by Kailee Bradstreet – Transworld Business

ASC Action Sports + Culture Conference brought together a room of industry members to discuss the crucial topic of authenticity in Long Beach, as the conference kicked off at the LB Convention Center as a precursor to the two-day Agenda Long Beach show.

Company CEOs and entrepreneurs, both from within and outside the industry, took to the stage to share their insight on how brands can remain true to their DNA even during times of growth and evolution. With help from sports journalist and on-air personality Pat Parnell, the discussion got started with a look at Grind Media and Alli Sports/NBC Sports through the eyes of SVP Group Publisher Norb Garrett and President Eric Grilly, respectively. Both companies have been growing steadily over the last several years, and both agreed that exposing action sports and its athletes to a broader, mainstream audience through events such as the Olympics, is a positive direction for the industry.

“Our focus, and really what I’ve been focused on since coming back in and running Grind Media, is audience development and increasing sport participation numbers,” says Garrett. “I feel we have a responsibility beyond just selling product. We really want to be participants in the role of helping grow these sports.”

While print is still a major part of the media portfolio, Grind has seen extra traction in growing its readership, and found more innovative and effective ways to tell its stories through tablets, says Garrett. Grilly, who works with many brands in the space to bring their stories to life by producing large-scale events like the Dew Tour, says much of a brand’s credibility can originate from the athletes with which it is alligning.

Shaun Neff wrapped up the morning session with a dive into how his brand got its start, playing off the previous discussion about athlete credibility. During the early stages of Neff’s launch into the industry, the brand leaned heavily on its close ties to the snowboarding industry, explains Neff.

“I remember going to the first trade show in Vegas and my booth was absolutely horrendous; I got it from a haunted house,” says Neff. “I drove it down and had the worst looking booth ever, and set it up right on the corner of Burton. So here’s this 2 million dollar booth with my haunted house booth touching it, but the thing that gave us credibility was our roster of athletes. To pay those guys would have been worth more than Burton’s booth, but it was the homey factor and the credibility. In the beginning, being authentic was what allowed us to play in the game.”

A break for lunch provided more networking time, followed by an afternoon session which featured key speakers Co-Founder and CMO of Sol Republic Seth Combs, Director/Global Partner of YouTube Derek Callow, Partner and Chair of Loeb & Loeb Brian Socolow, and CCO of Thirteen and former CCO and GM of 20th Century Fox Ricardo Crespo.

The theme of authenticity carried over, with Combs discussing Sol Republic’s specific marketing approach to a broad music-loving demographic.

“For us authenticity isn’t about what you do, it’s about what you say no to; it’s about what you don’t do,” says Combs. “As you guys know, with a brand that’s successful and a brand that’s growing, everyone comes at you at every angle to say, ‘This is why we should work together; let’s do something special.’ It’s key to understand who you are and what you stand for, and most importantly we stick to the concept it’s not 1 million units sold, it’s 1 unit sold a million times. That’s really the paradigm we live in. It’s 1 million unique experiences.”

From YouTube’s perspective, the action sports industry has many opportunities to grow by utilizing content creation and curation on its platform. The youth demographic that participates in action sports is the same demographic that are “owning YouTube,” explains Callow. The Director and Global Partner also mentioned that brands need to “ditch the pitch” and speak more casually with their audience, perhaps breaking some of the traditional advertising rules along the way—a point he drove home with Pepsi MAX’s four-minute Jeff Gordon “Test Drive” video clip.

“Brands need to think like content creators,” says Callow. “YouTube is trying to learn and then amplify the great stuff that is happening in this space.”

One of our favorite speakers of the day was Crespo, who rounded out the afternoon with his extremely polished presentation that touched on staying true to your DNA and vision, on both a personal and business level. Drawing off experiences with 20th Century Fox that gave him the privilege of working on high profile shows such as Sons of Anarchy, Glee, Family Guy, and The Simpsons, Crespo examined the relationship between brands and the end consumer.

“It’s all about projection; how you find your authenticity is all about how you find your projection,” says Crespo. “How do you express yourself? How do you talk, how do you walk, how do you move your arms when you talk? Perception is reality, because that’s all people have is a perception of you until they get to know you and spend time with you. If you take those two and split them apart, what are you left with? The only thing you can control: Credibility. Are you reliable, can they trust you? But even deeper, is what I call applied credibility—can they rely on you over and over again. That’s the one thing you can control.”