Jan 10, 2011
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

Simon Cowell and Donald Trump would be impressed: Sunglass Hut used viral blogs, video, social media, and more in a three-month-long public contest that this week will result in “hiring” a blogger to work as an independent contractor for a year, making $100,000, with a furnished apartment at the W hotel (pictured) in New York, $1,000 monthly styling allowance, and VIP passes to fashion shows in Milan, Paris, and New York.

“It’s the American Idol for fashion bloggers,” says the headhunter/recruiting consultant Angee Linsey, whose firm did extensive work on the project. “For fashion bloggers, giving one of them the opportunity to actually get paid a lot of money for unprecedented access into the fashion industry, this is their big break. A young woman who has a passion for fashion, blogging about it for Sunglass Hut for a year — who know where it will take them. She’s going to be in the big leagues.”

On the website where much of this went on, there were 165,275 visitors last month, viewing 425,719 pages.

Sunglass Hut decided to do this around August. The internal recruiting department was apparently not involved; instead the project was led by the Sunglass Hut marketing department, though unlike Linsey, the marketing department has been elusive as I did research for this article. Likely, Sunglass Hut sees this effort as a marketing, not recruiting one, which is true. But, interestingly, when the company prepared to launch the blog contest last year, and it realized it ought to hire an outside firm for help, it turned to a recruiting company. Linsey’s search firm, which is based in Seattle and had done something similar before for the Jackson Family Wine company, was brought on board to handle the selection activities. Green Light Global, out of Marin County, near San Francisco, handled the IT work.

Linsey’s role was to create a candidate selection process, and implement it. On October 1, the application process, announced at a September 10 press conference during New York Fashion Week, began. The initial pool of candidates were asked to make a 1-minute video about why they’d be the best person to be the “ultimate blogger.”

The launch got substantial publicity in the fashion world (a “frenzy,” said one blogger). There was a YouTube video that was embedded in various blogs; Facebook updates; mentions on sites like InStyle, and more.

There were 611 applicants and 350 qualified videos — if you sent in a 20-minute long porno, that’s not considered qualified. There were about 192,361 views of the applicant videos.

Linsey screened the videos to see who was most qualified. Her team narrowed that list of 350 down to about 100 best, and phone-screened those 100 candidates. It also narrowed down the pool using online research on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other searches to see what candidates’ online presence was. This was a blogging gig they were aiming for, so if someone had some good blog posts or similar posts out there, that’d help their cause. The bulk of the applicants were women in their twenties.

After the phone screen and the social media evaluation, Linsey presented 50 people to the Sunglass Hut team, providing Sunglass Hut a profile of all 50 on November 17 at the Sunglass Headquarters near Cincinnati.

Meanwhile, while the above was going on, the public voted on its favorite of the 350. Whoever won was guaranteed a spot in the top 10. (That ended up being Kimmy.) Sunglass Hut also offered people $20 coupons during the voting process, and gave people the chance to opt-in to Sunglass Hut promotions; about 11,288 did so, or about a tenth of voters.

Anyhow, at that November 17 meeting, Linsey and Sunglass Hut whittled down the list of 50 candidates to 10.

Being in the top 10 — not just winning — was a big deal, Linsey says. Finalists got calls right after this November 17 meeting letting them know that for the month of December they’d blog at least once a day on topics like fashion, food, music, and more.

Finalists themselves brought more attention to the contest. “Hey Mom, I made it,” one wrote on a blog. “I received an e-mail from the recruiter an hour after I submitted my application and uploaded my video requesting to interview me via phone  … She called with the good news three weeks later — I was trying desperately hard not to jump off the walls with excitement … ”

During December, finalists had five blog assignments they had to do — like being posed a question about fashion such as “what influence does New York have in the fashion world?” — but could also blog about whatever they wanted. Some posted once a day, others more. There were 549 blog entries in 30 days.

Linsey says, via an email to me about the contestants, that “Of our 165k visits they are responsible for 122,001 of them. They are also responsible for 62,979 interactions on the site, broken down as follows: 2,593 Tweets; 20,374 FB Likes; 33,090 Votes/Ratings; 6,922 comments.”

She got those stats from MegaPlayer, the social media firm handling the blog-off phase of the project.

The top 10 were also flown to New York where each made webisodes and was interviewed by a panel of celebrity judges. The candidates left with personalized suitcases and 10 pairs of designer sunglasses each. And, “yes, they gave me an iPad,” one says. And a flip camera. And a $250 Amex gift card.

This week, probably Tuesday, the winner will be selected. The job was going to start next month, but the date may be moved up; the thought now is to have the winner keep on blogging without delay — about their move to New York, for example — so that the strong momentum built up thus far does not slow.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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