porch in the sun drinking coffee.
Shay: Tell us a little bit about yourself
Jared: My background is mostly in BMX. I grew up riding and competing in BMX freestyle, throughout the 80s and 90s and skateboarding a bit too. I guess I was a “sponsored” BMX rider, and I’m most well known as a BMX photographer. I was on the east coast, outside of Boston, so I was around snow early. Back in the early 80s during the winter we’d take old skateboard decks, flip them around tail first, wax the bottom up, and go “snowboarding” down the bigger hills and steep driveways in the neighborhood during storms. Burton used to have ads in Freestylin’, the main BMX magazine at the time. They’d send me catalogs, and during the winter it’s what I wanted to do. At that point none of us had snowboards, but had fun with a ghetto version of what would today be snow skating. Eventually we upgraded to old belts strapped to the skateboard decks for bindings. I spent all my money as a kid on BMX parts, so we pretty much did our thing ghetto style. We’d share a snowboard with some kids in the neighborhood, on a hill we’d hike up… he had an old sims board. It was much more effective than my Neil Blender skate deck with belts on it. I snowboarded a bit over the years, but most of my time was spent traveling to BMX / skate events and taking photos for magazines and ads. I didn’t really do it with any sort of regularity until a few years ago really. So my role with Yobeat is more due to my media background, than my skills on a snowboard. I know enough about it to feel comfortable, and I’ve always followed it. I have read the magazines since I was kid, but I don’t harbor a lot of opinions on it. It was always a fun activity to me. Brooke and Lipton, along with the Yobeat contributors carry most of the actual snowboard credibility (whether not either of them is credible is subject to interpretation).
Shay: How has snowboarding changed your life?
Jared: It’s given me another fun outlet, but realistically it’s just fun, and every day it baffles me that there’s an industry around it. That goes for skateboarding, and BMX, and all these other fun lifestyle activities. It’s awesome that some of us can make money doing stuff we’d otherwise do anyway. I’m incredibly fortunate. Photography for me was something I liked, and would do anyway, but it happened to be something I could get paid to do as well. I’m lucky for that. Design is the same way. Making magazines was the same. Snowboarding is the same. It’s all stuff I’d do because I like it, and I’m really lucky that I’ve been able to translate those fun things into income. They never start out as “business decisions.” In some respects it’s totally silly. There are people in the world who can’t eat. Yet my work is used to sell everything from skateboards, to bikes, to snowboards. Capitalism. So I don’t know if it has specifically changed my life outside of getting to meet some really cool people I might not otherwise have. I mean, if it didn’t exist, I’d find something else fun to do. I’m not going to argue though. I get to do what I love. But damn it, we also work really hard. I could go and get a “real job” and work half of what I do now for someone else. And the same goes for most of the people working in snowboarding, or any other similar genre. They’ve put in there time, and save for some exceptions, they’re doing it because they like what they do. I really haven’t taken a day off in many years, because everything I do for work is a passion. It’s all I know really. Snowboarding is a part of that, and became so more in the last few years, by default.
Shay: How did you get your start in the industry, who or what opened up more opportunities for you?
Jared: I was going to school for design, and during that period I was art directing a Fashion/Lifestyle magazine in Boston. That was the mid 90s, and at the time I really wanted to make magazines. I was really inspired by everything from Heckler, to Big Brother, to Blunt, to Skateboarding, to Freestylin.’ I started a small a BMX magazine in 1998, which lead to me getting a job as an editor/photographer at Transworld’s BMX Magazine Ride. I did that for two years, and then Transworld got bought by AOL / Time Warner. It wasn’t fun anymore. We started having weird meetings that huge companies have to have. It just didn’t feel like what I signed up for anymore, so I quit and started working on my own, doing photography for Etnies and other ad clients, along with a ton of magazines. I kept doing design as well, and just kept doing my thing. The so-called “action sports” industries are somewhat tied together, at least in the way of the larger brands. Etnies is Sole Tech, who also do 32. Transworld obviously had a snow magazine, and they even sort of had Heckler for a time. So I knew a lot of people who worked in the snow world that way… I met Brooke the same way. I knew her through skate events, but also knew she did snow stuff.
After I moved to Portland in 2007 we started working together on different projects. At some point in 2008 Nick Lipton was interning with her (it was a lot like when Kramer had an intern on Seinfeld), and the two of them tossed around the idea of getting Yobeat going. I was doing a lot of internet work, and digital strategy stuff at the time, so I helped them build what became the new Yobeat, but it was more a fun side project than anything. It was something for them to do and just have fun with. It already had traction though from people who knew it from the old days. Before we knew it traffic was increasing, and Lipton swindled someone into advertising.
