Melissa Balmer

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

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:

My Dream for Bike Month - Part I


My dream for May as Bike Month is a dream of creativity and collaboration in bike advocacy, taking a page or two from the focus and long term planning of the top fashion and design campaigns.

Imagine if this year Bike Month is written about in newspapers across California and the country! It can happen if we work together, and we start now.

Imagine if next year celebrities such as the hit T.V. show Castle's lovely Stana Katic, and Beyonce are featured on the cover of magazines like Marie Claire and Vogue! It could happen if we start thinking and planning strategically now.

Both Stana and Beyonce love to ride their bikes - and Stana has even started her own Los Angeles based non-profit in collaboration with like minded friends called the "Alternative Travel Project" which has come up with the great idea of asking people to go #CARFREEMARCH for seven days. Think you can't do it in Los Angeles? Think again! Stana's done it! Take a look at the interview she did with On the Red Carpet - or see the video embedded on the front of our website.

On that note I'm very excited collaboration and media synergy coming together for us here at Pedal Love and Women on Bikes California. This includes our L.A. Times piece above which came out on March 1st but was months in the making - I'll share more about a little bit further down in this post.

The most important point I want to make about this L.A. Times piece, and all media placement, is that it's usually not luck that makes it happen. Yes, sometimes a piece or two falls in your lap, but for ongoing media placement an understanding of what sparks the media's curiosity in the first place is needed - and then planning and focused pitching make it happen.

And what's even better is when the media becomes an ally. If you haven't seen the cool new piece in the San Francisco Chronicle on bike style (both in print and online) check it out! Our own Janet Lafleur of "One Woman. Many Bikes" blog here at Pedal Love, and her own "Ladyfleur" blog is featured in a gorgeous red hat!

Janet Lafleur of the Ladyfleur blog in  SFGate's  bike fashion blog on March 2nd!

Janet Lafleur of the Ladyfleur blog in SFGate's bike fashion blog on March 2nd!

If you are someone who feels, as I do, that broad media and ongoing media coverage is crucial to the successful growth of bicycling in California (and the country as a whole) I hope you'll join Charlie Gandy, Allan Crawford, Maria Sipin, Kellie Morris and yours truly for our groundbreaking and collaborative "Active Living Plugged In" training in collaboration with the Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition, Bikeable Communinties, and Streetsblog L.A. on March 15 & 16 in downtown L.A. at the LACBC's headquarters.

Not local enough to join us? Not to worry - we'll be traveling around the state to host more Active Living Training Camps over the next three years. And I'm pondering putting together a special California media strategy conference call or webinar in either late March or early April. Make sure to sign up for our newsletter to be kept up to date!

But what if you're someone who doesn't understand why the heck the media still counts so much - and yes I'm including the old fashioned print media in this. New audiences my dear readers. Media, especially the emotionally engaging storytelling of the lifestyle media, has millions and millions of readers. Think fashion, design, and health. Let's take a look at a few of the top Conde Nast media outlets: Vogue has a 12.3 million print audience distribution and an average online monthly audience of 2.2 million, Vanity Fair has a 6.4 million print audience distribution, and an average online monthly audience of 4 million. According to the L.A. Times' media kit they reach 8.6 million adult readers weekly, and they have 19 million unique visitors monthly online.

Think about it, there are millions of people out there who read these types of media outlets online, in print, on television and listen on radio, who ride bikes and have no idea what the heck bike advocacy is and that we're warmly inviting them to get involved. They can't respond if they don't know about us. There are even more millions who read, watch, listen to these media outlets who don't ride a bike yet (or haven't in a long time)...but approached in the right way will.

Above is a video from the new Shinola ad campaign photographed by legendary fashion photographer Bruce Weber and including top model Carolyn Murphy. Their new spring ads images and videos became available online in February because March is the launch of spring fashion lines in fashion print publications.

While I would have preferred the campaign had selected a top African American model to focus on for the campaign (and there are more and more these days - hurrah!) or even discovered a young woman locally to be featured, I totally understand why they chose to focus on a big name model like Carolyn Murphy - brand awareness. Shinola has hit the pavement running with their watch, bike, leather products company out of Detroit. In the March issue of Vogue they have an ad that is several pages long (and yes the bike is featured). They have achieved stellar media placements over the past couple of years.

FYI Banana Republic also has an ad in this month's Vogue that is several pages long and also includes a bike.

The big print magazines plan their editorial six months in advance, which means that Bike Month campaigns would have to be ready to preview to those outlets by November, which means that they'd have to be organized a few months before that. Actually September at Interbike and Pro Walk/Pro Bike: Pro Place 2014 would be great places to debut new Bike Month images, videos and collateral.

How the L.A. Times Blog Happened

On March 1st Robert Greene of the L.A. Times posted his very thoughtful and articulate piece in Opinion LA feature both Charlie Gandy and myself: "What Long Beach can teach us about cycling and politics." This is one of the first piece in the Times that has really delved into the Long-Beach-becoming bike-friendly story and we so appreciate how well Robert synthesized all of the information we shared with him over a 3+ hour bike ride and shorts visits with key figures along the way. We are especially grateful that he included Mark Bixby in the story.

This March is three years since we lost Mark, our charismatic visionary for all things bicycling here Long Beach. The loss is still felt greatly, illustrating how much of a positive impact one person can make. Mark was a consummate collaborator. For those of us who had the privilege to know him, even briefly, we felt empowered by his willingness to welcome us in.

My outreach to the L.A. Times ramped up and broadened a few months prior to CalBike's California by Bike summit last November. Robert Greene is the one who responded and came to the summit to find out more on what the heck bicycle advocacy actually is. He has been part of the editorial team that created the Times groundbreaking #roadshare blog column. While some of the blogs felt like they continued what we feel is the unproductive "car vs. bike" angle, many of the pieces were really well researched and again thoughtful, illustrating beautifully what well trained journalists can bring to the table. We are very grateful to Robert and Carla Hall and the other journalists who made it happen. We hope the times will consider bringing #roadshare back for May, and then in the future in a broader livability conversation incorporating walking, transit and design.

In particular I'm very pleased and excited about the February 26th blog post in the L.A. Times "L.A.'s plan to make Figueroa a 'complete street" makes sense" most importantly ended with the Times editorial team coming out in support of the concept of complete streets in general.

This is a huge win for L.A. county in general and the Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition, Los Angeles Walks and others who have worked so hard for so many years to make the region safer for those who bike, walk and take transit in specific. I was also very excited to come across the January 11th piece in Henry Grabar's "Dream City" blog on "L.A. ditches traffic jams: A hollywood renaissance for biking and walking"

Stay tuned for Part II and our new Pedal Love show on Bike Talk!