For a full-color, graphically enhanced, printer-friendly version of this article, click here. You must have Adobe Acrobat to access this article.

Prenatal Programming

In the last of this year's Marketing Tutorials, we will look at prenatal programming, a service that, like other niche programs, can attract new members and retain existing ones. Keep in mind that at least half of all health club members are female, meaning there is a high likelihood of pregnancy among your customers. Existing club members may not want to give up exercise during pregnancy. And nonmembers may want to start an exercise program to make their pregnancy and birthing process more comfortable.

To Exercise or Not to Exercise?

Each year, millions of women get pregnant and their bodies undergo tremendous changes. One of the most frequently asked questions of obstetric doctors is, “Can I exercise during pregnancy?” Although every pregnant woman should consult her doctor before making any decision about exercise, generally speaking the answer is, “Yes, you can exercise while pregnant.” Increasing medical evidence shows that exercise during pregnancy is healthy as long as it is done safely. In fact, there are many benefits for women who exercise during pregnancy.

Physical activity will help a pregnant woman carry the extra weight she gains, keep up stamina during labor and allow her to get back into shape more quickly after childbirth. Other benefits include an increase of energy during pregnancy, a reduction in back pain, better sleep patterns, a reduction of stress and an improvement in mood and self-image.

What Type of Prenatal Program to Run?

The first decision that your club needs to make is whether your prenatal programming is going to be offered as an external or internal program, or both.

Although research shows that beginning an exercise program during pregnancy is safe so long as it is eased into, some clubs may not want to deal with the potential liability issues raised by new members who are pregnant. One way to avoid the liability, while still enjoying the external marketing opportunity, is to set up a policy requiring new female members who are pregnant to get a doctor's letter of confirmation stating that is it safe for them to exercise.

If you don't market the program externally, you can still offer prenatal programming to existing members. However, if you already offer a program for members, you'll have an easier time attracting nonmembers. Clubs can easily draw a new niche market without creating a management and programming nightmare by offering currently available classes. Pregnant participants could attend a regularly scheduled class, or your club can offer an already existing class format at a time set specifically for expecting moms.

Regardless of whether you offer a regular or special class, make sure the fitness instructor has the proper education necessary to provide guidance and options specifically for pregnant individuals. Also, make sure the class appeals to pregnant women. Classes that tend to be popular with this population are walking, water classes, low-impact aerobics, and stretching and floor exercise.

When to Run a Prenatal Program?

The best way to run a successful, ongoing prenatal program at your club is to offer at least one class consistently. You can do that by running one of the more popular prenatal classes on the schedule year-round. Nonmembers can participate by purchasing either short-term programs or punch cards, which allow single visits at any time; however, these programs should always have an ultimate expiration date.

Another way to provide consistency while maintaining variety is to rotate a schedule of different classes. For instance, if you are going to offer stretching, water and low-impact classes, schedule each option twice per year in six- or eight-week lengths. The key is consistency. If a woman begins a prenatal program but then is not offered the ability to continue, she will seek other options.

Where Do You Promote?

As is the case with all other marketing campaigns, the three primary areas of marketing are external, internal and community outreach.

External marketing for prenatal programming is easier than other niche programming because there are fewer outlets to target. Specifically, all pregnant women visit their obstetrician on a regular basis. Therefore, your external marketing efforts can simply focus on all doctors in the area close to your club.

Contacting all ob-gyn offices to establish a relationship is the first step in the external marketing process. Keep in mind, however, that the offices are busy places, and you must be professional, concise and to the point. When approaching the offices, inquire when would be the best time to stop by with some free materials for their patients.

The most efficient way to distribute materials is to set up all office visits for one morning, separating the times to allot for travel between locations. Dress professionally, be on time and be patient if you have to wait to talk to someone.

To establish rapport, always use the name of the person you initially spoke with and have your printed materials in hand to expedite the process. Depending upon your resources and desktop publishing skills, you can offer flyers or tri-fold brochures.

