Marketing Promotions Manager, Nikita and Bonfire
Jenna Kuklinski stepped into a team manager role with Bonfire at an interesting time. The brand had recently undergone an ownership change and with it, the entire existing team had been let go. What she did was put together a group of dudes who represent snowboarding at its core level then rented an RV and took them all on a team bonding trip. Managing a group of sponsored snowboarders is tougher than one might imagine--and I hate to bring gender into this, but the reality is that being female doesn't make it any easier. But there are a few things that help in a TM role--organizational skills, ability to be authoritative, and talent on a snowboard--and Jenna possesses all three. Beyond her role as a cat herder, Jenna is also responsible for a variety of brand marketing activities for both Bonfire and Nikita, and she wears those multiple hats well.
-- Taylor Boyd
What is your current title and what does your job entail?
My current title is Marketing Promotions Manager at Nikita and Bonfire. I take care of the social media and content generation, manage the team and ambassadors we work with through the brands, conceptualize and carry out brand events and activations, and whatever loose ends that need tying up for marketing. It's never the same, it's never boring, and I'd say I only have to work at a desk about 70% of the time
Where are you from and where do you currently call home?
I grew up in Western Massachusetts between two small towns, Charlemont and Shelburne Falls. After I graduated High School, I wanted to get as far away from home as possible. A friend of mine told me about this place called Portland, so I applied to a college out there and moved. I hated it at first but made myself stick through a year of living there, and after that I was hooked. I'd been living there just up until about a month ago when work asked me to move down to our office in Santa Ana. My only experience with Southern California was a layover I had one time in LAX, but my track record with moving to places I know nothing about has been pretty good so far, so I figured why not try it out. I haven't regretted it yet.
How did you start snowboarding?
There was a hill ten minutes away from the house I grew up in called Berkshire East. My dad was an ex-ski bum of sorts and he got my sister and I into skiing when we really young, then when I was 14 I joined the ski racing team, and on my second race I blew my knee out. The next season I skipped the race team and decided to start teaching instead, but because I was the youngest instructor on the staff I never got sent any lessons. To kill time, my friend and I would take rental snowboards out and try to make it down the hill. Eventually I was able to link turns and I guess the mountain was super short-staffed on snowboard instructors, because as soon as I'd made it past falling leaf, they gave me a kid to teach how to snowboard. On that first snowboard lesson I ever taught I made the kid take the lift up in front of me because I still couldn't get off the lift without falling and was afraid I'd fall getting off and crush him. I didn't and the kid seemed to have a pretty fun day, so it all worked out.
At what point did you realize that you wanted to work in the snowboard industry?
I think I realized I wanted to work in the snowboard industry when I saw that it was a real possibility. I started snowboarding because it's a fun thing to do, but the longer I did it, the more involved I got and the more people I met who actually had, "real" jobs working for snowboard companies. Seeing that gave me the drive to see how far I could make it myself.
And how did you make that happen?
Wow. Ok. I've never been on one direct path with this, so here we go- I'll do my best to break it down.
First off, I liked snowboarding, so I kept doing it. Like I mentioned before, I was a snowboard instructor when I was 16, then when I was in Portland I helped run the PSU Snowboard club for a year. From there I volunteered with the Greasebus for several years and got a job at Next Adventure for one season, then US Outdoor Store for a few years doing everything from selling climbing gear to goggles and gloves to working in shipping and receiving to starting an Instagram for the snowboard department. During that time, I got an internship with Salomon and Bonfire, and after that I got a job as a counselor at High Cascade; between there I had met Brooke Geery and told her I wanted to write for her and Yobeat, so she would let me pitch her pieces and tell me to write ones that she liked. I never got paid, but I didn't care.
On top of this, my friend Jen Minor and I started making edits of the ridiculous trips we would go on, and then one winter we did a two-and-a-half month-long road trip, blogging and posting about the whole thing. That's where I got more familiar with social media and realized how fun it was for me, but I still didn't think of it as anything more than something fun I did with my friend. I remember I saw Pat Bridges some time after that trip and he was like, "You do social media." I was like... "Yeah, I guess that's what I'm doing." Things seemed to be working, so I kept running with it.
