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Backbone Media: Small town agency with big reach

Audrey Ryan
The Aspen Times
Backbone Media's 25th anniversary came at the tail end of last year.
Backbone Media/Courtesy photo

In a small building on the corner of 4th Street and Colorado Avenue in Carbondale, employees of Backbone Media are hard at work representing brands they believe in as they head into their 25th year.

Some work standing, others in soundproof “Zoom tubes,” and some are just getting in after a morning of skiing. The office is filled with puppies wandering around, looking to be pet. The buzz throughout the building suggests the staff is working hard to represent their outdoor brands.

According to Backbone President Greg Williams, their personality as an agency is a “mountain guide.”



“Backbone is an extension of the brands we work for. We are a network. And that network has grown over time through the brands that we work with,” he said.

They currently work with 100 clients, including some iconic outdoor lifestyle brands such as Black Diamond, Eddie Bauer and Osprey. One notable brand they have helped for over 10 years is Yeti.



“When [Yeti] started out, nobody had ever heard of them,” Williams said. “Now they’re a multibillion dollar, publicly traded company. We’ve been with them from the start, and have evolved that relationship.”

Backbone employees on bikes outside of the Carbondale headquarters.
Backbone Media/Courtesy photo

Backbone views client relationships as crucial. Although their headquarters is in Carbondale, they have an office in Denver and remote employees across the nation. Operating out of a small town comes with its challenges, but the positives far outweigh the negatives, Williams said. Being in a mountain town where there is hiking, biking, skiing and climbing just outside the office allows Backbone to test out the products they support.

“We’ve always been a little bit of road warriors. We’re not afraid to get on the road. We want a seat at the table,” said Williams.

While some companies may find a nationwide reach to be scary or intimidating, Williams called it motivating. Additionally, Zoom has allowed them to connect with clients and enabled them to do their work.

Backbone may have started as a public relations firm, but they have extended the breadth of their services so much that they don’t consider themselves just a PR firm anymore. Their 130 employees do everything from digital media, media planning, social media, marketing strategy and search engine optimization in addition to public relations.

“It was just me buying advertising for a long time. Now there’s 50 people on the team that are just buying advertising all day, optimizing campaigns, and reporting on campaigns,” said Williams.

The employees aren’t thrown into working with a brand they don’t like or know anything about. The brands each employee works with are catered to the things they care about.

“I have a little niche going. I’ve created my portfolio with sustainability-oriented brands,” said Keile Kropf, media director at Backbone, who works on accounts such as Patagonia and Smart Wool.

“I knew that I wanted to work in marketing, but not in just any industry. I wanted it to be an industry I was passionate about and connected to what I like to do,” she said.

Backbone doesn’t do an annual retreat because to retreat is to move backwards, Williams said. Instead, they do an annual company “charge,” in which they get together and talk about what’s next. Last year’s charge was in Moab.
Backbone Media/Courtesy photo

The team at Backbone is filled with motivated, career-oriented individuals who embody the saying “work hard, play hard,” Williams said.

“They want to grow and they care about the type of work they do. We like to hire intellectually curious, entrepreneurially-minded individuals that can work within an organization that has structure, but also has a lot of freedom,” he said.

Sometimes, a work day at Backbone looks like taking a magazine editor out on the slopes with new gear Backbone is trying to promote.

“It’s definitely a lot of fun work, but hard work, too,” said Charles Lozner, vice president of digital media at Backbone. “There’s a lot of a lot of accountability and a lot of reporting. In some ways we’re like a portfolio manager for these brands. They give us millions and millions of dollars, and we’ve got to put it to work and make it perform in a very short amount of time.”

Marketing agencies are notorious for being cutthroat, but not Backbone, according to Williams. He said they take pride in being a low drama agency where everyone cares about each other and celebrates each other’s successes.

“When somebody gets promotion, when somebody runs a great campaign, when somebody has success, we want to celebrate that,” he said.

The care Williams and the leadership show toward employees has earned them a spot on Outside Magazine’s “Best Places to Work” list for five years running. They want to see each employee succeed, and will continue to provide opportunities for business to team members so they can grow their careers, Williams said.

With the new year comes a rebrand for Backbone Media, which will now officially be known as just “Backbone.”

“What we say our promise is, is we connect brands to the here and the next, not the here and the now, the here and the next,” Williams said. “The here is we’re engaged, we’re present, we’re writing for the brand. But we’re also looking into what’s next.”

Going forward, Backbone will continue to be an agency for people who want to be outside and move. Their team, made up of “specialists of stoke,” as Williams called them, always looking to what’s next for the brands they work with, he said.

“We want to show up with energy. We want to show up with smiles on our face. We want to show up with enthusiasm,” he said. “And that’s important.”

To reach Audrey Ryan, email her at aryan@aspentimes.com.


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