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A weighty campaign

By The Drum | Administrator

July 28, 2005 | 6 min read

As I sit in the comfortable reception area of Fitness First For Women (FFFW) on Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street I decide I don’t belong here. Firstly, I am to health and fitness what Gerald Ratner is to jewellery sales and, second, I am a man. Nonetheless I am here to speak to Elaine Arnold, the managing director of national gym chain Fitness First For Women, to find out about their ‘Sexy Weight PR campaign’, a new national initiative that has been launched by the women-only chain of fitness centres in conjunction with Glasgow-based PR consultancy Real PR aimed at getting more women exercising (at FFFW, obviously).

For those of you who are readers of Cosmopolitan magazine then you will probably be aware that a new health and fitness phrase is already entering the Nation’s lexicography as Dr Linda Papadopoulos was used to launch the concept of ‘sexy weight’ in the August issue of Cosmo.

So, what is a ‘sexy weight’, I ask (other than me loitering in the reception of a women-only gym for 20 minutes)?

“Sexy weight is the weight at which a woman feels sexy and confident about herself and her body and that may not necessarily be her ideal weight,” said Arnold. “Most women in the UK actually aspire to be a weight that is physically unhealthy for them. If you take a woman who is size 16 then she will probably aspire to be a size 12. Losing that kind of weight is too demanding, as it is too much in one fell swoop. Instead of women asking what is your ideal weight we really want them to be asking what is your sexy weight.”

The sexy weight campaign is the product of a research study carried out by FFFW among 500 women, both members and non-members. To support Arnold’s claims that most women in the UK are aiming to achieve a body weight that is unhealthy, the survey revealed that the average weight goal for the average UK woman is between 7st 12lbs and 8st 3lbs. The actual UK average woman between the ages of 25 and 34 is 10st 8lbs. As Arnold explains, in this age of the waif look most women are actually aiming to be underweight, which can be as harmful as being overweight, so FFFW’s sexy weight campaign is trying to redress this imbalance.

Real PR has been working with FFFW for the last year and has been involved in the expansion of the chain across the UK. FFFW now has 13 fitness centres throughout the UK, from Brighton to Glasgow, and has a national membership of 17,000 women. The centre on Sauchiehall Street currently has 1,300 members, but Arnold and Real PR are working to grow that to around 1,600.

Despite launching at a time when the war on terror was taking over most news and even feature pages, Real PR has already secured significant national and regional media coverage for FFFW’s sexy weight initiative. Coverage has been secured in the Daily Express, Daily Record, Evening Times, Bolton Evening News, Kent on Sunday, as well as a syndicated radio interview to more than 400 stations UK-wide.

The FFFW chain was rebranded in May 2004 with a £2m investment from parent company Cinven, which owns the Fitness First organisation, the second largest health and fitness operator in the world with 415 centres.

CIM qualified marketer Arnold has been with Fitness First for six years and was given the challenge of boosting the membership numbers of the women-only side of the business, an area that Fitness First entered back in 2002. Since then, through a concerted marketing effort, primarily PR-led, with some press advertising, Arnold has seen membership numbers grow by 28 per cent, making FFFW the fastest growing part of the Fitness First business.

“We have kept the marketing of Fitness First For Women quite separate from that of Fitness First as we do things quite differently on this side of the business. Referrals from our current female members are obviously a large part of our marketing strategy, so we get members and staff involved in the marketing of the clubs as it is all about real people. Our proposition to potential members is that we are a health club for women by women. Newspaper advertising is also a very important part of our marketing. We do actually now compete head-on with the mixed gym market.”

While FFFW has seen membership grow in recent years, the women-only health sector has been suffering

Arnold said: “The women-only industry has had a bumpy ride over the past few years. The reason many have closed is because they were under-funded. Just because women want to work out in a women-only environment doesn’t mean they will accept a substandard club.”

Part of FFFW’s growth strategy has been to be a city centre-based health centre, the reason for which Arnold explains: “The reason that all our centres are based in the city is so that we can catch women on their way home from work. Research showed us that when the majority of women get back to their house or flat after a day at work they will rarely leave the house again. Therefore it is our strategy to give them a viable option on their way home.

“The Muslim population is also a very important market for us because Muslim women cannot work out alongside men. There are many Muslim women whose partners do not want their wives to work out in the presence of men.”

The relationship between FFFW and Real PR proves that Scottish-based communications companies can handle high-profile nationwide PR campaigns. Ilya Scott and her team have been involved at street level with bespoke club launches, which have included aerobic displays in the surrounding streets, human interest stories and competitions in local newspapers in cities such as Southampton, Leicester, Northampton and Glasgow.

Despite Arnold’s scepticism about the value of PR, she says that the work they have done with Real PR has contributed greatly to the growth of the membership numbers and she is convinced that Real PR’s sexy weight campaign will further raise the profile of FFFW and convince more women to get into the gym to shed a few pounds.

As I leave the gym I have a think about what my ‘sexy weight’ might be – I conclude it would probably be a 20-minute wait in the reception area of Glasgow’s Truffle Club. Note to self: Organise interview with Truffle Club boss.

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