Case Study: Sans Advertising, Agency Proves That Stellar Public Relations Can Suit a Cause Campaign Just Fine

Attention Grabber: To kick off the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive, street teams of scantily clad men were deployed in five major markets, generating buzz from both the general public and major media outlets.   Photo courtesy of Mullen

Company: Men’s Wearhouse

Agency: Mullen

Timeframe: June - October 2010

In the communications world, it’s no secret that advertising is perceived as the sexy medium, while PR often takes a back seat. However, that perception was turned on its head by communications agency Mullen and its work on behalf of Men’s Wearhouse. Just over a year ago, the clothing retailer shifted its advertising focus to promotional offers, such as buy-one-get-one-free and 50% off sales. Branding efforts via advertising were curtailed, as was ad support for its key philanthropic initiative, the National Suit Drive.

To make up for this lack of advertising, Mullen would engineer a public relations-driven campaign that would generate just as much buzz and results as the advertising focused campaign from the prior year—for just a fraction of the price tag.

The National Suit Drive, started in 2008, involves the collection of slightly used professional clothing items and then their distribution to men transitioning in the workforce—via more than 200 nonprofit organizations across the country. The suits give the men a fighting chance in all-important job interviews, while the nonprofit partners’ services help get them and their families back on their feet.

With the country in an economic quagmire, an initiative like this seems like a no-brainer. But there is a big psychological hurdle, says Julie Town, director of corporate giving at Men’s Wearhouse. “It’s hard to get people to pay attention,” says Town. “People gravitate to causes for women and children. Supporting men is more difficult.”

To help overcome this, the PR team at Mullen decided on a three-pronged messaging strategy: It would leverage news about the economy, motivate people to give back and excite consumers about the Men’s Wearhouse brand. Essentially, the initiative would turn a cause-related campaign into a revenue-generating engine.Mullen set specific program objectives as the following:

• Achieve the donation of 100,000 articles of clothing during the drive—which would be in the month of September 2010;

• Drive in-store traffic and related sales;

• Demonstrate Men’s Wearhouse’s commitment to social responsibility;

• Generate at least 200 million media impressions; and

• Establish a more emotional connection between the Men’s Wearhouse brand and its customers.

Knowing that tying the National Suit Drive to the struggling economy was a key message, Mullen gathered statistics from the Web on the recession, including data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The findings were stark: 82% of job loss had occurred with men, and in 2010, one in 10 men were unemployed. The trick, says Caitlin Murphy, media relations strategist at Mullen, was to communicate the pain men were experiencing amid a growing sense of media fatigue. “We needed to make sure that people understood that unemployment was still a serious issue,” she says.


Mullen looked for a new way to tell that story. A comprehensive media audit uncovered trends that were related to the recession, including the latest buzzwords out among the public. One of them was “mancession.” From then on, Men’s Wearhouse would be attacking the mancession, encouraging men to make a “bronation” of professional clothing to help with the “he-covery.”

For Town, Mullen’s more lighthearted approach to the suit drive was like a breath of fresh air. “We had explored the serious side of the drive before, and we were ready for a different strategy,” says Town.


Job one, however, was getting the media interested. Murphy and her media relations team—10 people at its peak—set key media targets as wire services; national morning, talk and late-night shows; top daily newspapers; consumer lifestyle online outlets; and regional and local media that would touch the approximately 1,000 Men’s Wearhouse stores in 200 identified markets. It was those local outlets where human-interest angles—stories of inspiring local charity recipients and NPOs—would be pitched.

While mainstream media—print, broadcast and online—was a key target, the blogosphere would not be ignored. Interestingly, targeted bloggers were not just men. Mommy bloggers were also a key part of the mix, says Diane Ridgway-Cross, managing partner at Mullen. Inviting key bloggers to visit their local Men’s Wearhouse store, donate a suit and leave with a new item of clothing was a successful element of the campaign.

One of Mullen’s media strategies was to create a trickle-down effect: The agency would go after high-profile media placements that would influence regional and local media to follow. One tactic used to get the attention of top-tier outlets: “Tighty-whitey” mailers sent directly to editors. This resulted in an exclusive on CBS’ The Early Show.


Mullen’s attention-grabbing strategy didn’t end there. The program kicked off on August 31 with street teams in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington D.C., attracting the attention of the media and consumers alike. The walking billboards (see photo)—male models wearing dress shoes, socks and boxer shorts—carried signs that said, “Give the Suit Off Your Back.”

Meanwhile, the Men’s Wearhouse communications team ensured all promotion materials, store signage and e-mail Web content were created and distributed. Town worked with the nonprofit partners across the country to ensure that the donated clothing would be smoothly distributed, and that the services they provided matched with the company’s vision.

As the campaign was set to begin on September 1, Town admits that she had a concern: that the Men’s Wearhouse Suit Drive message not be diluted by Mullen’s more playful strategy. “It’s about clothing and getting second chances,” she says. However, that concern would be allayed when the campaign results began filtering in.


The one-month September drive not only established the National Suite Drive campaign as a meaningful cause initiative, it also lifted the Men’s Wearhouse brand and drove sales. Campaign results include:

• Following the campaign kickoff, the company had the two biggest sales days in its history (in conjunction with a Labor Day promotion).

• The Men’s Wearhouse coupon offer of 25% off on a new purchase upon a donation drew a 20% redemption rate, with a ticket price 60% higher than the average transaction.

• 250-plus million media impressions in less than 24 hours.

• 575-plus stories (including coverage in 9 of the top 10 media markets

• 110,000 articles of clothing donated nationwide.


One of the keys to the campaign, says Murphy, was keeping the momentum going after the launch. Once the male billboards were off the street, grabbing people’s attention was more difficult. But, says Murphy, a media hit in small-town USA is still valuable.

Maintaining awareness for 30 days is a difficult proposition, says Ridgway-Cross. Not only did the Mullen team pitch to a variety of media outlets, it also tapped into Men’s Wearhouse’s nonprofit partners.

With the unprecedented results, however, it appears that Mullen was able to maintain full PR intensity. Mullen, says Town, completely understood what the company was trying to accomplish, “and what we were trying to do from a cost perspective.” But if she had a wish list for the next campaign, it would be adding a big sponsor or a well-known spokesperson to the mix.

Mullen will again work with Men’s Wearhouse on the 2011 campaign. Ridgway-Cross wouldn’t reveal much about plans, saying only that there will be more of a social media component. Otherwise, the initiative is “cloaked” in secrecy. PRN


Julie Town,; Caitlin Murphy,; Diane Ridgway-Cross,; Natalie Braswell,