Payless ShoeSource, Inc. is North America’s largest family footwear retailer. The company operates 4,629 Payless ShoeSource stores that offer quality family footwear at affordable prices. Payless also operates 239 Parade stores featuring fashionable mid-priced women’s footwear.  Payless is headquartered in Topeka, Kan. In November 1999, Payless decided to focus on increasing sales of children’s shoes. The company had recently patented a new technology in its children’s shoes called SmartFit, which helps parents identify properly fitting shoes for their children. Payless turned to Barkley Evergreen & Partners to help launch SmartFit nationally. Payless did so by first creating a need for SmartFit and introducing a program to establish that need with Baby Bowl I.


In order to properly launch the SmartFit technology, BE&P and Payless recognized the need to raise awareness and educate parents about the importance of properly fitting shoes for their children’s developing feet. To accomplish this, BE&P recommended a huge promotional idea – Payless should give away a free pair of baby shoes to every baby born in the year 2000 (in the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico and Guam – where Payless has stores). An educational brochure about caring for baby’s tiny feet accompanied each pair of free baby shoes, paving the way for the introduction of the SmartFit technology for children once they begin walking.  

To launch the free baby shoes program, named “Baby’s First Shoes, BE&P recommended kicking off the program during Super Bowl week in Atlanta because there would be a heavy concentration of national media there. The idea was to keep the announcement a secret and stage the first ever Baby Bowl ISM – an event where professional football players “coached” children (ages 7-12 months) in a baby-crawl race across a mock football field. Immediately before the start of the race, Payless announced the Baby’s First Shoes program.

Payless also demonstrated its commitment to children by making a $5,000 donation on each participating player’s behalf to a child-related charity of his choice. The winning player/coach received $7,000 for his charity. In addition, BE&P secured the participation of Jerry Markbreit (recently retired and nationally recognized NFL referee) to officiate Baby Bowl I and Randy Cross (nationally known NFL announcer) to provide the play-by-play commentary.  Each of the participating babies received a $100 savings bonds and Payless ShoeSource gift certificates. BE&P and Payless ShoeSource determined Wed., January 26,  (four days prior to the Super Bowl) provided the most opportune time for the medii converging on Atlanta to attend Baby Bowl. That left BE&P little over two months to plan and pull together the Baby Bowl ISM event and launch the Baby’s First Shoes program.  


BE&P arranged for Dr. Jeffrey Brooks, the podiatrist who designed the SmartFit technology for Payless, to educate BE&P about SmartFit and explain the role properly fitting shoes play in a child’s health and development. BE&P spent time looking at the competition to determine what Payless could do to set itself apart, establishing goals for the program and defining the target audience. From that research, BE&P identified the target audience as parents, primarily women  ages 18-49, and expectant parents.


After analyzing the current business situation at Payless, BE&P identified the need for Payless to differentiate itself and its products from competitors, particularly in the area of children’s shoes. Event Goal:  To create a spike of awareness about Payless ShoeSource and create the launching stage for the Baby’s First Shoes announcement and campaign.  

Communications Goal:  (1) To position Payless ShoeSource to parents as the destination for quality, affordable children’s shoes from day one and (2) deliver the announcement throughout the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico that Payless ShoeSource would give away a free pair of baby booties to every baby born in 2000.  
Measurable Objectives:

  • Identify at least ten crawling age baby participants for the Baby Bowl I race. 
  • Obtain at least ten national football players to act as coaches of the babies for Baby Bowl I. 
  • Secure a nationally known announcer. 
  • Secure a nationally known referee. 
  • Create a creative environment in which to unveil Baby Bowl I and launch Baby’s First Shoes.   
  • Focus on reaching women 18-49, expectant parents and parents of children 0 to 8 years.   
  • Obtain approximately 1 million impressions of women ages 18-49 from media coverage in the top-four markets for Payless ShoeSource (Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York) – positioning Payless ShoeSource as a company knowledgeable about children’s shoes by educating parents on the importance of properly fitting shoes for their children; 
  • Work within a set budget.


BE&P created Baby Bowl I in order to launch the Baby’s First Shoes program. Coordinating the event a month prior to the Super Bowl posed an array of challenges, including: selecting a hotel in Atlanta that wasn’t already wholly owned by the NFL for that week; designing the stadium set; creating event signage; inviting Atlanta-based Payless employees to the event; identifying and coordinating the participating babies and parents; coordinating travel and securing contracts with professional football players without the NFL’s help; scripting the event; creating a winner’s trophy, researching & designing jerseys for the event and, perhaps the most challenging, the unpredictable winter weather.   

Spokesperson – BE&P identified a nationally known pediatrician, Dr. Steven Parker, the co-author of the most recent edition of Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care, to serve as a spokesperson for Baby’s First Shoes and Smart Fit.  

Live Satellite Feed and Web cast – BE&P made Baby Bowl and the announcement of the Baby’s First Shoes program available to media and Payless employees around the world with a live web cast and satellite feed. Subsequent feeds of the event were available via satellite throughout the day.

