Jenny Craig's fortunes are rising, thanks to PR, Kirstie Alley, and liberal use of a certain F-word
A couple of years ago, a Jenny Craig-sponsored consumer survey revealed that the public felt the company was outdated and more of a your-mother's-diet-type program, as opposed to the trendier South Beach or Atkins diets.
But a little synchronicity, a call from a "fat actress," the use of the F-word (fat), and positive PR changed things dramatically.
"Two years ago, it was really dismal," says Cozette Phifer, director of corporate communications at Jenny Craig. "People didn't see us as contemporary and cool. Our contract with comedienne Joy Behar had just expired. We were doing focus groups to see who consumers would trust. And Kirstie Alley had always rated high."
And then in December 2004, Alley called Jenny Craig out of the blue.
"She was approached by our competitors because she was getting so much bad publicity," Phifer says. "She told us what she had in the works with her book and show Fat Actress. She said she had lost weight with Jenny Craig in the past."
The campaign was a risk for both Alley, who to date has lost over 65 pounds, and Jenny Craig because it was the first time the company announced someone was going to lose weight before they actually did.
"We typically do it behind the scenes; they lose weight and we show before and after shots," Phifer says. "It was risky, [but it] has really paid off for us. We didn't see sales skyrocket until the first time people saw her weight loss, but it has certainly helped make our company more modern."
Phifer says before airing any TV spots, the first few weeks of the campaign were fueled by a steady dose of PR.
"For the first time, we were getting our foot in the door with some entertainment news programs like Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, and Extra, Phifer says. "We also got in the right publications like People. We've been in it before, but her being on the cover talking about her weight loss was fantastic. Almost every week, you'll see an update in Life & Style, In Touch Weekly, and Us Weekly. Anytime there's a paparazzi opportunity and we get new photos, we call to tell them what she's doing different, if she's toning up or starting to do Pilates. We try to keep the news fresh."
Alley's use of the word "fat" in the first commercial was also a risk. "That was the first time the F-word has been used in our industry in a commercial," Phifer says. "It was edgy. She's helped get our message out in a humorous way. Our company didn't have a reputation of being funny, nor did our industry. It put a face and a smile on Jenny Craig that wasn't there. It made us look like an effective way to lose weight."
Not only did the campaign improve Jenny Craig's image, it also changed the perception of PR's relevance within the company.
"PR wasn't as integral a piece of the marketing mix as it is today," Phifer says. "When we talk about doing any campaign now, we talk about doing PR first. Putting an ROI number or a dollar figure on it is [still] difficult, but we can certainly see PR's effectiveness. When she's on Oprah or a magazine cover, we see sales and leads go up. It's given us a bigger seat at the table and we're involved earlier on in the process."
Scott Parker, VP of marketing, agrees.
"PR has been validated," he says. "It's viewed with more respect than it was a few years ago. Without question, it's a very powerful element of our marketing mix. Now we're careful to make sure it's given the resources it needs. If we were to leave it out, we'd be leaving a nice little chunk of our effectiveness on the table.
"If you look at the integrated impact of our advertising and PR,," he adds, "it has a profound effect on how customers view our brand today," he says. "We're viewed as the most contemporary weight-loss brand. That's a pretty dramatic change.
"It's absolutely a result of the Kirstie Alley campaign, her frank funniness and the high-profile PR events we've been able to orchestrate," he adds. "It builds into a synergistic snowball."
Phifer says Jenny Craig now categorizes its PR through a three-tier program. Tier one is national coverage with Kirstie. Tier two is national coverage without Kirstie. Tier three is local and regional coverage.
"Tiers two and three have exponentially increased not only in the receptiveness of the press, but in us being more reactive," Phifer says. "We're getting our clients on covers. We're getting a lot more affection from the media. And having Kirstie on board has helped get our clients, programs, and products more attention."
Weight Watchers, LA Weight Loss, NutriSystem
Key Trade Titles:
Prevention, Shape, Self, Ladies' Home Journal
Marketing and Comms Team:
VP of marketing, Scott Parker
Director of advertising/branding/marketing, Mary Fritz-Wilson
Director of integrated marketing, Robyn Davidoff
Director of food and retail marketing, Dirk Aschmoneit
Director of corporate communications, Cozette Phifer
Marketing Services Agencies:
JWT, New York, Lippe-Taylor, New York