For the last week, I was privileged to be part of the media relations team handling the incredible achievement of adidas Outdoor athlete Kevin Jorgeson and Patagonia ambassador Tommy Caldwall on The Dawn Wall. I worked with Jess Clayton, Patagonia PR, who was the best PR partner ever. It was a seamless collaboration, complete with the high and lows of handling a story this big. Jess is the ultimate professional and so glad we were in the trenches together. Without my team in Boston, Kristen Bujold and Eleanor Sachs, this would have been a herculean task and simply not possible. This story exploded beyond anything we could have imagined. From The Times of London, to Brazil TV, to Australian morning shows, to the barrage of morning show and broadcast appearances, this journey struck a chord with every day people looking to achieve a dream.
Prior to their success on Wednesday, The Meadow, a beautiful destination across from the Dawn Wall, was the staging area for the satellite trucks, journalists, family, friends and local residents glued to the small figures of Kevin and Tommy as they made daily progress. Cheers would go up (and heard by the climbers) after a successful pitch. You saw lawn chairs where people would sit for the entire day to watch. NBC News had a live feed on a TV monitor that drew crowds every morning.
Journalists would mingle with the crowd looking for other folks to interview such as John Long, who was able to explain the logistics and the importance of the event in every day language, to Tommy’s Dad, to Kevin’s Dad and Becca, Tommy’s wife, – just to strengthen their connection with the story.
When Jess and I saw that they had achieved their dream – our phones blew up with texts and calls from media all over the world wanting to speak to Kevin and Tommy. The calls did not stop, even through the night (and I do mean through the entire night) from media that wanted to connect with the climbers first – they all had to be first. Then the word came that POTUS (of course you know that is the President of the United States) was trying to reach them, and then came the famous Presidential tweet.
Thursday began at 3:30AM with every single morning show and The Weather Channel, followed by interviews literally almost every fifteen minutes, a packed press conference with over 20 cameras, emotions running high, over 20 one-on-one interviews, and finally an opportunity to have a quiet dinner with friends.
I was able to spend time with Kevin and his girlfriend, Jackie, on Thursday night to review the past day and look at what is ahead in the coming week for media. The bar was filled with guests and locals who anonymously paid for our bill – the waiter said, “your money is no good” here. Everywhere we walked, people walked up to Kevin to give him a heartfelt congratulations.
On the drive down from Yosemite to Newport Beach, Jess and I were continuing to work with the media when we had cell service, including organizing logistics for Kevin and Tommy’s appearance on the The Ellen DeGeneres Show this coming Tuesday, for an upcoming story in Vanity Fair, organizing a call for BBC Radio4, and Redbull.com, among others.
Kevin and Tommy exhibited an immense amount of grace and class throughout the entire madness, despite the fact that they were exhausted and Tommy lost his voice. They completed every interview with a smile and incredible poise. Every single interviewer from Anderson Cooper to Chris Cuomo to Matt Lauer were genuinely interested, intrigued and in awe of what these two climbers accomplished.
A few more thoughts. adidas Outdoor, our client (and a brand relatively new to the outdoor category in the U.S.) and Kevin’s sponsor, was incredibly smart in its approach to the market by putting its faith in this young climbing community and supporting their athletes. Greg Thomsen, managing director of adidas Outdoor USA, had the strategy to embrace this community from the day we launched the brand in the U.S. just about four years ago. It was his vision and smarts to make this happen. He knew that for adidas Outdoor to be credible in the outdoor community, it had to take a humble approach with grassroots marketing and connecting to the communities that are at the heard and soul of the brand. Working with a staff of five, adidas Outdoor executed this approach with great passion and, yes, success. It was taking a risk for such a big brand and, in one sense, organizing the impossible. (And on a side note, adidas Outdoor is sharing all the media assets with everyone free of charge and without restriction.) Clearly, we are at a “tipping point” for the brand.
No question this was life changer for Kevin and Tommy; it was also a life changer for me. Maybe this was my Dawn Wall.
So honored to be part of this incredible journey.