Piggybacking and Other Strategies


Generous partners sometimes underwrite sophisticated marketing campaigns, reaching target audiences with carefully honed messages about health and wellness. But without such resources, proponents of physical activity must find other ways of getting the point across. This is the intersection of advocacy, strategy and ingenuity.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) uses a special-event strategy that I’ll paraphrase as “taking the show to the audience.” The idea, in short, is to piggyback on a gathering that is already being planned and promoted in its own right. This eases the burden of creating an event out of whole cloth and taking on all the responsibility for planning, promoting and paying for it as a forum for your announcement. An important bonus is the added momentum such leverage lends to both events.

Savvy leaders of nonprofits use a similar strategy to communicate key points. Examples abound of campaigns relying on partner organizations’ use of existing communication channels to pass along message points. Traditionally, this has meant passing on articles and online links. More recently, the headlong momentum of social media means that posts, “likes” and retweets can propel an idea faster than you can say, “Please share this.”

A related notion flips the reality that, for many families, mothers are the gatekeepers of family health information. While this is quite true (and central to many programs that target women to promote family health and wellness), another strategy reaches families at their point of connection with important programs and institutions – schools.

I saw this at work recently at Capital City Public Charter School in Washington, DC. Capital City has a culture of wellness that infuses the curriculum. Students at all levels pursue age-appropriate physical activity – from in-class learning to after-school sports and field trips – guided by fitness teachers, parents and guests. Beginning in first grade, students learn about bodily systems and nutrition. The dedication to holistic fitness and wellness helped earn Capital City Public Charter School the distinction of being selected to receive the first Live Positively fitness center award by the National Foundation for Governor’s Fitness Councils, chaired by Jake Steinfeld and in partnership with ACSM.

Capital City’s health-and-fitness culture extends beyond students, faculty and staff. By design, those messages reach whole families. Youngsters naturally bring home and share what they learn. Beyond that, the school has after-hours programming aimed at parents and siblings. This approach clearly works, at least for this diverse urban community. And I believe it can be equally successful throughout the country.

How can your organization use established programs to convey messages about physical activity?

What communication vehicles already in use could reach target audiences with health-and-fitness information?