NC gets moving one step at a time

After collecting data for five years, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) realized the state had dramatic rates of inactivity and obesity.

After collecting data for five years, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) realized the state had dramatic rates of inactivity and obesity.

To get North Carolina residents off their couches, BCBSNC launched a statewide wellness initiative – The Million Step March (MSM), a mass march spanning from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. The organization hoped that the effort would get citizens of the state more active and help increase their level of health.

“The Million Step March campaign sought to replace these alarming statistics with a face; a name; and an inexpensive, attainable remedy for change,” says Karen Albritton, president of Capstrat, the agency retained to promote MSM.

Capstrat and BCBSNC positioned the MSM not as a sales campaign, but as a public service that would help the entire state.

If successful, the program would stimulate healthy lifestyle choices beyond weight loss; encourage people to think of BCBSNC not only as financial protection, but also as a partner in getting and staying healthy; and generate significant, positive media attention.

To promote this push, the team enlisted Gary Marino, a regular guy with a weight problem who wanted to walk off more than 100 pounds, to create the “everyman” appeal. It also brought on BCBSNC Foundation president Kathy Higgens to lead a group of BCBSNC employees.

“We created a rich Web site that tied together online registration, self-reported walking, the rise of a blogging community, contests, prizes, and philanthropic outreach,” Albritton says. The team also conducted media outreach statewide, making sure to include not only major media markets, but also small-town newspapers, TV stations, and daily outlets.

In total, the MSM signed up more than 6,500 participants, who collectively walked more than 340,000 miles.

“There's nothing like a 600-mile walk across our state to showcase our company's commitment to healthy living, eating right, and staying active,” says Lynne Garrison, BCBSNC's VP of corporate communications. “The MSM engaged tens of thousands of North Carolinians, with more than 650 million steps logged on our Web site; 200 media stories about the walk; 83 blog posts; and more than 100 stops along the trek at employer sites, community centers, and rallies.”

BCBSNC will continue to work with Capstrat on wellness-related initiatives, with emphasis on leveraging social networking strategies, Albritton says.

PRWeek's view
To get 6,500 people to do anything is pretty significant. But to get 6,500 people, many obese, to walk across an entire state, is remarkable.

This effort was also distinctive because it tied directly into BCBSNC's brand slogan, “Your plan for better health.”

The team's idea to use “everyman” Gary as a spokesman was a smart idea because he was able to generate positive media coverage that didn't overpower the brand with star wattage, as a celebrity spokesperson most likely would have. Also, the campaign's ability to utilize social media was a smart way to reach the public in a fast, efficient way.

PR team: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, NC) and Capstrat (Raleigh, NC)

Campaign: Million Step March

Duration: April-June 2008

Budget: $300,000

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