Lee National Denim Day
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report
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Lee National Denim Day

Companies give to charity all the time, but what really makes a company stand out in a world of corporate philanthropy? The answer - own a cause. Invest dollars (and sweat). Be passionate. Don’t just writing a check.

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 - own a cause. Invest dollars (and sweat). Be passionate. Don’t just writing a check.

The casual apparel industry is highly competitive and differentiating a company is a very real challenge. Seven years ago it was even more important to distinguish a brand because denim in the workplace was not as common. At that time, Lee Jeans came to Barkley Evergreen & Partners (BE&P) with a specific objective: 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 buy jeans. At the same time, as the No. 1 brand of jeans for women, Lee felt strongly about giving back to its most important consumer – women. 

BE&P consulted with Lee Jeans and recommended Lee align itself with a cause women could embrace. Lee had identified breast cancer as a worthy cause and one that affected a great percentage of its own employees. With that in mind, BE&P recommended Lee launch a campaign to convince corporate CEOs and Human Resource Managers that it’s okay to let employees “go casual” occasionally and that it might actually build morale and improve worker productivity.

The idea: 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 in exchange for a $5 contribution to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Choosing the right philanthropic partner was critical. In addition to helping fund one of the most innovative and responsive grant programs today, the Komen Foundation guaranteed that a percentage of the money raised would go to local breast cancer programs throughout the country. Aligning with the Komen Foundation would help make Lee National Denim Day a grassroots effort. 

Making the trial easy for corporate America was also imperative. Lee doesn’t ask companies to contribute money. Companies simply allow employees to wear denim to work, thereby empowering those individuals to make a difference. Key audiences for Lee National Denim Day include large companies, small businesses, schools, organizations - any employer and its employees. Additionally, Lee hopes to reach its core consumer with a message that it cares about a major women’s health issue.

The development of Lee National Denim Day was guided by research on brands and cause-related marketing.  When price and quality are equal, 76% of consumers will likely switch to a brand associated with a good cause. In fact, consumers have come to expect companies to support a cause. Six in 10 consumers think cause-related marketing should be a standard business practice.*

The first step is to secure a celebrity spokesperson to serve as the “face” of the campaign. Each year, the spokesperson is carefully researched and selected primarily based on their connection to breast cancer and mass audience appeal. We also look for a fresh, new angle to help distinguish Lee National Denim Day from other cause-related programs. In 2002, BE&P selected a spokesperson that would connect with our target audiences - Women 25-54, Men 25-54, corporate America, schools and organizations. Actress Melina Kanakaredes, star of NBC’s Providence, was chosen because of her visibility on a prime time show and her appeal among audiences of all ages, but it was her compelling personal story and passionate nature that made the campaign such a success. Kanakaredes’ close friend, Katina Antonopoulos, was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago and Kanakaredes has been by her side through treatment and recovery. Kanakaredes was convinced early detection through self breast exams saved her friend's life. She was able to share her personal experience and deliver Lee’s key messages to a national audience through television and radio interviews and a print advertising campaign.

The objectives of this year’s campaign were: Raise awareness of Lee’s dedication to the fight against breast cancer by generating 90,000,000 media impressions; Promote Lee’s commitment to giving back to its consumer by raising $7.5 million for breast cancer research, treatment, education and screening; Demonstrate that Lee is empowering individuals to make a difference in the fight against breast cancer by soliciting and registering 19,000 companies and organizations.

To execute Lee National Denim Day, BE&P and Lee developed a multi-disciplined marketing communications plan. This strategic initiative is launched months in advance of Lee National Denim Day. In addition to establishing a toll-free hotline (1-800-521-5533) and Web site (www.denimday.com) for people to access information and register to participate, Lee executes a print ad campaign and a direct mail campaign to encourage companies to register for Lee National Denim Day. The print ad campaign was unique this year in that the celebrity spokesperson appeared with her friend, Antonopoulos, with a headline that read, “ We’re both fighting breast cancer, but only one of us was diagnosed.”
BE&P further raises awareness through an aggressive media relations campaign. The campaign includes targeted print media pitches to key women’s publications, major dailies and fashion trades. In addition, we select two or three publications to conduct an in-depth interview with the spokesperson regarding her personal connection to breast cancer and involvement with Lee National Denim Day. We negotiate appearances for our spokesperson with national television talk and news programs which occur during key periods throughout the campaign. The spokesperson also conducts two national radio tours with stations in top markets and nationally syndicated programs.

