CMO interview: How Anytime Fitness is embracing diversity and inclusion

Marketing chief talks through the brand repositioning exercise that's triggered a transformation of the business and culture

A desire to create breakthrough brand messaging that stands out in a sea of sameness has led Anytime Fitness to embark on a transformative diversity and inclusion program across the organisation.

Anytime Fitness CMO, Caitlin Bancroft, told CMO the initial brief for the new ‘Any body, Any time’ campaign has its roots in an advertising audit that highlighted the challenge gyms such as Anytime Fitness face achieving distinction in the category.

“Anytime has the biggest national footprint of any network but we get lost in the clutter of functional messaging and a sea of sameness. A key objective for us was to standout creatively,” she said. “For me, I wanted the agency to challenge us to be brave and do something really different within the category.”

The secondary motivation was to improve Anytime Fitness’ franchise satisfaction. An annual survey conducted six months prior showed that while franchisees saw the importance of marketing and campaign assets, their belief in its effectiveness was low.

“It was clear that while marketing was important, it wasn’t doing a good enough job. There was a real disconnect between importance and effectiveness of marketing,” Bancroft said. “We needed something that would inspire them [franchisees], while improving those scores.

What also came from that survey was a catalyst for changing the marketing roles and ways of working across support office, local marketing and into the clubs. This has seen Anytime restructure marketing into support ‘zones’ backed by its support office. Previously, head office supported the network and clubs primarily through lead generation.

“We have changed this marketing structure so that we will drive brand awareness and consideration, while the marketing zones, or local marketing areas and clubs, do the lead generation piece,” Bancroft said. “We were providing the ‘why’ of anytime, then they focus on the why for their specific clubs. It’s a significant shift in how marketing works.”

The ‘Any body, Any time’ campaign’s narrative focus is on challenging the stereotypical representation of gym goers by showcasing a diverse range of people with different needs and the reasons why they work out. The impetus is to show ‘health’ and ‘fitness’ mean something different to each of us and that this individuality is embraced by the Anytime Fitness community.

The campaign creative was led by Performics Mercerbell, with the agency also tasked with media strategy, planning and buying. The first iteration of the campaign runs from January to June and encompasses large-scale out-of-home, TV, digital videos, social media, search and Web.

Caitlin BancroftCredit: Anytime Fitness
Caitlin Bancroft

Bancroft said the campaign is the “line in the sand” for the group's new way of operating and is designed to drive brand awareness and reshape consideration and perceptions of the Anytime Fitness offering.

“We have always been more of a convenience play and rational messaging – we needed to find a balance of emotive and functional messaging,” Bancroft continued. “I think we’re guilty in the past of being overly functional. It was finding a position that’s more ownable for us that was than price, facilities and 24/7 access – those are the cost of entry. With such a large national footprint, it’s beholden on us to go out with a broader message than just convenience.”

Having a flexible brand platform that could extend beyond a campaign burst was another must for Bancroft, who said the work has been positioned as an 18-month program to the Anytime Fitness network.

“We haven’t really created a ‘brand’ campaign in the true sense of the word before. We used to launch and leave and didn’t have much of a chance to drive brand equity and awareness as we were going from message to message,” she added.  

Why inclusivity

Informing campaign messaging was a deep dive research program into Anytime Fitness’ target consumer demographic of 18 to 29-year-olds aimed at understanding what makes them tick, what they value, how they’re consuming media, communication preferences and more.

“Covid impacted by all of us recognising the importance of mental fitness as well as physical fitness and a more holistic approach to fitness,” Bancroft commented. “What we are seeing from this audience is prioritisation on mental health, as well as a refusal to be judged by how they look and push back on the body beautiful stereotypes. Rethinking social norms and standing up for something was also strong across this group.

“Another important shift was rather than just self-care, there was this community care element that was really important. Covid has brought this to the fore – we’re all searching for connection and community that’s bigger than ourselves.”

Performics Mercerbell CEO, Jason Tonelli, said Anytime's target audience recognises their emotional fitness is just as important as their physical. "They refuse to be judged just by how they look, and are pushing back on fitness industry stereotypes reflecting the same-old representation of what a ‘healthy’ body looks like," he said.  

"It is more than just a brand campaign, it’s a brand action designed to create a real culture of fitness inclusivity.”

Bancroft noted the sobering statistic 50 per cent of everyday consumers are still intimated to walk into a gym, while many women have changed gyms in the past in order to avoid harassment. She saw Anytime’s campaign as decidedly more female friendly in the face of a membership base that skews male (66 per cent).

“ROI for us is changing perceptions of the brand, having consumer reappraise us from being a big box gym, and to drive awareness,” Bancroft said. “We do have high awareness of the brand traditionally due to our footprint, but it wasn’t necessarily that people had warm feeling towards that. It’s about changing that.

