Client Spotlight: James Atkin of Topo Designs on Two Things Every Marketer Needs to Be in 2019

For many of you in and around the outdoor industry, you may already know James Atkin. He’s the smart, fun-loving marketer who’s energized brands like Black Diamond and Goal Zero. James is now the Director of Marketing at Topo Designs, the Colorado-based gear and apparel brand. Topo is a current client of Gear Patrol and we caught up with James leading up to the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show next week to get his take on industry trends and how he identifies and leverages organic marketing moments.

What do you enjoy most about working in the outdoor industry? How has it changed? What further changes in the space do you anticipate in 2019?

I love working with the people in the outdoor industry. They care about the environment, sustainability, getting outside, having experiences, innovating around gear and creating a better life for those that enjoy the outdoors. The outdoor industry has definitely increased its voice politically the last few years. It has stood up to poor decisions regarding the environment and more and more brands are becoming vocal. I also see outdoor brands going deeper into lifestyle gear. I'm definitely excited to see more innovation within technical components, but I’m also stoked to see brands develop products that can be more versatile within daily life activities.

Client spotlight of James Atkin, Topo Designs.

What led you to marketing? What do you see as the most vital kinds of moments for marketers to leverage with their audiences heading in 2019?

Marketing has been something I have been doing unknowingly since I was 15 years old. Growing up as a sponsored skateboarder, I was always pushing creativity, influence and other core marketing initiatives like events, content and helping with product development. So when it came time to grow up (although that is a very loose term since I'll always be a Toys "R" Us kid) I naturally gravitated to marketing.

There are two things every marketer needs to be in 2019: You’ve got to be nimble and you’ve got to be real. Most people don't like the feeling of being marketed to – I know I don’t. So to create a relatable marketing moment, you’ve got to be responsive and real to exactly what’s happening in the moment. Do that and I promise people will respect it.

Mark Ruffalo tweets about his Topo Design backpack that he left in a cab.

Speaking of marketing moments, Topo Designs recently had an interesting one that went down physically in NYC, but virtually as well. Would you mind giving us the scoop and sharing how you and your team activated against this moment and what the results were?

Yes! So Mark Ruffalo, AKA The Hulk, has been a fan of Topo for a few years now. He has a beloved Topo Designs Daypack that he left in a cab in NYC accidentally. He decided to pull in the forces of social media to help him track down his pack. He tweeted, Instagrammed and posted to Facebook with a picture of his pack and asked his friends of NYC to help him track it down. We saw it pretty quickly and mobilized our NYC-based Topo fans to help locate his pack. It went bonkers. Within minutes of us posting, it was also retweeted and shared by other celebrities and publications like Slate and The Cut. It turned into a meme pretty quickly as well and the engagement was off the charts. He was reunited with his pack that night. It was funny because there were brands like Uber responding to his tweet offering assistance too.

Our traffic to our website doubled and we actually ended up selling a ton of that very same pack over the next few weeks after he posted. It's a good looking pack but having someone like Mark Ruffalo organically posting about it was pretty awesome for us. He’s become a real and natural ambassador for the brand and thanks to reacting nimbly, he got his bag fast and we gained those valuable organic customers. Like I said, nimble + real works.

Topo Designs started out very much as an enthusiast brand, now it’s clear your gaining more and more mass appeal. What are the benefits of partnering with an enthusiast publication like Gear Patrol when you’re on the verge of breaking through to that mass market?

Well for Topo, although we are gaining traction, we are still pretty small and always need to get in front of more people, especially since our product line is really awesome right now and only getting better. We know we have something unique and inclusive and want to be available to people. Gear Patrol is perfect for us from a readership standpoint; it’s people that want style, quality and versatile gear. We are right there with them and want to invite them to our party. We care about the same things, so it only makes sense to partner up.

James Atkin's must-have products.

What’s next? What do you have planned in 2019 both professionally and personally? Any big trips or adventures? What’s that single piece of gear that you can’t live/leave without?

For Topo, we are looking to do a lot more events, everything from music festivals to outdoor events. We have a very inviting personality as a brand and really want to get out there and talk and experience with people. We’re also looking to expand internationally over the next 2 years, so that is really exciting for us. We have some really amazing brand collaborations coming out this year as well as other products that we’re super stoked on right now. I'll be on the road with Topo a lot this year and I'm really looking forward to it.

For me personally, I'm pretty big on spending time with my wife and 3 little ones, so we get out almost every weekend on micro-adventures. I'm really looking forward to more camping trips and getting the family over to Hawaii to thaw out from the cold Colorado winter. Right now, there are three pieces of my kit that I can’t get enough of right now. The first is my Topo Designs Mountain Jacket. It has the perfect amount of insulation for those below freezing temps out here and all the pockets I need. The next piece of gear that I can't leave behind when I'm traveling is my Travel Bag 40L. It’s seriously the best travel bag I've ever owned and I've gone through my fair share of those. The last thing that I have to take anywhere I go is my Gerber EDC knife. I literally use that sucker 3-5 times a day. Literally.

Like this article? Want to get more just like it in your inbox? Subscribe to Gear Patrol Debrief, our monthly insights newsletter.