Successful Health Center PR Campaign

Case Study: A Successful PR Campaign for a Hospital’s Medical Fitness Center

The Ballast Group was tasked by a north Chicago hospital with developing the health & fitness center’s first PR and messaging plan, and with building a consistent news pipeline using its proven methodology. The primary PR objective was to help drive new membership and to retain current members. The secondary objective was to establish the health and fitness center as a regional expert source with the suburban Chicago consumer press (target market).

The timing of this project coincided with the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. We knew that a focused and clear messaging plan was critical. We began by leveraging the unique medical fitness storyline, and the fact that it is unlike a typical gym that charges lower fees and offers less services. We researched and tied into the messaging several fitness and medical trends, including those with old and young, with moms, and with an aggressive weight loss, group exercise and sport-specific training program focus. We brought fitness to life for them in the news. We used the angles of family, fitness and fun, while again emphasizing the medical fitness center approach.

A key tactic was to find and prepare club members as sources for the media. This step personalized the pitches and created pride in membership. We also knew that most stories would have to be tied to the unprecedented economy and the value of maintaining a gym membership for health, productivity, stress relief and networking opportunities.

Despite competitors opening within five miles of the club and numerous articles insisting that people discontinue their memberships until healthier financial times were restored, the center gained significant PR coverage and mitigated inclusion in stories related to: reducing member fees; waiving initiation fees; incurring financial woes or worse, filing for bankruptcy, which several regional gyms experienced.

The Ballast Group created all stories placed, including one on “staycations” and two Chicago Bears players doing charity work at the center during the holidays. In addition to the strategic benefits mentioned above, The Ballast Group secured media coverage to drive membership in Lake County. We successfully established the center as an expert source so that current members saw the value and retained their memberships, while new members reinforced why they made the decision to join, even in this tight economy. We also leveraged all of this favorable exposure by placing the press releases and news coverage on the Center’s website, in its lobby and in prospective member packets. 

The Ballast Group established the Center’s first professional process for managing PR and laying a foundation for building relationships with national and regional editors, producers and reporters. We developed a continuous news pipeline and submitted story ideas to journalist queries and quotes from fitness experts and about medical programs to secure positive media placements. In four months the center became the sole focus of print and online articles. Photographs appeared in the majority, adding additional appeal to a very visual topic. Of all unique pitches, an equal number of feature and sport stories ran, all very positive, focused on the center and driving membership. Group exercise classes are at a record high and several new members cited the articles as the reason for coming into the center and becoming members. Media coverage in five months included a dozen consumer press stories in the Lake County News Sun, Chicago Sun-Times, Daily Herald, Pioneer Local and CLTV. Additionally, several trade stories were covered in national fitness industry trade journals in Club Solutions, Recreation Magazine and Max Sports & Fitness.