We had planned to interview Huge MacLeod, Thomas Mahon and David Parmet for different sections of our book. MacLeod, of course, is the Hughtrain of Gaping Void, who we recently interviewed about lame sites. Mahon is best known as the Savile Row author of English Cut and Parmet is one of the increasing number of PR guys who get that blogging is fundamentally changing the profession. But the three have come together in a way that creates one of the Blogosphere’s most successful commercial stories yet.
It begins somewhere in a British Pub, where Mahon and MacLeod bending an occasional elbow together. “I had a drinking buddy who was a tailor,” says MacLeod. He wasn’t interested in blogs and I wasn’t terribly interested in expensive, conservative suits.” Occasionally, they’d talk about business. It could have been better for both of them —a lot better. MacLeod is an ad consultant, whose books and blog illustrations bitingly tweak the nose of the ad industry. Mahon is a master tailor with a shop on one of the world’s highest rent streets.
“The blog idea sort of started by accident,” recalls MacLeod. “We didn’t have a business plan or vision or anything like that. “ I asked Mahon what he was doing to market his suits and the answer was nothing much. He had an appalling website—as do most Savile tailors. I started talking to him about blogs, but at first, he wasn’t interested. There are probably about 10,000 people in the whole world who matter in his world,” about 1000 or so actually pony up as much as $4000 USD for these custom-tailored, fine wool suits.
MacLeod says he “started filling Mahon’s “head with Cluetrain and blogging stuff,” and slowly Mahon got interested. “We started thinking that if Mahon could talk about tailoring on a blog about the same way that Seth Godin talks about marketing, then the people who care will see it. Mahon wouldn’t try to sell suits on the blog. Instead, he would show his knowledge and love of the craft. He would explain the labor, and materials involved and why the cost of each suit was justified.” The idea was that the people who cared either about suits or how a master craftsmen creates them would find their way to the site.
MacLeod’s Gaping Void blog wouldn’t hurt either. Gaping Void has a high Google status and many of the world’s most popular bloggers regularly connect with him. If MacLeod enthused about a tailor’s blog, it would have the Field of Dreams effect: People will come. The drinking buddies clinked glasses and a partnership formed. Mahon would make the suits. MacLeod would use his marketing and creative skills to sell them. In January, Mahon entered his first post on his new blog, English Cut. By April, hundreds of bloggers had written about EnglishCut. Dozens were linking to it.
While all of this was unfolding in the UK, Parmet, a regular visitor and comment poster at Gaping Void was getting himself fired from a New York PR firm. We are hesitant to report on domestic issues, without hearing both sides. But, in his viewpoint, the reasons came from the fact his superiors kept asking for new ideas and Parmet was relentlessly championing blogging. That made him MacLeod’s kind of guy. He posted a sympathetic blog, under the headline of, “Somebody hire Dave, Dammit,” and the two became email friends. Then, says MacLeod, “I just asked him out-of-the-blue if he would fancy trying his hand at generating PR for English Cut” but Parmet jumped hedged when he found out that the gig would result in a fine suit by no cash.” But Roxy Music impresario Bryan Ferry inadvertently saved the deal. Says Parmet, "I had always had a thing for Savile Row suits, ever since I first saw Bryan Ferrie wearing them on the MTV videos years earlier." What clinched the English Cut dealwas when he learned that Mahon had made Ferry’s suits.
What followed was a brief trip to New York that was historic both for blogging and PR. If you think about it, the press is the real customer for a PR practitioner. Clients are more like manufacturers who supply the PR guy with something to his customer wants in the form of news. Many view the PR practitioner with a cynical eye, but credibility with media contacts is everything.
Parmet had to lay his credibility on the line this time. The tailor and his publicist had never met, never even talked until a week before the New York gig. “It was a true 'power of blogs' moment. Here I was putting himself in the hands of someone I didn't know. I was ushering him into some of the world’s most powerful media companies, with no idea if Mahon could even articulate what he had blogged.” Parmet was unemployed, but far from desperate. Why was he taking such a risk? “Somehow, perhaps through our readings of our respective blogs, there was a level of trust and from the moment I arrived at Tom's hotel, it was like we had been working together for months,” he said.
There was another small but significant step being taken, not just for the Blogosphere, but perhaps for how some PR will be practiced in the future. This, as far as we can determine, was the first time that anyone got into the doors of major international print and broadcast media, solely on the power of blogs. Second, the interviewee was not no CEO from a global company. He was just an English tailor--a sole proprietor addressing a tiny niche market. Even Mahon's blog, not yet three-months-old, wasn’t established and even so--in April 2005, most blog denizens were not the sort in the market for a $4000 suit.
The press tour was a smash. “The media just love this story,” Parmet told us. The result is an exclusive article in one of the world’s most prestigious publications and a television coverage on a major global TV network. The three key players remain tight-lipped on when these will unfold because of publication agreements. But the blog’s value proved itself during this brief visit, even if not a single word was published by the media. All by itself, English Cut has nearly tripled their business solely because of the blog and it is opening doors where Mahon had thought there were only walls.
Mahon has been coming to New York for years, to serve a smattering of American clientele. The economics are such that if he sells two suits each time, it pays for the trip. If he sells three, he eats and gets to pay rent again back on Savile Row. A five-suit trip for him has traditionally been a Bonanza. When Mahon was in New York, in December 2004, he sold only two suits. This time, he sold 20 suits and eight sport coats, better by far than he had done in any full year ever.
Where did the new business coming from? “One hundred percent of this increase has come from blogs. There’s absolutely no doubt about it,” says McLeod. “The blog represents as much as a 300 percent increase in new business in less than 10 weeks.
The success has fundamentally changed the game for English Cut. They have many more options. Mahon is becoming globally recognized and can probably fly to most major cities and find customers he previously could not access. Better yet, they find him. Well-known people came to him in New York and they are ones likely to generate word-of-mouth, which of course will get Mahon more customers. He has new freedom. He can choose his customers and refer ones he no longer wants or needs to Savile tailor colleagues who may not have the same number of customers standing in line waving money at them, a situation still new and surprising to Mahon.
Mahon has been a one-person shop for many years and now he’s thinking globally. He’s thinking of hiring other quality tailors to increase productivity while maintaining quality. He also thinks that blogging may untether him from the painful rent hikes on Savile Row, which has been a source of strain for the premier tailoring industry. It seems to us to make sense. If the top investment houses of the United States can move to Connecticut and New Jersey and still call themselves “Wall Street,” we think a tailor of quality can call himself Savile Row, even if he’s working out of an East London garage. His customers want quality, not geography.
So what does this mean for other tailors? Can each of them, now hop into the Blogosphere and do what Mahon and McLeod have done, then hire an New York publicist to follow … suit? Not a chance. EnglishCut, when blog readers came across it, was remarkable. It displayed passion and authority. It told us things that were interesting. English Cut is one of Godin’s Purple Cows and any tailor who follows will just be plain old boring brown cows.
For the English Cut team, it seems to us they have made history because they went first. And while other tailors cannot emulate this level of success, other people in a wide array of businesses worldwide can learn from what they have done and use blogging to greatly leverage their businesses.