Earlier this week I wrote a post about how I was now an ambassador for Lowe Alpine, the legendary rucksack brand. While the vast, vast majority of people were happy for us, there were one or two barbed comments.
The thing is, working with genuinely iconic brands who make world-class products was not even on my radar when I first started the blog a few years back. When I say it wasn’t on my radar, it was about as much on my radar as Joseph could have predicted his virgin bride would fall pregnant. It simply did not enter my head. Back then, I was simply writing as an outlet for my own wellbeing and documenting our family adventures so that, in years to come, with our bodies wearied, we’d have something to reminisce about. Of course, in years to come when the kids no longer want to be seen alive with us in public, we’ll also have something to prove that once upon a time they actually quite liked spending quality time with us.
Back then, I had no idea that people would want to read our stuff let alone want to ask our advice and join us for walks. At that point, I realised that families like ours, who want to get back to nature and explore the outdoors regularly are, unfortunately, in the minority. So, it was at that point that I recognised that if people were going to read our blog anyway I could use it for what I still think is the noble aim of trying to get more people being active outside more regularly. Along with documenting our adventures for us to look back on in years to come, inspiring other people to spend more time outside is now clearly the other primary aim of Potty Adventures.
You only have to look around in the media to realise why I’m so passionate about this. We’re the fattest, most stationary generation to ever slide, slug-like across this wonderful planet of ours. Childhood obesity is at a record high, type 2 diabetes likewise, and being addicted to computer games is now officially recognised by the World Health Organisation as a mental health condition. Oh, and talking of mental health: one in three of us are now likely to suffer with mental ill health at some point in the near future.
The National Trust conducted some research that found children today spend half as much time outside as their parents’ generation. At the same time, they’re spending, on average, 188 minutes (over three hours) a day on their phones. If we add that to the other types of digital time that they engross themselves in (TV, laptops etc.), it is estimated that your average teen clocks up to 6 hours a day sedentary time behind a screen!
Now, let’s be clear: I think technology is wonderful and am a big advocate for children (and adults) being computer literate and using social media as a force for good. However, these stats clearly show that things are getting out of control. This fast-paced, digitally driven world of ours is starting to take it toll. As such, and given these startling statistics, I’m glad that we bang this repetitive drum about getting out and being active as family. It’s important.
The issue was that the louder I banged that drum, the more people listened and I started to be asked, on a regular basis, for advice on gear, clothing and suitable routes. Consequently, we began to share reviews on kit that we’d come across, thrashed and loved. After all, if you’re going to encourage people outdoors the least you can do is give them the knowledge and advice that they need to make it safe and enjoyable. That’s why, for instance, I was running navigation skills walks for people who access our local council’s mental health services over the summer.
I’m really proud of the fact that, in essence, the blog has not changed from this early ideal. We have remained stoically faithful to our niche and have only chosen to work with products and brands that we truly believe in and utilise personally. I’m not in the business of nor have the time to slag off rubbish kit – being sensationalist just for clicks isn’t me. I’m only interested in recommending good kit to good people so that they have options when it comes to making their next purchase.
I fully accept that entering into partnerships with big companies and having them refer to me as one of their company ambassadors may raise some eyebrows, but as the blog has grown so have our opportunities. Little did I think a few years ago, for instance, that I’d be invited to talk at festivals and events and be asked to contribute to major magazines. It that sense it has been a bloody marvellous whirlwind to be honest.
However, the main thing that I want to make abundantly clear is that any brand we work with and any company that we enter into a long-term relationship with have totally and utterly checked us out and we, likewise, have totally done our homework on them to make sure that they fit our focus, beliefs and passion. We have genuinely turned down tonnes and tonnes of paying brand collaboration work. We’ve had everything from car tyre companies and financial institutions, to home insurance and kids’ slime manufacturers hawking their wares to us. No matter what the product or the fee being offered to advertise it, the rationale is simple: if it doesn’t naturally fit with the content and aim of our blog then it is politely declined.
We’re lucky to both have professional careers away from the blog so we’re in the very privileged position of not having to chase every single paying blog job that appears in our inbox. Unfortunately, some (certainly not all) blogs that I have seen appear to cash in on seemingly anything and everything – purporting themselves to be masters of all trades when in actual fact I struggle to see if they are even a Jack of one. It’s cringing to witness. The amount of crap, pre-scripted drivel that some people post to make a fast buck is an embarrassment. Their lack of scruples and inability to find a distinct place or voice for themselves in the blogosphere dilutes the credence and respectability of the blogging community. And, to be honest, that’s a crying shame because it is otherwise an awesome community with a lot of great writers and inspirational figures with important messages that should be heard.
I suppose one of the problems is that some people begin blogging, as they see it, as a potential easy earner and a way to get ‘freebies’. The truth is getting recognised and earning respect from your particular blogging community and then getting to a position where you have long-term relationships with major brands takes a lot of time and effort. It takes courage in those early months and years to turn down your first few offers of gifted stuff or paid content if you know in your heart of hearts that it’s not a good fit for whatever niche you are trying to carve out for yourself. However, by persisting and staying strong to your blog values, it’s far more likely to end up as successful enterprise than it would have done had you opted to enter the slippery slope of being willing to advertise anything, anytime for anybody.
Again, I’m proud of the fact that we’ve stuck to our area of expertise and not sold our souls to make a few quid concocting some half-baked fantasy scenario to advertise something like carpet cleaner. (Seriously, could you imagine?) I strongly feel that by remaining true to ourselves we have gained a reputation to be respected.
Now that we’re respected we’ve been given even greater platforms to share our experience and views. Our relationship with Ordnance Survey, for example, has led to speaking opportunities at a wide variety of festivals and events. We’ve also been featured in a several magazines and publications. Just this week I’ve been featured by the great British institution that is John Lewis about why families should get outside and explore the outdoors.
Some might argue that ‘well, John Lewis aren’t exactly synonymous with the great outdoors!’ and I’d agree. But I’d also add that if a company that size with that much clout are willing to magnify the message that I’ve stayed true to and that I’m genuinely passionate about in an unfiltered way, then why the hell not? Only by getting across the importance of spending more time being active outside as a family to the masses (which John Lewis will undoubtedly help to do), will we be able to curb those shocking statistics I mentioned above!
So, there we have it. My slightly frustrated (did you guess?) diatribe defence of ‘living with myself’ ‘getting into bed with the big corporations’, as a couple of our rather short-sighted readers so eloquently put it a few days ago. I genuinely hope that by reading this you’ll understand that we have in no way sold our souls. In my eyes, by increasing our exposure and using the platforms given to us by big companies, festivals, and national magazines; we’ve, fingers crossed, just encouraged a few more families to put their phones down for a couple of hours to get outside, get some much-needed exercise and wellbeing time, and spend quality time with loved ones or friends. If we manage any of that then my conscious is completely clear.