Moving the Bike from Must Have to Must Ride for Women

This December Electra made Oprah's favorite things list. Imagine if this bike not only showed up as a "must have" item as above but also ended up featured in an article in the same magazine on how riding a bike has improved a woman's life? O Magazine has over two and a half million print subscribers + their internet audience. If having an item on Oprah's favorite things list can set a company up for months in sales, imagine what having an inspirational bike story could do?

Right now the bike is hot as media darling as a "must have" item in all kinds of lifestyle press but editorial stories and features about how bikes are being used by ordinary people to make extraordinarily positive changes in their lives aren't showing up much. Let's change that. This January I'll be pitching stories about the women in our creative team and beyond as editorial stories to a variety of media outlets like O Magazine, More, Vogue, Refinery 29 and others for May as National Bike Month.

Do you know someone the media needs to know about? Let me know! Maybe it's you! Imagine how exciting it will be, and the hearts and minds we'd inspire to get back on the bike (or try for the first time), if major lifestyle media outlets started to regularly feature stories of how women are reversing diabetes, gaining strength, enjoying their city more, and saving significant money all by bike?

And what if we were able to get stories of the bike as a tool for optimism in the media not just about women but girls too? It's during the preteen years that the self confidence of girls starts to plummet. Now at 50 I am thrilled by the bold adventurous young female heroines I read about in books and see in movies. So why is it still ok to use the term "Like a Girl" as a acceptable insult? How can we help change that? Talented creatives are working on it - but imagine how inspirational stories of girls riding bikes could help.

I don't know about you but I'm guilty of saying sorry way too often. But what stopped me cold about the sorry scenario is when my two year old niece started to say it too. Yikes! This commercial from earlier this year by Pantene hair products (of all things) does a beautifully witty job of illustrating just how frequently women use this word. And what if, when top creatives are putting together sassy smart stylish ads like this they just automatically showed women biking and walking? Imagine the culture shift that could happen and let's invite them to do just that.

Melissa Balmer is a writer, media relations specialist and active living advocate. Her mission is to share the power of artistry and personally engaging storytelling to inspire. Her passion is to recruit fresh voices from diverse multi-generational perspectives to share their stories in traditional and new media platforms to engage new audiences in active living. She has developed a multi-faceted strategy to exponentially grow positive stories of biking in California’s media and beyond – with an emphasis on women.

Banana Republic's Creative Shift Remembers the Bike

Note: Images used here and on our front page are screen clips taken from various Banana Republic sources.

Note: Images used here and on our front page are screen clips taken from various Banana Republic sources.

As we prepare to launch our fundraising efforts to support the creation of our Pedal Love: Having Civil Streets Conversations among Californians and Beyond digital media and style guide, I've been pondering how we can best engage and connect with some of the most creative minds in California to help us successfully move beyond the car vs. bike mindset we see so often portrayed in the news media when it covers anything bicycling.

No, the stories don't always have a negative cars deserve the road to themselves/it's not safe otherwise twist (let's remember, shall we, that car crashed are a leading cause of death for young people ages 5-34). I was particularly buoyed by this excellent article by Adele Peters on Fast Company's Co.Exist section about the pay off for the cities that go for building bold, separate bike infrastructure posted this weekend.

But for every positive, well researched story like the one above there are one or more that are so blatantly bike-negative from journalists who are suppose to be neutral. What I find particularly hard to deal with is that they often don't bother to find an expert with a different point of view on the positive side of the growing urban bike culture (say a traffic engineer or a city planner), no instead they let someone just be angry that bicyclists are getting in their way.

The great irony for us here at Pedal Love is that one of our worst examples comes from one of our most beloved news sources - NPR. I know. Hard to believe. In a story on the popular L.A. Bike Train program (a program that teaches people how to safely commute to work by bike in groups) "All Things Considered" decided to balance the bike-positive story by sharing the annoyance of an L.A. driver who likes to use her car to drive up to bicyclists to try and scare them off the road with no commentary by the reporter that this woman's behavior was both dangerous and illegal.

The bike is absolutely a tool for optimism in the face of some of our biggest challenges - city traffic congestion, the rising cost of cars, college and housing, and yes the growing sedentary disease pandemic. So how, as advocates do we help make a happier culture shift and get more people to understand the incredibly positive opportunities? We become more emotionally and visually engaging storytellers.

