Patagonia, REI target administration’s rollback of land protections

The outdoor retailers have a history of environmental activism. After the Trump administration announced a historic rollback of protections, both responded.

Values marketing is about doing what you believe is right—risky or not.

Patagonia and REI waded into the political thicket after the Trump administration rolled back protections for some land connected to Big Ears National Monument. Patagonia built a new entrance to its website with a stark design.

The Washington Post wrote:

Anyone who visited Patagonia’s website on Monday night in search of a warm winter fleece or a pair of snow pants was in for a surprise. Replacing the usual shopping choices were giant white letters on a black background offering a stark message: “The President Stole Your Land.”

The message continued in smaller letters: “In an illegal move, the president just reduced the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. This is the largest elimination of protected land in American history.”

The brand got plenty of media coverage from this digital stunt, but it wasn’t stopping there. Patagonia also announced plans to pursue legal action against the Trump administration over the loss of land.

USA Today wrote:

Outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia plans to sue the Trump administration in response to the president’s announcement Monday that he would dramatically reduce the size of two national monuments in Utah.

“Americans have overwhelmingly spoken out against the Trump Administration’s unprecedented attempt to shut down our national monuments,” said Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario in a statement. “We’ve fought to protect these places since we were founded and now we’ll continue that fight in the courts.”

The Trump administration previously announced it would review the size of some national monuments and has started to shrink those protected lands.

CNBC reported:

The White House released a statement on Monday detailing Trump’s plans to reduce the size of two national monuments in Utah — undoing such land protections for the first time in 50 years, according to the Associated Press.

Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante sit on millions of acres of land.

Bears Ears, created last December by President Barack Obama, will be reduced by about 85 percent, to 201,876 acres (315 square miles). Grand Staircase-Escalante, designated in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, will be reduced from nearly 1.9 million acres (nearly 3,000 square miles) to 1,003,863 acres (1,569 square miles), the AP reported.

The loss of protected land is in line with the Interior Department’s goals, and opposing the move is not necessarily a slam-dunk PR win. Many ranchers in the West oppose what they see as government overreach in keeping millions of acres unusable.

NPR reported:

Here in Utah, where about two-thirds of the entire state is federally owned and there are seven large monuments, the act is a household name, and in some rural areas, a dirty word.

However, some brands are ignoring the hazards of today’s political climate and are taking a bold stand for their beliefs.

The Washington Post wrote:

The California-based retailer has long been known for its environmental activism, but this week’s political stance — and a promise by its founder to sue the Trump administration — represents a shift, experts say, in how corporations are speaking up, not just on behalf of their executives and employees, but also their customers.

Some industry insiders see this new level of corporate activism as a significant detour from previous business models.

The Washington Post continued:

“This is a sea change in activism like nothing I’ve ever seen,” said Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist at public relations firm Weber Shandwick. “CEOs are not just raising flags anymore, they’re actually taking action and asking their customers to do the same.”

REI had a subtler response than Patagonia’s, adding a segment to its home page decrying the loss of protected land. Other outdoors-focused brands, including The North Face, also vowed to take action.

The Washington Post continued:

REI said on its website it would “continue to advocate for the places we all love” and urged its Twitter followers to change their profile photos to an icon that says “We [heart] our public lands.” The North Face, meanwhile, announced it is donating $100,000 to develop a Bears Ears Education Center and encouraged customers to contribute to a Kickstarter campaign to create it. As of Tuesday afternoon, it had raised nearly $124,000 from 1,700 people.

Lessons from Patagonia

PR pros lauded Patagonia’s campaign, recognizing that the moves it made were less of a stunt and more a natural extension of its core values.

Chris Allieri, founder and principal of Mulberry & Astor, a communications, PR and public affairs agency, said: “For Patagonia, this is at the core of their DNA as a company. This isn’t a PR or marketing campaign for them.”

He also pointed out that it had orchestrated and executed a highly effective effort, mobilizing multiple assets to prepare for its big media day.

He wrote:

Patagonia is the clear leader […] They want to do the right thing, not sell more jackets. Other companies that want to follow suit should emulate Patagonia in its ability to walk the walk. They have been tweeting, Instagramming, getting their customers involved, giving resources and cash and lobbying themselves as a company for many, many months.

Buckley Slender-White, a senior vice president with Sutherland Gold Group, pointed to Patagonia’s history of wilderness guardianship.

“Patagonia has spent decades building credibility on environmental issues,” he wrote, “and it’s a key part of their story: Not only do their products help you explore the great outdoors, but in buying them, you’re supporting conservation.”

Patagonia prepared its bold statement with an eye on social media opportunities.

Elisa Richardson of New York-based Eddie said, “They also activated—whether organically or not I’m unsure—social media influencers who all took to Instagram story to screenshot and share Patagonia’s beautiful, minimally designed yet incendiary homepage.”

Some said Patagonia’s swift, strong action bolsters its brand persona.

Ximena N. Larkin, founder of C1 Revolution, wrote:

Patagonia’s quick response to the rollback of protected land in Big Ears National Park translates into authenticity. They’re not looking around to see what everyone else does. They’re moving forward, regardless of who is standing with them.

What do you think of Patagonia’s move, PR Daily readers?


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