Marketing steer for innovative leisure collective

Never have the leisure, health and wellbeing, and culture sectors been more important in our lives as our communities recover from the debilitating effects of three national lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic.

But we’ve drawn on all of our strategic prowess and creativity to capitalise on a myriad of marketing opportunities to provide a full-service workout on behalf of GM Active – which is strategically focused on offering schemes and pilots that aid collaboration and resource sharing across the GM city-region to deliver health outcomes that cannot be achieved more locally or individually.

A community interest company (CIC), GM Active is leading the way in repositioning the publicly-owned leisure sector to better-meet current and future population health and wellbeing priorities. This transition from the sector’s traditional ‘fitness and facilities’ offering to a more-targeted approach to public health and wellbeing focus will bring greater health, social and economic benefits to individuals, communities and businesses with the aim of making us all healthier, happier and more productive.

From Zumba and spin classes to targeted support for patients with particular physical or mental health conditions, GM Active’s member organisations enhance many lives in many ways as well as offering wider social, health and economic benefits.

Health and wellbeing services include targeted exercise and advice for people with specific health conditions and disabilities, or additional needs. Services include Prehab4Cancer (P4C), a ground-breaking programme to help people with cancer prepare for and recover from surgery or other major treatment. This is delivered in local gyms throughout Greater Manchester and, since the pandemic, via home-based sessions delivered remotely by P4C’s exercise specialists.

An intrinsic understanding of markets and audiences

Cornerstone’s services for GM Active include strategic marketing, PR, media handling and planning, as well as aiding the growth of digital footprints, brand reach and recognition through social media activity.

We’ve worked closely with a diverse range of leisure clients for over a decade and developed an intrinsic understanding of their unique markets and target audiences. Their end-customers and stakeholders can range from members of local gyms, swimming pools or spas, to performing arts audiences and public sector professionals, such as GPs or local authority commissioners who buy health and wellbeing services for patients and target groups.

The diversity of our services reflects this breadth, ranging from sales-focused gym publicity, hospitality and theatre campaigns, to creating public health campaigns, news-writing or PR activity aimed at leisure sector professionals, stakeholders and politicians.

Examples of our marketing insight, services and capabilities are well-illustrated through our work with GM Active.


Leading the field in collaborative projects

GM Active’s member organisations are primarily not-for-profit charitable trusts which collectively run over 100 venues including leisure centres, family attractions and performing arts venues.

GM Active is a leader in its field for collaborative projects. It works with partners including GP surgeries, hospital clinical teams, health researchers, NHS organisations, local and national government, universities, charities, local authorities and Greater Manchester Combined Authority to reach shared goals around health and wellbeing within our communities.

GM Active members are: Active Tameside, Bolton Middlebrook Leisure Trust, Bolton Community Leisure, Bury Council, MCRactive, Life Leisure, Your Trust, Oldham Community Leisure, Salford Community Leisure, Trafford Leisure, Wigan Council and Wythenshawe Forum Trust.

At national level, GM Active works with organisations including Sport England, UK Active, CIMSPA and Community Leisure UK on joint campaigns and projects to boost public health and wellbeing.

In the beginning…

Our first contract with GM Active followed a recommendation from other individual trusts in Greater Manchester impressed by what we had accomplished on their behalf. They suggested Cornerstone’s strategic approach and full-service offering would help to better-position GM Active with its stakeholders, our creative team would help to better-align the GM Active brand to market expectations and our digital and PR teams would target GM Active’s key audiences efficiently and effectively.

In the early days we carried-out an onboarding workshop to better-understand all GM Active’s objectives. This involved speaking to each member-organisation’s chief executive, board directors, marketing and communications leads, and various groups which deliver schemes within local communities. Once we had all these elements, we formed a 12-month plan to help GM Active meet their collective objectives.

The early objectives included creating a reciprocal membership campaign, giving members of each leisure trust access to certain types of leisure amenities across all ten Greater Manchester boroughs, such as pools and gyms. So, for example, a member of a Manchester trust could go for a swim or gym session at facilities run by GM Active members elsewhere in Greater Manchester. This required web technology to enable different trust’s IT and membership systems to interact, so members were granted access to leisure centres in all the boroughs involved.

Other elements of the membership campaign included written, social media and video content aimed at consumers, reciprocal leisure centre location finders on websites and website user-experience enhancements; cardboard strut cards to be displayed in leisure centres and reciprocal membership launch activities for GM Active partners.

