A quarter century has passed since a handful of visionary industry leaders, working within the International Sleep Products Association, convinced bedding manufacturers and suppliers to unite behind a common cause: consumer education aimed at boosting the entire category. The idea was a hit, major bedding players jumped on board and the Better Sleep Council was born.
In its early years, the BSC communications strategy emphasized two key messages, which it continues to use to this day: shorten the mattress replacement cycle and invest in better bedding. And to convey those messages the BSC has relied on two words: public relations, using mass media to educate and lead the public to draw its own conclusions.
Nancy Blatt, BSC executive director and ISPA vice president of communications, attributes a good deal of the BSC’s continued success to energetic industry leaders. The BSC is governed by 15 to 20 volunteers from across the industry, including manufacturers and suppliers.
Several efforts in the past two years have “resulted in a more dynamic BSC that is working hand–in–hand with ISPA to expand the market for better bedding through creative national consumer outreach,” Blatt says.
These actions include the appointment of a new public relations agency, Fleishman–Hillard, and ongoing BSC–commissioned consumer research.
At its 20th anniversary milestone and then under the direction of the late Andrea Herman, the BSC celebrated new tools and tactics made possible by technological advances and the ascendance of the Internet.
Now, five years later, a more mature BSC is fully able to realize such tools to share its message with American consumers.
“The BSC has done a tremendous job over the past 25 years to advance the importance of mattresses in the eyes of consumers. I am confident that the BSC’s continuing efforts to promote comfort and the quality of mattresses to sleep and health will serve the industry well into the future,” says Dick Doyle, ISPA president and chief executive officer.
During the past two years, under the direction of its new agency, the BSC refined its message, revamped its image and more clearly defined and targeted its most important audience: female baby boomers—the leading drivers of better–bedding purchases.
PR efforts were wrapped around a new theme: “Start Every Day With a Good Night’s Sleep,” written to place sleep in a position of primary importance—at the start of every good day, not the finish.
“We turned the sleep message on its head,” says Elizabeth Kramer, executive vice president of Fleishman–Hillard. “Our goal is to focus on the role of a good mattress in helping you have a healthy life and making you feel refreshed and energized at the beginning of each day.”
“The theme seemed fresh and new even as it built on the BSC’s past,” Blatt says. “We thought it could really get consumers thinking about their mattress and how important it is to their quality of life. Plus our research has shown that consumers are receptive to the notion that sleep is not the last thing they do, but rather the first thing they do to have a good day.”
“Start Every Day With a Good Night’s Sleep” is a notion that people can easily relate to and it joins two longtime BSC messages:
The vitality and energy of the new “Start Every Day” tagline is carried through in every BSC image—from its recently unveiled logo of a sleeper rising refreshed to the reworked “Better Sleep Guide” to a fully redesigned Web site at www.bettersleep.org.
The BSC Web site is bright, lively, easy to navigate and interactive. There are timely sleep polls, quizzes, tips and tests designed to educate and engage consumers. Search placement has been engineered to ensure that the site turns up early and frequently in all types of sleep and bedding searches. That’s extremely important given that 27% of consumers do online research before shopping for a mattress, a 20% increase over 2000, according to the BSC’s own research.
In 2003, BSC media outreach centering on its new theme resulted in more than 128 million impressions in six months. Another 99 million impressions were generated through June 2004. The BSC message has been picked up by media outlets ranging from newspapers and wire services like The New York Times and The Associated Press to magazines, including Better Homes & Gardens and Family Circle, to TV programs such as CBS’s “The Early Show.”
That means an unprecedented number of consumers—including women age 40–60, whom the BSC began targeting in 2004—are getting the message about better sleep, mattress replacement and shopping for better mattresses.
Employing spokespeople to reach a specific target audience is a proven PR tactic, and one the BSC uses successfully. Blatt speaks most often on the council’s behalf, but outside representatives are doing great work for the BSC. On two separate media tours, health and wellness expert Mary LoVerde reached a large audience through radio, TV and print interviews in late 2003 and for the Better Sleep Month campaign last May.
