Sport England's This Girl Can campaign shifts spotlight onto societal barriers

Five years on from its groundbreaking launch, Sport England's popular campaign tackles taboos in women's sport, with a greater role for PR and earned media.

Sport England's flagship campaign to encourage women to exercise and take up sport is tackling taboos that hold women back.

This year's instalment of 'This Girl Can' moves beyond emotional and practical hurdles to activity, and highlights the societal barriers that deter women from joining in, covering topics ranging from menopause and support networks to disability and LGBT+ inclusion.

Sport England executive director of digital, marketing and comms Ali Donnelly told PRWeek that PR and earned media has been a "much bigger part of this campaign", with a growing #ThisGirlCan community on social.

"What's different now is it's about the stories behind the women – not just about showing, but telling," she explained.

"From a PR point of view and talking to the media we've seen a huge change, as these conversations weren't happening, so the more high-profile people talk about these issues, the more normal we make it.

"Social has been significant. Obviously we push our own content out organically, but we also use it to educate influencers about what is relatable."

The social media challenge

Social media offers Sport England opportunities and a challenge. Although 'This Girl Can' has pioneered marketing that represents a full range of women's shapes and sizes, social media and influencer marketing has also been used to fuel unrealistic images of women.

New research by Sport England found that nearly two-fifths of women still aren't active and that more than 60 per cent of women who see slim, toned bodies on social media feel this has a negative impact on them.

The new phase of the campaign aims to tackle this by showing women overcoming challenges such as severe menstrual cramps or coping with menopausal symptoms.

One scene shows a woman getting changed for yoga, having taken the activity up to help her tackle debilitating period pains.

Hannah Johnson, 29, initially avoided exercising while on her period, but now uses dancing, yoga and pilates for help relieve pain. She described transitioning from fearing the pain to using physical activity to manage it, as "an incredibly empowering process".

Tally Rye, a personal trainer and author of Train Happy, said: "As a fitness community we have a huge opportunity to create content that makes women feel good about themselves. I try to ensure that I show a real reflection of the sweaty reality of being active on my Instagram feed."

In the past five years, the campaign has helped more than 500,000 women and girls to become more physically active on a regular basis.

Lisa O’Keefe, director of insight at Sport England, acknowledged that while progress had been made, there was still a long way to go.

"We've designed the new ads to show things we're still not seeing – women using exercise to manage period symptoms or juggling motherhood – all while celebrating women of all shapes, sizes, abilities and backgrounds," she said.

Created by FCB Inferno and with PR support from Freuds, the campaign video will launch on 17 January and be supported by out-of-home, PR, digital and social media. 

Over the next year, Sport England aims to inspire 250,000 more women to do 150 minutes of physical activity every week.

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