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  • Richard Wardrop

PureGym Luton – A lesson in balancing centralised and local social accounts

Seeing your brand trending on social media may be an indicator of success, but more often than not, the sudden influx of mentions and notifications will alert you to an imminent crisis. That’s exactly what happened last week with PureGym, who faced widespread criticism over a post from a local branch’s Facebook page.

Thousands took to social to express their horror at the Facebook post from PureGym Luton, which quickly gained attention at a national level for all the wrong reasons. PureGym saw a massive increase in brand mentions, roughly 1,674%, when the viral post began to attract attention.

‘12 years of slave’, a themed workout to commemorate black history month deemed ‘wholly unacceptable’ by PureGym’s own marketing team.

The cause

How could a brand as established as PureGym think this was okay? How did this post get approved? Many marketers and gym goers tried to establish how the content made it to social media without objection.

PureGym’s central marketing team posted a statement to say the content was not approved or endorsed by the company. Many felt that the statement lacked accountability and that it was ‘hard to believe’ a business of that size didn’t know what was being posted on their social media pages.

However, considering the brand has 271 gym branches all with their own individual Facebook and Instagram pages, it quickly becomes clear how this could happen.

The brand’s social media strategy is to operate and manage centralised, brand level pages across key social channels; Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Their brand level social presence focuses on UK wide campaigns and offers. Much of this content cascades down to local pages, which is then supplemented with localised content featuring personal trainers from the gym and local events.

Centralised vs localised content

Make no mistake, PureGym’s approach to balancing centralised and local social media pages has a lot of benefits. Personal trainers can leverage the PureGym brand name on social to help build and engage their clientele, which has been especially important during lockdown with gyms forced to close for several months. It also means followers can get updates from their local gym, helping increase relevancy and engagement.

The downside to having local pages is that you increase the risk of rogue content, off brand imagery and an inconsistent tone of voice. You also create a confusing user journey when people search for your brand on social – where potentially hundreds of results will appear in searches and your main brand page may not necessarily be at the top.

To a marketer, it’s easy to see that the verified page with consistent professional branding is the main account, but to most consumers, every one of these pages reflects your business. This was certainly the case with the post from Pure Gym Luton last week, where the finger was firmly pointed at the central marketing team, not the local page owners.

So, who is responsible in this instance? Our marketing manager, Ishbel, took to Twitter to gauge public opinion. The results showed that 47% of people believed the central marketing team, the local gym and the PT that created the workout were all equally to blame.

How to avoid this

Carry out regular audits

The more social pages your brand has, the less control you’re likely to have over the content being shared. So, once you’ve decided on the right balance of local and brand level accounts, you need to regularly audit your social presence to ensure you have visibility of all pages. Before you even consider the type of content being shared, you need to implement standardised processes for managing page admins, passwords and security protocols for leavers and joiners to the business.

Once you’re confident you can control and manage the access levels of all pages, you can start to audit the content to ensure consistency. It’s clear this process was not in place at PureGym, as the controversial workout itself is over a year old and was promoted on the PT’s own Facebook page in 2019 using PureGym branding.

Establish stakeholders

It’s important to identify stakeholders and set up regular communication. For a business such as PureGym with 271 locations, it may be best to split these into regions to make it more manageable. This will help provide guidance, help share best practice, and keep local content on your radar.

Provide training and support

The consensus was that the post from PureGym Luton was highly offensive, but beyond that, the quality of imagery was poor, off brand, and inaccessible – this can be said for many posts from other local PureGym pages. This is especially apparent when compared to the brand level marketing, it’s clear which is run by professional marketers.

This is why local page owners need ongoing training and support. Help them understand what makes a great post and provide a framework or brand guidelines to work within.

Page Structure

Facebook allows users to structure their accounts in a way that supports multiple locations. By implementing Facebook locations you can connect all local presences and manage these locations from one central place.

If you’re a global business, you can provide localised versions of content for your customers with one universal brand name and the same vanity URL by switching to Facebook’s global structure.

Approval processes

Perhaps the most important process to consider is how local content is reviewed and approved. PureGym admitted in their statement that this wasn’t part of their marketing protocol, but I bet it will be now. Third party scheduling tools offer approval mechanisms which could easily have avoided this crisis. On Facebook you can also reduce the level of access so only certain members have publishing rights and others have only editor access allowing them to respond to messages and comments. There are also many ways content could be planned in advance and managed via a shared content calendar to be reviewed, approved or rejected before posting.


If you manage a business with multiple locations, you need to decide if the value of localised content is worth the potential loss of control. If it is, there are always ways to help mitigate the risk, but it can be a painful lesson to learn...which I’m sure anyone from PureGym’s marketing team will tell you.


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