Lee Denim Day
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Lee Denim Day

Several years ago, the casual apparel industry faced a challenge: to sell more jeans. The Lee Company had maybe the best strategy of all: to change the perception of jeans in the workplace. At the same time, the Lee Company felt strongly about giving some

Paul Holmes

Companies give to charity all the time, but what really makes a company stand out in a world of corporate philanthropy?  The answer is “owning a cause.”  Investing dollars (and sweat) in that cause.  Being passionate about it.  Not just writing a check.

Several years ago, the casual apparel industry faced a challenge: to sell more jeans.  It’s a highly competitive business and everyone had a strategy.  The Lee Company had maybe the best strategy of all: to change the perception of jeans in the workplace.  If more companies relaxed their dress codes and allowed employees to wear jeans to work, more people would have to buy jeans.  At the same time, the Lee Company felt strongly about giving something back to its most important consumer – women.  Lee is the #1 brand of jeans for women.

Barkley Evergreen & Partners consulted with the Lee Company and recommended that Lee align itself with a cause that women could embrace.  Lee had identified breast cancer as a worthy cause, and after extensive research BE&P recommended that Lee enter into a partnership with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.  At the same time, BE&P recommended that Lee launch a campaign to convince corporate CEOs and managers that it’s okay to let employees “go casual” every once in awhile – that it might actually build morale and improve worker productivity.

To satisfy these objectives, BE&P developed Lee National Denim Day, a nationwide “casual day” to raise money and awareness for breast cancer.  On a designated Friday in October (National Breast Cancer Awareness Month) employees of participating companies would be allowed to wear denim to work for a $5 donation to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.  We made the trial easy for corporate America.  Give us one day a year and let your employees wear denim on that day and make their donation.  Employees would have a good time and feel like they’re making a difference.  By letting their employees celebrate Lee National Denim Day, companies could feel good and wouldn’t feel compelled to write a huge check to the Foundation.

Our decisions were guided by research on brands and cause-related marketing.  When price and quality are equal, 76% of consumers would likely switch to a brand associated with a good cause.  In fact, consumers have come to expect it.  Six in 10 consumers think cause-related marketing should be a standard business practice.*

So where does it all start?  Each year before the campaign kicks off, BE&P secures the services of a celebrity spokesperson who will serve as the cornerstone of the campaign.  Actor Rob Lowe was chosen in 2000 because of his visibility and compelling story.  Lowe lost his grandmother and great-grandmother to breast cancer and was able to share his story and deliver the Lee Company’s key messages to a national audience through television and radio interviews and a print ad campaign.  We broke tradition and selected a male spokesperson because we felt Rob would deliver a new message to a new audience – men.

In order to execute Lee National Denim Day, BE&P and Lee use a multi-disciplined marketing communications approach.  It’s a strategic initiative that’s launched months in advance.  Lee executes a print ad campaign and a direct mail campaign to encourage companies to register for Lee National Denim Day, and BE&P raises further awareness through an aggressive media relations campaign which includes targeted media pitching, video news releases, a satellite media tour and a national radio tour.

A toll-free hotline (1-800-521-5533) and web site (www.denimday.com) are maintained for people to access information and register to participate.

Key audiences for Lee National Denim Day include large companies, small businesses, schools - any employer and its employees.  Additionally, Lee hopes to reach its core consumer – women – with a message that it cares about a major health concern to women.

The results have been nothing short of extraordinary. Highlights of this year’s campaign included full-page articles with photos in InStyle and Glamour, appearances by Rob Lowe on The Today Show, Larry King Live, Live with Regis and Entertainment Tonight, plus a national radio tour and more than 100 airings on local TV stations across the country.  Here is a summary of verified broadcast impressions to date:

National Broadcast Coverage – Interviews with Rob Lowe reached 24,449,806 people.

Local Television Coverage – TV stories in local markets reached 10,773,025 people.

Print Coverage – Print stories in local and national publications reached 33,130,470 people.  

Radio Tour – A radio interview tour in Top 20 markets reached 12,836,553 people.


The public relations initiatives of this program were planned and executed within the budget of $526,025.  ($300,000 is for spokesperson’s fee, leaving $226,025 for all other hard costs and agency’s fee.)   

Money is still rolling in and Lee National Denim Day 2000 has already raised more than $7.3 million for the Komen Foundation.  That would bring the five-year total for the program to $23.8 million, making it the nation’s largest single-day fundraiser for breast cancer research, education, screening and treatment.  The Lee Company is a member of the Komen Foundation’s Million Dollar Council, and the Lee name has become synonymous with fighting breast cancer.

By creating, launching and managing the Lee National Denim Day program, Barkley Evergreen & Partners has helped position the Lee brand for the future and helped solidify Lee’s reputation  - as a company that cares and as a brand that strongly identifies with its core consumer.  Additionally, jeans have become more accepted in the workplace, and we feel that Lee National Denim Day is at least partly responsible for that. 

*Source: Cone/Roper Cause-Related Marketing Trends Report

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