In 1999-2000, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota worked with Foley Sackett to pilot Champions of Health, a community affairs initiative recognizing individuals, organizations and businesses that positively impact the health of their communities.  Through an innovative awards program in five Minnesota communities, 25 nominees were selected.  Each Champion was honored at a local celebration, and Blue Cross made contributions to charitable organizations designated by the winners.  Based on its success, Champions of Health has now become a statewide Blue Cross program.


Blue Cross, Minnesota’s oldest, most familiar health plan, regularly conducts marketing/brand research to assess customer perceptions, etc.  In 1999, research indicated an opportunity for Blue Cross to increase visibility in several key communities.

Foley Sackett researched a number of awards recognition programs and events, including a very successful Blue Cross Association program called Ageless Heroes that recognizes the volunteer efforts of seniors.  It was determined that there were not many awards programs in out-state areas, but an abundance in the Metro area.  We therefore narrowed the focus of the Metro area to target just the small business sector in the pilot year.  In addition, we conducted phone interviews with Blue Cross’ district offices and key agents to determine potential partners and judges for the program.

A name/image search led to the creation of Champions of Health.  (Originally, Health Heroes was considered but was unavailable.)  Champions of Health availability was then confirmed and a service mark secured, based on this research.


Foley Sackett worked with Blue Cross’ Community Affairs department and in collaboration with the company’s media relations, marketing and district office representatives.


Potential nominators/nominees (individuals, organizations, businesses) in Bemidji, Moorhead, Rochester, St. Cloud.

Potential nominators/nominees (small business sector, 2 to 100 employees) in Twin Cities Metro.

Key local partners (chambers of commerce, businesses, media).


Increase Blue Cross’ visibility within target markets to support regional marketing plans.

Enhance the relationship of Blue Cross and key local partners.


Pilot an awards program focused on community health efforts.

Partner with local organizations to give the program a hometown feel.

Utilize agents and district offices to develop and promote the program.

Utilize local community leaders as judges to review nominations.

Blue Cross and Foley Sackett agreed that success would be measured by:  generation of sufficient nominations to name five winners in each of five communities, establishment and advancement of key partnerships, successful enlistment of local judges, media coverage and attendance by community leaders at the recognition events.


Planning began in July and continued through September 1999.  The campaign kicked off with nominations being promoted through district offices/local chambers of commerce in October and November.  Judging took place in December.  Awards celebrations were held in January 2000 (one each Saturday in January for the out-state communities and on a Wednesday morning for Metro), to coincide with Blue Cross Association’s traveling Olympic exhibit.

The following tactics helped successfully increase visibility of Blue Cross and its Champions of Health awards program:

A relevant program name – Champions of Health – and corresponding graphic provided brand identity.

Four-color posters and reproducible, fax-able nomination forms described the programs, were customized to each community and were provided to key contacts. 

Quarter-page community ads announcing the Call for Nominations were placed in community newspapers.

Through the Metro-area partnerships, in-kind advertising was placed in the Greater Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce (GMCC) member newsletter, CityBusiness (a weekly business newspaper) and its sister publication, Ventures (a monthly publication targeting small businesses).

Local partnerships included the Rochester Athletic Club, the St. Cloud City Parks and Recreation Department, the Moorhead Community Mall, Bemidji Paul Bunyan Mall and Bemidji-area Chamber of Commerce.

Minneapolis and Bemidji Chambers of Commerce included feature articles in member newsletters during November.

Nomination forms were distributed during two GMCC membership events in November.  A 6’ x 4’ four-color display with the Champions of Health artwork was designed for use at this and other promotional events.

A broadcast fax of nomination forms was distributed to all 5,500 GMCC members in November.

A direct mailing of nomination forms, along with a letter of introduction, was distributed to 1,000 potential nominators/nominees two weeks prior to nomination deadline.

A state-wide media relations effort included radio news release scripts and print news releases, exclusive preview of winners to select media and extensive media follow up via phone contact.

Local judges in each community reviewed the applications during mid-December.

Winners and nominators, special guests, local dignitaries and Blue Cross agents received invitations to the events.  

Recognition ceremonies were held in conjunction with the Association’s Olympic Road Show Exhibit, which traveled to each of the Champions’ communities.  The exhibit included a health fair with blood pressure and vision screening, nutrition center with healthy food samples and a mini-decathlon featuring a baseball pitch, hockey and a bungee run. 

Commemorative event programs were produced to highlight winners.

Champions of Health winners’ photographs were displayed in each community at the Olympic exhibits.

Each Champion received a $250 contribution toward the healthy community initiative of their choice from the Blue Cross Foundation as well as a framed commemorative plaque.

Champions’ profiles are included on Blue Cross’ Web site


Blue Cross was proud to name five Champions in each community, honor them at local awards celebrations and present $250 contributions to each winner’s choice of health-related charitable organizations.  Blue Cross leadership attended and presented awards, including the company’s new CEO Mark Banks, M.D., who served as emcee at the Metro event.  Internal support for the program grew throughout the campaign, and the pilot program was deemed a tremendous success.  An expanded, state-wide execution of Champions of Health 2000-2001 is now in full swing throughout Minnesota.  

Detailed summaries of each community’s successes are included in the Execution and Evaluation sections of this entry notebook.  Examples from those summaries include:

Visibility was increased in each target market throughout the nomination period, during the awards ceremonies and as an outcome of charitable donations made in the five communities.  Each was publicized with news releases, ads, posters, direct mail letters and collateral materials.

Relationships were enhanced by working with the chambers of commerce (Bemidji and Metro), local businesses (Bemidji and Moorhead malls, Rochester Athletic Club), media (Metro) and parks/recreation departments (St. Cloud).

Local judging panels included community leaders such as Jerry Jaker of the Minnesota Institute of Public Health, Betty Windom-Kirsch of Clay County Public Health and Jon Shorter of the Bemidji Independent School District.

Nearly 100 nominations – each worthy of being named Champion – were received.
Media coverage included local newspaper, radio and TV coverage about the winners and awards events.