On Lee National Denim Day, BE&P distributes a video news release that features interviews with the celebrity spokesperson and a Lee representative as well as footage of businesses that participate in the program. While companies nationwide are celebrating Lee National Denim Day in their offices, Lee Jeans holds a celebration at its headquarters in Merriam, Kans. While the celebrity spokesperson participates in a satellite media tour with networks and stations in top markets, Lee employees and local media are invited to an event that includes speakers, a message from the celebrity spokesperson and a check presentation.

The 2002 Lee National Denim Day campaign began in January, with research of celebrities and selection of a spokesperson and negotiation of a contract.  Media relations initiatives began June 15 with the announcement of the kickoff of the campaign and Kanakaredes’ selection as spokesperson.  Media relations efforts continued through the summer and early fall, with print and broadcast placements. Instead of simply writing a check, Lee Jeans invests a significant amount of money and time to empower individuals to make a difference.

The results have been nothing short of extraordinary. As Lee feels the benefit of this program is in raising awareness of Lee as a brand that cares, Lee measures success of this program based solely on the objectives listed above and not on business objectives. According to Lee brand tracking studies, women who are aware of Lee National Denim Day are more likely to have a better perception of Lee as fashionable. Additionally, Lee credits Lee National Denim Day as helping its missy business as measured by overall denim sales being up 8% in units sold in 2002 over 2001. Kathy Collins, Lee’s vice president of marketing, states that feedback from Lee’s major retailers indicates they love this program because they see a spike in sales every year when they promote the campaign.

Lee Jeans also benefits in ways that cannot be measured in dollars. Lee receives hundreds of letters each year thanking them for allowing individuals to make such a significant contribution. Lee believes Lee National Denim Day has helped change the image of jeans in the workplace. CEOs and HR Managers are seeing it’s okay to let employees “go casual” occasionally and it might actually build morale and improve worker productivity. Gordon Harton, Lee Jeans’ president said, “This is my favorite day of the year because it says more about Lee than anything else we do.”

Other highlights of this year’s campaign include an exclusive interview on usatoday.com, feature mentions in Entertainment Weekly and US Weekly, appearances by Kanakaredes on Live with Regis and Kelly, CNN, Fox News Network, The Late, Late Show with Craig Kilborne, the Wayne Brady Show and two appearances on Extra. Additionally, Kanakaredes conducted two national radio tours and appeared in a video news release that resulted in more than 100 airings on local TV stations nationwide.

Media relations for Lee National Denim Day generated 138,462,391 impressions, exceeding the objective of 90,000,000:
Broadcast Coverage included interviews with Kanakaredes and TV stories in local markets reached 32,251,393 people;
Print Coverage included print stories in local and national publications reached 100,434,098 people; Radio Tour included two radio interview tours in Top 20 markets and national programs reached 5,776,900 people.

Once all of the receipts are counted, Lee National Denim Day 2002 is expected to raise more than $6.5 million for the Komen Foundation. While $6.5 million is an extraordinary amount in and of itself, in light of being raised in a down economy, Lee considered this campaign to be as big a success as ever.  The six-year total for this campaign is more than $36 million, making it the nation’s largest single-day fundraiser for breast cancer research, education, screening and treatment. Lee Jeans is a member of the Komen Foundation’s Million Dollar Council, and the Lee name has become synonymous with fighting breast cancer.

More than 21,000 companies and organizations, 1.5 million people, participated in Lee National Denim Day - 2,000 more than the objective and the largest number to date.

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. 

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