One of the great privileges of my job is being part of a comms team during some of the expeditions that feature Berghaus athletes. There have been many of these over the years and sometimes the material sent back while a trip is actually underway has been minimal at best, or non-existent, due to either the nature of the adventure, or simply a lack of any sort of telecoms signal in whatever far flung part of the world said athlete has been visiting.
But if there is a way, it’s much easier than ever to transmit content from half-way up a big wall in the Amazon rain forest to my office in County Durham. Such was the case very recently with Leo Houlding’s expedition to free climb a new route on the Prow of Roraima, an incredible looking tepui in Guyana. Leo led a team that included 21-year-old Anna Taylor on her first major expedition, along with Waldo Etherington, Wilson Cutbirth, Dan Howard and Matt Pycroft. Matt and Dan – although accomplished climbers too – were there primarily to capture photos and footage of the trip on behalf of Coldhouse Collective and Berghaus. Despite being the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic work of fiction ‘The Lost World’ it turns out that Roraima is in an area that has a decent 4G signal. Not only did this mean that Leo and Anna were able to talk to audiences during Kendal Mountain Festival live from the rain forest, it also meant that Matt could regularly send back reports, images and even some footage via WhatsApp!
From early on in the trip, it was clear that there was going to be a rich seam of material to mine for PR purposes. From exotic wildlife, a slime forest and swamps, to hanging wall camps, dramatic climbing pitches and the spectacular objective itself, Roraima delivered on every front. Of course, without a team that has a deep understanding of what sponsors and media need, we wouldn’t have seen all of this unfold in real time. Thankfully, Leo is now a veteran of epic trips and he had assembled a team of experts, whether climbing, rigging or chronicling. And Anna, on her first major big wall adventure, took to expedition life like a natural.
Now, I’m not a huge fan of the ‘always on’ society that we now inhabit, but for a project like Roraima, it proved to be an essential blessing. Matt was able to process and send back images and words from the side of a continually overhanging remote big wall in the pristine Amazon rain forest, and within minutes I could update media, who in turn shared the news with a waiting world.
Naturally, a big expedition needs a bit of jeopardy and that came towards the end, when the weather conspired with a clock that was running down to put pressure on the Mnt Roraima crew. They had to focus entirely on getting the job done and for a few days there was radio silence. We should never forget that climbing is, objectively, a dangerous activity, and while that adds to the excitement of following an expedition, the longer we heard nothing, the more nervous we all got back here in the UK. And then suddenly there was a deluge – scores of photos, including summit images, and a detailed account of the finale which confirmed that the team had succeeded in completing a fully free climbed new route up the Prow of Roraima.
Hurrah! And phew! And all hands to the pumps!
What followed was a frenzy of activity – summarising the climb for different audiences (from the specialist climbing media to national and regional news desks), choosing and captioning the images that were assessed to be the most likely to appeal to media, and then circulating the news while it was still ‘hot’. Meanwhile, the digital teams at Berghaus and Coldhouse Collective were also hard at work, updating websites, blogs and social media. As the Mnt Roraima crew were starting their long journey home, we were at our busiest since the start of the expedition.
From a PR perspective, while the outdoor media have almost always covered Leo’s adventures extensively, there are never any guarantees that such stories will have a wider appeal. However, when the images are as good as those that Matt sent and the story is as interesting, then the odds certainly narrow. National press picture leads duly followed, plus a plethora of great coverage by outdoor media around the world, and Anna has already given one TV interview, with more to follow. Once the dust has settled, there are sure to be opportunities for in depth feature-led editorial, and in the longer term future, we can all look forward to the full Roraima film – as I stated, a rich seam! If the material we have seen so far is anything to go by, it should be amazing.