Community Relations: Hair Cuttery gives program new look with essay contest

Hair Cuttery is a value-priced, walk-in salon chain that's a back-to-school ritual visit for thousands of kids across the country.

Hair Cuttery is a value-priced, walk-in salon chain that's a back-to-school ritual visit for thousands of kids across the country.

Five years ago, the chain began a pilot program to provide free cuts to needy children every August so that they could look fresh and clean for the first day of classes.

To date, the "Share-A-Haircut" program has donated more that a quarter of a million haircuts. And because the chain provides a matching free haircut for every one purchased during a certain time frame, its promotion is key to meeting the campaign's goals year in and year out. This year, Rhodes Communications, which handles PR for the program in Southeastern Virginia, added a new twist by sponsoring an art and essay contest that focused on kids doing good deeds for each other.

Strategy

"From a PR standpoint, giving back to the community is what works around here," says Mary Swetits, Rhodes' manager of marketing services. "It's what gets attention."

With that in mind, the art and essay contest was a natural. Younger children were asked to submit posters showing how they help other needy kids, while older students turned in one-page essays on the same topic.

Ratner provides no advertising budget per se, so regional agencies concentrate their efforts on developing news hooks for local media outlets. The team at Rhodes knew that the "aww" factor of kids involved in charities would resonate with area reporters because of its potential for tugging at the heartstrings of readers.

"We were thinking of different ways to tie something into that [charity] theme, to put a new twist on the Share-A-Haircut program, being that it's in its sixth year," says Swetits.

Tactics

Rhodes promoted the contest using free media and in-store displays. The PR agency also used tactics that Ratner devised to help local agencies promote the Share-A-Haircut program.

One key tie-in encouraged by Ratner's in-house team for partner agencies like Rhodes is its "Kid's Trend Report" survey, which is given out in June to customers at salon locations and posted on the Hair Cuttery website. It gives kids the chance to vote on the best celebrity hairstyles and is designed to plant a seed in their minds about the latest hairdos. Lindsay Lohan and Nick Lachey were named "hottest trendsetters" last year.

"We use it as a news hook for reporters to write about, to launch into a story about Share-A-Haircut," says Marie Manning, PR director at Ratner.

Results

The art and essay contest in Southeastern Virginia drew 44 entries from students and a decent amount of local media play. The innovative contest drew a variety of entries, and, after a judging process, the Hair Cuttery awarded seven winners with $500 checks for each one's charity of choice.

The winners included a 15-year-old girl's essay on the thousands of dollars she had raised to support leukemia patients and a younger student's poster illustrating how she lends a helping hand to her brother, who has epilepsy.

The Share-A-Haircut campaign once again met its goal of 50,000 free cuts for needy children nationally, garnering nearly 22 million media impressions nationwide along the way.

Future

Ratner liked Rhodes' contest so much that it planned to expand it to other markets next year, Manning says. "Our stylists were very, very excited about it," she says. "It brought a lot of new energy into the program."

Swetits is looking forward to it. "Hopefully, it will become an annual event," she says. "They're talking about making it even better next year."

PR team: Ratner Companies (Vienna, VA) and Rhodes Communications (Norfolk, VA)

Campaign: "Kids Helping Kids" art and essay contest for the Hair Cuttery's sixth annual Share-A-Haircut program

Time frame: July 1 to August 15, 2004

Budget: $170,000

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