“We still want to generate leads for the clubs, but it’s about filling the funnel from the top by driving more emotive brand awareness and appeal to anyone and everyone by ensuring people don’t’ feel intimidated to work out by representing who does actually workout in our gyms.”

Then there’s the significant opportunity around disability. Figures show about 4.4 million Australians live with a disability.

“That’s a huge audience of opportunity for us. We are working with partners, such as WeFlex, to understand and open this up, because it has been so hard for these groups to find places they feel empowered to go,” Bancroft said.

Where the rubber hits the road: Cultural transformation

The marketing work has now triggered a much wider inclusion project for the Anytime Fitness business to ensure it is the most welcoming, inclusive and diverse gym by 2024.

“We’re developing strategy and capability off the back of that. Want to make an impact on the health and wellness industry culture and bring positive change to the Australian fitness industry,” Bancroft said. “Being such a big brand means we can bring others along with us for the journey. To do this, we need to ensure each club is safe, positive and a motivating space to work in no matter what your fitness goals.”

To do this, Anytime has devised the IDEA (inclusive, diversity, equity and action) plan and roadmap. This outlines the group’s intent and journey. Published on the group’s website, it articulates the milestones Anytime is hoping to achieve to get there.  

Its first step was partnering with WeFlex and Proud 2 Play. With Proud 2 Play, Anytime has embarked on an outreach program across the LGBTIQ+ community to know how to best connect with these diverse consumers. With WeFlex, Anytime has commenced accessibility audits across its clubs, going through locations to make sure they’re accessible and meet the needs of people with sensory needs and disabilities, from gym floors to changerooms and membership options.

On the education front, Bancroft cited work to certify personal trainers to train people with disabilities. “That’s about clubs co-designing training with people with disability so it’s fit for purpose,” she explained.  

“Over the next quarter, we will introduce an IDEA advisory council including members from leadership, clubs and members. We’re assessing all our in-club forms and employment contracts, looking at gender neutral support for working parents and fitness staff. We’re even trying quiet hours for those with sensory sensitivities, like lighting or if the sound is too hard.” 

In addition, all staff from top down have access to inclusivity and disability modules on Anytime’s learning training platform, including unconscious bias training.

“Once we announced it to the network and the partnerships, people started saying they had relatives with disability who had done this or that – the stories started coming out and people are sharing those proactively,” Bancroft commented. “Everyone sees it as a great opportunity for them as well.”

Aside from this being the right thing to do, Bancroft could see the commercial return from being more inclusive, through more diverse cohorts coming into Anytime gyms, generating more diverse members in turn.

Keeping teams motivated

Throughout this work and her first six months as CMO, Bancroft has had to keep a firm eye on team morale. Gyms and fitness businesses have been a category significantly disrupted by the Covid pandemic, with regular state-based closures and restrictions a weekly occurrence.  

Helping keep teams motivated are a strong quarterly KPI process, Bancroft said, incorporating project and professional development, plus personal wellness.

“We did have staff on reduced hours for a few months, so having this structure, going back to the KPIs to deprioritise and adjust so people could achieve them was important,” she explained. “Another thing we do as a marketing team is share weekly key wins, which can be personal or work related. That's been vital for morale and connection.”

Having never worked in a franchise business previously, Bancroft has also had the learning curve of network stakeholder management during a pandemic. Prior to joining the Collective Wellness Group, Bancroft was head of marketing for the BioCeuticals and PAW brands at Blackmores.

She’s also worked for the likes of Revlon, Vitaco Health Group and Integria Healthcare as well as held roles on the agency side with Sudler and Hennessey and Wieden + Kennedy. For two-and-a-half years, she also ran her own naturopath business.  

“Having worked for lots of different businesses, that experience does help set you up for success,” Bancroft said. “I’ve experienced different structures and lots of stakeholders. That ability to build relationships is really key here even if the consultation process is different. I call it influencing without authority.”  

As well as the diversity and inclusion agenda, there are plenty of other priorities on Bancroft’s list. Another is ensuring local marketing zones and clubs are utilising the new campaign and marketing assets to drive compliance and consistency in brand messaging. To help, she’s bringing on a new media manager to support at a local marketing and club level. 

Data utilisation is a further project, and Bancroft flagged plans to invest in a new CRM platform in the new financial year. She admitted the email journey for members at present is clunky and there’s plenty more to be done to improve member retention and prospect conversion.

“We have low visibility and it’s hard to harness it to create insights,” she said. “We have a big project this year on investing in a new CRM platform, which will help us build personalisation into our programs and help understand members better."

Anytime launch its Health Hub in the early days of the Covid and Bancroft said she’s keen to build out the content strategy to drive acquisition, culture and member engagement. To this end, she’s exploring external partnerships and third-party offers.

“We also know this hybrid world that digital fitness is here to stay. We have done well on another brand we run, Xtend Barre, with our at-home component," she added. "People want to continue to come into the gym, but we know we also need to have flexibility. So we have to ensure whatever we offer remains strong.”

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