Presidential Bike-a-Thon: Using Media Relations to Encourage More Active Lifestyles One Bicyclist at a Time


Company: Humana

Agency: Coyne PR

Timeframe: 2008

When you are a one of the nation’s largest healthcare companies, the country’s staggering obesity-related health crisis becomes exponentially more dire. After all, the lack of physical activity among so many Americans is a primary driver of poor health and, in turn, astronomical healthcare costs.

To face this reality head on, Humana executives decided to launch an initiative in 2007 that would brand the healthcare company as an organization that is dedicated to improving the health of Americans by encouraging more active lifestyles. To get the effort up and running, the communications team decided to focus on one key stakeholder group: its own employees.

The concept: “Freewheelin’,” a bike-sharing program, would offer bikes for employees to use for free, either to get them to and from work or just to take a leisurely spin during lunchtime. The only catch: The program would be launched on a national scale, requiring formidable coordination among the company’s offices.

Plus, in order to generate the buzz and awareness needed to impact on a broader audience, the communications team would need a platform for attracting media attention on a national scale.

Humana and Coyne PR teamed up to generate media buzz for the “Freewheelin’” Share-a-Bike campaign. Intended to inspire physical activity among Humana employees and the general public, the team timed the campaign to coincide with the presidential conventions in 2008. Photo courtesy of Coyne PR

A PRESIDENTIAL-SIZED CALL TO ACTION

Having established the campaign’s concept and target audience, the Humana team, along with agency partner Coyne PR, had already overcome two key issues. But the challenge of garnering—and then sustaining—media coverage still remained.

“With a campaign of this magnitude, there are always challenges—communications and otherwise,” says Linda Bernstein Jasper, assistant VP of Coyne PR. “The biggest challenge, was preventing Freewheelin’ from becoming a one-day story. With so much to say about the initiative and its potential impact, we didn’t want to be limited to just a single day’s worth of coverage.”

The team knew that overcoming this challenge would require a platform and media hook that went above and beyond the state of healthcare in America. Luckily, the communications executives realized they had a huge opportunity to leverage two events that had a built-in media machine: the 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions surrounding the presidential race.

“We strategized early on in our planning about how to leverage multiple touch points leading up to and during the political conventions to wring as much media out of the campaign as possible,” Bernstein Jasper says, identifying the following tactics to get the initiative off the ground over the course of a very specific convention-centric timeline:

One month prior to the conventions: “We jumped out of the gate more than one month prior to the conventions by promoting a Congressional ‘Bike-Partisan’ Challenge issued by four congressmen, calling for all Freewheelers to ride 25,000 miles and burn 1,000,000 calories,” Bernstein Jasper says. “By setting down the gauntlet, we then had a baseline by which to measure our progress—and keep media updated.”

Week leading up to the conventions: “We held a Santa’s workshop preview event in each host city for media, during which we showed them the 1,000 bikes being assembled.”

Sunday prior to the start of each convention: “We went out with mayoral bike rides, generating tremendous coverage.”

During every day of each convention: “Humana held bike rides led by congresspersons—including their constituents—which we publicized back to media in each congressperson’s district,” Bernstein Jasper says. “Social media was incorporated into all outreach, which extended the life of the story as well.”


FREEWHEELIN’ IN CYBERSPACE

Speaking of social media, online platforms proved to be a crucial part of the campaign’s success. One digital component, a social media press release, opened up outreach to a new category of media (see sidebar).

The team also created a blog and established profiles on social networking sites such as Facebook and Flickr to have an ongoing stream of information that could be pushed out to media. Plus, the digital epicenter helped connect and coordinate the team’s efforts taking place across the country.

“In a case like Freewheelin’, where the campaign is so big and there are so many pieces that must come together, the key is working as a partner with the client. With that in mind, we took a divide-and-conquer approach. There were two main contacts representing each team (agency and client) who spoke every day and had responsibility for updating their respective team members on all issues,” Bernstein Jasper says. “Tasks were divided so that either the agency or Humana ‘owned’ the project and had responsibility for its execution. Once on the ground, representatives from both Coyne and Humana were present, with select team members remaining back at the agency to manage much of the outreach.”


BURNING CALORIES, GARNERING COVERAGE

When assessing the campaign’s success in the week’s following the conventions, the team reflected upon their initial objectives: generating national media coverage and driving key stakeholder participation. The results:

Generating national media coverage: Media impressions totaled 185.7 million, far surpassing the 100 million goal. Users submitted more than 1,500 photos to the Flickr site, generating 17,000 views. The Twitter feed had 374 followers. The blog, http://www.freewheelinwaytogo.com, had more than 10,000 visits.

Driving key stakeholder participation: Freewheelers surpassed the bike-partisan Congressional Challenge, logging more than 41,000 miles, burning 1.3 million calories and reducing their carbon footprint by a whooping 14.6 metric tons. What’s more, nearly 300 delegates participated.

“Everyone involved was extremely pleased with the outcomes and thrilled that we could take a virtually unknown concept in the country—bike-sharing—and introduce it on such a big stage,” Bernstein Jasper says. “The main lesson learned was simply to be flexible and prepared for anything. Whether it was the impact of Hurricane Gustav on the Republican National Convention—for which Humana teamed up with the American Red Cross to make a donation for every mile ridden on a Freewheelin’ bike—or the unexpected appearance of celebrities looking to take a spin, the teams were always prepared and knew how to respond quickly to activate media interest.” PRN

CONTACTS:

Linda Bernstein Jasper, lbjasper@coynepr.com; Jim Turner, jturner2@humana.com




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