Health Benefits Wellness Fair Best Practices

Bringing Benefits to Life: An Interview with a Health Fair Superstar

We've been talking a lot recently about the emerging need for benefit professionals to think and act more like marketers. We've discussed how you can use marketing principles to tailor your benefits offering to the needs of your workforce, to help employees navigate consumer-driven health care, to deliver effective communication through personalized content, to guide employees to smart benefits enrollment decisions, and much more.

But as I strolled around the massive exhibition hall at last month's SHRM conference, where hundreds of companies selling HR-related products and services had set up booths to show off their wares and interact with conference attendees, I realized there was an important area of marketing we hadn't yet explored as it relates to benefits - events.

Just about every marketing organization uses live events to drive brand awareness and attract potential customers. The personal contact facilitates engagement and establishes credibility, allowing consumers to put a face to a name and get their questions answered in the flesh.

Live events can play the same powerful role in your world - in the form of health and benefits fairs.

Just ask Katie Gausepohl, Benefits Manager at The Limited, the iconic fashion retailer (and Benefitfocus customer) based in central Ohio. Last year, she put on a health fair that achieved 94 percent participation at the corporate office. How did she do it? She was kind enough to sit down with me and explain. Here's an excerpt of our conversation:

Katie, first off, what do you think are the main advantages of holding a health fair? Why have one in the first place?

I would argue that it can be your greatest opportunity to engage associates in their health - especially those who may not really be engaged any other time of year. It provides a fun way for you to get those individuals curious and thinking about their health. Many have no idea what their current health status is, and with features like free biometric screenings, the event gives people a chance to identify and learn about things they may need to do in terms of nutrition, exercise, doctor visits and such.

It's also a great opportunity for associates to see what all the employer is providing for them when it comes to health and wellness. You can really highlight the value of the various perks and programs you're offering, whether it's gym membership discounts, smoking cessation or new insurance plans. It gives you the chance to put a brand and identity on your benefits program, especially if you theme the event, and bring your benefits to life.

For us at The Limited, it's also an opportunity for us to live out our core values, one of which is Community. The fair is a great way for our associates from all across the organization to come together, interact and see that they're part of a company that cares about their well-being.

You mentioned highlighting new insurance plans. How can a health fair support your open enrollment communication efforts?

We strategically place our health fair before open enrollment, and typically invite our core benefit vendors (medical, dental, vision and life). They can speak to any plan changes we may have, so associates can hear it straight from the carrier's mouth and get their questions answered in person. It really helps associates feel more comfortable about the decisions they'll make during open enrollment.

Obviously, people have to actually show up to the fair for it to be worth it. What are some things you've found to be effective in driving attendance?

Well, first of all, you have to have fantastic prizes. Those are our main motivators. We have a moderate budget, but I try to buy plenty of things that will get people excited - Paleo Diet cookbooks, yoga mats and such. I buy a lot, so that associates know they have a pretty good chance of winning something as long as they come. Vendors will also donate items in exchange for booth space. And then we have our grand prize, which is round-trip airline tickets. We buy those using our corporate credit card points. Associates are given little stamp books and get a stamp for each vendor booth they visit. A certain number of stamps is required to be eligible for the grand prize, so it's a good way to make sure they're engaged with the event.

Food is also a huge motivator. Every year, we do a make-your-own trail mix bar, which is always a big hit. We have a registered dietitian or nutritionist come in and blend healthy smoothies for associates to sample, and provide recipes so associates can make them at home. We also bring in a food truck to serve up fresh pitas and healthy salads, and associates get really excited about that.

Finally, our associates are very philanthropic, and they're especially passionate about animal welfare. So last year, I engaged the Columbus Zoo and arranged to have them come onsite with some animals, including a baby snow leopard, a dingo and a lemur. We made the entire fair animal-themed, with the tagline, "It's a jungle out there. Don't monkey around with your health." And this year, we're partnering with a local animal shelter, and we'll have rooms of adoptable cats and dogs. So, naturally, the tagline will be, "Stop kitten around with your health. It's doggone important." Studies have shown that animals can help you stress less, so if all associates do is just come in and visit with the animals, they'll have done something good for their health.

That's a lot of motivation right there! So how do you communicate all of this to associates ahead of time?

Typically, we push out emails as teasers starting about two to three weeks prior to the event, and place posters around the building during the week leading up to the event. We obviously highlight the various perks and prizes that will be available, but we also make sure that we apply the theme to our communication so we're creating a distinct brand for our benefits program through the fair. As I mentioned before, a fair is a great opportunity for you to bring our benefits to life, and your pre-event communication can help you reinforce that and enhance the experience for your employees.

Thanks, Katie! It sounds like you've been brushing up on your marketing tactics. Is there anything else you'd like to add before we wrap up?

I think an important thing to remember is that within an organization there are many different and health needs and priorities. In planning a health fair, the goal - and the challenge - is to figure out how you can engage every single employee. Obviously, you can't provide every single employee with every single program they want or need, but you can diversify your vendors, offer compelling perks and prizes, and solicit feedback to continually increase the likelihood that an employee will choose to walk down to the fair rather than stay at their desk. If anything, the walk itself will do them some good! 

Hear more success stories and best practices from Benefitfocus customers at One Place 2017. Register today to take advantage of early bird pricing!