Mitchell & Ness fashions worthy centennial celebration

Mitchell & Ness combined classic media outreach with its trendy fashions to put on a successful 100th birthday party and maintain recent momentum.

Mitchell & Ness combined classic media outreach with its trendy fashions to put on a successful 100th birthday party and maintain recent momentum.

Thanks to the success of its line of authentic retro sports jerseys, Mitchell & Ness (M&N) is currently one of the hottest brands in urban fashion, having seen its sales explode to $40 million over the past five years. What's surprising is that until now, much of this success has come without a traditional advertising and PR strategy. "Consumers are bombarded with brands and logos, and our strategy has been not to get into that cat fight," explains M&N director of marketing Marlice Johnson. "Instead, we focus more on grassroots tactics that appeal to certain trendsetters. If people see Jay-Z wearing one of our jerseys in a video or talking about it in a song, that's what they're going to want." But when the company decided to host a high-profile event during the NBA All-Star Game weekend in LA (February 13 to 15) to celebrate the company's 100th year in existence, it sought to bring in some outside PR expertise to help with the planning and execution. After selecting the Sky Bar at the Mondrian Hotel for the venue, M&N turned to Formula PR to organize the event, focusing on everything from media outreach and celebrity wrangling to organizing the limousines, hiring a photographer, and putting together the gift bags. Johnson says she gave Formula a simple mandate: "We wanted to walk away saying we had the absolute best event during All-Star weekend." Strategy Because it was given only about five weeks to put the event together, Formula quickly mobilized staff from its offices in San Diego, LA, and New York. "Our New York office was very important since they have tons of experience with events, having done Seventh on Sixth fashion events and parties for TV channel AMC and YM magazine," notes Formula president Michael Olguin. Formula and Johnson decided that the key to making the M&N event stand out in what was sure to be a party-filled weekend in LA would be attracting the right high-profile athletes and entertainers. "It's a catch-22," explains Johnson. "If you get celebrities, you'll get the media. If you get the media, you'll get celebrities." "With any event in LA, the first thing any publicist asks is, 'Who else is going to be there?'" adds Olguin. "So we were able to let them know right away we had [NBA star] Carmelo Anthony, LA Dodger Eric Gagne, ESPN's Stuart Scott, and Rich Eisen of the NFL Network." Formula also did outreach to all NBA teams, sending invitations to each player in the league. The firm also targeted the area's other pro sports teams, such as baseball's LA Dodgers (where Olguin's brother is head of PR) and Anaheim Angels, as well as hockey's LA Kings and Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Tactics Johnson and Formula spent late January and early February doing select pre-event media outreach focusing on M&N's recent business success. Company president Peter Capolino talked about the company's evolution from sporting goods to sports-related apparel on Jim Rome's syndicated sports radio show, as well as on ESPN's Cold Pizza morning program, stressing the fact that the company would have a presence in LA during the NBA All-Star festivities. "By doing that, everybody starts asking, 'Where's the Mitchell & Ness party?'" explains Olguin. Formula also stepped in and handled a lot of the event details, such as sending out invitations to 900 people, bringing in a tailor to fit the Sky Bar wait staff with basketball jerseys, and having framed jerseys of NBA legends such as Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar set up for display around the venue. Finally Johnson worked with Formula to come up with a gift bag for all attendees that would create a buzz all its own. All party-goers got a branded M&N backpack that contained one of six throwback satin jackets from original NBA teams, a coupon good for a $1,500 discount purchase from the well-known Jacob the Jeweler, branded wristbands and headbands, and an issue of Slam magazine. Results The M&N event began at 8pm Sunday, February 15, one hour after the All-Star Game ended, and ran until it was closed down by fire marshals more than four hours later. "Capacity was 650, and we had 900 people at the event, not to mention another 1,000 people outside wanting to get in," marvels Olguin. Among the celebrities in attendance were actress Tara Reid, rapper Lil' John, NYPD Blue's Henry Simmons, Scream and Scooby Doo star Matthew Lillard, and Hangin' With Mr. Cooper's Mark Cooper. Athletes included football player Eddie George, NBA stars Baron Davis and Sam Cassell, and former players, such as Daryl Dawkins. The event was so packed, police and fire officials prohibited the passing out of the gift bags. "We passed out maybe 50 to 100 bags and sent the rest back, [but] Mitchell & Ness ended up mailing them to people later," Olguin says. In addition to the pre-event coverage on more than two dozen radio and TV shows, the party was noted by Sports Illustrated, who called it "the hottest gig in LA" over that weekend, as well as the Los Angeles Sentinel, In Touch, ESPN, Access Hollywood, and several local TV affiliates. "We also had Slam and Vibe there, but they didn't cover it as an event because of the lead time," adds Olguin. In all, Formula left its mark on LA with a very successful event, all on a $250,000 budget. Future The LA party's success has triggered a flood of calls for M&N to do similar events at major sporting venues in the future. "We met with the NBA, and they were very pleased with the outcome," says Johnson. "They want us to make this a signature event each year during All-Star Weekend." M&N is already talking about the 2005 NBA All-Star Game in Denver. "We're also looking at a possible Super Bowl Party and maybe another event tied to our 100th anniversary," she adds. Johnson gives a lot of credit to Formula for the event's success. "They were always available. They anticipated a lot of things that eliminated a lot of headaches from us," Johnson says. "If we do additional events in the future, they'll be the first people we consider because they got the job done."

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