CAMPAIGNS: AAFA awards gala fashions new look to expand appeal

PR Team: American Apparel and Footwear Association (Arlington, VA) and The Bromley Group (New York) Campaign: American Image Awards Time Frame: Fall 2002-spring 2003 Budget: $25,000

PR Team: American Apparel and Footwear Association (Arlington, VA) and The Bromley Group (New York) Campaign: American Image Awards Time Frame: Fall 2002-spring 2003 Budget: $25,000

The American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) had a problem with its annual American Image Awards: Nobody seemed to care. Although the awards show had been in existence for 25 years, it was having a hard time updating itself and remaining relevant to the cutting-edge fashion community. The event had steadily been losing attendees over the years, and even industry interest was not very high. Strategy The organization hired The Bromley Group to reinvent the evening, and "take this awards dinner and really transform it," says agency principal Karen Bromley. "It was losing steam to the point where they were thinking of not continuing it." Bromley and her team decided that their main goal "was to expand the scope of the awards and make it more of a celebrity and high-powered event, but also to tie in a charity," she explains. Tactics To achieve that, they made the evening a fundraiser for Christopher Reeve's Paralysis Foundation, and invited Reeve and his wife Dana to the event. The team also added new awards, and scored a high-profile emcee: CNN's Paula Zahn. The firm also expanded the focus of the event to include women's wear categories (until then, it had mostly focused on men's wear), and revamped the way the event was decorated and presented to create a more upscale image. "By doing those things, we immediately upgraded the whole level of interest and the level of people we could go to for fundraising," explains Bromley. Bromley's team added five key awards to the night, including Man of the Year, Retailer of the Year, Designer of the Year, and Spirit of a Woman. They then helped choose winners who were sure to spark industry excitement, such as Diane Von Furstenburg for Designer of the Year, and also asked winners to aid in finding presenters that would also be of interest to the fashion community. "We met with all the honorees and got them on board," says Bromley. "They agreed to participate with us in everything." They also created a new trophy to give out, modeled after an antique dress form. "We took the actual dress form - I had found an antique one - and had it remolded in bronze. Everybody just loved it," says Bromley. The team also created new graphics and a glitzier image for the night. Once the celebrity-caliber attendees were in place and the new awards designed, Bromley pitched the story to media "as a 25th anniversary, and a whole new approach to the awards," she says. Results "The results were way beyond what we thought," says Bromley of the May 2003 show. "Two months in front of the event, we thought we'd be lucky if we got 500 people there, and so we put a push on at the end." It paid off. The evening drew more than 1,000 attendees, and raised over $1 million for charity. The previous year, less than 400 people showed up, and the event didn't even break the $400,000 mark. Among the attendees were fashion designer Calvin Klein, actress Jane Seymour, and actor James Keach. The event also opened with Ben Davis of Broadway's La Boheme singing "The Star Spangled Banner." In addition to the strong attendance, outlets including The New York Times and the New York Post showed up, as well as industry-based publications and wire services. Future The Bromley Group is already hard at work on next year's event, and is currently searching for another charity to tie in with.

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