In September, the BSC plans to orchestrate a strong election–themed media push. The plan, Blatt says, is to tie better sleep into the election using results of a survey asking, “What is keeping the voters awake at night?”
Findings from the survey should spark reporters’ and editors’ interest, generating timely stories that relate to better sleep and mattress issues. The election–timed PR campaign, which will target national and regional television, radio and print, may include a spokesperson and media tour.
When not specifically pursuing national media outlets, the BSC focuses on regional media in second–tier markets such as Detroit, Houston, Seattle, Tampa, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Cleveland, Miami, Denver, Sacramento and Orlando.
“Experience has shown that the second tier is best for placing a softer story like ours, where we reach a lion’s share of the public and are more likely to break through the clutter of news to reach our target consumer,” Kramer says.
Ongoing consumer research is part of a BSC strategy to keep sleep and mattress issues in the news. The most recent comprehensive survey, the third–annual Stress and Sleep Survey, offered news that media could use during Better Sleep Month in May, and they did—widely.
Findings about consumer attitudes toward mattresses and mattress replacement that are of particular interest to industry members are generated from large–scale studies conducted by the Michael Cohen Group in New York. The first research project was done in 1996; the third was completed this year. (See BedTimes May 2004.)
“We have become research–driven,” says Gerry Borreggine, chairman of the BSC and president of Therapedic International. “Research allows us to create benchmarks and plot roadmaps for the future. The council is committed to updating our roadmap on a regular basis, searching out new routes (and) constantly tweaking our efforts.”
Borreggine says research also allows the bedding industry “to speak the consumer’s language.”
“Consider the concept of firmness. We’ve seen dramatic changes in consumer mindsets in the last several years,” he says. “Comfort has become the word that resonates with consumers. Firmness, which used to connote hardness, is now associated with support.”
BSC–sponsored sleep science research is in the offing too, Blatt says.
“Intuitively we know that the mattress has an impact on sleep quality, yet there is a dearth of science on the subject,” she says. “We are exploring opportunities to fill this research vacuum.”
During its history, the BSC has done an increasingly better job of communicating with consumers, but until just a few years ago, there was a segment of the industry that still wasn’t being reached in a concerted, significant way: retailers.
To meet that need, the BSC created Sleep Savvy and published its first issue March/April 2002. The stylish magazine is chock–full of articles and tidbits designed to help bedding retailers improve their selling techniques, bedding sales volume and the quality of bedding they sell.
“It was a new frontier,” says Nancy Butler, editor. “The BSC launched Sleep Savvy to open a line of communication with retailers and create an industry link to the buying behavior that happens at retail. With Sleep Savvy, we’re completing the circle of communication, creating a direct connection with the front lines, where the sales associate interacts with the consumer and the buying decisions are made.”
The publication, which will increase its frequency from six times a year to eight in 2005, has grown to a circulation of 23,500—a 22% increase in readers since its 2002 launch.
To supplement Sleep Savvy’s retailer outreach, a retail toolkit is being developed and is scheduled for distribution in early 2005. The kit will be similar to the Member Toolkit being unveiled to ISPA members this month. (See story Page 24.)
“We will go directly to retailers with BSC–inspired tools that are an extension of what we offer in the magazine—tools designed to enhance manufacturers’ own marketing support for their retailer customers,” Butler says.
BSC has evolved since its inception in the late 1970s
Former leaders of the Better Sleep Council agree that it’s been 25 years worth remembering.
The organization as it stands today is clear in its mission of promoting the role of the mattress in a good night’s sleep through consumer research and a coordinated public relations campaign. But that message wasn’t nearly so well defined or accepted in 1978 when the BSC concept was born.
The BSC traces its history to a presentation on a proposed public relations campaign made to a meeting of foam industry executives in the late 1970s. The foam industry rejected the proposal, but among those at the meeting was Russ Abolt, then general manager of the National Association of Bedding Manufacturers (later renamed the International Sleep Products Association). Abolt was intrigued by what he had heard and took the idea to the association’s Suppliers Council, where he found an audience enthusiastic about the idea of a PR campaign that would work to change consumer attitudes about mattresses and grow the entire bedding industry.
