The American Giant, was a small independent sweatshirt maker in San Francisco and one of the most astounding astounding successes in recent public relations history.

Choosing the right storyteller

They wanted to promote their products which they boldly claim are the world’s best hooded sweatshirts. If they were a typical company, American Giant would’ve written up a press release telling the world just how great their sweatshirts are, including a few customer testimonials some pictures of the sweatshirts, send it off and hope for the best.

If they were really savvy, they may have targeted their press release to say fashion reporters instead of just any old reporter. But, they didn’t do either of these things. Instead American Giant contacted Farhat Manjoo, a technology columnist writing for Slate. A sweatshirt maker contacted a technology columnist to pitch their story! Why in the world?

First of all they knew their target customers the people who would end up buying and wearing high-end sweatshirts were likely to be well represented in Mr. Manjoo’s readership. But even more important American Giant knew that a story about a cool hoodie would be an awfully hard sell anywhere to anyone. Hoodies just aren’t that exciting even the best ones in the world.

Develop a business story

Where the story of the hoodie itself might not be that exciting, American Giant had a story of business and manufacturing innovation that someone like a technology columnist might find very interesting and Mr. Manjoo did so. What really fascinated him was the way American Giant was using the Internet to sell direct to the customer bypassing the distribution costs that most apparel makers face.

Manjoo reported that American Giant quote had figured out a way to do what most people in the apparel industry consider impossible: making close entirely in the United States and doing so it costs that aren’t prohibitive. That is a story worth writing a column about, in the course of telling the story about the company.

Of course Manjoo also informed readers about the products themselves he told readers that American Giant redesign their hoodies from scratch using different materials and innovative design. He noted that they’d even “hired a former industrial designer from Apple to rethink every aspect of the sweatshirt from the way the fabric is woven to the color of the drawstrings around your neck”.

A tribute to the sweatshirts

They’ve essentially treated the sweatshirt as if it were a tech product testing endless prototypes until they were satisfied. Are you starting to see why a technology columnist might love to sink his teeth into this one? In fact Manjoo’s piece was a gushing tribute to the sweatshirts and to the company that made them. You simply could not buy press this good.

The column was even titled “This is the greatest toady ever made” and it went viral almost immediately. It was tweeted and retweeted and emailed and posted on Facebook the story was picked up by ABC and NPR. At the time the article ran in early December American Giant was struggling to generate sales.

The company’s founder had just received word from his operations manager they’d overbought for the holiday season and they’re facing too much inventory. They were looking at possibly having to pull back on production runs at the start of the new year. So, things were looking a little bleak and then the Slate piece broke and within 36 hours everything changed.

Within 36 hours everything changed

The company’s management got a call from their e-commerce team something about needing to rebalance the servers to handle the load. As they were talking the guy from e-commerce said dude that’s a quote “dude I don’t know if you understand what’s happening in the last minute that we’ve spoken 55 orders have come in”.

They sold everything they had an inventory. They sold preorders for what they had planned to make in January and then February and then March. Soon the company was no longer able to even commit to a timeframe for delivery promising only that they would ramp up as quickly as they could to handle the demand. Wait times extended to more than half a year and still people waited wanting their very own best hoodie ever made.

The difference between American Giant’s astonishing PR success in the deafening silence that most firms reap comes from applying the same basic marketing principles we’ve been talking about throughout the entire course recognize who your customer is.

For public relations campaigns the reporter or the columnist or the producer that’s the customer. This insight into what makes PR campaigns work is also the key to getting viral campaigns to take off.