Building Engagement: Q&A With Project Upland

For all the trials and tribulations 2020 threw at us, it provided a glimmer of hope and a much-needed uptick on the R3 dashboards. We are just now beginning to realize not only the volume but the impetus behind the flood of new (and returning) participants to the outdoors. As we continue to digest the data and harness this momentum, it will be vital to examine brands and industries that succeeded during this unprecedented time. 

Schools, restaurants, workplaces, and recreational industries closed their doors and ushered millions outside. As the R3 community mobilized, state agencies had a uniquely positioned ally in a team of counterculture hunter/storytellers whose brand spoke to the heart of a young, diverse, and non-traditional audience.  

A passion project turned multimedia powerhouse, Northwood Collective’s Project Upland aims to inspire a new generation of hunters by providing a welcoming and non-competitive community focused on upland hunting sustainability. In 2019, this brand community expanded its scope and reach, with 40% of its audience consisting of brand-new hunters. Co-founder and Creative Director A.J. DeRosa attributes this progress to a strong company culture of passionate employees with a willingness to experiment and problem-solve. 

After a conversation with DeRosa about what drives Project Upland’s growth, here are some key takeaways that agencies can start employing in their Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation efforts. 

Q; How do we create (recruit) the next generation of hunters? 

PU: As the older generation phases out of hunting due to age, lack of physical ability, and other inherent factors, marketing and outreach should shift towards Millennials and Gen Z. Although not a new concept to the R3 community, promoting involvement in hunting activities within these generations is a cornerstone of our content strategy. 

Representation will be a critical investment as we fight to recruit and retain these newer participants. It is crucial to diversify content and equip ourselves with the ability to segment our audiences so that we can provide content that not only speaks to underrepresented customers but provides them with the visual representation needed to imagine themselves recreating outside. 

Q; How do you drive a message around culture, since that term is so loaded these days?  

PU: A culture of inclusivity, nuance, and empathy is what makes Project Upland so inviting and has enabled us to grow and nurture an audience full of new hunters. Agencies have the opportunity to turn unfortunate labels like “hipster,” “millennial,” and “liberal” into chances to engage with people who don’t feel like they are being spoken to by the traditional outdoor community. 

Q: What motivates your audience? 

PU: I (DeRosa) grew up in a hunting family, but I recognize that younger generations are growing up with limited to no exposure to hunting due to increased urbanization. They need to be inspired and given a reason to hunt, and they need to be invited. Some of these reasons can be as simple as food, environmental conservation, sustainability benefits, having a community to be a part of, and even their pets. Some of our audience got involved in hunting after learning about their dogs’ hunting nature. These dog owners’ strong attachment and adoration towards their pets led to a desire to allow their dogs to explore their hunting inclinations. 

Q: What’s the secret sauce for your content? 

PU: This new audience and its increasingly broad demographic, psychographic, and geographic composition needs to be appealed to through the right platforms and suitable content formats. Video is an effective method to get their attention, and we emphasize TikTok for Gen Z. However, utilizing multiple platforms and types of media can also prove beneficial in engaging with this younger generation who desires artistic storytelling along with real and authentic content. 

Q: Talk to us about mobilizing TikTok  

PU: 2020 also gave us TikTok; despite having been around since 2012, many brands didn’t adopt it as a viable marketing strategy until recently. This particular platform has shown to be resistant to government agency adoptionand is banned outright by some agencies. The acknowledgment of the challenges and constraints governmental agency marketers have is an essential collaborative effort we must take to task as a community. Our community needs to find ways to help government agencies responsibly harness the power of TikTok through user-generated content marketing strategies led by influential TikTok creators. If we can do that, there’s an entire generation waiting to hear our stories. 

Q: What are your other content strategies?  

PU: I call it telling over selling. Artistic storytelling requires a narrative and focus on attractive visuals. Stunning photography and videography can not only be challenging to coordinate and pay for but can be dismissed if it comes off as unauthentic. Focusing on authentic storytelling, real people, doing real things in real places is a great start for a brand struggling to produce effective content. 

Some content that may resonate well for an agency’s audience is showcasing employees and the work they do to conserve and care for wildlife. If people know why you care about the outdoors, they’ll be more likely to care themselves. Featuring successful hunters and influencers that represent the younger end of the audience in your state while showing their love for the outdoors is another example of authentic content. 

Q: How do you manage to get noticed in the blizzard of content?  

PU: Young people have smaller attention spans than do older generations, because their options for great content are more numerous. According to Forbes and the Statistic Brain Research Institute, Gen-Z holds an average attention span of just eight seconds, while a Millennial’s average attention span is 12 secondsOnce this market is interested, it is crucial to maintain their interest. “How-to” articles are essential in developing these new hunters, but just as important is finding creative, authentic ways to demonstrate these lessonsWhen you find something that is grabbing the attention of your audience on a specific medium or channel, force yourself to prioritize doing more of that same kind of thing. Because of how most social algorithms work, growing your audience is a byproduct of increasing engagement with the audience you already have. 

Q: We often hear that how-to content is boring. How do you effectively deliver that sort of foundational information?  

PU: Hunting is complex, so it needs to be broken down into simple terms. Informational articles have been essential in Project Upland’s growth because they provide our audience with resources to learn. Accessibility and relatability are critical in this process of closing the information gap with all the questions new hunters may have. As more experienced hunters, many of us relish the activities that would be considered pain points to a new participant. The seasoned upland hunter often finds the same amount of joy in scouting and finding a cover full of ruffed grouse as they would the next morning when they are flushing them. Giving new participants a road map with executable and feasible steps like this article is a great way to nurture a customer on their journey outdoors 

Q: Can you describe a typical user’s journey through your content?  

PU: We think “journey” is the right term. We try to think through the user experience in all of its content and treats each article like a journey all its own. By separating and organizing informational articles with subheadings to answer basic questions such as who, what, where, why, and howwe aim to help readers quickly find value and extract the desired message. First-person writing and the addition of personal anecdotes can add the relatability. For example, you can promote hunting opportunities easily accessible in a specific geographical area important to the target audience. Break this down by explaining;  

  • Who/Which game animals you’re able to hunt in that area.  
  • What to look for and how to read sign.  
  • Where to hunt, where’s the habitat, where the game can be found.  
  • Why that game animal should be hunted – as a source of food? Are they a predator of an endangered animal in the area?  
  • How to hunt that particular game animal.  

Making sure to simplify the steps and even overexplain each to ensure the information gets through to the novice hunter. Organizing the information to allow them to pick through which of these elements they are most interested can also be helpful. If you enable the reader to navigate efficiently through the article based on their interest, your message will be delivered more effectively.  

“Overall, when it comes to compelling content, think culture, always be willing to learn, use your resources, show off your passion, and don’t be afraid to fail and try again.” – A.J. DeRosa 

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