“Our competition is not fellow members,” says Tom Wright, now–retired president of label supplier Wright of Thomasville, who served as the first BSC president. “It’s Sony, General Motors and General Electric—anybody with a consumable product.”
“The bedding industry at that time was about springs and steel with absolutely no romance in the product,” he says. “We needed to talk about sleep.”
The Suppliers Council had materials developed (including a slogan and logo prototype) to use in presenting their idea to manufacturers, who were more skeptical about an industrywide public relations effort.
And in 1978, Wright made a pitch at an industry meeting in Las Vegas, encouraging industry representatives to sign their names to a Better Sleep Council banner as a signal of their support of the concept. Within a month, about 20 key manufacturing companies and 16 supplier companies had pledged to become charter BSC members.
Roy Unger, who served as the BSC’s second president, credits suppliers with making the BSC a reality.
“It really was the initiative of the suppliers to the mattress manufacturers who came up with the idea, supported it and made it happen,” says Unger, who was a group vice president at Sealy and spent a decade as Serta president before retiring in 1990. “It was a great tribute to suppliers and a great working relationship between suppliers and manufacturers.”
With its first annual budget of $65,000, the newly incorporated nonprofit BSC started spreading its message that better sleep should be a priority. Its initial campaigns were successful in reaching consumers and resulted in millions of print impressions and significant broadcast coverage in the first few months. But the BSC, in its early days, still struggled to convince some within the industry of the value of a PR effort.
“We had a lot of fun, but it was hard to convince manufacturers the value of PR,” Wright says. “(Some) saw it as a threat to the association but also recognized it was something they needed to do.”
At particular issue was the esoteric feel of the campaign and its focus on sleep instead of an emphasis more directly tied to sleep products. That’s one of the reasons a new advertising and PR agency was hired to chart a different direction in the early 1980s.
The Henry J. Kaufman agency created a campaign with a stronger call to action, reminding consumers to replace bedding regularly, to buy larger sizes, to buy the best they could afford and to not pass old bedding to others.
Ron Passaglia, who spent 30 years in various positions with Simmons, led the BSC during another period of growth and change in the late 1980s. At that time, the BSC board decided it was critical to start conducting research on the sleep industry, setting benchmarks against which consumer–attitude surveys would be conducted each year, says Passaglia, who now works with Selther USA.
“It really solidified the industry on the BSC,” Passaglia says of the research effort. “The BSC became a marketing arm, studying sleep and the benefits of sleep and getting that information out. It had a galvanizing effect on the industry.”
The BSC’s longtime focus on educating consumers on the importance of a good night’s sleep eventually filtered down to manufacturers, who now promote the concept of better sleep as part of their own marketing efforts, says Abolt, who later became ISPA chief executive officer before retiring in 2002. He also credits the past leaders of the BSC with helping to shape the present organization.
“We’ve been blessed with people who were supportive of the whole concept,” Abolt says. “The industry has been very supportive of the Better Sleep Council over the years.”
(Editor’s note: Roy Unger died Aug. 16 in Ithaca, N.Y.)
One of the missions of the Better Sleep Council is to “help industry members grow their businesses,” says Nancy Blatt, BSC executive director and vice president of communications for the International Sleep Products Association. “We’re here to support and complement their individual marketing strategies.”
In an effort to better do that, the BSC is unveiling this month its new Member Toolkit for use by ISPA members.
“The toolkit organizes everything the BSC has to offer ISPA members in one place—existing press materials, tools to create your own media outreach, BSC artwork, research findings, calendars of events, etc.,” Blatt says.
“We hope you’ll use it and let us know what you think.”
Among the items the toolkit includes are:
For more information or questions about the Member Toolkit, contact Nancy Blatt at email@example.com or 703–683–8371.