Jessica Lorenz

Hacking Patagonia’s PR Strategy: How to improve your brand’s voice and influence

November 10th, 2015

The last week of October, I had the opportunity to go  to my hometown in Ventura County, California and attend a Public Relations Society of America (PSRA) event featuring Adam Fetcher, Director of Global PR and Communications, Patagonia. I was excited because Patagonia is a brand passionate about sustainability and creating good, quality products.

Patagonia has taken a very unique PR strategy for promoting its brand, as you can see in the photo below, where the company took out a full page in The New York Times asking customers not to purchase a new jacket for the season.

Patagonia's Brand Voice


The brand did this in response to the rampant, sometimes violent, consumerism on Black Friday shopping. Instead of slashing prices and trying to put customers into a purchasing frenzy, it encouraged a view more in line with its “bigger picture” brand mentality.

Needless to say, I couldn’t help but be a bit excited when I saw the first slide of Adam’s presentation, which simply read “Let Your Brand Be Human — Or, corporations are people, literally.”

Here are four key lessons that I pulled from Adam’s talk on brand, PR strategy and what marketers can learn from the big picture practices that Patagonia uses to grow its brand and amplify its voice.


Step 1: Recognize that companies are people  and admit it your audience

Step 1: Recognize that companies are people - and admit it to your audience


Especially with social media, brands are coming to terms with the fact that human interaction, rather than corporate PR jargon, is the best way to talk to your customers.

Adam explained, “Reminding ourselves constantly as PR professionals  people who are working with the media — that we are literally human beings in the world is the first step in helping your company achieve that same type of status when you’re working with the press and being portrayed in the media.”

This isn’t a lesson that can be quantified, he added, and companies need to understand how this works best for them and their customers.

“It’s not rocket science. This isn’t secret sauce in any way. It’s really all about letting your brand be human,” he said.

For so long, larger companies have masked themselves behind a logo and a boilerplate rather than giving real details or acknowledging individual employees.

Now, we’re seeing the rise of humanizing companies and it lending itself to a demonstration of company values.

“Being transparent is something that customers in this day and age really value. They want to know there’s a human being behind the statement, behind the video, whatever it might be. This is one that ended up working for us and that’s going to be a work in progress moving forward,” Adam said.

Patagonia not only speaks to people in a human voice rather than company voice, but it makes a point to let its employees be people.

Because employee life is so much easier to access through social media and sites like Glassdoor, Adam said, “We are now relating to companies based on a lot more factors than the products they sell … I think how you treat your people is probably the first indicator of your values, just like you might judge a human on how they treat their friends and family. Creating that type of parallel can be very powerful.”


Step 2: Embrace and live your mission

Step 2: Embrace and live your mission


“I think that one of the things that Patagonia has done extremely well is define … what is our reason for being. Making money doesn’t count. That’s not our mission statement. A mission statement is something that defines your values and gives you a purpose in the world above and beyond the products you make or the footprint that you have physically,” Adam said.

Patagonia, as a company, is passionate about employees living out the company’s mission and knowing the mission statement. But not from memorizations or HR meetings — from living and breathing it in the same way.

Of course the brand prides itself on its product, but that almost appears second to its stance on environmental affairs, through an examination of the content and social media presence of the brand. Over the past few years, the brand has poured tremendous resources into producing environmentalist documentaries like Jumbo Wild and DamNation, among others.

When it comes to sharing Patagonia’s message, Adam said, “This is kind of simple stuff, but it’s important to remind ourselves: How does a human behave? Humans know themselves and they have a point of view, we hope. They speak up for what they believe in generally. They don’t talk like robots or PR professionals, for that matter. Humans take risks, at least when they’re successful they take risks.”

Taking time to understand and know their customers is vital in the Patagonia campaigns.

Sometimes issues are complex or difficult to convey, especially on such issues as supply chain and sustainability. However, for his audience, Adam said, “Humans have faults and failures every single day and they treat their friends like adults, even if they’re kids. So we talk to others with respect and treat them as adults. We don’t talk down. We don’t dumb our messages down.”


Step #3: Use negatives to create a positive message

Step 3: Use negatives to create a positive message


Though some companies may try to refute or sweep unpleasant stories under the rug, Adam said, “We tell the good and we also tell the bad. Your customers are part of your mission, so make sure that they feel like they’re participating in your efforts.”

In 2011, Patagonia found some human rights issues in its supply chain. Rather than trying to cover it up, the company sent it to print.

“Instead of announcing we had come to a beautiful resolution of this problem, instead, this was the headline that we actually placed, ‘All Your Clothes Are Made with Exploited Labor.’ That really elevates your communications to help the customer and the reader understand the true problem and the true issue that we’re all involved in,” Adam said.

What Patagonia did in response to the news was only half of the story. He advised people, “look to promote not the action we took, but what caused us to make that action.”

Patagonia used the blemish on its record to bring back the focus to the company’s overall mission, and by addressing the issue directly, it was able to show customers how it was fixing it.


Step 4: Encourage your customers to become advocates

Step 4: Encourage your customers to become advocates


Patagonia employees are company mission advocates but it doesn’t stop with those on the payroll.

“We’re always talking with our customers and our audiences and the media in particular about that tension we’re feeling every day about our environmental mission and our need to make the best product,” Adam said.

Patagonia’s ideal customers are actively invested in the company and its values. On social media, Patagonia receives criticism about packing it’s product in plastic bags.

“Well, it turns out this plastic bag, although of course it’s made of plastic and petroleum-based product, it actually protects the garment to an extent that eliminating them from our shipping would have a worse impact on the environment because of the damage caused to products causing us to have to replace them and actually make more,” Adam said, adding “that is something we’ve also been very forthright in communicating to our customers and to the media about. It’s a way we’re able to talk about our mission and allowing our customers to live that mission with us.”

Patagonia makes a point to include the customer with its values. In fact, it has created a campaign about product reuse and repair, rather than purchasing new products, since the company intends its products to last near a lifetime.

“We went out into the world with this truck, Worn Wear truck made of recycled wine barrels, I believe, giving people tools to repair and reuse their stuff in order to empower [our customers] to uphold their end of the bargain,” Adam said.


You can follow Jessica Lorenz, Event Content Manager, MECLABS Institute, on Twitter @JessicaPLorenz.


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