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Marketing students generate ideas for American Eagle's 'aerie' line


Students in Michael Walsh's integrated promotions marketing class are competing against 11 schools across the country in American Eagle Outfitters' Marketing Challenge.

Ten WVU teams gave presentations during the last week of fall semester classes. Three top teams from across the country will travel to the company's headquarters in Pittsburgh to meet with CEO James O'Donnell in January. The winner will be announced during the spring semester.

"College students are our core market," said Cathy McCarthy, marketing director for the company. "So, this is direct contact with them. Also, it's an opportunity to gain insights and ideas. Additionally this competition helps us find potential employees."

McCarthy said the company was looking for presentations with "energy, creativity, and innovation that are on target with our core customers."

American Eagle is interested in developing products that appeal to college students, and the company began the competition last year. The "challenge" was to develop a brand-building campaign for "aerie," a line of loungewear, intimates, beauty products, and a complete fitness line, called aerie F.I.T. The aerie line was introduced in 2006.

  Jennifer Bevans, a senior marketing major with a communication minor, presents her team's ideas on 'aerie' products.  

Once a purveyor of outdoor gear, American Eagle Outfitters now is a mall-based retailer of casual apparel and accessories (shirts, jeans, shorts, sweaters, skirts, footwear, belts, and bags) aimed at men and women ages 15-25. The chain operates about 1,100 stores in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and now in the Middle East. Direct sales come from the company's website and its AE magazine, a lifestyle publication that doubles as a catalog.

Students were given company background and goals, a hypothetical budget, and key metrics. They were asked to present a marketing plan (in the form of a PowerPoint presentation) that defines a brand building strategy for the aerie line.

Jennifer Bevans, who graduates in May, said the competition has given her "a great opportunity to present to real-life executives."

Bevans, who plans to attend law school, is from Charleston and attended George Washington High School. "We learned a lot about the undergarment industry obviously," she said, "but the most important thing I took away from this competition was experience in working with and leading such a large group of people."

  Michael Walsh

Earlier this fall, the Marketing Club visited American Eagle's Pittsburgh headquarters and met with company executives, toured their facilities, including a state-of-the-art photo studio, and got a sneak preview of upcoming fashions.

Walsh also invited students from the WVU School of Journalism to participate. "By taking a cross- discipline approach, student teams were able to arrive at far more robust solutions to marketing communication problems. In previous case type competitions, we only used B & E students. The journalism students really made a difference," said Walsh, an assistant professor of marketing.

Dr. Walsh has extensive corporate experience. During his 20-plus-year career in general management, advertising and marketing, he focused on specialized marketing communication strategies in business to business, high technology and consumer marketing communications. He oversaw marketing for Buchanan Ingersoll's, a Pittsburgh firm, and was formerly senior vice president and director of operations and finance for Ketchum Advertising in Pittsburgh.