With a portfolio that ranges from endurance sports events to hip hop competitions and National Governing Bodies, John Paul Mitchell Systems, Inc. has long used sponsorship to engage stylists and consumers.

The privately-held company accomplishes that task by supporting action-oriented events that reflect it’s environmentally friendly, cruelty-free positioning in front of a targeted audience.

JPMS promotes its products and brand values with charity cut-a-thons, around which stylists help raise money for event-related causes.   

And the company continues to expand its presence in the endurance sports space: JPMS this year inked a new partnership with Dirty Girl, a 66-stop female-only 5K obstacle course series.

IEG SR spoke with Julie Solwold, vice president of global sports and events, about JPMS’ approach to sponsorship, how the company activates with charitable overlays, the thinking behind the Dirty Girl partnership and other topics.

Below are edited excerpts from the conversation.

On the role of sponsorship and sports marketing
Because Paul Mitchell is only sold through salons, the only connection we have to consumers is through stylists who use our product. Sponsorship and lifestyle sports allow us to reach consumers in a meaningful, relevant way where they can experience the product in a nonthreatening environment.

On activating with charity cut-a-thons
We have volunteer stylistics that use Paul Mitchell products, as well as students in Paul Mitchell Schools, cut hair for charity.

We usually support charities that are affiliated with events. For example, we work with the Dew Tour to support the Athlete Recovery Fund, which helps injured athletes, while we work with the Xterra Trail Run Series to support the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which provides grants for athletes with physical disabilities.  We have raised more than $100,000 for CAF over the past four years.

The stylists volunteer their time, while students receive class credits. They love doing it. They feel good about using their skill for a greater purpose.

In the winter we provide hand massages on ski slopes. It’s a valuable piece of activation for someone whose hands are frozen and chapped.

We’re not about giving out tchotchkes. The only thing we give out are fake mustaches, which we use to promote the Mitch men’s line. People have fun with the mustaches, and it helps us engage them in a fun and exciting way.

We’re a grooming company, so we need to stay relevant to what we do.

On partnering with Dirty Girl
One of the things I hear from women at events is “I’d love to participate, but I haven’t trained and I’m afraid that I’ll be intimated.” Dirty Girl is a frolic on a Saturday or Sunday morning with your best friends. You don’t have to worry about your personal best or being the first over the wall. It’s non-threatening, non-competitive and you can have a great time with your best friends.

We’ll start to activate the sponsorship in April or May. We’re still integrating our logo into the event’s Web site and Facebook page. We’re also working with the National Breast Cancer Foundation, which is another reason we aligned with the property. 

On the evolution of the JPMS’s sponsorship strategy
Twenty years ago we only had one line: the black and white line. Now we promote products that align with the lifestyle of event participants. We use Xterra to promote our carbon neutral Tea Tree line, while we use the Dew Tour to promote Mitch, a product that targets young, fashionable men. 

On long term partnerships  
We want to fit in and be a partner. We don’t want to be affiliated with an event one year and be out the next. We look for properties that align with our philosophy and core values. We want to belong and be part of a family.

We don’t want to be seen as an opportunistic company trying to take someone’s money.

In the hair care industry it takes a while to create a relationship that can be embraced by distributors, salons and their customers. It takes a while to get that message out on what we’re doing and why.