A behind-the-scenes look at the life of the first-ever Pure Gold Chief Exploration Officer.
On Sep 24, I received a message on Instagram from a friend informing me of a job they thought I would be perfect for. Michelob ULTRA was giving one lucky person or couple the opportunity to get paid to live in a van, drink beer, and photograph the national parks.
On September 25, I decided to apply. It was a long shot, 150,000-to-1 I would later learn, but something compelled me to pursue this thing with fervor.
On September 27, I emailed everyone I could find that worked in the marketing or PR department for Michelob ULTRA. The odds of being seen at all with 150k applicants was low, so I was determined to at least get a look and hoped my work would speak for itself from there.
On October 1, I received an email that stated applications had been closed. Those who reached the next round of consideration would be informed via email by the end of the month.
On November 30, I had basically given up hope and decided to start moving on.
On December 7, I received an email with the subject “Pure Gold CEO next steps.” I could read only the first line of the email prior to opening it: “We at Michelob ULTRA want to congratulate you…” Three days later, I received the field assignment for Round 2.
On December 30, I submitted my field assignment. One 90 second video and 4 still frame photos according to a somewhat vague campaign description.
On January 8, I received word regarding my submission and an invitation to move forward with my first interview with the creative team.
On January 19, I received another email with the subject “Background check” and the words “Congratulations on being a finalist…”
On January 25, I had my final interview with the heads of marketing for Michelob ULTRA.
I was told it could be a week or two before a decision was made so when two weeks went by with nothing, I assumed they had offered it to another candidate.
But on February 9, 2021, I awoke to find a “golden ticket” in my inbox; I could read the first line without opening the email. It read “Hi Adam, I am happy to officially extend an offer for you to join our team…”
5 months prior, I had found myself unable to keep from becoming irrationally over-invested in a 150K-to-1 opportunity. I was driving Sophie crazy worrying about it, wondering what-if, and investing more time than felt appropriate on getting struck by lightning. I had put off jobs and travel and plans for the year, illogically tied to a fantasy. And in one little email, it all became real.
10 years of travel (6 years of photography) and suddenly, I was going to be an overnight success. A year prior, Sophie and I couldn’t even afford to live in a cheap apartment in Thailand. We were broke and both of us moved back in with our parents. I had to get a job working graveyard shifts at a budget hotel to make ends meet until this photography dream would.
Now, just like that, it seemed we would never have to worry about whether or not this was a viable livelihood. I was validated, relieved, and overwhelmed.
You see, the prize of winning was not the salary, but the connections and exposure. The PR surrounding this was supposed to get our names out there, and hopefully help build up our website as well. Ideally, we would get on the shortlist for other industry leaders needing similar services. The exciting part was the promise!
But would the experience match the expectations? Was this really the golden goose – the thing that would continue to begat more and more opportunities and ensure our livelihood as travel photographers – or was it nothing more than a golden egg?
Over the months of February and March, I had a series of meetings with everyone from the creative and marketing teams at Michelob, NPF representatives, the product team at DraftLine, a PR team from Weber Shandwick, and even an interview with Good Morning Oregon. I was being groomed and readily prepared for 6 months of media appearances, photoshoots, and all things that came with it.
However, that one, isolated interview with Good Morning Oregon was the only interview I was permitted to have.
Before the journey even began, it was made abundantly and disappointingly clear that the NPF were not interested in being our “partners,” they were interested in being our overseers. Rather than being provided access and assistance to create the best content we could, we were put on the shortest leash they could get away with. I was asked to remove every photo I had ever taken in a national park from all of my social media channels and informed that I would only be allowed to photograph the parks on pre-determined days and with pre-determined conditions.
What’s more, I was not allowed to post freely to even my own channels. Instead, a system was put in place wherein the NPF would approve all captions and photos; it was only supposed to take 24 hours, but some posts took 1-2 weeks to get approved, with a completely watered-down caption remaining. Little by little, anxiety mounted. I was constantly concerned about losing the supportive and loving audience I had spent years forming a relationship with for what would only be a 6-month job.
April 1, 2021, I was flown out to Cleveland, Ohio and driven to a small facility where I was handed the keys to what would be my home, office, and transport for 6-months. After a short rundown, I was left to drive across the country and “figure the rest out”.
I will not go into everything that went wrong with the van; suffice to say that it was a LOT. Multiple breakdowns and performance issues tainted the entirety of the journey, but the worst part was the sheer functionality of it. My schedule had been pre-determined and 16 of the 18 parks I would visit were located in the desert, yet the van had no windows!
My first day in the parks was at Big Bend National Park on the Texas / Mexico border. It was 108 degrees. In our 180 days on the road, less than 20 would be spent in temperatures below 100 degree daily highs, and I was not able to improve my situation as we were tied to a rigid itinerary due to permits for the parks.
