Whirlpool Institute of Fabric Service
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Whirlpool Institute of Fabric Service

Whirlpool decided to extend its reach by owning the concept of fabric care in consumers’ minds, and take advantage of this business opportunity via public relations.

Paul Holmes

Whirlpool, the manufacturer of one in every two washing machines in the United States, and Sears Roebuck & Co.’s exclusive provider of laundry appliances for the Kenmore Elite brand, wanted to take its presence beyond washers and dryers and become part of consumers’ lifestyles – specifically its core audience of “supermoms.” Whirlpool decided to extend its reach by owning the concept of fabric care in consumers’ minds, and take advantage of this business opportunity via public relations.  As a result, PR21 proposed the concept of the Whirlpool Institute of Fabric Science (WIFS) to be an independent advice-giving body for Whirlpool’s laundry consumers.  PR21 worked with Whirlpool to bring the concept of WIFS to life through all stages including planning, design and execution. Today WIFS exists as a lab at Whirlpool’s Benton Harbor, MI headquarters and is an established resource for consumers’ laundry dilemmas.


  • Take a major appliance manufacturer beyond its reputation for innovative technology and quality craftsmanship to a respected and established fabric care resource for supermoms in every aspect of their lives.
  • Launch Whirlpool technology, Calypso Wash Motion, under the Sears Kenmore Elite brand and manage publicity to ensure Whirlpool was not superceded by Sears in media coverage.
  • Plan and execute major trade and media launch at a tradeshow within the time constraints of only two months.


Whirlpool’s customer hotline, established in 1967, receives almost 1,000 calls daily and a similar number are submitted monthly to its Web site.

Whirlpool’s consumer research estimated that the average load of laundry is valued at $500-700, and the average American family washes up to 60 loads per month. With consumers putting clothing investments of more than $10,000 through the washing process each week fabric care could become a hot topic.

Whirlpool’s consumer target was supermoms: modern, dynamic and confident women.  These multi-tasking women successfully juggle home, family and work. As a group, the supermoms are ‘one stop shoppers,’ looking for readily packaged solutions to the many family tasks that face them everyday.

Whirlpool’s trade target was the fashion industry.  Over 90,000 designers, manufacturers, retailers and media attend MAGIC International, the fashion industry’s largest trade show.

Previous sponsors at MAGIC include Hang Ten apparel, GQ magazine, Woolrich, ESPN and Levi’s.  There was no history of appliance manufacturers or nontraditional services garnering a presence among the fashion brands at MAGIC.

At MAGIC Whirlpool could both capture the fashion media’s attention as well as reach out to potential strategic partners with whom it could work to offer co-branded, authoritative fabric care information in the future.


Extend editorial coverage from the business to the lifestyle pages. 

Increase awareness for the Calypso Wash Motion technology, and drive sales for the Kenmore elite with Calypso Wash Motion at Sears Roebuck & Co. stores across the country. 

Increase awareness of WIFS and position it as the resource for consumers’ fabric care needs.

Build Whirlpool’s 3rd party relationships with key fabric associations to help establish credibility within the fashion community.    


PR21 and Whirlpool created WIFS as an umbrella under which to reach out to consumers and translate Whirlpool’s products into the services and experiences consumers are looking for today.  Its members are key scientists and developers and its mission is to provide fabric care information for any situation, whether a cherry pie stain on a tablecloth after a Fourth of July barbecue or how best to care for this season’s hottest fabrics, such as leather. 

PR21 retained a spokesperson to conduct all media interviews for WIFS. A seasoned journalist, Tara Aronson offered credibility thanks to her authorship of How to Simplify Your Household, a book of household hints, as well as her regular column “Coming Clean” in the San Francisco Examiner. She was also an ideal choice as a busy mother of three with both home and family commitments, as she exemplified, and spoke directly to, Whirlpool’s key consumer target audience of supermoms.

To underline Whirlpool’s commitment to fabric care, PR21 negotiated a banner presence at the fashion industry’s foremost show, MAGIC International, in Las Vegas.  WIFS attendance at MAGIC was a double first for the show – the unprecedented appearance of an appliance manufacturer amid the designer clothing names, and the first time MAGIC had ever accepted a creative proposal to sponsor the press room. 