Anyway, from there I kept trying to do more and more media and written pieces; I got to go to Ms. Superpark and write a piece for Mary about it, which was a dream come true for me. After that, another friend hit me up to go to Japan for a month and blog about it, so I did that too and we slept in the basement of this bed and breakfast trading random labor for the room. There was a propane heater in that room that ran all night, and we would wake up every morning feeling like shit. Pretty sure there's some rule out there about not sleeping in a basement room with a propane heater running.
During that same winter, I wrote some pieces for High Cascade highlighting my favorite campers at the time (shout out to Chili Graves and Christian Sparks) and that summer worked in office doing all of the blog, email newsletters, Twitter and Facebook for camp. I resigned early because of unfortunate circumstances that summer, (story for another time) and suddenly didn't know what to do. I moved back to Portland and got a job as a part-time after school art teacher with this non-profit. The kids were cool, but the job sucked and I was beyond broke. My friend Eva was a rep for Nikita during this time, and one day she hit me up to let me know Nikita was hiring a paid intern. It was only guaranteed for 30 days at a time, but it was full-time and I'd get minimum wage.
I jumped at the chance, interviewed for it, quit my art teaching job the next day and started the internship by the end of the week. Two months after I started, Nikita and Bonfire were bought by a new parent company and the owners offered me a full-time salaried position as marketing assistant. I called my dad immediately and may or may not have cried over the phone to him about it. I've had one promotion from there, but otherwise that puts me right to where I'm at now.
Who did you look up to in the industry for inspiration?
Mostly I look to my friends, because they're the people I've gravitated towards anyway and want to learn from. The people who put passion first, but back it up with some strong take-down power and discipline to actually make their ideas come to life. Anyone who's doing what they want to do and isn't worried about the rest of the pack, that's who I look to for inspiration.
What do you feel has been your biggest impact in your line of work?
Honestly I think the biggest impact I've had so far is being a female in my position. I don't like to call it out, but the reactions I've had when telling people I was the Bonfire team Manager--yes, for the guys--have been the biggest of any I've ever had. I've gotten more wide-eyed responses than I can count. It's not just the team management aspect of the job, but the rest of my job too. There aren't a lot of females working industry positions, and to be able to have worked up to where I am now with my peers is cool.
What do you want to accomplish that you haven't yet?
So much. I want to make sure that we stay true to who we are, that snowboarding is for snowboarding and the people who are out there pursuing their passions get noted. I still feel that there needs to be more balance brought to things between everyone in the industry, and I have to say that one of the main reasons I've stuck to this path is because I want to help make a difference in how females are represented in the industry. Before I go any further on this, let me say I'm not perfect. I've been shut down by higher-ups on things that centered around this topic, and I didn't throw a huge fit. I like to think it's because I'm trying to make sure I'm in this for the long haul, but I also have to say that it's hard to fight against that every step of the way. I don't have the perfect answer on how to solve the problem of girls having to be athlete models and also work with not getting travel budget or sponsorships, but I believe that the more representation we have of real females who love what they do, the more people will realize it's the right direction. We need to change what the public wants and also make sure that the values start with us. I hope that's not too preachy, I hate whenever I feel like someone's telling me what to do. But it's what I hope to do in my career, and it's an uphill battle, so the more it gets talked about the better.
Anyone you'd like to thank?
Rian Rhoe, Amy Eichner, Kevin Stevenson, Nirvana Ortanez, Amanda Hankison, Kasey Sheldon, Brooke Geery, Mike Parziale, Chris and Eddie Barnhart, Eva Hume, Vicki Vasil, Fergus Coffey, Jen Minor, Taylor Boyd, Pat Bridges, Mary Walsh, my mom, my dad, my sister, Tim Swart and Robert Meyers, and anyone who's ever said yes to me about an idea.