Winning an American Eagle Outfitters case competition gave USC Marshall School of Business students a chance to present their ideas to the company’s top executives and a $5,000 prize.
The competition also resulted in bragging rights in a very big way – illumination on the American Eagle Times Square video billboard, all three million pixels, in New York.
USC students Ann Liang, Traci Murakami, Sunny Shek, Kristin Umetsu and Burcu Yildiz were one of three teams that made it to the competition’s final round Jan. 25 at the company’s headquarters in Pittsburgh. The other teams represented Georgetown University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Asked to develop a brand-building campaign for Aerie, American Eagle’s line of intimate apparel for women ages 18-25, students were challenged to provide “creative, out -of-the-box solutions which will get the attention of female college students, drive them to the store, compel them to buy and share their experience with others.”
The USC Marshall students were members of professor Judith Blumenthal’s retail management class during the fall semester.
“This group was very creative and carefully had thought out its integrated marketing strategy,” Blumenthal said. “It was testimony to how effectively groups in a class can work together. This was an example of students complementing each other, pulling together and working very hard.”
This was the third challenge sponsored by American Eagle Outfitters and USC Marshall’s first participation. The competition’s first round, which began in September, featured teams from 11 universities. Three teams ultimately were chosen for the final round in Pittsburgh, where they presented their strategy to a panel of judges that included the company’s CEO.
“That was the most impressive part of the competition, getting flown out to American Eagle headquarters, presenting to their board of executives and taking their questions afterward,” Umetsu said. “I don’t know how many other people our age get that opportunity.”
Blumenthal, who accompanied the team to Pittsburgh, said that it was clear the executives were impressed. “American Eagle may well adopt some of what the group suggested, as it offered thoughtful analysis, innovative ideas and recommendations. When senior officers were asking questions, these students knew the market, the company, the product and the brand so well. They responded like professionals in the field.”
Umetsu described the team as “one of the most successful I’ve ever worked with at Marshall and not just because we won the case. Although none of us originally knew each other, we were all highly committed to the project and put in many, many hours of collaboration.”
She attributed the team’s success to what it had learned in the classroom. “All of my marketing classes at Marshall have been helpful in creating not just a marketing campaign, but the overall strategy,” she said.
Umetsu, who is poised to hit the job market when she graduates this spring, added that the trip gave her “insight into the retail industry on the corporate side” and reinforced the notion that “creating marketing and branding campaigns is exactly what I want to do.”
She explained that the team could not give specifics on strategy because it signed a non-disclosure agreement.