While my first job was with the magazines, I think industry wise I wouldn’t still be doing what I’m doing with Don Brown and Pierre at Sole Tech. Those guys gave me an opportunity to get out of a magazine situation I wasn’t into and still stay doing what I loved. At that point I was ready to go back to the “regular old design and ad world.” They hired me to shoot the Etnies team, and I was able to quit Transworld, and have Etnies as a client. That was 10 years ago. I only worked with them for a few years, and I don’t know who ultimately signed off at Etnies on that whole thing, but who knows what I’d be doing if that hadn’t happened.
Without the relaunch of Yobeat, I never would have pursued doing snowboard specific stuff. I mean I’d shot photos for people, and done some design work for snow clients, but I never really pushed myself in that direction. I didn’t feel like I had any business there. To an extent I still don’t, and I really try not to be in a position to make any decisions that I shouldn’t. Like I said, it’s a lot of the “same” industry wise, so it doesn’t feel much different than what I’ve always done…. BMX, skateboarding, etc. I guess, Brooke is who I have to thank for being “in” snowboarding on any level. Jesus. That’s scary. Lipton too. That’s even more scary. He sells cigarettes to children!
I’m just here to help guide the creative and media strategies as best I can. Those two can piss everyone off content wise.
Shay: How has your previous education or work experience helped you in your current job?
Jared: When I was going to school I got my first real magazine job. I was a sophomore in college. I knew that to learn anything real, outside of the basic academics, I was going to have to get experience, so I went and did it. I lucked out and a man named Robert Birnbaum gave me an internship working for his magazine. A few months later the art director quit, and I was the only one who knew how to put the magazine on layout boards and get it printed. I was the accidental art director. I learned more in the first three months there than in four years of college, hands down. If he’d hadn’t given me a job, I know for a fact I’d work in a shit advertising agency somewhere and hate it. From there, I just kept doing different stuff in the magazine and media worlds I got the Transworld job, freelanced for a number of different ones, later published another magazine on my own, and started working a lot on the internet early in the online era.
I was lucky to get in at the tale end of where it was all about magazines, and the web was taking over. So I got to get my hands in a bit of both. Seeing that evolution has been really helpful not only in producing content but understanding how it gets consumed. I got to see how the “big fish” handled advertisers. I got to see what I didn’t like about those relationships and what I would do different given the chance. It’s stuff you simply can’t learn in school. My design education was great, but making magazines and producing content over the years is what helped me learn. At the same time, there’s nothing more important in “action sports” than being around the various sports, and actually participating. You can’t relate from desk or a textbook. No one can teach you what a snowboarder is thinking, or a skateboarder. Nor is any sort of focus group going to give you that information.
These days we get to think “what would Transworld do?” And then we do the opposite.
Photo: Brooke Geery
Shay: Tell us about your role at Yobeat and a description of the work you do?
Jared: In a small operation like Yobeat, any sort of job description goes out the window. You do what needs doing essentially. That’s the fun of it. There are two of us in the office for the most part, plus some contributors. But for the most part I help generate ideas… everything from helping to get brands involved in the site in new ways, to designing shirts.
The challenge with what we do online is that in snowboarding, it’s still very “new.” A few years ago people weren’t really buying online specific advertising in snowboarding, or action sports in general. Media people still use the term new media, and it drives me bananas because it’s really not “new” anymore. Shit, Brooke and Rachel started Yobeat in 1997. In the scheme of things that was a while ago, and it sat sort of dormant for a while, but back then there was no way to monetize it. People thought online would be subscription based, and those people are now destitute. Magazines were (and in many instance still are) just giving away ads to print buyers. The web sites they had were side components to their print product. When we relaunched the site a few years ago and sort of brought it back from hibernation, the immediate goal wasn’t to grow it, it was more a fun project and an experiment. We did see, however, that there was room in snowboarding for someone who put the internet first. There was a “it’s just for the internet mentality” amongst the publishers, but we looked at it as a huge audience that we could reach very easily. When it started growing quickly, we had to figure out at the very least how to make it pay for itself. The more traffic you get, the more money it costs in server fees. My roll has been helping to strategize and figure out how to take the Yobeat voice, and help generate ideas to get brands involved so that it could sustain itself online. Brooke and I work closely on that stuff. We really just throw ideas back and forth.
Snowboard brands had their old world advertising plans, and online was an afterthought until recently…. we had to circumvent that so to speak. Three years later it’s easier, as brands are starting to understand the value of online advertising. But we still have to guide them in understanding that banner advertising is only the tip of the iceberg. We had to make them understand that banner ads aren’t about click through rates.
