We are really grateful to Dave Mycroft founder on MyOutdoor.co.uk , a well-respected outdoor and adventure portal, that coverers topical news, reviews and issues in outdoors, travel and adventure. So often the people who bring us the news are not recognised. We hope this new series on Rohantime changes that. So please join us in saying …
Q: Tell us some more about MyOutdoor. Why did you launch it?
A: MyOutdoors actually started through frustration. After several years with OutdoorsMagic I’d spent 6 months writing unique product descriptions for a retailer while also developing the predecessor of MyOutdoors for them. One afternoon in September 2010 I got the phone call to tell me that due to internal issues the project was being scrapped. With 6 months of background work completed I was faced with the choice of scrapping it completely or continuing it independently. I chose to continue.
With just 14 days to remove all the data on the server and find an alternative host it was a very steep learning curve. The first week was spent learning Joomla, the open source platform that powers the site, and finding an affordable host and by day 10 I had the existing reviews transferred.
On October 7th 2010 MyOutdoors launched.
Looking back it would have been great to have some grand master plan but the reality is I’d lost a sizeable chunk of my monthly income, had lots of spare time on my hands and, although the original project had been pulled for financial reasons rather than any design or content issues, I had a bit of an “I’ll show them” perspective. Having been involved in the industry for years I also saw MyOutdoors as a way of remaining involved.
Q. You now have a large digital presence in the industry. It must be demanding to manage all the different channels. Are you self-taught?
A: I’m completely self-taught, but the self-teaching has been a continuing process over 20 plus years. In many ways I was lucky to be born into the generation who had to understand computers to use them. We had to learn the logical arguments that drive computers from installing devices to writing a website in HTML; those same logical arguments still drive the software and hardware on our computers and just knowing that an error code is actually information rather than a cause for panic has helped.
Managing the output across multiple channels and platforms is both a blessing and a curse. Everybody knows the importance of branding, so from day one I went for a single, identifiable, name across all channels with MyOutdoors on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the domain name. Although it took a while to persuade Twitter to transfer the MyOutdoors ID to us from an American hunting shop. Once you’ve got the bricks in place you find they all have cross-posting options and it becomes primarily a matter of time management.
Q. How do you decide what My Outdoors covers, given the vast number of topic available across the breath of outdoor’s UK
A: It’s not being simplistic to say that until the last few months there’s been one single and over-riding policy on content…….If I’d be interested in reading it then it should be on MyOutdoors. The only change over the last few months being changing the “I” to “we” as we’ve added a Running Editor and now a Cycling Editor.
Sitting in the porch of a tent I still look across the sea of tents and play the “what would I change mine for” and that’s the philosophy that drives the content. We like to look at things from the perspective of the enthusiastic amateur, with their budgets and their inspirations because essentially that’s what we are too.
Q. I notice you are often first or very near the top with breaking news in the outdoors. This must be very demanding on you (or your team).
A: When I started MyOutdoors I didn’t want it to be a replacement or alternative to something that already existed, but something new. I couldn’t compete with the likes of OutdoorsMagic when it came to feature content, or Grough when it came to inside reports of yesterday’s rescues but with News it was a level playing field.
News is only news the first time you hear it so to make an impression MyOutdoors has to either be first with the news or have greater depth of knowledge than the initial reports give; there’s no point in rewriting two day old news when it hits the pages of the BBC website. Getting in first depends on a combination of technology and the foundations of good journalism; contacts, instinct and monitoring. Contacts are the crown jewels of reporting and years of involvement in the outdoor industry mean I often hear a rumour that tips me off to something before it happens. Instinct tells you whether or not there’s “mileage” in a news item or whether it will be tomorrow’s virtual fish and chip paper. Monitoring is an important part of news reporting and along with BBC, Associated Press and Reuters we monitor around 30 press sources around the world at least once every half hour for breaking news up to 16 hours a day.
The recent Nepal earthquakes are a perfect example of how we process news as it develops with our first alert coming from monitoring the USGS Earthquake Notification Service. Recognising the epicentre’s proximity to the major climbing areas of Nepal and the time of year, which meant the trekking and climbing season would be in full swing, alarm bells rang instantly. Sources we monitor in Northern India and Nepal were confirming the earthquake as the first tweets came through from climbers reporting avalanches. With two separate, and reliable, sources we started reporting on Twitter. Over the next 24 hours we made contact with reliable sources on the ground to give us the latest updates. Combining what was coming in from multiple reliable sources we were able to aggregate more complete reports and authoritative updates….. with a domino effect that as our reports and updates were proving reliable we received more and more news of developments.
Q. You cover world wide topics with relation to outdoor activities and their relation to the environment. How do you see UK in the global outdoor scene.
A: I’ve yet to meet a hill walker or a climber, a caver or a mountain biker who doesn’t have an appreciation of what nature contributes to our lives and a deep desire to protect and/or improve the environment. As a sub-section of society the outdoor world is probably the most environmentally sensitive group of consumers out there. There’s also something in the nature of outdoor lovers that makes us naturally inquisitive; perhaps it’s that “what’s over the next ridge” mentality, and we ask the questions of manufacturers that others don’t.
