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Q&A | Chrissy Fice, brand director, Vitality UK

Health insurance provider Vitality has developed a reputation for promoting participation and inclusivity in sport. By linking its insurance policies to gym membership and sporting activity, the brand has struck upon an effective way to reduce its exposure to claims and project a strong social purpose.

The company uses its large sports sponsorship portfolio in the UK to encourage people of all ages, genders and abilities to exercise and play a sport. With campaigns that give male and female teams equal billing in football and cricket, and its support for England Netball, the brand can take some credit for helping to professionalise women’s sport in the country. Chrissy Fice, brand director for Vitality UK, explains the company’s sponsorship strategy.

You link your insurance policies to gym membership and your sports sponsorships encourage participation in sport. Why is that?

At Vitality we use sport to encourage people to be more active, and one way we do this is by collaborating with elite athletes, clubs and teams to drive participation at every level. As an insurer, we believe that by getting more people active we can support them to be healthier, and in turn enhance and protect their lives. By applying this approach, we also benefit by having a healthier member base, but it also has a positive impact on wider society.

Vitality is all about creating moments for more people in the UK to feel that activity, exercise and being involved in sport is a positive thing and it doesn’t have to be tough. It doesn’t have to be something that we’re too tired for, or that we find difficult because there are barriers in our way. Vitality wants to unlock activity and unlock sport for more people to participate in.

What is your sports sponsorship strategy?

One of the main principles for us in terms of our involvement in sport is making sure we’re inclusive and taking a democratic view about helping more people get healthier, whether that’s our members or the public at large. And by inclusivity, I mean irrespective of age, I mean irrespective of ability and I certainly mean irrespective of gender. In one of the first partnerships we were ever involved with, which was to be the wellness partner of Liverpool Football club, that inclusivity meant we ran a campaign for the Liverpool men’s team, but importantly we gave exactly the same exposure, and exactly the same focus and spotlight to the women’s team.

One very important founding principle in terms of our involvement with sport has been to take an approach whereby we are doing everything we can to provide something to sport, rather than taking an approach whereby we are taking something out of it. We don’t see it as a brand or badging exercise.

How do you encourage participation through your sponsorship campaigns?

We recently ran a campaign with Sky where we featured the captain of the England women’s cricket team, Heather Knight, and the England men’s cricket captain Joe Root playing tennis together. The message of the campaign was about trying something new.

There’s another very important message for us which is about helping unlock access to sport to make it more available for more people and to remove barriers. For that reason, we’ve invested in parkrun [a series of mass-participation runs every Saturday in parks around the UK] and support it  so it remain free for everyone.

It also means that our investment has gone some way to helping run free football and rugby festivals inviting families to bring their children along and learn new skills, from Premier League coaches, or being taught how to kick a rugby ball from an international rugby star.

You have also aligned yourself with women’s sport and England Netball in particular. How did you activate your rights at this year’s Netball World Cup?

Over the past four years we have invested in netball and the Netball World Cup. At a participation level, our investment has helped unlock opportunity through the Back to Netball scheme [an England Netball programme that provides women of all ages with a re-introduction to the sport]. We’ve also been able to fund a layer of professional netball as a product of the close relationship we have with England Netball. Our funding has enabled more women to make a career choice out of netball in the Vitality Netball Superleague and the powerful thing about that is those women are able to spend more time as a team, those women are able to spend more time training and developing technical skills which in turn has led to an improved performance on court.

Most of us involved in sport wouldn’t have missed the fact that the England Vitality Roses, won the Commonwealth gold in Australia last summer. We can’t claim all of that success is because we helped fund a professional layer of netballers but even England Netball have said it has helped go some way towards supporting performance.

That performance really stimulated incredible growth in the number of fans that began to follow netball, the number of fans that tuned in to the BBC to watch the games. England Netball said the Commonwealth gold inspired up to 130,000 more women and girls to get involved in netball so you can see it’s a virtuous circle.

At the Netball World Cup, we also pledged that for every hundred goals scored we would fund a level-one netball coach. Importantly, that was not just goals scored on the professional court, but also the goals that the fans and the people in the host-city of Liverpool scored when they turned up to our activations in the city centre.

Is there also a staff engagement aspect to your sport sponsorships?

Sport sponsorship is an integral part of who we are as a brand; it’s an integral part of the purpose that we have as a business, and it’s an integral part of marketing and all the channels we invest in and that means it’s not just a channel for sports fans. That means it is an opportunity to communicate through channels that reach all consumers; it’s an opportunity to communicate with the advisors and the intermediaries that sell some of our products and, importantly, it’s a way for us to share and pull through our message about sport and our purpose here to our members in an integrated way. We issue a printed a magazine to our members twice a year and what else would we do other than offer them exclusive content and interviews with the Vitality Roses about the Netball World Cup?

Vitality is synonymous with the daschund that appears in many of your campaigns. What’s the thinking behind this?

We want to encourage people to participate in sport and our reluctant daschund softens this message and adds a bit of humour to it. Like the daschund, we might be lazy or lack certain physical attributes but we need to get off the couch and do some exercise every now and again to remain fit.

Do you have any other sponsorship deals planned?

We have some really exciting developments coming up, this week we’ve announced an extension of the partnership we have with the ECB to include The Hundred, which will sit alongside our continued sponsorship of the Vitality Blast T20 and Test cricket. This all fits into the work we do with the ECB around supporting participation in the game from grassroots, to local club level and beyond. And it’s not just cricket, we are working on a number of other exciting projects across a number of sports. Watch this space.

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