We look at Yobeat as a small agency as much as we do a content producer…. because really even the big brands don’t have a proper digital strategy. We have to help them create initiatives. But we like that. It keeps what we do different. Most ad agencies don’t have their own content site to refer to daily to see exactly how people use the internet. They go off pie charts and supplied data. We take the live information we see and have a real world view of the brands we should be working with. Brands that our users can relate to. It’s kind of the same approach Vice took. My background in design helps us to create the visuals on some of the campaigns we do as well. One challenge for a lot of people is getting their creative done. If they need it, we’ll help with that. We have an in house photo studio, we can do video, we can do design work, we can create messages and generate ideas. And I help oversee a lot of that. We’re a small shop but we’ve got a lot of great people working with us, so we can do big things.
I also helped spearhead the apparel we started doing last year, which is essentially a marketing tool for Yobeat. We could just have the basic t-shirt here and there we sell in our online shop and give out to friends, but we wanted to push that a step further. We have t-shirts, hats, hoodies, beanies, and more, which we sell not only in our online store but with a number of retail partners around the country. We work with those retail partners in getting them integrated on our site, so we get the marketing value of having our gear in their shops, and they get the marketing value of being on a web site with a global audience. It’s a win, win. In order to make that work we took all the apparel printing in house. It keeps it cost effective for us, and also allows us to fill orders very quickly, and control the end product. Our goal isn’t to be an apparel brand per se, but we do want kids to wear the stuff, because it’s good for our brand as a whole.
All that stuff falls on my plate. I’m a big fan of the DIY approach, and we do as much as possible in house. Because of that, there are no typical days. It’s vital to small operation, and the reality is, in the modern world, being streamlined gives you an advantage. With the internet, everyone is on the same playing field. No matter how much money you have, or employees you have, we all have access to the same audience.
Photo: Dean Dickinson
Shay: What’s an average day like at work for you?
Jared: My worst fear is that someday I’ll be back in a job that I have a typical day. It drove me bananas. I like to have my hands in a lot of different things, and that’s the number one reason I’m involved in Yobeat. Being a small operation allows us to make instant decisions. If we want to add a new component to the site, we just do it. There are no corporate meetings. We just yell across the office. Some days we’ll be like “we should put this on a t-shirt.” I’ll whip it up, output the film, a screen gets burnt, and it will be on our press, printed, and in the store within a few hours. Some days I’ll shoot stuff in the studio. Some days I’m out shooting BMX, skate, or whatever else, either around Portland or for a client somewhere else. I do a lot of design work, both for Yobeat clients and my own. We spend a lot of time throwing ideas back and forth for advertisers, editorial, whatever. Today I sat in line for a half hour to ship online store orders. Usually we stay till the office until 4 or 5, and then we end up working from home the rest of the night. There’s never really any off time, again because all the stuff we do around here, is the stuff we like to do anyway. I feel like even if we’re watching TV, or a movie, we’re still working in some capacity. Whether it’s in the back of our minds or at the computer.
The stuff I do is a bit more scattered than what Brooke does. She’s more focussed on certain aspects than I am, but she works harder than anyone I know. I wear a lot of hats. If a pipe bursts, I’ll fix it. Whatever really. And I like it that way. I don’t think there should be any separation between a role we give an intern, and the role I do on a daily basis. We all just work hard.
Shay: What are some memorable experiences from working in the industry?
Jared: Traveling in general is something I wouldn’t have done as much of if I didn’t do what I do. That’s the biggest thing. I don’t know if I ever would have left the east coast if I didn’t have an action sports job. Every day is an experience to say the least. The bulk of my industry time has been as a photographer, and that means everything from the occasional babysitting of riders, to waking up afriend who’s been knocked out on the ground after a fall. I’ve held broken bones in place. I’ve bailed people out of jail, been chased by police, and held up at gunpoint, all for the sake of action sports related photos, video and fun. I also dropped my iphone in a puddle this winter at Mt. Hood. That was pretty traumatic.
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?