When using tri-fold brochures bring a tabletop dispenser, which can be purchased for $2.99 at any office supply store. Be sure to label the back of the dispenser with your contact details and refill procedures, but always service the office once a week until an accurate refill schedule can be established. (Please see “Putting the Pieces Together” for flyer format.)

Internal marketing is much simpler than external, but still necessary for the success of any program. You must post flyers throughout the club upon the launch of the program. And if you have a club newsletter, use it to make an announcement that will gain exposure for the program. Another tool that can be used inside the club is an educational piece that outlines the “Do's & Don'ts” of exercising while pregnant (see page 43). You also can place the piece on the back of any flyers you distribute through doctors.

In addition to the educational piece, community outreach efforts should include a press release and follow-up phone calls to your media contacts. If you don't get in front of your media on a regular basis, they will never get to know you! Throughout this series we have provided templates for the various campaigns. If you need help writing the press release for this campaign, please log on to clubindustry.com and search for samples in the online versions of past marketing tutorials.

Putting the Pieces Together

  1. Flyer to be used externally: When working with flyers in a marketing effort you have one major advantage — space. A full 8 1/2-by-11-inch flyer allows you the opportunity to say a lot. And the more you say, the more prospects will know when they decide whether to sign up for the program.

    That said, you still must apply all the same rules of successful marketing that we have been following throughout this tutorial series: create a compelling headline, state the benefits, make the offer, have a call to action and make the offer better than risk-free. (Please refer to page 42 for an example flyer.)

  2. Educational piece to be used internally: The same basic flyer can be used internally to promote the prenatal program to members; however, you have the option of blowing it up to poster size and displaying it at the front desk/lobby area or even in the ladies' locker room. In addition, offer a free handout explaining the “Do's and Don'ts” of prenatal exercise to members. You can post the handout at your information board and distribute it at your front desk. (Please see page 43 for an example.)

    Prenatal programming is like all other niche programs: By following successful guidelines for marketing and offering services that will attract a high level of interest, you will be able to satisfy new and existing members.

A 16-year veteran of the club industry, Casey Conrad is president of Communication Consultants, a Wakefield, R.I.-based company that provides sales and communication seminars. She has also launched a national chain called Healthy Inspirations, Weight Loss & Lifestyle Centers. For more information about marketing prenatal programs, contact Conrad at (800) 725-6147.


The Do's & Don'ts
Of Exercising During Pregnancy

Do
Don't
1. Check with your doctor before beginning exercise. Whether you want to start an exercise program or just want to continue your exercise program, you should check with your doctor before taking up physical activity.
1. Don't overdo it with your exercise!
You have less oxygen available for aerobic exercise during pregnancy. You should stick to 50 to 60 percent of your maximum heart rate. Never exceed 140 beats per minute.
2. Wear proper exercise attire. To avoid overheating, wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing, proper athletic shoes and a good supportive bra.
2. Don't do deep knee bends, lunges or sit-ups. These positions can cause ligament strain and may increase the chance of tearing in the pelvic area.
3. Warm up before exercising. Warming up prepares the muscles and joints for exercise, and brings your heart rate up slowly.
3. Don't do exercises flat on your back after the first trimester. Doing exercises on your back can diminish blood flow to your brain and womb because this position puts your uterus on top of a major blood vessel.
4. Drink a lot of water before, during and after exercising. Drinking plenty of fluids prevents dehydration, which can cause contractions and elevated body temperature. As a general rule, drink 5 to 10 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes during exercise.
4. Don't do exercises that might be dangerous. Certain activities may traumatize the abdomen or uterus, or cause you to lose your balance. Stay away from any jarring activity.
5. Get up from floor exercises slowly. Your center of gravity shifts during pregnancy. Getting up quickly can make you dizzy and cause you to lose your footing.
5. Don't exercise outdoors in hot or humid weather. Hot and humid weather makes you and the baby prone to overheating, which can be dangerous.
6. Cool down sufficiently. Walk in place for a few minutes or stretch to give your heart rate a chance to return to its normal pace.
6. Don't stand motionless during exercise. Standing motionless while exercising can decrease blood flow and cause blood to pool in your legs, making you dizzy. Keep moving.