Programming/Promoting After-School Youth Programs

While most people don't want to admit it, fall is just around the corner, bringing with it cooler weather and the start of school. If they haven't already, parents are now planning their children's after-school activities. If you don't have your after-school youth programs ready, you still have a little time. But for next year, you should design a plan for promoting the programs as early as July 1.

The type of programs you offer will depend on what your facility can provide. If you have an indoor pool, then develop a swim-lesson program. This is very profitable and always in demand.

If your space allows, gymnastics is a must. Gymnasiums are ideal for youth sport leagues and clinics all year long. And if you can afford to develop a comprehensive program with equipment, then all the better.

Martial arts is another must and can be run as a separate business, as can a dance program. All of these activities appeal to children 5 and older, which means that they have to meet after school or on the weekends.

Since we operate health and fitness clubs, a collection of fitness-oriented classes based on play/learning can be offered up through age 13. The 9-through-13-year-olds are a hard target to reach and need special programming, which includes nutritional counseling, exercise and psychological motivation.

Regardless of what programs you offer, you must target and market appropriately. Children from ages 5 through 14 make up the market for after-school programs. Therefore, you should promote to families, and the grammar and middle schools in your market area (a five-to-seven-mile geographical radius around your club). Here's how.

  • Contact the local schools to buy ads in their newsletters, which are sent home to parents.

  • Contact the local townships to buy ads in their quarterly newsletters for their residents.

  • Develop presentations or programs that can be presented to physical education classes or school assemblies.

  • Invite classes, scouts and other youth groups to your club to experience a program that you already have.

  • Join a business-to-school partnership committee in your community. In our county, there is an organization called “Schoolworks,” an arm of the local chamber of commerce that develops liaisons between business and education. Through this partnership, there is an opportunity to create programs that the committee will promote throughout the schools. These kinds of connections are key because schools are reluctant to let for-profit businesses promote within their system.

  • Design a “Kids Recognition Board” in your club, featuring kids who make progress in your programs. A picture of children engaged in activities, along with a description of their accomplishments, works best. This board makes parents very proud and draws more people into the program.

  • Create a “Kids Club” concept for all the kids who participate in programs. Kids love to belong to clubs. Along with the club membership, they receive a “button” to pin on and a participation certificate at the end of the year.

  • Design a newsletter just for kids.

  • Promote the “Kids Club” through your regular club newsletter and on your Web site.

  • Identify all the “free and community listings” in your area newspapers and put their e-mail addresses in a group address box on your computer. Each Friday, e-mail an update of the special programs you are running for the next month. These will get published.

  • Plan an open house prior to the opening of each session for your programs. Make sure plenty of staff are on hand; the registration should take place that day with an incentive (free gift, etc).

  • Offer a referral incentive for kids to invite their friends to the programs and offer a “bring a friend” week.

  • Don't forget the power of a professionally written press release, which can generate a feature story. This type of free publicity goes a long way.

  • Develop a small descriptive marketing piece that can be displayed in your local toy stores or children's specialty stores. In exchange, you can place their materials in your club or advertise them in your newsletter.

  • Partner with local parks and recreation departments, offering your programs as part of their total package. This can be a feeder for members.

The bottom line is to program what kids want at times that are appropriate, and then follow a well-thought-out promotional plan with good timing.

Linda Mitchell is a 20-year veteran of the fitness industry and the director of marketing and public relations for Newtown Athletic Club and Middletown Country Club. She is also the executive director for the Delaware Valley Alliance of Health & Sportclubs.


Guide to Promoting Youth Programs

  1. Identify the market (age, gender, etc.).
  2. Determine where the market is (schools, community, etc.).
  3. Design your marketing collaterals (brochures, registration forms, etc.).
  4. Distribute them in a combination of ways (schools, presentations, open houses, print advertisements, press releases, free listings, etc.).
  5. Track where your participants come from by requiring them to give you this information at registration.
  6. Be sure to do No. 5. It shows you where your efforts best paid off.