Sharkey’s Machine

The North Face Project
December 3, 2008, 8:39 pm
Filed under: PRCA 3331, The North Face Project | Tags: , ,

This page is the culmination of my work analyzing the PR platform of The North Face Inc. The project was done as an assignment conducted through Professor Barbra NixonCorporate PR class at Georgia Southern University. I chose to focus on The North Face (TNF) because of my personal satisfaction in using their products and  their unique insurgence into main stream pop-culture and fashion, even though their products are geared predominately toward a small faction of adventure enthusiast.


Table of Contents


From High Altitude: TNF Corporate Overview


Knots in the Rope: TNF Company Timeline


The 3 P’s of The North Face’s PR Strategy


The Publics


The north face of The North Face: The Challenges Facing TNF


The Summit: Awards and honors of TNF


Feel the Vibrations: A Groundswell on The North Face


The Corporate Alphorn: TNF Online Newsroom


On Belay! Belay On!: Career Opportunities within TNF


Climbers, Campers, and Cold-weather lovers: The Community of The North Face


Clinging to a Ledge: Crisis within TNF


Should I Never Stop Exploring?


The Assent of 10 Things You didn’t know about The North Face Power Point Presentation 



(This post is a duplicate of a similar page ; and  was created to help organize post when using some blog themes)


The Corporate Alphorn: TNF Online Newsroom
December 3, 2008, 11:28 am
Filed under: The North Face Project | Tags: , ,

The functionality of The North Face online newsroom leaves something to be desired. The page is visually appealing and organized with a tiled list of articles in chronological order. Within each tile there is a brief synopsis of the article and a relevant picture. The newsroom consists of 18 articles ranging from March 26, 2008 to November 18, 2008; there is no archive link to view previously posted articles. Within the 18 articles, I felt like only seven belonged in the newsroom; these articles where related to new store openings, recently received awards, the sponsorship of a ski competition, and articles relating to innovations in facility sustainability. The remaining 11 articles revolved around accomplishments of TNF athletes. While many of these feats are impressive and newsworthy, I don’t think the corporate newsroom is the appropriate place to post these articles. The corporate online newsroom should predominately revolve around the business functions of an organization. The North Face could place the athlete articles on its community blog page with the rest of its athlete information; or it could restructure its current newsroom to provide for categories of news (e.g. Personal, Facility, Athletes, Products, New Opportunities, Archives, Recent, etc.) The online newsroom could also provide an excellent venue to shed light on new products and technologies, corporate strategy, and new business opportunities and partnerships, which are currently lacking from the current news page.  

The 3 P’s of The North Face’s PR Strategy

In the 1984 book “Managing Public Relations” James Grunig and Todd Hunt outlined the four academic models of public relations. With the shift in technology mediums over the past few decades, many organizations that operate within the general public execute a version of the Two-way Symmetric Model of PR. The major concept of the Two-Way Symmetric Model is that there is reciprocity in the exchange of information between the producer and the consumer that facilitates mutual achievement of goals. The North Face is no different than any other modern organization as it creates two-way communication avenues in its PR functions that benefit its customers and its bottom line. The North Face has open dialogue with its customer base in three ways:



The North Face sponsors over 50 athletes on alpine climbing, rock climbing, skiing and snowboarding, and endurance running teams. These athletes serve a crucial role in TNF PR platform in two ways. The athletes serve as somewhat of a “stable of guinea pigs;” they can test and rate gear and report back to R&D with suggestions and critiques. In essence The North Face has a focus group that at will it can dialogue with to improve its products.


The athletes also serve as sounding board to other customers. The athletes serve as ambassadors of The North Face. Whenever the athletes are on the trail they are always open to suggestions from other outdoor enthusiasts; also, they can demonstrate and explain the benefits of TNF gear. This engagement between corporate athletes and the general public is carried off the trail into retail locations during product demos special events.  