Media Relations – BE&P coordinated media relations and pitching efforts across the United States, Puerto Rico and in Canada, employing the help of partner agencies in Atlanta, Canada and Puerto Rico. Media alerts generated excitement for Baby Bowl and the “big announcement” Payless would make at the event. Efforts were made to appeal to local, regional and national sports media in Atlanta for the Super Bowl. The four Atlanta network affiliates were priority and did cover the event.

Press Kit – A press kit including a pair of the free shoes and the background materials announcing Baby’s First Shoes.  The kits were delivered to media outlets throughout the country the day of Baby Bowl. BE&P strategically planned the arrival so it would not diminish the impact of the Baby’s First Shoes introduction at Baby Bowl. BE&P also managed the translation of the news release into French and Spanish to reach those markets.

Extraordinary challenges:  Premature Announcement – Days prior to the event, PR Newswire mistakenly launched the Baby’s First Shoes announcement without prior authorization in Canada.  BE&P’s proactive and immediate reaction was to have PR Newswire issue a retraction and  “kill” the release, which involved researching and calling each of the online database contacts to request that the release be pulled/deleted from individual websites. There was significant financial commitment at stake. Over the next three days, BE&P watched the news and online media alerts carefully to see if the news was picked up and halted all proactive media calls in order to create a quiet period. Since the news was sufficiently killed, BE&P convinced Payless to proceed with the original plan.  The Weather – Severe winter storms struck the entire East Coast (North and South).  Atlanta was hit hard with an ice storm in the days prior to Baby Bowl. This caused several problems:  (1) Our entire television and satellite crew based in New Jersey was unable to attend the event and a back-up crew (who were unfamiliar with the event) had to be brought on board the day prior to the event; (2) We had two football players who did not make it to the event due to weather and cancelled flights; (3) At 9 PM, the night before Baby Bowl, all flights out of Boston were cancelled, leaving our pediatrician spokesperson stranded. We quickly called and coordinated a satellite feed with a local Boston television so he could do the satellite media tour from Boston.  However, Dr. Parker was able to get on the last flight out of Boston on Tues., Jan. 25, and arrived around midnight the night before the event.  

Key messages conveyed:

  • Payless is giving away a free pair of baby shoes to every baby born in the year 2000. 
  • Shoes play a key role in children’s health and development. 
  • Payless provides children with shoes from day one.


Identify 10 crawling baby participants for Baby Bowl I.

We located ten crawling-age babies and parents to participate.  Each child was given a $100 gift certificate.

Obtain at least ten national football players to act as coaches of the babies for Baby Bowl I.

Our national football players included:  Adrian Murrell (Arizona Cardinals), Russell Maryland (Oakland Raiders), Ray Lucas (New York Jets), Louie Aguiar (Green Bay), Bryant Young (San Francisco 49ers), Todd Peterson (Seattle Seahawks), Jason Garrett (Dallas Cowboys), Donnell Bennett (KC Chiefs), Robert Griffith (Minnesota Vikings) and Ryan Stewart (Detroit Lions).  For each of these participating players we arranged for travel, accommodations and a gift to each player’s charity of choice.

Secure a nationally known announcer and referee.

We were fortunate to obtain Jerry Markbreit as our referee and Randy Cross as our announcer – both impressive.   

Structure a creative environment in which to unveil the Baby’s First Shoes™ program –to the target audiences in the U.S.

Baby Bowl ISM was launched with overwhelming success and obtained national exposure for the Payless ShoeSource brand.  

Focus on reaching expectant parents and parents of children ages 0-8, primarily women 18-49, and obtain approximately 1 million impressions of women in that age range from media coverage in the top-four markets for Payless ShoeSource (Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York).

The media relations coverage was phenomenal.  Baby Bowl ISM set the stage for the announcement of the Baby’s First Shoes program by: (1) creating awareness of Payless ShoeSource, (2) positioning Payless ShoeSource as a company knowledgeable about children’s shoes, and
(3) educating parents on the importance of properly fitting shoes for their children.  Broadcast coverage was received on national outlets, including CNN, ESPN SportsCenter, Fox & Friends, World News Now and The Edge with Paula Zahn.  (A highlights reel is included.)  Print coverage included hits in Fit Pregnancy, Twins, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Footwear News, Topeka Capital-Journal and The Kansas City Star, among others.

Impressions (women 18-49) in the top 10 markets totaled:  1,829,155 million.  Broadcast impressions (adults 18 and older) in the top 4 markets:  7 million; Total Broadcast impressions (women 18-49): 10,659,070 million; Total Print impressions (women 18-49):  5,860,488 million; Total impressions (women 18-49 and all other extra audience groups):  138,103,504 million.

The approximate advertising value of just the broadcast coverage was approximately $683,000.

Distribute 2 million free shoes during  the program.

More than 2.5 million pairs of shoes were given away over the course of the year.

Work within a set budget.
Hard costs for the Baby’s First Shoes public relations program came in 25 % less than the amount budgeted.