CAMPAIGNS: Public Affairs - PR helps prevent tariff bill passing

Client: National Knitwear & Sportswear Association (New York)

Client: National Knitwear & Sportswear Association (New York)

Client: National Knitwear & Sportswear Association (New York)

PR Team: Lucky Star Communications (New York)

Campaign: Fight against US Senate tariff bill

Time Frame: August to October 1999

Budget: Under dollars 10,000

The New York-based National Knitwear & Sports Association (NKSA) is a

trade organization of small to mid-sized apparel companies. The group

hired PR agency Lucky Star to represent it in a fight against a US

Senate bill that would end tariffs on goods made in the Caribbean and

Central America. The companies feared competition from imports and also

having to lay off workers.

Large clothing makers with interests in those regions, such as Sara Lee

and The Gap, wanted to see the bill pass. And one in particular, Fruit

of the Loom, was prepared to donate significant sums of money to

political parties backing the bill. The company confirmed with Time

magazine that it stood to save dollars 25 million to dollars 50 million

if the bill passed.


Lucky Star founder Jeff Barge informed his clients that few journalists

would be interested in potential job losses at small clothing firms,

particularly at a time of economic prosperity.

He decided that a story centered around political finance reform would

be a much easier sell. But Barge had little experience on Capitol Hill -

his clients are mostly authors and web sites. He looked into Fruit of

the Loom’s campaign donations and found they were much larger than rival

companies, even though the underwear maker has been losing money. He

also found that the vast majority of those donations went to the

Republican Party, the bill’s backers. He knew he had a story.


Barge told the NKSA to join forces with its own unions to issue a joint

press release about their opposition to the bill. Separately, Barge fed

the media the figures he had found on Fruit of the Loom. According to

The Washington Post, the company gave dollars 350,000 to GOP groups

alone. That put it in the same league as the National Rifle


Barge ghost-wrote a Los Angeles Times opinion piece for NKSA executive

director Seth Bodner. The article, which was also distributed over the

paper’s wire service, focused on the possible job losses if the import

tariffs from the Caribbean basin nations were lifted.


The issue attracted the attention of some of the most influential media

in the US. Barge worked with Time, which ran a double-page spread on

Fruit of the Loom’s Capitol Hill handouts on November 1 - the week the

bill was to come up for a vote. The Washington Post also published a

piece under the headline ’Ailing underwear maker gives freely as Senate

mulls trade tariff cut.’

The Time story generated further coverage, with the Bloomberg newswire

picking up that Fruit of the Loom made more than dollars 435,000 in soft

money contributions to both parties, most of it to Republicans.

The most significant achievement of the campaign was to delay the bill

through a filibuster conducted by Senator Fritz Hollings (D-SC), who

used the Time material. The filibuster has killed any chances of the

bill being passed, Barge says, although it is possible that it may at

least come up again in January.

The coverage even merited a mention by Senate finance chairman William

Roth Jr. (R-DE), who said the opponents of the bill had done a

’masterful job’ of portraying the measure as a product of campaign

donations benefiting a few clothing companies. Roth is one of the bill’s


’It’s rare that a public relations campaign is used as part of a

filibuster,’ Barge says. ’But the client was thrilled and so was I.’


Barge says the campaign was regarded as a great success, but despite

that he is ’not necessarily keen on doing more work in the Beltway. It’s

really nerve-wracking and difficult.’

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