PR21 also counseled that MAGIC would be an ideal forum in which to launch Whirlpool’s premium fabric care technology, Calypso Wash Motion.  It is able to care for delicate fabrics such as silk and cashmere.  

PR21 identified key news topics for WIFS and generated ongoing publicity with monthly fabric care newsletters issued to the media. 


MAGIC: PR21 worked with MAGIC to coordinate a program that would provide WIFS maximum exposure from media, trade and consumer attendance. MAGIC accepted PR21’s creative proposal for sponsorship of the pressroom as well as designs for two kiosks on the main floor of the event.

The pressroom at MAGIC was transformed into a fashion runway and fabric care information center featuring a “Laundry is Chic” theme.  Fabric care information was endorsed by the corresponding associations, e.g., Woolmark, demonstrating to the audience how WIFS could be an asset not only to consumers but also the fashion community by providing information on how to care for every type of fabric.  

The centerpiece of the pressroom was a working display of a washing machine featuring Whirlpool’s latest technology – the Kenmore Elite with Calypso Wash Motion.  The new technology is able to care for large bulky items like comforters, rugs and curtains yet it is gentle enough for delicate fabrics like cashmere, silk and wool.

The kiosks, positioned prominently on the main floor of the event, featured fabric care information as well as a  video highlighting Calypso’s benefit to the fashion industry and consumers’ clothing investments.

Promotional and press materials included: laundry bag press kits featuring photographic buttons of WIFS members, fact sheets, news releases on WIFS, biographies of the members and spokesperson, large magnets featuring valuable stain advice from WIFS and branded pens and show bags.

A fabric care quiz was available for attendees to take and enter for a chance to win a new washing machine.  

PR21 planned, executed and managed a full scale media relations program for this event including:

  • Video new release with footage from the spokesperson and endorsements from Woolmark;
  • Satellite media tour live from MAGIC with our spokesperson offering general fabric care tips on storing summer clothes as well as the benefits of Calypso Wash Motion technology;
  • Audio news release. 
  • Whirlpool Institute of Fabric Science ongoing media relations:

PR21 used WIFS as a platform for media outreach including:

  • Coordinating regular media tours with spokesperson and creating eye-catching branded props;
  • Distributing opportunistic news releases to coincide with key stain problem-solving events, e.g., Halloween and Thanksgiving;  
  • Internal corporate communications outreach to 6,000 US employees at Whirlpool highlighting media coverage and news from WIFS.
  • PR21 has continued to leverage WIFS for media opportunities including Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day.


Media impressions total 128,562,229 reaching 24 out of top 25 DMA markets in USA and 160 out of top 200 markets in high profile consumer and lifestyle outlets such as Cosmopolitan, CNN Headline News, USA Today and Home Furnishing News.

Sales of the washing machines in Sears stores featuring the Calypso Wash Motion technology during its first month on the floor exceeded projections by 25% with public relations support being the only outreach to consumers prior to national advertising launch in September.  

Media inquiries highlighted the fact that they considered WIFS as a separate entity from the Whirlpool Corporation. For example, when a journalist from Cosmopolitan magazine was offered an interview with the laundry marketing manager at Whirlpool Corporation, she insisted that she speak with someone not from Whirlpool but specifically from WIFS.

PR21 cultivated and formed strategic partnerships for WIFS with key fabric associations, including Woolmark, Coastal Cashmere, Hemp, Knitted Textile Association, Celanese Acetate, and Woolite. 

In addition, Woolite has committed 50% of its public relations budget in 2001-2002 to partner with Whirlpool on a media relations outreach program. This was largely due to Whirlpool’s stated commitment to educating consumers about fabric care through public relations.
Tom Ellspermann, director, fabric care at Whirlpool, commented, “This program was a brave step for us and its effects have been felt across all dimensions of Whirlpool Corporation’s laundry division from sales and marketing to research & development. Its results have exceeded all our expectations and we plan further expansion for WIFS in the coming years.”

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