Planet Fitness is one of the largest chains of fitness centers in the U.S., and the chain spends nearly $200 million a year on media expenditures. Until recently, it worked with 16 agencies, led by independent shop Barkley. But to better leverage the scale of its media spend and its position as a category leader, the chain needed a new approach.
"Looking at where we want to go in the future... led us to consider reevaluating the entire marketing ecosystem, to see how we can really drive scale, efficiency, more data-driven decisioning, more precision and personalization, nationally and locally, and most importantly, integrating them all together," CMO Jeremy Tucker said.
The result of a recent RFP saw Planet Fitness team with Publicis Groupe to create Team Lift, a bespoke agency that will handle strategy, data and analytics, media planning and buying, creative and brand partnerships.
"The average consumer — whether they're in Dallas or Detroit — they only see one Planet Fitness; they don't see national and local media. So you want their message to be distinct for the market, but aligned," Tucker explained of the new model. "This was a big unlock for us."
The promise of Publicis
During the RFP process, which was handled by advisory firm MediaLink, Planet Fitness considered everything from evolving the traditional model it already had in place to partnering with an agency holding company.
Tucker, the brand's marketing leadership team and a select group of franchisees were impressed by Publicis' passion and understanding of Planet Fitness, as well as its media buying power and the ability of its Epsilon data solutions to achieve a high match rate with its own consumer records. But the ability to create a bespoke agency, called Team Lift, that brought together all of what Publicis could offer was most appealing.
"We didn't see different agencies within the Publicis Groupe working for Planet Fitness or pitching our business. We saw one team, and the team was unified," Tucker said.
"[Publicis] took a lot of the redundancies and inefficiencies out of the marketing flywheel that we had built."
CMO, Planet Fitness
Tucker stressed that a partnership with Publicis is not a "brand turnaround story," but a brand looking to take itself to the next level. With nearly 15 million members and more than 2,000 locations around the world, Planet Fitness reaches consumers across age, ethnicity and income level with an approach that seeks to democratize fitness.
Still, its scale produces challenges, like telling a master brand story that layers in the things that matter to different people in different communities. Publicis aims to solve that problem with a service model.
"They took a lot of the redundancies and inefficiencies out of the marketing flywheel that we had built: all the backend operations — billing, data tagging, the taxonomy — all of those pieces of the puzzle which are so fragmented when you've got so many different agencies working under so many different groups," Tucker explained.
"Now, we've been able to start the process to actually bring those things as a unified piece, but still create power in the local market under the master brand, so you can locally flex and do what you need to do to be competitive," he said.
Millions in incremental investment
Planet Fitness estimates that by transforming into a performance-based marketing organization, it will see 20% more efficiency, resulting in a minimum of $40 million in incremental media investment — a not-insignificant amount that represents about one-fifth of its current spend.
"To be very honest and very direct, [the additional money] will go straight back into working media. We want to get our message out there — more people, more places, more channels," Tucker said.
The investment will help Planet Fitness as it attempts to turn conventional wisdom about gym membership on its head: Instead of targeting the 20% of U.S. consumers that already have gym memberships, Planet Fitness is aiming for the 80% that don't. The need for fitness has only been magnified by a health crisis that has claimed more than 650,000 lives in the U.S. and caused millions to become heavier and unhealthier than ever before as the pandemic continues to upend daily life.
"Using this marketing money that's freed up to tell more stories, with the right message to the right people, on the benefits of fitness, wherever they're at in their journey, can help people feel more confident, to start to get in. And that's the hard part, right?" Tucker said. "The best way to do it is to free up these dollars so that we can use those precious marketing dollars to impact as many lives as possible."
Marketing as the pandemic persists
Planet Fitness — like other marketers — has spent the past 18 months adapting its messaging and marketing to meet the changing needs of consumers as life amid a pandemic continues to evolve. When gyms first shut down, the company quickly launched the United We Move campaign, delivering free exercise classes on Facebook Live and YouTube. The company continued to invest in its app and digital fitness as part of a bricks-with-clicks strategy.
As the economy began to open up, Planet Fitness sought to address consumers' fear, uncertainty and doubt, stressing its cleaning processes and pushing messages about "social fitnessing" and "cardio distancing" with its marketing engine. Now, the brand is pivoting again as it faces uncharacteristically high seasonal demand as consumers return to pre-pandemic activities but are overwhelmed by the prospect of returning to fitness after so much time away.
First up is a new campaign by incumbent agency Barkley that targets fitness influencers — or "Fitfluencers" — that dominate social media with "gadgets and gizmos" but over-promise and under-deliver on actual fitness.
"We're calling [them] out and saying, 'Hey, this is a place where you can have an experience where you can get back to realistic routines.' We're here for you with a tool on our app, in our clubs — however you want to do it. However you're comfortable and doing it, we're here for you," Tucker said.
And while the partnership with Publicis is ramping up, the first new work from Team Lift will come closer to New Year's Eve — a traditional time when people reset their fitness goals for the year ahead.
"That'll be the first major movement you'll see on the creative side, but they're all in and we're full transition and data mode right now," he said.