Filson's Latest Collaboration, Connecting with Consumers in the age of COVID and Why Gear Patrol

We recently had the chance to connect with Doug Thielen, Director of Marketing at Filson, who is responsible for leading Filson's entire integrated brand and marketing strategy. Doug works across paid media, ecommerce, experiences, social media, content, catalog, digital, public relations, performance marketing and much more to really bring the Filson story to life. Over the past few years, Gear Patrol Studios has had the pleasure to work with Doug and the Filson team on some of our favorite partnerships. We sat down to talk about his favorite marketing campaign, his thoughts on how the Outdoors industry is shaping with the onset of COVD, and his favorite gear.

Hey Doug! So tell us what it’s like to work at Filson. As a legendary brand, Filson seems like a super exciting place to be at — what’s the most rewarding part about working there?

There’s a lot of great things about working at Filson! For me as someone who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, Filson is a brand that’s been a part of my life for as long as I can think of — from my granddad and dad having bags. For me to come on board was a dream job and it continues to be that.

Filson started off by outfitting the world’s toughest people in the most uncompromising situations, which was the Klondike Gold Rush. Now, we continue to outfit people who are finding themselves recreating or working in those uncompromising situations — which we really take to our core. From the folks who design the products to those wearing and using them, it’s about finding those ways to connect those people to unfailing goods and the unknown through product stories and experiences. Filson is really more than 120 years old, but at the same time, we're focused on meeting the needs of our customers. That’s one of the best parts of Filson. And the gear is phenomenal!

Filson‘s Brand Story

What’s been one of your favorite campaigns that you’ve worked on so far? How do you think about making it feel innovative and modern, especially with such a strong heritage brand?

I’ve been fortunate enough to work on a number of campaigns but one that we launched recently is absolutely one of my favorites, which is the partnership with Filson, Bronco, and the National Forest Foundation. It’s killer for a lot of different reasons.

First, my first car was a 1984 Bronco II (so the 16-year-old me is high-fiving current me for having a chance to work on a project like this!). But it’s been really incredible to work through this for over a year with the different partners. We knew there was interest from Filson fans and people who were into Bronco, and finding a way to create this campaign authentically and intentionally was really interesting.

It came back to finding a shared connection through the US Forest Service. So in the 1940s, Filson’s Cruiser became part of the Class A US forest service uniform, and then in the 60s and when the Bronco rolled out, that became the vehicle of choice. So when we sat down, we wanted to use our shared history as our base, but we also wanted to take a shared action.

Filson has worked with the National Forest Foundation for years now, where we are able to be a part of their 50 Million for Our Forests initiative. And Bronco with their Wild Fund will be able to help plant a million trees in 2021. Filson will be restoring, in partnership with them, three fire lookout towers. And then we just launched a product collab with limited-edition gear of Filson x Bronco T-shirts, water bottles and our iconic Small Rugged Twill Duffle we launched that as well. All three products’ proceeds will be going to the National Forest Foundation.

So this campaign for me means a lot. It wasn’t just a campaign where we just put a sticker on a car and off it rolls. It was a partnership through and through — there are multiple layers of action, partnership, product and doing good. In partnership, we're taking responsibility to protect the places that our employees and customers live, work and recreate — which is something that I think ties back to that outdoor industry core growth and change that we’ve seen in the last few years.

 The partnership with Filson, Bronco and the National Forest Foundation

What are your thoughts on how our new normal is shaping Outdoor bi-annual events? For example, is Outdoor Retailer going to be possible? How has COVID affected the way you’re strategizing or messaging, especially with events?

In hope, I don’t see physical events ever going away. We are definitely taking a pause from a health and safety perspective, which is the right thing to do. I do believe that at some point that the experience to have human connection in the same place —to talk product, initiative and how to make an impact in people’s lives — will always have a physical space.

The brands that are surviving and thriving are those that have the ability to be nimble, to be dynamic and pivot change to bring experiences and their brand to life. For us at Filson, we’re a relatively small brand and we have that muscle built into our DNA. In some ways, we are fortunate to operate in that manner to begin with. We’re a heavy experience brand — in 2019 we hosted over 300 high touch events. So when things started dramatically changing in March and April, we had to quickly go “that is not happening in 2020 or the foreseeable future”. So how do we bring that Filson experience, entertain people, give them something to enjoy and a way to connect?

Our Experience team came to the table saying “let's take this virtual” — we took experiences that we would have done in-person to Instagram. Instagram Live became super successful for us — we connect with our customers and reach new people, while really bringing that Filson lens of the outdoors to folks.

Why’d you choose to work with Gear Patrol? How do you approach working with media publications?

I’ve been a fan of Gear Patrol for a number of years. Issue 2 was the first one that I saw that stood out for filling this niche in terms of being one part outdoor magazine, one part gear, one part fashion, one part entertainment. It’s all things that I like in one spot.

It has opinions, it informs and there’s an aspiration to it. It speaks to a really unique consumer. A lot of times marketers and brands want to put their customers in boxes — "oh this is our outdoors enthusiast, this is our watch enthusiast, bike enthusiast" — and sometimes that can be the same person. I think what you guys have done really well is understand that and create content for that person.

From a Filson perspective, we love working with you guys for all those reasons. People who read your magazine and your online publication are dynamic, interesting, and multi-layered — and so is the Filson customer. So for us, we find it to be an interesting way to bridge that gap between Urban and the Outdoors.

From a digital perspective, it’s been exciting to see how you have pivoted and continue to engage with people. The ability to create meaningful content that both educates and entertains is super valuable.

Do you have any gear that you can’t live or leave without?

There’s a number of pieces. For one, I have the Filson 24-Hour Tin Cloth Briefcase — it is my favorite bag mainly because it’s technically a briefcase but I use it for so much more. The size is perfect — I’ll take it for a quick weekend trip where out comes the computer and in goes a light change of clothes to head out. I’ve had it for years even before I worked at Filson, and I feel like I carry that more than anything.

A couple of other pieces include my Smith Lowdown 2 sunglasses. I’ve got multiple pairs, and those go with me everywhere — plus a coffee cup and Hydroflask.

And then right now, we just launched our new Filson Field Flannel. It’s my go to-shirt. In a time where we are WFH, and with the ability to be casual and comfortable, the field flannel just nails it. It’s just the right weight to wear around the house but it also serves as a light jacket when I head out. You can’t go wrong with the Mackinaw Wool Cruiser — I’ve had multiple ones. It was patented in 1914 and continue to win awards in 2020. It’s the original performance material, and you can’t go wrong!

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