As the co-op continues to grow nationally, we also work to make connections with our local communities. REI’s Chief Customer Officer, Ben Steele, recently announced the creation of a new position to help REI in our work to be the center of life outdoors, from big cities to small towns and everywhere you find our co-op.
As the new director for local brand engagement and impact, Jennifer Lindenauer will lead the co-op’s work to become the heart of outdoor life and culture in every community. She comes to the co-op after three years as the chief strategy and marketing officer for the Good Media Group, previously the mission-driven media company Upworthy. Jenn’s decades long career in purpose led engagement spans the country with numerous groups including GMMB, MoveOn and The Guardian.
We caught up with Jennifer to learn more about where she comes from, how she’s thinking about this new role at REI and her favorite ways to #OptOutside.
How did you get involved in community organizing?
My very first job in community organizing was with a group called PIRG – Public Interest Research Group. I was finishing up my sophomore year in college and I really wanted to go work in Glacier National Park and be a park ranger. I just missed the deadline for the park service and was wondering what I would do for the summer when I saw this sign that said, “summer jobs for the environment.”
Perfect. What I wanted to do in Glacier so sign me up! Turns out the job was going door to door and raising money for environmental and consumer causes. I loved it. I spent my summer walking around, knocking on people’s doors and giving them a chance to – without doing much – make a really big difference on something critically important. The job taught me about communications and community engagement and organizing and how a bunch of people can get together and create real change that couldn’t have happened with people working on their own.
When I left school, I moved out to Seattle and took a job with the organization full time. I did that for about seven years – all over Washington, Colorado, and in D.C.
You later worked in local politics and statewide organization before becoming the first communications director for MoveOn.org. What made you want to make the transition to REI?
I think brands play a really important role in society and we’re just now coming into a place where that behavior is acknowledged and accepted and frankly requested by many customers.
Recognizing this moment made me think about moving to a brand. The outdoors has always been my passion. It’s where I’m happiest, most at peace, most creative – where I’m my best self. That’s my passion and as the customer changes and wants a brand to really live its values, I had the opportunity to join my passion with my profession. There’s no better place to do that than REI.
How do you see your role playing out in the progression and growth of the co-op?
As the co-op continues to grow and evolve, I’ll focus my work on understanding what problem we are trying to solve for our customers, region by region. My goal is to integrate activity and place with a local brand story to help customers see REI as a community convener, resource and the best place to purchase apparel, rent or buy gear and go on a killer experience outside.
When I think about how to succeed, it’s about understanding the customer needs and challenges within the context of where they live. What are the local activities? Where are the most popular places? What are the barriers to spending more time outside? What organizations support the local outdoor community? I’m excited to dig in and help answer those questions and re-imagine how REI fits in people’s lives from that perspective.
The co-op’s mission and commitment to the community is at the heart of our business, and my work will also aim to find opportunities to connect our brand story to customers at the right time and place in relation to where they live. If we’re successful, in the future when you think about going outside you think about REI for all your outdoor needs.
What does local mean to you?
I live in Brooklyn and the outdoors is very different in all our different local communities, so perspective is key.
In the past few weeks I’ve met with our teams in four different markets (Seattle, D.C., New York and Asheville) and taken a class with the outdoor school (meteor shower hike). It’s been exciting to learn about all the great work we do at the local level and I’m looking forward to learning more and to helping find new opportunities to increase our impact, visibility and ultimately help grow the business.
How do you see REI’s message – a life outdoors is a life well lived – resonating through our diverse local communities?
So much of my background has been focused on finding one point of passion and engaging around it. The outdoors is one of those things that cuts across party lines and through politics in a way that few other things can. At a time when our country is so divided, people are desperate to find ways to connect with one another. To really find common ground and things we can agree on. The co-op’s #UnitedOutside message could not be timelier than it is right now.
What are your favorite things to do outside? Where are your favorite places to get outdoors?
Backpacking is my absolute favorite thing in the whole world and I’ve been taking my son since he was 6 months old. It’s not fair to make me pick my favorite place to recreate because I’ve been to so many great places. Every summer me and two of my very good friends go on a backpacking trip together. We’re often in Washington because they both live there, but we’ve gone all over and once spent 10 days in Yosemite.