Vhi’s Corporate Communications Manager, Niamh Walker, on alignment and activation with parkrun Ireland

Vhi’s Corporate Communications Manager, Niamh Walker, on alignment and activation with parkrun Ireland

At over 60 years old, Vhi is the largest healthcare insurance company in Ireland. In 2016, Vhi became Presenting Partner of parkrun, the free running event which sees competitors across 22 countries complete a 5k revery Saturday. In this interview we spoke with Corporate Communications Manager at Vhi, Niamh Walker, about how the alignment of both brands raises awareness of their collective aim of enabling healthier lives.

Alignment & Intention

A leading provider of health and wellbeing services, Vhi focuses on physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing holistically. When it comes to alignment, Niamh underlines parkrun’s similar mantra of promoting a ‘happier, healthier planet.’ It fits functionally and philosophically with Vhi’s purpose of promoting ‘longer, stronger, healthier lives.’ For Niamh and Vhi, its sponsorship of parkrun Ireland “gives meaning to the brand and actively supports the community.” Furthermore, Niamh stressed that Vhi wanted to support a grassroots campaign that enabled the company to talk to current and potential customers in a casual but practical setting.

How does it look in practice?

Alongside running a reward system, whereby Vhi customers can earn rewards when they walk, jog, or volunteer at five Saturday parkruns, Vhi staff routinely offer their own volunteering services. Niamh tells me she even volunteered at her local parkrun the Saturday previous to our chat. There have also been staff volunteer takeovers in Kilkenny, County Cork, and other locations around Ireland, showcasing the company’s commitment beyond the financials. Vhi gives its time, as well as its capital.

“In 2016, there were only 55 parkruns in Ireland, now there are around 130…in 2016 there were 5,000 competitors, now there are over 12,000.”

Vhi have found the perfect brand ambassador in former Irish Olympian David Gillick. At parkrun events, Gillick will run the course, encourage the participants, and lead the warmup. His own advice is to start small to guarantee long-term success - what better way to promote this than through parkrun? More, how better to drive brand awareness for Vhi than to be seen encouraging healthy routines?

How has Vhi shown its worth?

During COVID, Niamh explains that there was a drop in 30–45-year-olds taking part in parkrun. As a result, Vhi made that group its target audience as part of an integrated campaign. Once again, the innate alignment and clear communication allowed Vhi to help parkrun with a significant issue while simultaneously emphasising their own commitment to health and wellbeing. It’s a good reminder that sponsors need to be both flexible and capable of responding to change if they want to truly show their worth beyond branding.

How has the partnership been beneficial internally?

The internal positivity created around the partnership has helped support the company’s culture, with virtual lunchtime running sessions and staff involvement in parkruns. It may sound obvious, but what we see in purpose-aligned partnerships is fantastic brand awareness on the side of the sponsor, and positive functional benefits on the side of the sponsored.

What advice does Niamh have for marketing and sponsorship teams looking at similarly aligned partnerships?

  • Understand the company purpose, internal and external
  • Be clear on what your role is as a sponsor
  • Maintain clear and constant communication between the sponsor and rightsholder

For more fantastic tips from a Head of Marketing on finding the right sponsor, click here.