AppGearCo is proud to be a cottage manufacturer of outdoor apparel and gear. If you’re not familiar with the term, cottage brands are those that design and manufacture their own gear. When you think of brands like this, including AppGearCo, a number of words typically come to mind: specialized, custom, innovative, nimble, and yes, small. These are brands that often employ a handful of people, so you typically won’t find the depth you see with bigger brands. You’re more likely to see a few employees handling everything themselves, from design, sourcing, and manufacturing to operations, fulfillment, and customer service.
As part of an outdoor industry that is huge and growing, cottage gear brands find themselves on fertile ground for entrepreneurial endeavors, but a major challenge that goes along with that is establishing a “voice” that can be heard in a crowded market. This is where public relations can play a critical role. PR and digital marketing tend to rank pretty low on the priority list for cottage brands, but they shouldn’t. PR isn’t just for big brands with big budgets. Thoughtful PR can be an affordable way to elevate a cottage manufacturer from obscurity, without sacrificing the soul of the brand, by strategically sharing their message with an audience primed to hear it.
Here are 3 key ways PR can benefit a cottage brand in the outdoor industry, and beyond.
Cottage brands are really, really good at making outdoor gear. They’re often founded by people who frequently use outdoor gear, so they are extremely discerning about what goes into their own designs. However, crafting a killer product and crafting effective brand messaging are two different beasts, and this is where having a PR agency can make a big difference. PR practitioners are pros at taking an amazing brand story or product and turning it into cohesive, compelling copy that makes people take notice. They are able to synthesize everything the brand believes in, everything the brand is trying to do, and everything the brand feels is important for people to know in a streamlined and efficient communication strategy to reach a broader market.
“It’s easy, as an entrepreneur, to go out and do the hand-to-hand contact at festivals because you believe in what you are doing and the potential customers you’re talking to can easily see it in your demeanor and your products. But you can’t talk to thousands of people because you are generally down in the weeds working. A PR group allows you to get that message to so many more people in just the right way. Great colors and cool logos just don’t cut it. The messaging and being able to convey to people why they should be looking at you is absolutely key.” – John Gage, AppGearCo Co-Founder
A good PR pro is a relationship expert who works hard to make sure media contacts feel like partners. They often spend years building and nurturing relationships with media, which allows them to anticipate opportunities and ensures they are top of mind for upcoming stories. These efforts are time-consuming and often not within a cottage brand’s bandwidth, but the right PR partner can earn a small brand a big piece of coverage thanks to years spent fostering critical connections. A PR partner can also be crucial for managing relationships with influencers, ambassadors, and even likeminded brands and organizations.
“Another significant idea that should not be underestimated is that a cottage brand is often unknown by anyone in the market—unless you happen to have already been a world-class pro or celebrity. One of the most impactful benefits of an effective PR partner is that their market reputation and network 100% opens doors for brands and gives brands a degree of credibility in the critical early stages.” - JG
Tools & Trends
Staying on top of the latest PR tools and trends is a time commitment and added expense that many cottage brands just can’t afford. Bringing on a PR agency provides access to a team that makes monitoring trends a top priority, in addition to a robust paid media database and media monitoring capabilities. They know how to find and connect with people talking about issues relevant to your brand, and once media coverage is earned, how to amplify that exposure via smart digital strategy. As the media landscape changes, it’s critical to focus on an omnichannel approach that combines PR and digital marketing, and an agency partner will already have a mastery of the tools necessary to maximize your brand’s investment.
“PR & marketing are probably the most misunderstood and underestimated part of growing a brand. It’s tough for entrepreneurs to wear every hat and maintain effective control of the details. More importantly, it’s essential for the brand to look like a real business and not a lemonade stand. With App Gear Co, we had the benefit of having a significant amount of prior manufacturing and business experience. Hiring experts to handle the multi-channel PR & marketing effort was always a part of our plan, and we did it very early in our existence.” - JG
PR can be (and often is) done effectively in-house. However, hiring the right PR partner can often mean bringing on at least one person who will work as an extension of your team, bringing skills and networks your brand doesn’t have, for less than the cost of hiring a full-time employee. When small brands recognize their own limitations and make the decision to bring in expert help, it can boost visibility not only for the brand, but for the cottage industry as a whole. As App Gear Co has seen, this can help cottage manufacturers emerge from underdog status to reach new heights and new audiences, ultimately freeing up time to let these brands focus on what they do best…creating innovative new gear.