Due to COVID-19, pilot communities adapted their campaigns to help people stay safe while getting active. This blog post series highlights local events and initiatives from the community pilot program — including creative ways to promote physical activity during social distancing.
This installment highlights successful campaign strategies that Columbus Public Health used to promote physical activity in Columbus, Ohio.
Pilot community at a glance: Columbus, OH
Community type: Urban
Population estimate: 878,553 people
Lead agency: Columbus Public Health
Lead agency mission: To protect health and improve lives in the community
Lead agency website: https://www.columbus.gov/publichealth/programs/Healthy-Places
Leaning on Partners to Build Capacity
In spring 2020, the team behind the Healthy Places program at Columbus Public Health had to shift their focus to their local COVID-19 response. So they leaned on new and existing partnerships to get the word out about their Move Your Way community campaign.
Scott Ulrich, program director for Healthy Places, says the pandemic led to unexpected collaborations. For example, they worked with Transit Columbus, a public transportation advocacy organization, to promote a pledge called “Walk Columbus” encouraging people to take daily walks while social distancing.
Ulrich notes that the Move Your Way Community Playbook was key to their success. By sharing playbook resources with partners, they were able to keep everyone on the same page while still devoting the necessary time and effort to COVID-19. For example, the Campaign Talking Points helped partners get up to speed quickly on Move Your Way and the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
“With our reduced ability to continue orienting partners in a hands-on way, the playbook allowed it to be more of a handoff,” Ulrich says. “In that sense it was really helpful to have everything you need to know right here in this playbook.”
Going Digital for Greater Reach
Healthy Places originally planned to launch their community campaign with a Taste of the Trails event, where attendees could get their “passport” stamped at stops along a local trail.
When COVID-19 hit, Healthy Places pivoted to a virtual format. They partnered with the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) to incorporate Move Your Way messaging into MORPC’s People Who Bike campaign. MORPC encouraged people to post about their bike rides on social media using the hashtags #PeopleWhoBike and #MoveYourWay.
Healthy Places also worked with MORPC on a People Who Bike digital passport where people could record their bike rides — like biking on a Central Ohio Greenways Trail. People who completed at least 3 rides could submit their passports to MORPC for a chance to win prizes, including bike gear.
Safely Incorporating In-Person Promotion
In addition to online outreach, Healthy Places found ways to safely promote the campaign in person through partner events and giveaways. “We were trying to find out where people were going to be, and trying to make sure Move Your Way was there in some way,” says Ulrich. “Whether it was through materials or messaging.”
For example, when partners set up drive-throughs to distribute COVID care packages, Healthy Places provided campaign materials to include in the kits. And when neighborhood-based coalitions distributed free bikes and bike helmets to local kids, they seized that opportunity to distribute Move Your Way materials, too.
Healthy Places also teamed up with a local infant mortality initiative called CelebrateOne. On Wednesday evenings, CelebrateOne distributed Move Your Way materials at their small, socially distanced stroller socials for pregnant and postpartum people. And when these events transitioned to a virtual format in the summer, CelebrateOne included Move Your Way messaging in their social media posts.
Harnessing Lessons Learned for the Future
Ulrich emphasized that the Move Your Way campaign helped Healthy Places distill their physical activity messaging down to the most important points. This type of streamlined messaging was especially important when both health communicators and their audiences had limited bandwidth due to COVID-19.
Ulrich adds that their programming won’t look the same after COVID, so Healthy Places will be able to look back on their experiences in 2020 to help inform their strategy in 2021.
“As disappointing as it was to not be able to follow our initial plan, it was a very valuable learning experience,” Ulrich said. “It really made us diversify what we do, who we partner with, and how we think about our programs.”