The North Face has three categories of partners: corporate, technology, and philanthropic. Corporate partners, like the Alpine Club of Canada; the Island Lake Lodge; and the Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort, provide close committed relationships with organizations that allow constant detailed feedback on the products and services of TNF.  Technology partnerships with companies like DuPont, Gore-Tex, and Boa allow The North Face to produce innovative products for its consumers. Partnerships with cutting-edge technology companies allows TNF to incorporate advancements in other industries (e.g. automobile racing, aeronautics, textiles) into solutions for its products and consumers. The philanthropic partnerships, with Global Giving; Leave No Trace; and The Conservation Alliance, promote corporate goodwill and community involvement and encourage dialogue between management and the public.  


Presence on the Web:       

As I previously outlined in my blog post Article Review on How Social Media is Changing, the ubiquity of communication technology is changing the way PR is practiced today. The advent of the internet, blogs, wi-fi, mobile devices, networking applications, and the list goes on changes how consumers communicate with corporate America. These new forms of communication mediums allow for a more immediate effective interchange between a corporation and its publics. The North Face has taken advantage of the evolution of communication. The North Face has a community webpage separate from its retail homepage that allows people to read and comment on athletes’ blogs, have general discussion on topics like endurance sports, and preview and discuss the release of upcoming gear. The North Face has also established a presence in social media. From TNF’s homepage there is a link to its Facebook Fan page. The over 19,000 fans can post comments, link to TNF blogs, upload their own videos, and connect with other members who have common interest. Web applications like blogs and Facebook allow TNF management to keep a thumb on the pulse of its brand.




McClintock, M. (2008).VF Corporation at Lehman Brothers Annual Retail Conference – Final. Fair Disclosure Wire (Quarterly Earnings Reports). Conference transcription, Accessed online November 25,2008, from EBSCOhost database Georgia Southern University.

The North Face, (2008). Get Inspired. Go Explore. . Retrieved December 3, 2008, from The North Face Community Web site:

 The North Face, (2008). Never Stop Exploring . Retrieved October 26, 2008, from The North Face Web site:

The North Face, (2008). The North Face Fan Page. Retrieved November 10, 2008, from Facebook Web site:


Feel the Vibrations: A Groundswell on The North Face.

Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li set out an explicit framework how to develop a social media platform in Groundswell. They outline the POST method as an effective process to maximize the utility to gain the greatest advantages from social media. I will use the POST method as a “rubric of effectiveness “to analyze The North Face’s social media strategy.


The common phase from Groundswell that can capsulate the People tenant of the POST method is: “What are customers ready for?”  This is the most important aspect of developing an effective groundswell. If you don’t know what you customers want, need, or will accept from a media standpoint; how can you be sure you are producing a message through a relevant medium? The North Face products line is no doubt geared to young and/or active people. It is often the stereotype that social media is only relevant to this population, and while that might not entirely true; it definitely can be asserted that a youth oriented product line can benefit from a stereotypical youth driven communication medium. I think it is safe to say that The North Face customer base is open to various forms of social media weather that is Facebook, Twitter, You Tube videos, blogs, or podcast.


Objectives in Groundswell are just what they are anywhere else in life, they are goals. What do you want to accomplish? The explicit objectives of The North Face communication strategy is obviously only outlined with the organization; but some basic assumptions can be made. The North Face is a merchant foremost; it wants to sell the most it can at the highest possible margin. So it can safely be presumed that from a communication standpoint it wants to energize its customer base to increase excitement and loyalty to its products. It is reasonable to assume that outdoor enthusiasts that purchase The North Face products are more susceptible to forms of community. By the nature of the hobbies, people who are highly active outdoors are more willing to find likeminded people to share tips, stories, and adventures with.  The predisposition to being open to communal environments should be great for The North Face, that is what social media is all about.  With social media not only can outdoor people share around a campfire; they can continue that experience around a blog, or a networking site when they are not on the trail.


This is the overarching “how” to the objectives “what.”How do you want to go about achieving your overall objectives. How much two-way communication do you want back from customers? How do want the conversation driven, from the PR department, from the customers, from the hands on members in the organization like R&D? I think when taking a Groundswell approach to social media it is important to remember that the strategy must be dynamic. The groundswell conversation will constantly be moving and changing hands between customers, critics, and corporate; that is the nature of the best. It is important to use volatile fluidity change in communication authority to your advantage. I think of controlling social media like playing pin ball. You can’t force the ball or the conversation to go in an explicit direction, but you can give it a nudge to affect its general area or to expel it from an undesired direction, which is just as good as absolute control many times.


