Championing Inclusivity Through Content: Q&A with REI’s Chelsea Davis
Jordan Kelley, Content Director, BrandStorytelling.tv
REI has been on a roll in recent years using entertaining and informational content to reflect its values of inclusivity in the outdoors. Their latest addition to that content comes in audio form with a podcast created in partnership with Subaru and the National Park Foundation.
“Hello, Nature” looks at the wonder of America's National Parks from an often-unexplored perspective. Pakistani-American host Misha Euceph didn’t know about the National Parks until she turned 21. But after an experience in Joshua Tree and watching 12 hours of Ken Burns' The National Parks: America's Best Idea, she set out on a road trip (in a Subaru Outback) to answer the question: if the Parks are public, aren’t they supposed to be for everyone? Hello, Nature seeks to invite voices of color into the conversation about exploring and spending time in the great outdoors and aims to reassure those that do that they’re not alone.
Brand Storytelling caught up with Senior Program Manager and Content Strategist at REI Chelsea Davis to learn more about what it took to bring Hello, Nature to life and why a podcast like this one is important for the moment in which we’re currently living:
REI has become one of the most, if not the most, vocal outdoor recreation companies to advocate for diversity and inclusion in natural spaces. When did the company start voicing those values publicly and why?
REI believes the outdoors is for everyone, and that as a co-op and outdoor industry leader, must do better in making sure that everyone feels welcome, and excited about spending time outside. It’s not a secret that what’s traditionally thought of and promoted as outdoors has been predominantly white (according to a report from the National Park Service, over 90% of national parks visitors are white) so, there’s not only work to do to in creating more opportunities and access to these places but there’s also work to do in how we define the outdoors. It doesn’t have to be backcountry camping and summiting mountains – there are amazing outdoor places in urban spaces, city parks, etc. that we’ve failed in the past to recognize and celebrate.
I understand Hello, Nature was a long time in the making. Can you take us back to the beginning of that process? What was the original idea for the podcast and where did it come from?
The conversation started in mid-2019 when we were brainstorming new shows, we wanted to create something that would intrigue and inspire people to see the national parks in a different way. We passed the idea along to Misha, who was able to craft a personal and powerful story.
Misha Euceph feels like a natural fit to host. When did she and her company Dustlight Productions become involved in the process?
Misha reached out to us in 2019 with a general interest in partnering. Based on her past work (The Big One, Beginners, Tell Them I Am) we were excited to figure out an angle that Misha and her team at Dustlight Productions could bring to life. The pandemic put a wrench in our plans, but we finally kicked it off in 2021 and we’re so glad we did – the stories and the experiences she captured while traveling to the eight national parks is insightful, personal and an important take on our national parks.
At what point did Subaru and the National Parks become part of the equation? What did their brand support look like when it came to producing the podcast?
Subaru has been an important partner of the co-op for years and felt like a natural fit and sponsor of this project who care about the national parks. As for the National Park Foundation, we reached out to them to get their thoughts on the concept as well as asked for their help to connect Misha to some of the folks at the parks.
What was the balance of influence and input between Dustlight, Subaru, the National Parks, and REI?
REI Co-op Studios and Dustlight Productions are the primary producers of the show. We hired Dustlight to create the 8-part series and collaborated with them on the production and post-production stages of the project. Subaru has been an incredible partner in helping get Misha to these parks as well as helping to market the show. The National Park Foundation has been helping connect us to people in and associated with the parks as well as connecting us to the National Park Service.
It appears that sometimes REI receives pushback against content that spotlights inclusivity in the outdoors in places like the YouTube comment section. How do you respond to that as a brand, if at all?
We hope our content sparks healthy dialogue, inspires advocates of sustainable practices and a more inclusive outdoors, however REI has no tolerance for bigotry or hate speech, and comments must follow REI’s digital community guidelines, seen here:
"Our goal is to invite uplifting community conversation that inspires, educates, and celebrates outdoor adventure and stewardship. We foster community conversation through approachable and authentic dialogue on REI social channels. Please treat everyone with the same respect you extend to your real-life friend or family interactions. We prohibit racist, sexist, abusive, harassing, defamatory, pornographic, threatening, obscene or otherwise offensive language—including profanity. REI reserves the right to remove any comments that violate this policy."
As a content strategist, why do you think it is important for brands to speak their values through their content?
People connect with stories. Real humans engaging in real things and sharing their experiences is what makes podcasts so powerful – it’s a medium that can be consumed anywhere and allows the storyteller to go deep on the topic in a personal way that endears the listener to them. I hope you’ll walk away from “Hello, Nature” feeling like you know Misha while also learning more about the national parks – it’s intimate and personal and that’s what makes it memorable. Content, when done well, brings people to your brand and has them coming back for more because you’re telling relatable, human stories.
About Chelsea Davis
Chelsea Davis is a senior content strategist on the content and media team at REI and manages the podcast and content partnerships program. Her career in content started at a zero-waste grocery store in Austin, TX and after a handful of years in tech, she landed at the Co-op. When she’s not binge listening to new podcasts, she can be found collecting tattoos, hiking with her dogs, attempting to grow vegetables and learning how to play the banjo.