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All forms of stress--acute, common and long-term--are on the rise in the United States.

If there is one thing that's plentiful in society, it's stress. We all experience stress on a daily basis (albeit on different levels).

Because of the increased levels of stress, programs that promote stress relief offer clubs a tremendous niche marketing opportunity. Remember that in order to attract a niche of prospects, one's marketing must appeal to a very specific consumer, must have a low barrier of entry, and must be simple to achieve for the consumer. This month's tutorial will show clubs how to attract and service individuals seeking stress-management activities.

America's No. 1 Health Problem

“Stress.” The term is used so often in today's society, but what exactly is it?

Actually, there are three types of stress: acute, common and long-term.

Acute stress is the body's reaction to an immediate threat, commonly known as the “fight or flight” response. In prehistoric times, the physical change in response to stress was an essential adaptation for meeting natural threats. Even in the modern world, an acute stress response can raise levels of performance during critical events, such as a sports activity, an important meeting or dangerous situations.

Common stress refers to the body's reaction to things like noise, crowding and hunger. Again, there are times when reactions to common stresses empower an individual to cope with the situation.

Finally there is long-term stress, referring to situations that are not short-lived, such as prolonged work difficulties. Long-term stresses are particularly difficult for the body and often lead to chronic stress because the urge to act (i.e., fight or flee) must be suppressed.

All forms of stress are on the rise in the United States. In fact, the proportion of workers who reported “feeling highly stressed” more than doubled from 1985 to 1990 and continues to grow. Alarmingly, 75 to 90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related complaints or disorders. And stress has been linked to all the leading causes of death. Estimates are that 43 percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects due directly to stress.

The financial impact of high levels of stress is huge. An estimated 1 million workers are absent on any given workday because of stress-related complaints. In fact, a three-year study conducted by a large corporation showed that 60 percent of employee absences were due to psychological problems such as stress. That adds up to job stress costing the United States $300 billion annually.

The good news for club operators is that the market for stress-management programs, products and services is rising rapidly. In 1995, Americans spent $9.4 billion on the stress-management industry. In 1999, that number jumped to $11.3 billion — a 20 percent increase in just four years! This growth in stress-management awareness presents a tremendous opportunity for club operators willing to offer stress-management programs.

What Programs Should You Run?

Because the market for stress management programs is so diverse, clubs can offer programs on a number of levels to attract different types of prospects. Therefore, some marketing efforts can generate immediate revenue through paid programs, while others will focus more on lead generation to establish a qualified mailing list for future marketing efforts.

Short-term programs: The most obvious type of programming would be offering short-term classes (six to eight weeks) that directly target stress reduction. These would be classes that most clubs already offer, like yoga, tai chi and Pilates, making the programming very simple to add.

Although clubs were leery about opening their doors to short-term, nonmember programs in the past, many are now realizing that the individuals who enroll are people who would have never joined the club had it not been for such an opportunity. Not only do such programs generate revenue by offering classes during non-peak times, but they generate prospects who now have a much higher propensity for joining after experiencing the club.

Free seminars: You can also attract prospects with free seminar(s) on stress reduction. When done correctly, free seminars can draw high numbers. This can boost short-term sales, as well as aid in the creation of a wonderful mailing list. You can market to this list after the event.

The key to a seminar's success is to open the event up to the community and market it correctly.

Stress-management programs: Perhaps the most underutilized program that can be used as a marketing tool is a free stress-management study. (See page 38.)

The strategy of running studies has proved over the last few years to be one of the most lucrative marketing efforts of all times. Here's how it works.

An advertisement is placed in a local newspaper seeking volunteers to participate in a free study. The ad clearly outlines the qualifications of the candidate, which helps to somewhat minimize the influx of calls.

A screening questionnaire is done over the phone to further separate out unqualified candidates. Once all the participants have been chosen, an orientation is scheduled and a group meeting is conducted to launch the study.

All participants will fill out a quick three-question questionnaire at the beginning and end of each of their workouts. In addition, people with certain medical symptoms (for example, high blood pressure) will be monitored throughout the study.

The study itself will measure how exercise reduces stress. Say that one of the participants suffers from high blood pressure. During the study, he will take part in exercise and relaxing physical activities (e.g., yoga); afterwards, you will check to see if his blood pressure has lowered.

Corporate outreach: You can work directly with local businesses to offer stress-management programs, seminars and services to employees. This partnership could be anything from in-house lunchtime classes once a week to chair massages.

Once your club has its foot in the door and establishes a good relationship with the business's management, turn to direct marketing to sell corporate memberships.

When Run the Programs?

The time of year determines the type of stress-management program that you should run. For instance, you shouldn't run free studies during the peak club traffic months (January, February and September), as they only add to the member traffic congestion. Therefore, studies and similar activities are more suited for traditionally slower times of the year.

Short-term programs, on the other hand, can be done any time of year — if run during non-peak times. Also, you'll probably enjoy more success with short-term programs during winter months, when people have a tendency to be more stressed with less time on their hands.

Where Do You Promote?

Throughout this tutorial series, three distinct areas of marketing have been covered when promoting any campaign: external, internal and community outreach.

These three areas all apply to free seminars, short-term stress management programs and corporate partnerships. The free study, however, is an exception. You don't want to do any internal advertising for the free study because the program will fill up with existing members. This defeats the purpose of trying to bring in prospects.

Naturally, the free study requires external marketing and community outreach. However, these marketing efforts will result in members finding out about the program. And once they find out, they may ask to participate. You want to prevent this.

There are two ways to discourage — or at least minimize — member participation in the study. One, you can stipulate in the ad that only non-exercisers can participate. Two, you can put a cap on the number of club members who can be in any one given study group.

The best way to market the free study externally is in a small, local newspaper where you can place a relatively large display ad inexpensively. It doesn't take much advertising to fill a free study; individuals interested in studies often call up two or three friends to join them.

Your community outreach for the study should entail a press release and follow-up phone calls to your media list (e.g., local editors). If you need help writing press releases, head to clubindustry.com for free templates created specifically for a stress-management study.

Besides inviting the press to cover the study, you can ask certain reporters to participate. It's a great way to get local publicity. And with stress being such a hot topic in today's media, an article written by your local reporters could be picked up nationwide — especially if you run a post-study press release and publish the findings as well as provide a personal story about one of the participants. (You can also find a template for a post-study press release at clubindustry.com.)

Putting the Pieces Together

Because there are so many potential marketing pieces in this month's tutorial, let's sum up by focusing on how to market the free stress-management study.

Again, you should skip internal marketing, and stick with external marketing and community outreach.

  1. Externally Marketing the Free Study: Even though the study is free, the basic principles for creating an effective advertising piece must be followed. These steps are: Create a compelling headline, state the benefits, make the offer, have a call to action and make the offer better than risk-free. Turn to page 38 to see these principles in action.

  2. Community Outreach for the Free Study: As was mentioned earlier, you can pick up both pre- and post-study publicity by sending out press releases about the upcoming study and its results (once completed) to area newspapers, etc.

By following these steps when putting together a stress-management study, you'll be able to promote your club's services to prospects while gaining free publicity from the local media.

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 stress-management programs or for free stress study guidelines, contact Conrad at (800) 725-6147.

Turn your stress study into free publicity! Check out ClubIndustry.com to find out how!