Edward Bourelly's passion for purpose and inclusivity has guided his entire career, including his move to vp of marketing for Planet Fitness in 2019. From the first time he saw people who looked like him in commercials to working for brands he could genuinely relate to like Levi's and Nike, Edward believes marketing should always start with what drives your consumer. And that's exactly what Planet Fitness stands for with its inclusive approach to “Gymtimidation" and the ways it's breaking down social inequities in health and fitness. Here, discover how Edward's team has embraced more time at home to promote the fitness brand, why he's focused on hyper-localization, and how the pandemic has provided the industry a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to rethink its societal role.
How did you get to where you are today? Any noteworthy aha-moments along the way?
I was exposed to advertising and marketing at a very young age because I had a relative working at Burrell Advertising, which was one of the pioneering African-American agencies in the '80s here in Chicago. I saw all of these amazing campaigns with stars like Michael Jordan and LL Cool J come to life and I had never experienced anything like that. People that looked like me in commercials. Not to mention that they were for major brands like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s.
“I had never experienced anything like that. People that looked like me in commercials. ”
I knew this was what I wanted to do with my career. I got my degree in Advertising at the University of Florida and then landed my first advertising agency position working with McDonald’s. It was one of the toughest jobs I ever had, but it taught me so much at the beginning of my career about analyzing data, consumer segmentation, hyper-localization, creativity and then pulling it all together working with franchisees and corporate executives.
After working on the agency side for several years, I received my MBA and then moved on the corporate brand side spending most of my career working for lifestyle brands like Levi’s, Nike, and New Era Cap. I always worked for brands that meant something to me and that I had a passion for as a consumer. It gave me an authentic perspective and the ability to carry it into the work I was doing as a true labor of love.
From your prior marketing experiences at top global brands including Nike, Taco Bell, Home Depot, New Era & Levi Strauss, what’s one thing you learned that you carry with you in your role today?
“Obsess over the people you are targeting and understand what drives them.”
Everything you do should always start with the consumer. The biggest mistake brands make is when they start with the product or service and then create a strategy around how to deliver it to market. At the end of the day, none of it matters if you aren’t fulfilling the needs of the consumer and if there aren’t enough people that really would want or care about it. Obsess over the people you are targeting and understand what drives them. Then you can develop amazing product/service propositions and campaigns that move people.
How do you see Planet Fitness evolving during and after the pandemic? Have you seen the role of fitness evolve?
The brand is definitely becoming more omnichannel delivering fitness to people anytime and anywhere while tapping into channels like we have never done before. Our corporate marketing team developed and quickly launched the “United We Move” campaign which are free twenty-minute live workouts on Facebook and YouTube to fulfill the immediate needs of people that were stuck home and needed to remain active while our clubs were closed. The fact they are free and people do not need to be members to participate goes to the heart of our values making fitness accessible to everyone.
“The spotlight is on health and fitness like never before our society has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rethink its role.”
Due to the pandemic, the spotlight is on health and fitness like never before because our society has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rethink its role. Making fitness a priority and shifting our focus on it being an imperative preventive measure to battling disease will yield the highest return improving everyone’s resilience, reducing health inequity, and promoting greater social and economic well-being.
What’s currently happening in marketing that most excites you and how is it changing the future of the industry?
What stands out the most to me is the fact that consumers are looking to brands to help change society. Brand activism is in full swing. People want to spend their dollars with companies that embrace their values and that are going to be catalysts to make things better. Brands have a tremendous amount of responsibility to not only themselves but the communities they serve.
What are you working on now that's innovative?
Innovation is the ultimate enabler in marketing now and I am amazed at all of the tools that are being developed to deliver the right message, to the right people, at the right time and place. That is the biggest thing I am working on now on the franchisee side with our agency partners and vendors. We have to adopt a precision marketing model that can deliver our message in a hyper-local way to the communities where each of our gyms are located. It has to be personal and customized. Our brand does a tremendous job with our national campaigns, but it is going to be up to the franchisees working with our partners and our corporate teams to amplify the broader message in our marketplaces.
As a marketer, how do you authentically convey your brand’s purpose?
“Marketers tend to forget that the most important influencers you have are your employees.”
Our brand’s purpose is embedded in every asset we have in the marketplace from a sign in a club to a commercial you see. Every piece of creative has to bring our purpose to life to drive consistency, but the biggest and most important asset we have that drives brand advocacy more than anything is our team that works every day in our clubs. They personify our brand’s purpose when they interact with our members. I have been amazed by their energy, compassion, willingness to help, and the relationships they build with our members and communities. As a marketer, the ultimate dream is to have people driving our brand’s culture. Marketers tend to forget that the most important influencers you have are your employees in retail.
What do you see as the most valuable marketing skill needed today and moving forward?
I truly believe in the phrase that culture eats strategy for breakfast. Culture is driving everything in today’s society. Having the skill as a marketer to learn from and authentically tap into what is truly moving people is invaluable. Find out what excites people, whether it’s fashion, food, sports, fitness, technology, politics, etc.
“Having the skill as a marketer to learn from and authentically tap into what is truly moving people is invaluable.”
Think about the factors that are driving culture now and be at the forefront of what will be moving it the future. If you can effectively harness that skill as a marketer and create strategies around that, there is no stopping you.
What advice can you offer for effectively leading and inspiring a team remotely?
All of my career I have worked with teams remotely. You have to cultivate a truly inclusive and collaborative environment being open to new ideas and how they can come from anyone on your team. People should feel secure and valued no matter what position they have or from where they are working. Then empower people to test and try new things on their own or to lead a project. That is true inclusion and the most important element to inspire people to feel purposeful and motivated so they can bring their best selves to work.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Be humble. While “Humble” is one of my favorite Kendrick Lamar songs, I didn’t get the advice from him. To put it bluntly, there is tremendous courage in humility and being able to admit that no matter what position you are in, you can benefit from the expertise and insights of others no matter who they are. Great marketers and leaders seek the ideas and unique contributions that different people can bring to the table. Being humble is realizing that you are in the service of others, whether it is the executive team you report to, your direct reports, your communities, your customers. There is tremendous strength in realizing that because it hopefully enables you to bring out the best in them.