Lee Jeans brings on Hill+Knowlton Strategies to get '90s image' out of consumers' minds

The WPP agency is helping Lee Jeans launch its first major rebranding campaign in more than 10 years.

NEW YORK: Lee Jeans has brought on Hill+Knowlton Strategies as its U.S. AOR as it launches its first major rebranding campaign in more than a decade.

The agency will work with 125-year-old brand Lee on traditional media relations, influencer relations, social media, content creation, messaging, and overall rebranding strategy.

Its focus will be on Lee Jeans’ rebrand, which will kick off in August. The firm will support Lee’s repositioning around its new tagline, "Move Your Lee," which will play on the concept of "movement and life in motion," explained Kim Yates, Lee’s VP of marketing. Its current tagline is "Comfort and Style."

The rebranding campaign will also include TV advertising, PR, and trial components, along with a new in-store feel. Lee will also relaunch its website, and its email and social communications will have a new look and tone.

"A lot of people have left their memory of Lee Jeans in the late 1990s, and they remember an older, light-washed, higher-waisted, relaxed-fit jean, but that is not who we are anymore," said Yates.

H+K will also help Lee Jeans market products, such as its Dream Jean, which has been designed to look like jeans on the outside, but feel like yoga pants on the inside.

"We have these great products; we just haven’t had the opportunity to tell Lee’s story in a new and refreshed way," said Yates. "We want to have the top fashion influencers and editors across the board being able to speak about Lee Jeans – that will speak volumes with our consumers."

Lee is one of the top six apparel brands out of the 30 owned by parent company VF Corporation. Yates said Lee is a billion-dollar brand globally, and half of its revenue comes from the U.S. market.

The brand is sold primarily in mid-tier channels at retailers including Kohl's, JCPenney, and Sears. It can also be found on Amazon, and it has an emerging presence at Macy’s and plans for other high-end retailers.

"We feel a responsibility to make sure all the people shopping where we are sold have a chance to experience this great jean, but we also see an opportunity to grow our business across other channels and retailers," Yates said.

Molly O’Neill, who joined H+K in 2015 as EVP and U.S. practice leader for marketing communications, is leading a multi-regional team of six staffers on the account. Los Angeles-based SVP Ted Donath will support O’Neill on the West Coast, while New York-based SVP Jennifer Mylett will do the same on the East Coast.

Lee Jeans issued the RFP in late December; five firms pitched. The company picked H+K in March.

"H+K came with a killer strategy on how to drive editorial coverage, influencer relationships, and product trial in very innovative and unique ways," said Yates. "We knew they had not only the strategy but the passion needed to turn around this brand."

Crossroads is the incumbent on the account. Yates referred to Crossroads as a "longstanding, lovely" partner that had great passion for the brand. However, the relationship ended because Lee Jeans wanted a PR firm that would take the brand to "another level."

"We knew if we were going to relaunch this brand, we couldn’t do it on our own," said Yates. "It is not enough to have great advertising; we needed people to be speaking for us, and we needed a partner to take that work to a new level."

The contact is for three years. Yates did not disclose the budget but noted Lee Jeans has doubled its PR budget this year.

"We actually have plans to further expand our PR budget as we find more opportunities to leverage PR as an important component of our total marketing program," Yates said.

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