Green is the new pink

Avon's Karen Simpson and Roberta Lacey set to work for a greener tomorrow.

Talking to Roberta Lacey and Karen Simpson on the phone, you can hear the solidarity.
“We are very close as a team. Roberta is in my office, I’m in hers,” says Simpson, who, as senior marketing manager at Pointe Claire, QC.-based Avon Canada, works closely with the global HQ on merchandising, supporting new products with field events and adapting U.S. creative for the Canadian market.
“Karen and I work together daily, we collaborate on almost everything,” says Lacey, who leads CSR activities as part of her remit as director of communications and events. The two have nearly four decades’ experience at the company between them and lead more than 25 people. “And we’re very close to our representatives,” she continues, “because when you’re making programs for them, you have to understand what their needs are.”
Since she was made famous as a stereotype in Edward Scissorhands, the Avon Lady has changed with the times. Since she set out in New York in 1886, her numbers have grown to six million reps in over 140 countries; moms are still looking to make some extra money as they juggle kids’ schedules and part-time jobs, and their ages range “from 18 to 80,” says Lacey. (The company’s Mark. brand caters to the younger end of that demo, both as a product line and a recruitment tool.) She’s entrepreneurial and highly creative, community-minded and well-connected. She is also more ethnically and culturally diverse than ever, gaining access to what Lacey refers to as “under-reached” groups of women.
While the internet is growing as a communication tool these days, it accounts for a very small percentage of Avon sales transactions; reps are still knocking on doors. “The basic model of person-to-person is as strong as ever,” says Lacey, who won’t reveal the exact number of reps in Canada, but allows that there are “well over 50,000” proportionately distributed across the country. “Even though women are not at home as much, they still find each other at work and within the community, so that hasn’t changed.”
It’s these connections that uniquely position Avon to spearhead a grassroots movement. Along with bottles of Skin So Soft, these women have been delivering Avon’s CSR messages into homes and offices across the country for years, with impressive results. Since taking up the cause in 1992, Avon Canada has raised $1 million a year for the Canadian Breast Cancer Research Alliance – in 2000 raising that amount in a single day – as part of the global “Breast Cancer Crusade.” In the last few years they’ve planted 140,000 tulips, ventured into social media to donate $500,000 to local charities and even painted the HQ pink – all of which has prepared them well for their latest mission.
“Hello Green Tomorrow” is Avon’s first consumer-facing global green initiative, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and the UNEP Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign, rolling out in 170 countries worldwide in support of the International Year of Biodiversity. Avon reps will collect donations for trees to be planted in the South American Atlantic Rainforest – $1 per tree – which has been reduced to under a tenth its original size. As Lacey and Simpson point out, if every Avon rep in the world sells three trees, the effort will result in 18 million trees planted.
“In Canada we have a vast network of representatives. Rural and urban, all over the country, Avon is there,” says Lacey. “I don’t think any company is better suited to spread this message of environmental awareness.”
Mobilization here at home coincided with the global launch in March, kicking off with communications to the network of 186 regional managers across the country. Aside from green-themed incentives like energy efficient appliances and e-readers, Lacey and Simpson are educating representatives to become “green ambassadors,” in the hopes they will enlist their customers in turn.
“She becomes a trusted figure, and now she has this wonderful program that she is supporting, so she is able to pass that message on to her customers,” says Simpson.
To that end, Avon reps are studying up on Avon’s Five Rs of Green Action: replanting trees, reducing paper and packaging by using online catalogues and order forms, reusing delivery bags and shipping cartons, recycling brochures and reducing their carbon footprint by consolidating customer visits and driving less.
Crucial for a company which prints two million brochures every two weeks in Canada alone, March also saw the launch of the Avon Paper Promise, which aims to source 100% of paper from certified sustainable sources in 10 years.
“If each one of them starts to live by these simple steps, it’s an immense impact on the green movement and on all the people around them,” says Lacey.