Jared: I think as an industry the balance of growth is a big one. I think there’s a market threshold on snowboarding that some people don’t want to grasp. Not everyone in the world wants to snowboard. The market will only be so big, no matter how public snowboarding gets. For the core industry that threshold is never going to really matter. As a recreational activity it’s got a massive potential, but those aren’t people that buy snowboards every season, and many of them might only buy one in a lifetime. So the big brands have to fight for that single purchase. Within the “core audience” you’re much more limited, so you’ve got a lot of cooks in the kitchen trying to get a piece of that pie. The challenge is, do you pursue that mass-market? Or do you stick with the passionate snowboarders who got you where you are? Large scale events like the Olympics are going to build some mass-market one off sales, but the reality is everyone watching knows snowboarding exists. The Olympics aren’t going to introduce anyone who hasn’t been living in a bubble to snowboarding. If they haven’t heard of it, odds are they’re living in part of the world that can’t afford it. And selling them a snowboard shouldn’t be our concern. The question is do the consumers who the Olympics might influence have access to it, and is it something they’re going to buy into if they’re only going to do it a few times a year. At Yobeat, most of our readers are coming back because they are serious snowboarders, and many of them snowboard year round, or whenever they can. They’re not just getting into it… it’s what they do. While they may, and should respect Shaun White, his latest Olympic performance is not what got them riding. We’ve got growth potential on our site, and it is growing rapidly, but we have a defined audience of people that are really into it. Tastemakers in a sense, as they’re younger and really passionate. We respect that, and we’re not necessarily looking past that.
The challenge for most of the industry is getting that consumer who bought their first snowboard at a sporting goods store, but grew to love it, onto their product as the continue in the sport. The upgrading consumer that sticks with it. Small brands can have a lot of influence in the online space, and that could certainly pose challenges to larger brands. In days past large print budgets defined brands. Now, Joey Chestnut might see Shaun White riding a Burton board on the Olympics, and David Letterman. He knows he can get that board at his local mass-market retailer. But his local hero might ride a Capita board, that he can’t find at his box store, yet it’s readily available through some online retailers. The local hero was super cool to him, and he’s all over the hot websites. So what does he buy? A lot is changing. For that reason, in my opinion marketing is the biggest challenge for an industry that may or may not have seen its users peak in numbers.
Shay: Education vs Experience…which do you think is more important?
Jared: I went to college, but I’m definitely a proponent of experience in most situations. In a sport like snowboarding that’s even more crucial. No one can hand you a text book and teach you how it feels to ride a snowboard, and without having done that, you couldn’t relate. That doesn’t mean you have to be a good snowboarder. You just have to understand it and absorb it. Whether it’s the actual technical side of snowboarding that gives you your experience, or following around your homies and making videos, or taking photos of them, there’s a lot to be learned. At the same time, ask questions, and learn stuff from those around you.
Brooke got most of the work she got in the beginning because she did Yobeat, and in 1997 the internet was of a lesser influence. It lead her to writing for other magazines. While she wen to school for journalism, and I went to school for design, Yobeat probably wouldn’t exist today if we didn’t both have experience with how the media machine works. We didn’t learn that in school. At the same time, there is a definite value in an education. I think the most important thing is to do everything you can to achieve your goal, assuming you have one. Some of the most successful people I know didn’t go to college. Some of them have PHD’s. I also know a lot of completely useless individuals with Ivy league degrees. I’d much rather hire someone who cares about what they do and has a passion to kick ass.
Photo: Dean Dickinson
Shay: What advice would you give to people wanting to work in the industry?
Jared: I would never really tell anyone to go into something like snowboarding with that as their goal. I’d tell them to find something they like (and if it’s snowboarding, awesome) and figure out how to pursue it. If it’s just a job, you’re in the wrong field, and you aren’t going to get very far. Be proactive. If you want to work in the media, start a website. If you want to make videos, make some of your friends. Get your stuff out there. Don’t be a shithead.
As much as it sucks, snowboarding, like all the other action sports, can often come down to who you know. That’s not a bad thing, and it can work to your advantage, you just need to actually know people, so make yourself visible. Everyone is going to have a different approach to that, whether it’s producing one great piece of work that gets acclaim, or producing regular work that gets on people’s radar. The key is to stay on people’s radar. If you’re a photographer, or videographer, get your stuff out there. The key is to make decisions that benefit you. Help people out when you can. This stuff is by no means a gold mine for any of us, and the more you do it, the more you learn who’s going to pay good money, who’s going to help you out in the long run, and who to stay clear of cause they’re going to screw you. The hard part is balancing the fine line of getting your stuff noticed, and making money. Not everyone is going to win in that regard. But even if you’re not making money, just do good work and the work you want to do. You’re not going to get rich, but you’ll have fun doing it. The important thing is to always be doing something that focusses around what you want to be doing, whether or not you’re making money at it. Do it for yourself, and because you like it. If you get into this stuff with career goals only, you’re in for a real shocker. Just have fun, but try to pay your bills too.
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