Eventually, I realized that in order to enjoy the journey, I had to see it for what it was and not for what it was expected to be. I had to accept that this was not my big break, nor the job of my dreams. Instead, I had to reconsider that I was lucky to be getting paid to photograph the parks at all, even if much of the enjoyment and liberation were lost. I had to accept that this was not going to bring forth new opportunities, but that it would provide content for our own blogs and guides.
If Michelob ULTRA had called and offered me a job doing what I was doing, I would have said yes and had a lot less to complain about. The problem, I realized, was not in the job itself, but in the expectations I had for it.
In the end, the Pure Gold CEO voyage was not about the sunrises and sunsets, and it certainly was not about the fortune or prestige. Like so much of travel, the reward was not in the destination, but in the perspective and growth it forces you to accept like broccoli to a child.
The September Moment of the Month is different because it is not about a moment in time, but a moment in life. A rock was thrown into a pond this year, and the ripples will go on to impact nearly everything that comes next for Sophie and I.
And perhaps despite failing to meet nearly every expectation, the Pure Gold campaign will prove to be the plumpest Golden Goose we’ve yet encountered.
I write to you all from a small folding desk in the small room where I grew up. While I type, Sophie is in the room next to me… after 3 years of visa struggles, being employed by Anheuser-Busch has (in part) allowed us to be together.
Where not so long ago we could not afford $350 monthly rent in Thailand, we are now actively keeping our eyes and ears open for the right opportunity to put a down-payment on our first house.
Despite the frequent frustrations, a perilous cougar encounter, a significant loss of hair, countless hours of lost sleep, and months of backlogged work to catch up on, it is impossible to neglect how much the Pure Gold CEO campaign has provided for us.
As easy as it would be to lament all the things this wasn’t, it would be arrogant to ignore all the things it was.
I am grateful to be reminded of the joy of liberation. After 6 months in a small space on someone else’s schedule, I cannot possibly take for granted my renewed sense of freedom.
I am grateful to all of you reading this Moment of the Month and subscribing to the club who, despite an obvious change in my behavior and posts this year, have continued to support Sophie and I.
I am grateful to those at Michelob ULTRA who chose us for this position as well. The validation in being selected from 150,000 people has provided us an unshakable confidence in what we can do when we set our minds to something.
And I am grateful to be home. What’s more, I am grateful I have a family that always welcomes us back with open arms, a made bed, and cold beer.
When we hit publish on September’s Moment of the Month, Sophie and I will celebrate with gratitude the conclusion of the Pure Gold campaign. We will attempt to appreciate the opportunity we were given, find humor in the challenges, and toast to the golden moments in between.
Since we are finally off contract, we are excited to be able to share photos that no one else has seen and give you exclusive insight into the content we have been creating for Michelob these past 6 months.
We hope you enjoy this small sample of some of our favorite photos from the journey:
HAVE YOU VISITED OUR ONLINE PHOTO GALLERY?
WE DREAM OF TRAVEL PRINT GALLERY
With the link above, you can browse featured photos from months and places past, and have the choice of printing those that speak to you on traditional photo paper or metal.
Metal prints produce more vibrant colors, deeper contrast, and a three-dimensional aesthetic that accentuates the stylistic ethos of our photography.
If you see anything you like in this Moment of the Month that you cannot find on the gallery, just send us an email at: [email protected]
Don’t forget: If you are subscribed as an ART LOVER, you will receive your monthly 10% off promo code via email. Simply enter the promo code at checkout!
Perhaps the most relevant post we have to this month’s moment is the “Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold CEO Winners“. I put together this post when I first won the contest and it details further how I came to be the first Pure Gold CEO, and includes the video I created during the first field assignment.
As part of the Pure Gold journey, we’ve visited many different incredible national parks and have created a range of guides to these (as well as more on the way!). You can find out more about the parks we’ve visited or just admire some pretty photos from each in our travel guides:
This month’s Photo of the Month was taken at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park.
If you would like to make this image your desktop or mobile wallpaper, you can do so by downloading the images using the links below:
After finally arriving home to Southern Oregon, Sophie and I are hitting the ground running trying to get the 2022 calendars ready!
We receive the first test print TODAY, Sep 30, and if all looks well we will begin production which takes 2-3 weeks.
As soon as production begins, we will open up the website to begin taking orders!! Keep your eyes on your inboxes for that official announcement.
Having traveled only the national parks for most of 2021, we decided the theme for the upcoming calendar would be “America’s National Treasures” and will feature seasonal photos from the parks.
MOMENT OF THE MONTH FAQs
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WE TRULY HOPE YOU’VE ENJOYED A BEHIND-THE-SCENES, GENUINE LOOK AT THE LIFE OF TWO FULL-TIME TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHERS.
Where to Next?
Nowhere! It is with some relief that the Michelob ULTRA journey has finally come to an end.
For the moment we are looking forward to spending the holidays with friends, family, and each other.