The result is that relative to the rest of society I think the outdoor world, and industry, can hold its head up. Processes today are indistinguishable from even a decade ago whether it comes to chemical use or down production. Consumers are asking about carbon footprints and manufacturers are responding by cutting them. Sure, progress may seem painfully slow at times but when you look back over a decade at a time the steps have been bigger than we remember.
Q. Gear reviews are always in demand. You have a large number of reviews on the go at any one time. How do you manage them?
A: Gear reviews are a vital element of the MyOutdoors website and until recently have always been a double edged sword. Reviews bring more page hits to the site but to maintain the integrity of the test and review system means committing time to testing; time taken away from developing the site, sourcing samples to test, monitoring the news, sourcing advertisers and building relationships with manufacturers retailers and PRs.
After experimenting with outsourcing certain reviews to trusted testers over 2014 we took the major step of advertising for reviewers in December 2014 and in January 2015 announced a team of 6 new test and review members. Each of the 6 bring unique perspectives along with covering a range of outdoor activities and geographically spread across the country. They also free me up to do more of the back-end administration and look at further site development with my son Chris.
Adding a Running Editor, James MacKeddie, in March was a major step but has proved so successful that we’ve now added a Cycling Editor to cover mountain biking and cycle touring.
Q. In relation to reviews I am going to ask the question on behalf of readers how do you manage product failures at the review stage?
A: There are two types of failure – engineering failures and design failures. Engineering failures are where the basic design is OK but something’s gone wrong in the manufacturing process and an individual item or batch is faulty. Design faults are where the product has been manufactured as intended but fails. In both cases we report the reality.
Where it’s an engineering fault we will contact the manufacturer in advance of publishing the review and in most cases arrange a repeat review with a new sample. Where this isn’t possible the review will go out with a note, if applicable, that the sample tested may be a “bad batch”.
Where the fault is in design or the standard of components used, the review will go out “as is”. Quite often these design issues only show up under real life testing, for example a tape naturally falling into the line of a zip and causing jams, and tend to be the little things that annoy you once you’ve got over the excitement of your new kit.
Q. I am sure our readers will have other questions, particularly on this subject. If they add them into the comments below would you answer them for us all please?
A: I’ll do my best.
Q. The virtual side of the outdoor industry has definitely grown over the last few years. How do you see that developing over the next few yeas. (Social media, mobile etc)
A: I am amazed at the indifference with which the industry as a whole treats Social Media and the way in which so many of even the major players just play lip service to it. The real growth of the virtual side of the industry over recent years has been predominantly by the small, independent, innovators and entrepreneurs while the big boys have added the tasks of representing themselves globally to already existing employees’ roles and calling them “Social Media Managers”.
Over the next decade technology will become increasingly important in the outdoor industry. The customer is no longer tethered by a physical cable and their purchasing power no longer restricted by bricks and mortar. Business depends on communication and today’s communication revolves around mobility. The outdoor industry needs to get on board, and will do so whether it’s the brand names we recognise now or other names that have grasped the realities of a digital world and move in to fill a void.
Q. How do you view the big topic in the outdoor sector climate change and how do you think it is viewed in the industry.
A: This is always a difficult subject for a number of reasons. We live in an age where large proportions of the world’s population don’t believe a large percentage of what politicians tell us, and that applies as much to the west as the developing countries. As a concept it’s also an issues with a timescale way beyond the timescales most people think and operate on. The result is everyone “knows about” climate change but see it as a catch-all rolled out whenever there’s an extreme weather event.
Unfortunately a moral stance won’t change anything in terms of climate change in a world where the only word that counts is economics. Until it becomes blindingly obvious that without action economic activity will suffer badly climate change will be an issue the public see in the same way as they see taxes; unwelcome but not something the individual can do anything about, while the politicians will kick it around the long grass because it’s not a vote winner.
Having said that, the outdoor industry shouldn’t go overboard on self-criticising. With a strong European lead the outdoor industry is a lot further down the line than many industries in factoring the environment into every stage of the product’s production and distribution. There’s still a long way to go but as an industry at least we recognise the problems, are looking for alternatives and are proactive in upping standards and regulations.
Q. This leads very nicely to the future. What are your hopes and goals for MyOutdoors in the next few years.
A: MyOutdoors has grown into far more than I envisaged when starting out and has changed both in terms of size and influence. Bringing on-board 2 section Editors and six testers has made me both loosen my personal grip on controlling every aspect of the site and start considering it as a business rather than my personal property. If I look five years into the future I’d like to see MyOutdoors financially self-sufficient, relevant and respected as an entity in its own right with a reputation for quality and integrity.
Thank you Dave for being so open. There are lots of tips in this Q&A for anyone interested in joining the industry.