Tony Santomauro is owner and president of The Santomauro Group, a health, fitness, martial arts and sports consulting and management company. Santomauro, a 35-year health and fitness veteran, was co-founder and former president of Can Do Fitness Clubs in New Jersey for the past 12 years. He has extensive direct/corporate sales and marketing experience as well as expertise in advertising, public relations, martial arts and kids programming, equipment layout and design, class and fitness programming and all operational aspects in the field. He is an internationally certified Kukkiwon black belt. He can be contacted at tonysantomauro@thesantomaurogroup.com or 973-396-2100.

Now that you have established a special events calendar (see my December column), it is time to set up a press release campaign. The goal of a special events and press release program is to generate nonmember traffic to your events.

Press releases are part of public relations. By definition, public relations is the art or science of establishing and promoting a favorable relationship with the public.

You use press releases to inform the media and the public of your special events. Not every special event on your monthly calendar will merit a press release, but just about every class and workshop does.

Depending on your resources, you may have someone on staff who can write your press releases or you can hire a public relations company to write them. But where should you send these releases?

The best place to begin is your local newspaper. Consider setting up a meeting with the editor and/or the writer that handles the health beat for the paper. Invite them to your club for a tour and lunch or perhaps just a beverage. Explain that part of your club’s mission is to be involved with the community and be a resource for all those interested in health, wellness and fitness. Tell them about your plans to sponsor charitable events, such as a coat drive, food drive, Toys for Tots and community-specific events.

Your newspaper sales representative also can be helpful in getting your press releases published. Some newspapers pay more attention to releases submitted by advertisers, but inclusion often depends on available space and how important the editor thinks the event is to the newspaper’s readers.

The next step is to contact your local TV station. In my club’s area, we have New Jersey 12, which has picked up our press releases and even sent a team down to do a live feed. We had a reporter take an indoor cycling class, a personal training session and a tae kwon do class, all in one morning segment. Everything was pre-planned and organized for her to be ready for each live feed. She even dressed up in our martial arts uniform. The station loved it, and it was great exposure for the club.

Consider talking to producers of your local TV stations’ morning shows. Invite them to the club or visit the station. You do not have to advertise with them to get free publicity. All you need to do is send them a list of your monthly events. The TV networks want something new and innovative, so challenge your staff to develop a new class or jump on a current trend and institute it at the club so your event is relevant enough for the station to cover.

Establishing corporate accounts and developing good relations with service organizations in your market also is a great idea. Once you’ve established a relationship, you can feel free to send them press releases as well. They may in turn publish them in their newsletters or post them on bulletin boards.

Make sure that you organize your newspaper and TV contacts on a spreadsheet and divide it by month. List the special event notification and press release sent out to each editor. Each press release must be sent out in within four to six weeks of the event, depending on the newspaper or TV station’s schedule. That means that your special events calendar must be done two months in advance.

Look through the newspapers that you send your releases to and cut out any articles that mention your club then save them by month. This will reinforce your good efforts and keep your newspaper representative on his/her toes to get your press releases published.

Once a newspaper prints your press release, you should receive telephone inquiries from nonmembers. These calls must be handled by a membership advisor.

An events sign-up sheet should be kept at the reception desk to keep track of members and nonmembers who pre-register. You can get between six to 12 nonmembers pre-registered for each event you promote in the media if you have done everything correctly. The next step is to turn these prospects into members.