Examples and tips on more engaging storytelling is one of the key things I'll be sharing as part of the "Successfully Marketing to Women in the New Media Age" panel that I'll be on at the Pro Walk/Pro Bike: Pro Place conference coming up in Pittsburgh in early September. I have the honor of presenting with Carolyn Szczepanski Director of Communication for the League of American Bicyclists, Barbara Chamberlain Executive Director of Washington Bikes, and Elly Blue of Taking the Lane.

True style is as unique as the four couples who embody the west coast spirit in our spring campaign. Share your own #truestyle bananarepublic.com/true

The two videos I've shared here are both by Banana Republic. The top video is pretty fashion only focused but it's hard not to notice the bike that GQ's executive stylist Brett Fahlgren is leaning on (and riding on at the end). Obviously his bike is a big part of his Venice lifestyle.

One of the most iconic brands out of Northern California (they're based in San Francisco) Banana Republic is currently going through its own culture shift. For this they've brought in Marissa Webb (it looks like this tweet above from Webb is actually of her - I'm going to find out!), formerly of J. Crew as their new Creative Director and EVP of Design starting with their Fall collection. The new fall print campaign illustrates their "charge towards authenticity in storytelling." Are we listening advocates?

This image is not only being run as print ads but also on gigantic billboards.

This image is not only being run as print ads but also on gigantic billboards.

Starting in spring 2014 (which the videos above are from) Banana Republic decided it would be "moving away from models playing characters in their videos and ads to celebrating the brand’s heritage and commitment to authenticity by sharing product stories through the lens of real-life couples who embody the spirit of the modern day adventurer."

Yes, I know all of the couples look like models, this is a major fashion brand after all, but what else do you notice?

They're selling the joy of romance and commitment no matter whether you're heterosexual or gay. It's a bold move, a wonderful move, and it very much celebrates the brand's progressive San Francisco heritage.

And happily they haven't forgotten the bike! Over the past five+ years that I've been involved in bike advocacy Banana Republic is one of the major fashion brands that frequently uses the bike to illustrate their particular aesthetic.

No, most of us in bike advocacy don't have anywhere near the budgets for our marketing materials and outreach that Banana Republic has, but that doesn't mean we can learn from them. In my talks and classes I always ask participants to get as clear as possible on who they really want to reach and connect with. If we are going to truly create a culture shift that means we need to be connecting successfully with the broadest possible audience - not just those who have already committed themselves to advocate for life by bike. Every day here in Long Beach I see an array of people riding an array of bikes (and frankly most are riding urban bikes with baskets and panniers - yes, even the men in my very working class neighborhood) that I have never ever seen at any bike advocacy meeting - or any bike focused event.

Over the years I've found that too often bike advocacy organizations stick with the comfort zone and interest of their most dedicated advocates for the tone, look and feel of their outreach materials.  This can be a very counterproductive if you want to get more women and children to ride and your website and marketing materials are pictures of middle aged white male vehicular cyclists.

Happily of late this is really starting to change - captivating images of women and children are starting to move front and center in imagery on national advocacy sites like People for Bikes but there's still a lot of work to be done. Emotionally engaging story telling is starting to be a subject at conferences but we're still leading in on our blogs, and marketing and media outreach with laws, policy and infrastructure. It's not that these aren't very important issues, but they're only one angle. Every media outlet, newspaper, t.v. station, news blog etc. covers health, lifestyle and personal interest stories as well. That's where we need to be consistently pitching inspiring stories of our friends, relatives and fellow bike advocates who've reversed their diabetes, lost weight, saved enough money to be back in the middle class, discovered their city anew etc. by bike.

So here's one idea I'd like to close with. Right under your nose there's an inspiring story on bicycling that needs to be told. Who's the most emotionally engaging writer on your team? Have them write a profile of this inspiring person. Next, get a great photo of this person looking happy and at their best with their bike. I encourage bike advocates to reach out to creatives in their community right under their noses to see what kind of bike-friendly artistic synergy might be possible. I highly recommend reaching out to young female wedding photographers - especially those who are proving to be popular on the myriad of beautiful wedding blogs. Wedding photography has made a quantum leap towards showcasing the unique individuality of brides, grooms and the whole wedding celebration.

Share this inspiring story and image on your website and in your next emailer. Then take it a step further, send a brief personal email note to the reporter at your local paper who covers an area of this inspiring person's story. it doesn't have to be a press release. Maybe it's a health reporter, or someone who covers women's issues.  Prepare a 15-30 second live pitch why this story is compelling and then call that reporter.  Reporters are often receiving 60+ emails a day. Be persistent. See what happens and if you place a story make sure to let me know: Melissa@pedallove.org.