Fire Up Your Publicity Machine!

While necessary, advertising is enormously expensive. The Big 3 (Bally Total Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness and Gold's Gym International) will combine to spend more than $75 million on radio, television, print and related production costs in 2001.

Typically, most club operators budget 5 to 10 percent of sales for advertising placement and production. That translates into a $36,000 yearly advertising budget for an average, single, independent club. Oddly, no one really knows which marketing message and media mix works best. If they did, Bill Gates might just be their personal valet.

A long-standing axiom in the advertising trade is that 50 percent of your advertising works and 50 percent is a waste of money. By that standard, The Big 3 will waste approximately $37 million in cash this year alone. Derek Barton, vice president of public relations and communications for Gold's Gym International, hit the nail on the head when he said, “Advertising is a leap of faith.”

Advertise, But Don't Forget to Publicize

A more cost-effective and credible way to market your club is to fire up your publicity machine. Remember, advertising costs money, but publicity is free. Also, an advertising message is often viewed by the receiver with a degree of skepticism, while publicity has the credibility of being part of the editorial message.

What is the better value: a 30-second television spot that costs $12,000 to produce and another $8,000 to run eight times, or a two-minute feature story on cool, new fitness classes that appears on the 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscast, introduced by your city's top anchorperson? Honestly, both are good. The difference is that the television ad set you back $20K, while the feature story was FREE. Plus, the latter probably had more viewers. What is the likelihood that people even watched your ad? Chances are they picked up the remote to check the latest buzz around the Tribal Council.

Media outlets look for feature stories that inform their audience in an entertaining way with new and interesting facts. In television, especially during “sweeps” (when TV ratings are particularly important), interesting stories are at a premium. This is when segment producers for news shows seek out experts in various fields and get their opinion. Who better than you to be that expert when it comes to health, fitness, exercise and recreation?

Radio Contact

To get radio coverage, the best person to contact is a station's program director (PD). If the PD likes your idea, he will generally invite you to call and pitch the concept to the producer of one of the station's radio shows. Depending on the size of your market (smaller is easier), you can contact the show's host directly. In the Las Vegas market, several hosts, producers and program directors are members of Las Vegas Athletic Clubs (my employer), which makes it easy to pitch an idea right at the club.

In the News

Daily newspapers are an amalgamation of sections: Main News, Sports, Lifestyle, Business, etc. The key is to stay out of the Main News, while contributing regularly to the Sports, Business and Lifestyle sections. Each one of those sections has an editor whom you must become acquainted with. Also, newspapers frequently publish special sections featuring health, fitness and exercise. Special- sections editors frequently seek experts to contribute to the editorial content.

Working With Magazines

Be it weekly, monthly or quarterly, magazines routinely publish content written by contributing writers. Also, online content providers — which post the equivalent of interactive, electronic magazines — frequently do the same.

Like newspapers, magazines employ editors who guide and choose the editorial that appears in the pages of their publications. As an editor myself (our club publishes its own magazine), I encourage experts to contribute content to my publication. And, like most editors, I prefer a one-page query letter to flesh out appropriate story ideas.

TV Appearances

When it comes to making an impact, television is king. TV news directors and segment producers, as well as reporters and anchors, are all essential decision-makers when it comes to news content. In smaller markets, access to on-air talent is much easier to come by than in a Top 20 TV market.

Remember, clubs often have fascinating human-interest stories to tell, and in a world of ever increasing reality programming, your stories have never had more value.

Bret FitzGerald is director of communications for Las Vegas Athletic Clubs and publisher of LVAC Lifestyle magazine. He also consults with health clubs on the topic of media relations. He can be reached at (702) 734-8944, ext. 2248.


How to Make the Media Work for You

  1. Create a company-wide media relations policy.

  2. Hire or assign one person to be your media contact.

  3. Train your team on the media relations policy.

  4. Determine which members of the media are also members of your club.

  5. Create an interesting media kit.

  6. Make a list of the 10 most interesting things about your club.

  7. Write professional press releases.

  8. Practice your pitch several times.

  9. Keep your pitches short, but sweet.

  10. Don't be negative if you hear “no thanks.” Keep trying.