Couture Finds A Cause

Jones Apparel Group, Inc. has survived in the cutthroat world of fashion by keeping a laser-sharp focus on the preferences of its well-heeled audience. Hems at the knee? Shoulder pads out? Pink as the new neutral? JAG gets it, and probably a full season before its ready-to-wear competitors.

But successful brands go further than tweaking their merchandise, and continually look for ways to increase their relevance for consumers. In June 2004, JAG began tracking concerns beyond hemlines, with an eye to impacting the very fabric of its consumers’ and employees’ lives. Through surveys of the two groups, the company learned that each shared a top priority: children and education.

Within months, Jones had constructed its first corporate-wide philanthropic campaign, Jones New York In the Classroom. The four-tiered program, backed by a $1 million grant, aims to improve the quality of education by supporting teachers via fundraisers, partnerships and in-school activities.

“We exist for our consumers,” says Stacy Lastrina, senior VP-creative services, Jones Apparel Group. “They led us to [the education cause]. Consumers want to do more, but don’t always have the time. This gives them an opportunity to get involved.”

JAG’s initial grant will benefit four teachers’ organizations and address specific challenges within the profession: recruitment, retention, professional development, and recognition and support. By supporting teachers, the benefits will reach children, Lastrina says.

“Teachers are the single most important factor in student achievement, yet there are very few programs for [them],” Lastrina says. “We want teachers to know there are resources out there and that teachers count.”

New York City-based marketing consulting firm The Leverage Group helped launch the program for JAG.

“Our research showed that employees and consumers are tremendously motivated by causes that address the needs of children,” says Dana DiPrima, executive VP of The Leverage Group. “Removing barriers to education was a critical concern.”

According to the In the Classroom Web site, between 30% to 50% of teachers leave the profession within three to five years. By 2010, the nation will need 2.2 million to 2.4 million teachers to fill the growing need.

The need recognized, JAG and Leverage then decided where to focus support. Following interviews with educators, administrators and agencies, they winnowed choices from more than 75 non-profit teacher organizations to four:

TeachersCount, a national organization that offers free teacher support services, resources and information.

New Teacher Academy, a support program for first-year teachers.

Fund For Teachers, a grant-giving organization that supports teachers’ summer professional development.

Adopt-A-Classroom, a national organization that links individuals and businesses to classroom needs.

Partnering up

JAG launched In the Classroom on May 2 by ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange and handing out apples and hats to traders. The following day (May 3 — National Teacher’s Day), it kicked off globally via print ads and a guerilla marketing effort, as teachers and students rallied outside The Today Show in New York City.

Since then, JAG has adopted more than 100 classrooms; some 3,000 more teachers have registered to have their classrooms adopted; more than 80 teachers earned summer sabbaticals and more than 100 teachers have engaged in New Teacher Academy.

JAG is extending participation to its 7,000 corporate employees, offering three hours of paid time-off each month so staff can support the campaign. Some employees spend that time organizing activities for adopted classrooms.

Other employees across 23 JAG locations are organizing independent fund-raisers (think craft sales and bake sales), raising between $500 to $2,500 per event for the campaign, says Amy Rapawy, VP-marketing, Jones New York.

“Our associates led us to this cause,” she says. “It’s something they feel passionate about. The entrepreneurial spirit has really taken over.”

In addition, JAG is giving makeovers this month to teachers and their classrooms – complete with a Jones New York wardrobe – in five regions via its Back to School, Back to Style program. The June isssue of O magazine encouraged shoppers to nominate teachers online. Other partners include The Home Depot, Lane Furniture and Hancock Fabrics. Celebrity designer Laurie Smith from TLC’s Trading Spaces assists, adding trademark style to each classroom.

The program hits retail this fall, when JAG launches a dedicated Shop For Education Week from Oct. 15-22 in more than 250 Macy’s East, Macy’s West, Hechts and Carson Pirie Scott stores. Ten percent of the proceeds of JAG merchandise sales (up to $500,000) will go toward the cause. Consumers may treat themselves to mini-manicures or massages in the “teacher’s lounge” or samples goodies during “recess.” More than 60 teachers from area schools will participate in runway shows in the five markets and model Jones apparel. “We are putting [teachers] on the runway and treating them like the models they are,” Rapawy says.

For Macy’s, the partnership with JAG was a no-brainer, says Martine Reardon, executive VP-marketing for Macy’s. “Education was easy…for me to say ‘yes’ to. Children are very, very important to [what] Macy’s is about and what we want to support. It’s not about a sales generating idea. It’s more about giving back to the community in which we live.”

The retailer’s role could grow in future years, Reardon says.

“Anything we’ve ever done with Jones has always been a success for us,” she says. “We feel good there is potential for us to grow.”

The appeal extends to other retail partners. Gift retailer The Fruit Co. is assembling specially designed In The Classroom watercolor art boxes. “We really feel a special tie to this program,” says Scott Weber, president of The Fruit Co. “It’s great to be associated with Jones New York In The Classroom and the cause of helping education.”

The Fruit Co. plans to donate 20% of its gift sales used with the promotional code JYNYCLASS toward In the Classroom. The Hood River, OR-based company hopes to raise $1 million by year’s end.

