It takes nothing away from the dreadful disease to say that breast cancer has become the workhorse of the philanthropic world. If a pink ribbon will stick to it, it's been stuck. Sales from the second soundtrack album of the teen TV drama One Tree Hill benefit the cause. Fujifilm has provided free breast cancer screenings. Carl's Jr. fast food stores have given out pink "happy star" to diners who donate a dollar to help fight breast cancer.
It's a blessing and a curse for the PR practitioner seeking an appropriate cause-marketing vehicle. On the one hand, the cause is universally recognized and it meets with vast public sympathy. On the other hand, everyone else got there first. Does it really make sense to throw your hat into a ring that's this crowded?
In fall 2004, Carpet One Floor & Home decided to hitch its wagon to the pink ribbon and has come up smiling. Its breast cancer campaign has scored media attention, public awareness and the support of the company's affiliate stores through the U.S. and Canada. The campaign involves welcome mats, each emblazoned with the ubiquitous ribbon or a related awareness design. Selling for about $20 apiece, the mats are reintroduced with fresh designs each spring and fall.
Thanks to the wide circulation of breast cancer information, Carpet One was able to easily identify two partners for the effort: the American Cancer Society and the Canadian Cancer Society. But lesson No. 1 was learned quickly: Bigger is not always better. While these preeminent groups have cachet, in this case, the American affiliate wasn't the perfect match for the initiative.
Soon after the launch, "our American members came back with the feedback that they wanted an organization that was more targeted at the breast cancer cause," says Carpet One senior PR specialist Lindsey Hutter. Today the American program teams with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, in deference to the individual storeowners.
Those store owners were themselves a crucial audience in this effort. Carpet One's corporate structure involves the voluntary affiliation of storeowners who can pick and choose as they wish among the company's programs. To make this effort work, Hutter says, the corporate office would need buy-in from the individual stores.
Through early surveys with storeowners, says Hutter, "We definitely heard that this was a cause that was important to them and something that was important to their customers." And because the store owners are independent, "We really try to do things that are important to them, rather than just making decisions at the corporate level."
To sustain that support, store owners hear about the breast cancer program at the twice-annual corporate convention, both through a large-scale address as well as at a booth display, where owners can learn about the program in a more one-on-one setting. Frequent mailings go out and program details are posted to an intranet. The five-person PR staff also supports a dedicated e-mail account and dedicated phone line for those seeking program information.
Unlike many others supporting this cause, Carpet One runs its breast cancer promotion not once but twice a year: in the fall—October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month—and again in the spring. "One of the things we have heard in multiple places is that breast cancer doesn't just happen in October. It happens all year long," Hutter says.
By happy coincidence, a spring campaign helps Carpet One get out from under the endless barrage of pink ribbon efforts that come in the fall. That has helped the company score some high visibility hits, including Woman's Day and InStyle Home. The campaign got a nod on Rachael Ray's show after the team sent Ray a welcome mat of her very own.
Carpet One also has coordinated with a pair of magazines to produce a design contest. Visitors to the Carpet One Web site can submit designs for potential mats, with the winning designs appearing in either Country Living or Canadian Home & Country. Prizes include $2,500 worth of carpet.
"It seemed like a good way to get the word out about the campaign. It was something fun, and it was a way for us to see what kinds of things consumers would want to see on a welcome mat," Hutter says.
At the same time, the fall campaign allows Carpet One to pursue the media welcome mat that rolls out for pink ribbon efforts. In October, Hutter notes, "Every women's magazine is doing a pink special."
Sarasota, Fla.-based agency Creative Press has helped produce and distribute various media materials.
As the campaign has unfolded the overall cost has dropped, from $139,000 in the fall of 2004 to $85,000 in the fall of 2005. The higher initial cost reflected research and setup expenses. Carpet maker Milliken has supported Carpet One through the design and manufacture of the mats at a discounted price.
Despite all the noise surrounding the cause, Carpet One is making its mark, raising $340,000 since the campaign's inception, with the 2006 tally still pending. The program has drawn 21 million media impressions in 41 states and Canada.
Even in a media marketplace in which similar messages echo endlessly, Carpet One has shown that there is always room for one more voice, so long as its message is crafted with clarity.
Lindsey Hutter, 800.450.7595 x2305, firstname.lastname@example.org
This is excerpted from PR News' Top Case Studies in PR Vol. 4. To order this guidebook or find out more information, please visit www.prnewsonline.com/store/28.html.