Emma Flack, Unilever: A recipe for good health

Unilever's Fit Business scheme used a wide variety of channels to reach its staff.

Emma Flack, Unilever: A recipe for good health
Emma Flack, Unilever: A recipe for good health

Every day, millions of people reach for Unilever products from their fridges and kitchen or bathroom shelves. Our mission is 'to help people look good, feel good and get more out of life'.

We have shown that brand and marketing activities have great power to promote healthy lifestyles and drive behavioural change. For example, Flora has been a trailblazer brand since the 1960s, campaigning on heart health and cholesterol awareness and successfully sponsoring the London Marathon for 13 years.

However, businesses of our size and stature must walk the talk. So we launched a year-long workplace health pilot - Fit Business. Its success demonstrates how businesses can improve the health of the nation - critical to addressing obesity. Our independent evaluation shows such initiatives bring economic benefits by decreasing absenteeism and staff turnover.

So what did we do right? First, we treated our people as consumers. People want to decide what is right for them, not be preached to. So we not only provided detailed GDA information on menus and at point of sale in canteens, but helped staff understand what they meant. We enabled them to make informed choices.

Fit Business brought together our nutrition expertise, knowledge of brands and marketing, and occupational health programmes. We focused the expertise developed across hundreds of brand and marketing campaigns to promote awareness of saturated fat and GDAs. Product and brand teams devised healthy recipe options for staff.

Colleagues in occupational health, internal and external comms worked hand-in-hand with brand and marketing teams and catering partners to plan, execute and evaluate each phase of activity.

We engaged people through a range of channels - from newsletters and the intranet to innovative approaches that transformed our office in Leatherhead and factory space in Port Sunlight. We communicated the initiatives in a fun way, with footprint stencils in car parks and stickers on lifts and stairs to encourage walking. We ran masterclasses on eating well and celebrated achievements.

Effective external comms created a virtuous circle. Sustained media engagement across national, regional, trade and online channels meant our people saw and heard the same message inside and out.

An independent evaluation by the Institute for Public Policy Research highlights that absenteeism has fallen by 17 per cent compared with an industry average of nine per cent. Two-thirds of our people say their health is better as a result of working for Unilever. Weight loss is significant (26 per cent at Port Sunlight and nine per cent at Leatherhead) and people are exercising more and eating more healthily.

The best evidence lies in the stories of people such as Les Jackson, a Unilever employee for 35 years. Thanks to the health check that he and hundreds of colleagues received he has lost 19 years from his heart age. By using on-site gym facilities and eating better, he has lost six inches from his waist.

We have shared our findings with government, stakeholders and businesses. We hosted a debate at the King's Fund chaired by Nick Timmins of the Financial Times, featuring a host of key stakeholders including Dame Carol Black. We have run peer forums to share our experiences with several large companies.

We have now rolled Fit Business out across all 20 Unilever sites in the UK and Ireland. We'll continue to share the learnings as we go.

Emma Flack is comms director at Unilever UK and Ireland

VIEWS IN BRIEF

How has your blend of marketing disciplines changed in the past two years?

Internal channels used to be the main route but the rise of social media and NGO campaign networks means a need for a more integrated approach. It is also more efficient - critical with the ongoing tightening of budgets.

How has the drive toward more integrated campaigning been reflected in your internal marketing structures?

While specialist understanding of key audiences and channels is important, there seems to be a move back to 'expert generalists' - people who understand the brand and proposition and are able to apply it across the audience mix.

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