#saveleisure lockdown lobbying

The world changed dramatically when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020 resulting in the first of three national lockdowns. And that meant significant changes were needed to our plans. In response to the dramatically changed environment which GM Active faced, we completely adjusted our strategy and tactical plan. We worked with GM Active to reconsider our approaches and annual objectives during the pandemic lockdowns and our future delivery of marketing activity.

Closure of leisure centres and cultural venues raised numerous short-term challenges for GM Active member organisations and the wider leisure and culture sectors, especially around loss of revenue and ongoing costs of maintaining closed leisure centres. As the sector reopened, GM Active’s objectives moved to the recovery of community leisure trust operations and services, and in developing the community leisure sector towards a more public health-focused ‘wellness service’.

In the following months, GM Active and national leisure sector organisations began lobbying councils, MPs and the Government to raise awareness of the sector’s financial needs as a result of lost income and the public health and social impacts of the lockdowns.

The #saveleisure campaign promoted a better understanding of the sector’s professionalism, strong hygiene standards, readiness to reopen safely and its skills and capacity to boost public health, recovery and resilience.

To communicate these messages, we focused primarily on social media and PR services for GM Active. We had a clear target and emphasis on local and national government, helping to raise awareness of the leisure sector’s positive impact on communities and how funding was vital. We also worked with organisations such as Sport England and GM Moving to create content.

Getting the message out there

Our other work for GM Active has included creating press releases and social media campaigns on other services, topics and themes.

Some services have highlighted GM Active’s ground-breaking P4C patient support programme and its new Skills and Training Academy.

P4C shows how innovative co-working between the leisure and healthcare sectors is creating better patient outcomes and NHS savings. It is a co-designed programme between GM Active and GM Cancer.

Our press releases have led to diverse regional and national media coverage for GM Active, reaching audiences of up to 470,000 across print, digital and broadcast media in less than a year.

Across the north-west of England, we have helped GM Active gain coverage in print and digital channels linked to the Wigan Post, The Bolton News, Oldham Times, Bury Times and This Is Lancashire. We have also gained coverage on local radio station news bulletins.

Nationally, we helped GM Active gain coverage in leading B2B leisure and health magazines and channels, further raising awareness of their ground-breaking work and thought leadership within the industry.

Making a social media impression

Our social media activity complemented the press coverage and helped to raise GM Active’s profile on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Messages emphasised the positive impact that leisure has on the community in providing vital services for many, especially the most vulnerable.

Our social media posts also shared statistics to remind people of the impact GM Active and its members have on the communities of Greater Manchester.

Before working with Cornerstone, GM Active’s social media activity had been infrequent. We increased the frequency of posts, engagement with member organisations and shared industry news from associations such as UK Active and Sport England. We also created news blogs for GM Active’s website, increasing engagement and reach via social media marketing.

Between May 2020 and May 2021, GM Active’s LinkedIn activity gained 43,000 impressions, 1,600 social actions (comments/likes/shares) and 1,290 clicks on links. Their following also grew by 457 (a 15,133% increase YOY).

GM Active’s Twitter following grew by 20%, impressions rose by 396% and likes grew by 408% YOY. We increased the number of tweets posted by 192%.

Our creative team produced a reopening video to visualise how much people had missed their local leisure centres. Visual features included snappy motion graphics and statistics and GM Active’s on-brand colour palette.


Marketing services of real value

Because marketing and communications in this sector is complex, it is essential that leisure organisations have the right strategies, tools and skills to filter their different audiences, and benefit from marketing services of real value. This is where Cornerstone comes in. Our services for GM Active were adapted throughout the pandemic and we’ve grown to support them further as the landscape has changed.

Now that leisure and culture facilities have reopened, leisure operators face a changing role in future with a greater focus on health, new types of service delivery, partnerships, training and research.

Supporting great work across Greater Manchester

Taking the lessons learned from the last two years in which Covid has affected many leisure operators the world over, our strategy for GM Active looks exciting, and heavily focused on communicating the positive health and wellness message that each organisation strives to deliver in their respective communities.

We’re now helping to effectively launch the new ‘We Move As One’ strategy to help reduce health inequalities, increase physical and mental wellbeing within communities while easing pressures on NHS services.

The future of leisure looks positive and truly inspirational, and Cornerstone and our team are looking forward to supporting the great work being delivered across the Greater Manchester area.

Find out more

As the leisure and health sectors recover from the pandemic and develop for the future, get in touch to see how we can help your organisation. We’re renowned for our strategic and creative approach to achieve efficient, engaging and effective results. Find out more by emailing us at:

Our Work