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9 Marketing Lessons from an Abercrombie & Fitch Model

December 10, 2013

Photo courtesy of Spencer Edwards

I once took a job doing casting for both actors and voice actors. If you’ve ever seen the Cops knockoff called Real Stories of the Highway Patrol, which had reenactments of police work rather than real-life footage, you may have seen (or heard) my handiwork. Another big project I worked on was Home Alone 3, which was also kind of a knockoff, if you consider they made it without the actor everybody associated with the franchise, Macauley Caukin…

Seeing how major television and film came together was exciting to me, but one of the most interesting things I learned on the job was from all the business that came through a guy named Les Wexner.

Don’t recognize that name? Try these companies…

  • Victoria’s Secret
  • Pink (Victoria’s Secret)
  • Bath & Body Works
  • Lane Bryant
  • Abercrombie & Fitch
  • The Limited

I didn’t directly work with the print and runway models, but they came through on a daily basis and, just being in the office, I got an opportunity to know many of them. What I learned from the successful ones surprised me and I think are things that will help you in your business.

Marketing Lessons from an Abercrombie & Fitch Model

1. It’s not personal. – It’s tough to be rejected in business, but I want you to imagine what these models went through when they were rejected. That got real personal — too short, too fat, too tall, too black.

So much for everything Mom said about how it’s what’s on the inside the counts… That’s not true when you’re a model.

Still, I never saw one of these guys get pissed when they were rejected. To them, it was part of the gig.

And perhaps this is why…

2. Your Look vs. The Look – The models I met, especially the guys who did work for Abercrombie, were hot. They were so good looking, you’d think, “If I looked like that, I’d never have any problems.”

And maybe that was true…outside of the casting area. But inside the casting area, simply being “hot” wasn’t enough — you had to be the right kind of hot.

It was interesting watching models get picked over like pieces of meat, especially when they were there to witness it. Still, I never say anybody who was being judged lose his cool.

I think about this when I’m going after a new client or release a new book. Just because I didn’t get the job or didn’t win somebody over with that I’ve written doesn’t mean that my work doesn’t have value; it just means it’s not a match for what their specific needs are.

Same for your work. Nothing you ever do will be for everybody.

3. Being Humble Helps – Contrary to what most people think, modeling isn’t just about looking good. There are some very good looking people who don’t get far in modeling due to their poor attitudes.

On the same note, your success in business is more than just being good at your primary skill…

Working in entertainment, mostly in music, I’ve seen careers die due to a performer’s bad attitude. In my marketing book for musicians, Six-Figure Musician, I talk about a guy who had a hot record, but felt the promotion department at his record label wasn’t working as hard as they could for him.

He went to the label and made a total ass of himself. And pissed off everybody so much that they stopped working his record at all.

And it tanked. Quickly.

And then he lost his record deal.

It was a great album that a lot of people will never hear because his ego got in the way.

4. Secondary Skills Make the Difference – A model can get in the door of an agency based on looks, but that’s not usually enough to move him forward. There are a lot of good-looking people. so it’s often the little extras that get somebody booked.

Obviously, looks have something to do when hiring a model, but from my experience, almost as important are the “soft skills” that the model possesses. A lot of this work Abercrombie needed when I was around was in-person, like a special event for one of its stores, so the model had to be good with meeting people. And the model had to show up on time, which for many was apparently a lot harder than it sounds.

It’s the little things that make or break a career. We see this all the time with celebrities, whom we’ll forgive for DUIs, sex scandals, and drug use, but completely forget about due to their own negligence, like skipping performances or public appearances.

It doesn’t matter how good you are at your primary skill if you’re a jerk or you show up only when you feel like it.

5. Keep Showing Up – The print and runway division of the company I was working with had hundreds, if not thousands, of models whom they worked with. Because of this, things often got lost or misplaced.

If you want to connect with somebody, don’t just make a phone call or drop a package in the mail. You need to show up. And you’ve got to keep showing up.

Make sure your client (or anybody else) has what is needed to do business with you.

This was actually how I started talking to the models… We had some that would just show up to check on things and I got to know them.

6. Double Up  – If you want extra work, it’s good to have extra skills. This is why so many actors have “dancing” or “singing” on their resumes. It’s the same for models and the same for you.

What extra skills do you have (or can you add) that will make you more desirable to somebody?

7. The Luck Factor – The most successful models I met realized they were getting lucky and they likely had a small window to work within, at least when it came to shirtless Abercrombie jobs.

Everything, no matter how good you are or how good you take care of it, comes to an end eventually. Looks fade and skills become less sharp or outdated. Because of this, it’s good to always keep learning and always have multiple streams of opportunity.

8. The Megaphone – From what I saw, Abercrombie was mostly booking guys. But thinking about it, there were plenty of female models who came through as well.

How come I don’t remember them as well?

I think it’s because most of the females who came through didn’t look like “models” without makeup and in their street clothes. Sure, they were good-looking, but the looks in their portfolios were different — they were bigger, bolder, and louder.

It’s not unlike my voice on the radio. At its basic essence, it’s still my voice, but it’s compressed and equalized to make it sound like somebody you’d hear on the radio.

People expect certain things from you. They want authenticity, but they want something that separates you from average guys on the street, including them. You can do that through makeup, clothing, audio compression and equalization, or any number of ways. It doesn’t matter as long as the results make what you do bigger, bolder, and louder.

9. Selling Without Selling – Look at an Abercrombie & Fitch ad… The models are selling clothing without having wearing much of it.

How do they do it?

Because Abercrombie & Fitch models don’t actually sell clothing — they sell a lifestyle.

What are you selling? Get clear on it.

The Bottom Line

During my time on this job, I didn’t work directly with models. I watched them from a distance and expected them to be a certain way. And when I got closer, I found I was wrong.

Similarly, if you’re doing something with the public, whether through a book, a blog, or another medium, there are people who are watching you from a distance.

What will they find when they come closer? Because of what they think of you from afar, will they come closer at all?

It surprised me to find out how cool and down-to-earth most of the models actually were. Here’s hoping somebody watching you right now will have a similar experience.

ABOUT THIS SERIES: Every Monday, I analyze the good, bad, and ugly about the marketing behind a common business or famous personality. See other posts in this series here and, if you have a request for something (or someone) you’d like me to analyze for this series, contact me via Twitter.

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