LOS ANGELES: REI, the outdoor goods retailer, will close its stores on Black Friday for a second successive year – and has built on last year's program of encouraging people to spend the day outside by building a network of around 300 partners.

Ben Steele, REI's Chief Creative Officer, discussed this initiative during a session at the 2016 Ad Age Brand Summit in Los Angeles.

And he reported that the retailer – which shut its 149 stores and handed its employees paid leave on Black Friday last year, encouraging them to "#OptOutside" and dedicate the day to exploring rather than shopping – has effectively discovered its voice.

"We really hadn't spoken in 75 years. We really hadn't told people who we were," Steele said. "So, first of all, we had to tell our story." (For more details, read Warc's exclusive report: REI stands out on Black Friday – by closing its stores.)

Still, he continued, that strategy alone wasn't enough: "While doing great stories can help you stand out in the crowded content sea, I would say the brands that take actual action are the brands that are driving engagement and relationships."

Having taken such a step with its own employees in 2015, this year the brand's "Will You Go Out With Us?" program has attracted a diverse range of partners.

These affiliates include many parks and eco-friendly groups, but also incorporates more unusual members, like Subaru, the automaker.

In order to assist pet-lovers in New York who are seeking to escape the retail madness on Black Friday, Subaru will provide a fleet of cars to transport them away from the Big Apple into various spots of natural beauty.

Google is working with REI to help two non-profits in Austin and Seattle, while publisher Upworthy and beer brand Red Brick Brewing are among the other supporters of "Will You Go Out With Us?"

REI's decision to eschew the shopping maelstrom last year, according to Steele, meant the brand has grown more self-assured when it comes to entering conversations relevant to its business.

"What #OptOutside did for us as an organisation was to get [REI] more comfortable stepping into cultural spaces – to get more comfortable stepping into controversy, and to get more comfortable stepping into the importance in the role of the outdoors in making the world a better place," he said.

Data sourced from Warc