Online, consumers can purchase apple car magnets (similar to the magnets that support U.S. military troops) branded with “Support America’s Teachers” via www.jnyintheclassroom.org for $3 each, plus shipping.

“It’s a call to action,” DiPrima says. “What better real estate than the back of your car to show your support for teachers?””

Umm, maybe your chest? JAG will offer this fall a limited edition T-shirt created by New York City artist Ryan McGinness. The T-shirts will sell for under $20 at select Macy’s and other department stores, as well as 102 Jones New York outlets.

‘Strategic sense’

The Classroom initiative coincides with a pivotal time in JAG’s market positioning. Though it reported a nine-cent decline in earnings per share to $2.39 in 2004, JAG revenues rose 6.8% last year to $4.7 billion from $4.4 billion, largely due to the 2004 acquisitions of Barney’s and Maxwell Stores.

A philanthropic cause like In The Classroom, especially in partnership with Macy’s, makes sense, says Marie Driscoll, investment officer for New York City-based Standard & Poor’s Equity. Federated Department Stores, owner of Macy’s, accounted for 12% of JAG’s sales last year, she says. While the campaign itself won’t result in a big financial boost for JAG, it may yield a positive impact on the brand over the long term to increase its pricing and position, Driscoll says.

“It makes strategic sense to do this,” she says. “It’s a grassroots effort to connect with people and bring awareness to the fact that this is a valid cause. It’s a plus.”

In the Classroom isn’t JAG’s first grassroots foray. In 2003, it kicked off its Life Speaker Series and Wardrobe Seminars. The program, which included trunk shows, offered lectures on financial success, health, nutrition, stress and time management to women working in Fortune 500 companies. Boston-based Arnold Brand Promotions handled.

The brand reached more than 100 companies. Trunk show proceeds benefited the Women’s Alliance, a national organization that provides clothing, career skills training and other services to low-income women seeking employment.

“Jones really looks to what is important in women’s lives,” says Michael Carey, VP-group account director for Arnold. “They know what is important to those people aside from clothing. They look at what is important to consumers from a personal perspective to make that personal touch with someone.”

The women behind Jones New York Inside the Classroom are in full agreement.

“The goal is not to lift sales, but to make a difference and add value to the brand,” Rapawy says.

“Anyone who thinks a company initiating a cause marketing campaign is doing it to ring their registers is completely mistaken,” Lastrina says. “It will not get consumers to purchase a brand they do not already have an affinity for. It’s about extending the relationship.”

“This is just the beginning,” DiPrima promises.

Corporate Plunge

JAG execs get immersed in the cause

How to get employees to really back a fundraiser? Promise to get corporate bigwigs to provide sweat equity – literally! When Ellen Bowen, director of organizational development for Jones Apparel Group’s division Nine West Footwear, suggested company leaders wash employees’ cars raise money for In the Classroom, the response was overwhelming.

“It’s a fun way to turn the tables,” Bowen says. “The entire company embraced the idea.”

Sixteen division presidents and VPs rolled up their sleeves July 18 for the Get Washed Nine West Footwear Corp. Presidential Car Wash. For $10, employees received a car wash from the president or VP of their choice and an In the Classroom car magnet.

In all, more than 80 employees signed up for the event. The car wash raised over $2,000.

With corporate employees in the cause, Jones Apparel Group can “move the needle” and make a difference in teachers’ lives, Bowen says.

“Many of us are working women with children,” she says. “To have a cause that is close to home for us is really important. It is unique for a corporation to say, ‘We want you to volunteer.’ It sort of promotes a better balance in our lives. It’s a wonderful thing.” – AJ

Teachers’ Pets

Brands make the grade by helping schools

Other brands have recognized the importance of teachers and education via various marketing inititatives. Washington Mutual Bank rewarded teachers for their excellence with tickets to a Broadway show – 28,000 Saturday matinees to be exact. To celebrate its 2002 entry into New York City, Washington Mutual exhausted the supply of Broadway tickets and gave them to 14,000 teachers who were nominated by students and parents. In addition to the free show, teachers were treated to a pre-curtain rally in Times Square lauding teachers. The reward was part of Washington Mutual’s Spotlight on Teachers campaign, which won Best Overall and Best Idea or Concept in PROMO’s 2003 PRO Awards. Now in its sixth year, Delray Beach, FL-based Office Depot Inc. is renewing its 5% Back to Schools program, which offers schools the chance to earn free school supplies during the year. Under the program, shoppers select a school to receive a 5% credit for qualifying school supply purchases. Since its inception, Office Depot has awarded $10 million to more than 36,000 schools in the U.S. and Canada.In addition to the 5% Back to Schools program, the company runs a backpack donation program, in which each store donates backpacks to schools and associations to help underprivileged kids in their area.“Our focus is on children,” says Mary Wong, director of community relations for Office Depot. “There isn’t going to be a future without them.” That’s not all. Office Depot stores across the U.S. and Canada are hosting their 12th annual Teacher Appreciation Breakfasts to give area teachers an occasion to network and prepare for the upcoming school year. The program, designed to recognize and honor teachers for their work and thank them for their commitment to children, runs through Aug. 27. Teachers and administrators can visit www.school.com to learn about this year’s list of scheduled breakfasts. More than 100,000 teachers and administrators participated in the program last year. – Amy Johannes