Michael Not the Only Phelps to Score Endorsements

Mom Debbie Signs Deals With Johnson's Baby, Chico's

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- It isn't only Michael Phelps who is attracting the eye of sponsors. His mom is in demand, too.
Debbie Phelps sported outfits from Chico's throughout the Olympic Games.
Debbie Phelps sported outfits from Chico's throughout the Olympic Games. Credit: Getty Images

Debbie Phelps, the mother of the swimming phenom, garnered plenty of prime-time exposure while her son picked up an unprecedented eight gold medals in Beijing. It was only a matter of time before the endorsements started rolling in.

So far, clothing retailer Chico's and Johnson's Baby, a division of Johnson & Johnson, have sought to bask in Mother Phelps' golden glow. Those marketing relationships are the first for Ms. Phelps, who will likely find herself propelled into a more prominent public role in the months and years to come.

'Aspirational for motherhood'
"Debbie is very aspirational for motherhood," said Fred Tewell, group director at Johnson's Baby. "[She] was a single working mother, and she's an educator. She's not only giving back to the community, but she helped her son achieve his ultimate goal. [She] gave to us the greatest Olympian of all time."

Seeing Ms. Phelps' potential to resonate with mothers, Johnson's Baby moved quickly to capitalize on her rising star. The brand, which has for months been working on a "Thanks, Mom" campaign, felt that naming Ms. Phelps its inaugural "Mom of the Olympic Games" was a natural next step.

To seize the moment while Ms. Phelps was still on the world stage, the company began negotiations with her camp in Beijing. The deal was completed on Friday, Aug. 15, and less than one week later a 30-second spot had been sent to NBC for inclusion in the closing ceremonies on Sunday, Aug. 24. Mr. Tewell called the turnaround "unprecedented" for the company.

A new move
Tapping a celebrated figure like Ms. Phelps is a fairly new move for the brand, Mr. Tewell added. "We really haven't gone after celebrities until this year," he said. "It's about showing that while these people are celebrities and are amazing in their own right ... they are still every day people who care for their baby and love their baby just as much as an everyday mom does."

The brand has also worked with actress Mariska Hargitay and former Olympian Janet Evans.

Ms. Phelps' pulled-together style also attracted attention during the Games, leading Chico's, the retailer responsible for her look, to seek out a partnership. The relationship began casually when a sales associate at the Towson, Maryland store alerted headquarters to the fact that Ms. Phelps had been a longtime fan. That prompted the company to send Ms. Phelps a note wishing her and her son good luck in Beijing, along with a $100 gift card.

A collection of her own
The retailer was then pleasantly surprised when Ms. Phelps purchased her entire Beijing wardrobe at Chico's and sported the outfits throughout the Olympic Games. "We, like everyone else in America, were glued to the television set during the Olympics," said Jessica Wells, director-public relations for the company. "At Michael's first race, we all ... recognized immediately that she was wearing Chico's. We continued to watch the rest of the week to see Michael and to see what Debbie was wearing."

It wasn't long, said Ms. Wells, before women around the country also took notice and began calling the company looking for Ms. Phelps' outfits. That prompted Chico's to reach out to Ms. Phelps about pulling together a Debbie Phelps Collection featuring all of the items she wore in Beijing. The collection is now featured prominently on the brand's website. That marks the first time the retailer has worked with a celebrity spokeswoman, let alone created a collection around one personality. Sales data for the collection is not yet available.

Both companies are in conversations with Ms. Phelps about future partnerships, they said. To handle the offers coming her way, Ms. Phelps has enrolled the help of Octagon sports agent Peter Carlisle, who also represents her son.
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