Last year, Newsweek ranked parent co Avon Products 25th among the 500 largest American companies based on environmental impact, green policies and performance and reputation – just above Procter & Gamble and Estée Lauder. The ranking cited the company’s “strong environmental management system” and commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 2002 levels.
HGT fundraising efforts began in earnest for Earth Month last month. The campaign was featured in all the company’s primary communications including both April brochures and ongoing through the year on Avon.ca and behind the scenes in the Rep Café internal e-newsletter and blog.
But the strongest tool in the Avon army arsenal is word of mouth. To make it as easy (and paperless) as possible for reps and customers to spread the word, the marketing department created an email explaining the “Hello Green Tomorrow” mission and how to get involved. “It has a very viral effect, and it can reach a lot of people when all of our representatives start forwarding it,” says Simpson.
Avon’s green activities are saplings compared to its “Breast Cancer Crusade,” which has raised $525 million worldwide since 1992. Avon Canada develops new home-grown activations every year, such as the “Tulip Tribute” in 2006, which planted thousands of tulips in communities across the country, receiving a lot of press and earning Lacey global recognition within the company.
“We made this analogy between giving money now, for research, and in the fall when you plant the bulbs; nothing happens right away, but you wait and you believe that the tulip will come up, and eventually in the spring the flowers bloom,” says Lacey. “They don’t all bloom, because not all research gives you what you want, but a lot [of them] do. You have to believe that you’re doing it for the long term.”
Last summer the “Paint it Pink” initiative marked Avon Canada’s first foray into social media, inviting people to upload images and stories about how they had been impacted by breast cancer to Paintitpinkcanada.com. For example, 22-year-old Meredith Roossinck of New Glasgow, N.S. posted her wedding photo, taken on a dragon boat with her team of fellow breast cancer survivors.
For every vote, Avon donated $2 to breast cancer research, and participants could nominate other charities to a total of $500,000 country-wide. The Facebook fan page has 1,803 members. Meanwhile, at Avon Canada HQ in Montreal, over 600 employees, artists, breast cancer survivors and friends pitched in to paint 24,000 sq. ft. of the grounds bright pink.
“All of our breast cancer initiatives are conceived and managed here,” says Simpson. “While we are a global company, there is room for local initiatives for the local market.” U.S.-made TV and print are reserved for major product launches, such as the spot for Anew Reversalist eye cream that ran during the Closing Ceremonies at the Vancouver Olympics, and annual recruitment campaigns. MediaVest handles Canadian media buying.
Simpson says sales reps are encouraged to make campaigns their own. “We give them templates and guidelines for various pieces they might want to create or send out, etc. but depending on how creative they are, they will massage it and develop it to suit their needs.
“We are careful to protect our brand in terms of use of the logo and materials from Avon, but aside from that, the representatives are encouraged to be innovative and to find ways to reach out in their communities.”
This year the Crusade shifts focus on screening awareness, and while all the details aren’t yet confirmed, Avon reps will be delivering reminders into the hands of women across the country. “Again I don’t think other companies could do this as easily,” says Simpson, referring to the network of woman-to-woman relationships. “But we’re using our representatives to spread the message of, ‘take care of yourself, screening saves lives.’”
Simpson and Lacey are hoping to mark the first tree plantings in June with a special activation here at home. “We’ll certainly do something here in our facility,” Lacey says, “and if we can activate across the country something symbolic to represent that, we would like to do that.”
Meanwhile, reps are out talking about trees. “They’re really energized,” says Lacey. “They love it.”

 

Pop quiz

We asked Simpson and Lacey to answer a few questions about each other.

About Karen

Her greatest accomplishment last year: taking over the marketing department
Her professional style in three words: analytical, creative, risk-taker
Her favourite Avon product: I would say anything that’s new! But her favourite would have to be Moisture Therapy body lotion, especially in the winter
Hidden talent: fabulous breadmaker and mother of three teenagers, including twins
Office nickname: Energizer bunny

About Roberta

Her greatest accomplishment last year: launching our first social media program
Her professional style in three words: innovative, energetic, entrepreneurial
Her favourite Avon product: any lip product! She loves the new Mega Impact lipstick in Brilliant Berry
Hidden talent: makes her own jewellery, accessorizes any outfit in 30 seconds flat