I describe technology in communications as: the mediums to which an agenda is carried out; no matter how archaic or innovative.  In Groundswell Bernoff and Li warn how picking inappropriate technologies can be detrimental to your overall communication strategy. The technologies have to be dependent upon the first 3 tenants of the POST method. You have to pick a technology that your people are open to, that can help achieve your goals, and that can be incorporated into your overall communication approach. Many times companies focus too much on the technology aspect of their social communication program without having a solid justifiable foundation for their decisions.

The North Face may be guilty of focusing too much on technology. They have all basics covered, they have a blog, podcast, viral video, widgits, and a page on Facebook; but how effective is all this? For me, not much.  As I laid out in my last post Blogging for Big Business, The North Face does a poor job in making its web-based PR functions accessible through its retail website.  On its Facebook fan page The North Face does a better job outlining blogs, allowing members to upload comments and video. When I looked at The North Face Facebook (I love alliteration) page, I wondered why don’t they incorporate this functionality into their corporate website with a community page?

Well they have, they have just done a poor job of marketing it. Over the past few months during my analysis of The North Face social media strategy I have been disappointed that they didn’t have a corporate community webpage; and until now I hadn’t found one. When I clicked on a blog post from the Facebook page it took me to a corporate community page, UREAKA! Finally what I had been expecting. However, I am still disappointed that it took me so long. From what I can tell this site is not linked from the corporate site and I could not find it during any of my Google searches. In fact, even on the Facebook page there is no explicit link to The North Face community page, you just have to click on a blog post to go there.  

For me finding the community webpage after so long is better sweet. It is everything I wanted to find, but it is proof that The North Face should reanalyze its media strategy priorities. The people are there, the goals are clear, but the technology and strategy don’t seem be cohesive.  Until next time, keep the sun upon your face and the wind at your back.

Blogging for Big Businesses
November 7, 2008, 4:04 am
Filed under: PRCA 3331 | Tags: , , , ,

Blogging at its inception had somewhat of a grass roots appeal. An inexpensive trendy way marketing by small startups has now become an essential element in the communication structure of all businesses (regardless of size) that interact with the public. In Darren Rowse analysis A Guide to Corporate Blogging of Reem Abeidoh’s 13 Steps Fortune 500 companies take to create a Blog; they collectively outline a set necessary of elements contained in an effective corporate blog. I used their recommendations as somewhat of a rubric to analyze The North Face blog strategy. While I won’t make comparisons and contrast based on every step proposed, I will use the general themes of the guideline to draw my conclusions.



A company must decide if they are will allocate the people, resources, and the ATTITUDE necessary for a blog serve as a proper communication function. A synergistic strategy must be developed across all blogging active departments in order to properly disseminate a cohesive effective message. Commitment seems to be the biggest problem facing The North Face. From their website it is unclear how to exactly find company related blogs. The can be found under the “Explore” tab as “feeds.” On this page there are links to blogs, online diaries of athletes, and podcast. I think it is great that this page compiles all of their web-based PR functions; but it does a poor job at actually delivering the information. The blogs (and podcast) are listed with a brief description of the topic of the blog, but that is it. There is not a snap-shot of recent post or a direct link to the blog; you have to accesses the blog through the RSS button, which may be unclear to many users. Once you access the blogs, many are not up-to-date; out of six separate blogs only one had a new post in the last two weeks. I think this observation is indicative of the fact that The North Face is not committed to producing high-quality blogs for their consumers. Abeidoh points out those companies must find people in their organization to blog, train them, and promote the blogs they are producing. I assume this is not currently taking place at The North Face.


Blogging is essential to most companies; especially those that are directed towards young people. One only has to take a walk across any college campus, to see the abundance of North Face backpacks and jackets to see that The North Face has a blog receptive audience. It is possible that if The North Face doesn’t capitalize on blogging and social media that their brand will go the way of countless other fly-by-night fads. Anybody remember Ocean Pacific, British Knights, or Members Only? Blogging can be the catalyst that helps organizations continue the momentum growth; instead of slowly losing steam and not knowing why.