The coalition of five national women's groups helps ex-offenders and other at-risk young women, and manages six con-tracts for the federally funded Job Corps program.
A year ago, the WICS headquarters in Alexandria, Va., received an unsolicited call from Fleishman-Hillard account exec Amy Holman on behalf of client Express, a division of the $6 billion national retail chain The Limited.
"They said we were picked out of the blue by Express to be the recipient of their cause marketing program," said Angie Isidro, director of communications for WICS. "We asked, `What are you talking about?' They said people would bring in used jeans, Express would give them a 25% discount on new jeans and they'd give the old jeans to a national non-profit group-us."
That May 1993 phone exchange, according to WICS, set off a yearlong dispute between marketer and charity that, to date, has resulted in no donations of any sort to WICS and a potential public relations nightmare for Express. Lawyers are now handling the entire matter.
The details might serve as a primer to marketers and charities alike on how not to do a promotion.
Express, including Exec VP-Marketing Philip Monaghan, refused to comment on the matter, as did public relations agency Fleishman-Hillard, New York. Express' attorney didn't return phone calls, and Jonathan Baskin, director of communications at The Limited, had little comment.
"Limited Inc. is hopeful that we can work this thing out," he said, "but while we're pursuing a resolution in private, we feel it would not be appropriate to talk about it."
Details provided by WICS suggest Express failed to properly assess the purpose of its cause marketing endeavor-believed to be the marketer's first-or the supposed partner.
"WICS tried to explain to them that they were not that kind of charity ... and had no network to distribute used clothing," said Michele Herman, WICS' Philadelphia attorney.
"My understanding is that Fleishman-Hillard had prepared this campaign for Express but had overlooked contacting WICS to get their authorization," Ms. Herman said. "And when they eventually contacted them, it was to find out where they wanted the jeans to be sent. This was still before they ran their ads ... that they faxed to WICS showing them the ad that went into the billing statement to 200,000 credit cardholders."
At that point, Ms. Herman said, Fleishman-Hillard's Ms. Holman "tried to convince WICS that it was too late to do anything about it. But WICS still said it wouldn't participate in the promotion, but apparently the campaign ran anyway."
In August 1993, Ms. Herman said, Fleishman-Hillard came back with a sweetened offer.
"The gist was that WICS agreed to take the T-shirts-[WICS volunteers] work at Job Corps centers and thought that maybe the [trainees] would like them. After all, that has a different connotation from giving out used jeans," she said.
So the ads appeared in Express stores and in statements to Express cardholders..
"In mid-September, Angie [Isidro] called to find out about the jeans," Ms. Herman said. "On Oct. 5, Amy Holman called and left a message that Philip Monaghan, Express' executive VP-marketing, had said there would be no match of jeans, no T-shirts, no nothing."
Within a couple of weeks-after Ms. Herman raised the possibility of Express having falsely represented its promotion with WICS in ads-Express, through Fleishman-Hillard, offered to pay WICS $8,246 for use of the group's name in the statement stuffer, which was handled in-house.
Not sufficient, said Ms. Herman. She figured Express owed WICS more like $110,200, based on multiplying the number of jeans Express said it sold during the promotion-3,800 pairs-by the selling price of a pair, $29.
WICS also wants a public apology for the use of its name in the promotion, and a correction for mischaracterizing WICS as a non-profit organization "that assists needy women."
This cause marketing promotion reveals some classic failures, said Carol Cone, president of Cone/Coughlin, a New York ad agency that specializes in arranging marriages between marketers and non-profits.
"This was just a case of bad business-an egregious one," Ms. Cone said. "A good cause marketing undertaking is a win-win proposition for both parties, not something that gets shoved down the throat of one party. And in this day of being politically correct, to take advantage of a charity is ... such a negative for a marketer."
The fundamental mistake by Express, Ms. Cone said, was its failure to establish a relationship with WICS before the promotion.
"Some marketers do what I call a `cause du jour' that looks like a promotion, but they're in and out of it so fast," she said. "Here it was two weeks. If you try to build a reputation on a `cause du jour,' you never make it."