Does this sound familiar? The targeted direct mail piece you recently did generated a paltry four new members from the community you have been serving for the last 15 years and cost you upwards of $3,000. The quarter-page newspaper ad you ran that featured the $20.08 enrollment fee generated some phone calls but certainly nothing to brag about. Meanwhile, a no-name kid from a high school in Virginia gets on “The Today Show” by posting a voicemail on YouTube. The boy had called his principal’s house wondering why there wasn’t a snow day and received a nasty, return message from the principal’s wife, chastising him for calling.

How are these examples related, and what do they have to do with generating more membership sales at your club? It’s simple. In today’s fast-paced world and over-crowded, over-saturated marketing landscape, it is the timely, newsworthy and often the entertaining or downright bizarre news pieces that get picked up by the media and seen by the consumer. The question operators should be asking is, “How can clubs tap into this modern phenomenon of media exposure?” Here’s how:

1. Identify the news that can be used to your advantage. This means watching the national news, reading magazines like Newsweek and Time, having your Internet browser set to a national newswire like CNN and, most importantly, subscribing to every industry news e-zine newsletter you can. Be on the lookout for recent health and fitness studies or interesting news related stories, too.

2. Decide on the angle you want to leverage. Once you identify the news, you must decide how you can re-package that information to be pertinent to your club. If it is new information about the benefits of exercise that you received from an industry e-news piece, you may be the first to bring this information to your community. If it is a story about a new weight-loss drug on the market, perhaps you comment on the dangers of miracle weight-loss products. Conversely, you may find a human-interest story that can be used to advocate the benefits of regular exercise. Whatever the angle, know this:
Strong opinions are typically what generate news interest. Therefore, your management and your club need to decide what voice they would like to be known for and ensure all media submissions are consistent.

3. Choose the medium. In years past, press releases to local media were the extent of tools available to reach the marketplace. However, that’s not so in today’s fast-paced world of technology. Although press releases still work, they may not be the best. Blogs that contain written content, audio or video are great ways to reach not only your community but also the entire Internet. Even though you may not want to reach the entire Internet, it won’t hurt you to do it. If you don’t want to create your own company blog, you can use services like YouTube and Facebook. Some of these services actually have areas designed specifically for people to promote their consumer products. Although such Web sites may seem irrelevant to Baby Boomers and beyond, they can provide an incredible platform for communication with millions of eyeballs.

These three steps on using news to generate more sales are simple enough, but let’s take one or two examples on how these tips can work. In November 2007, the American Medical Association and the American College of Sports Medicine announced a joint venture program to encourage doctors to prescribe exercise to their patients (www.exerciseismedicine.org). Club Industry’s Fitness Business Pro published an article on this in its December 2007 issue. This news story made for a great press release to the local news media in your town (and the two organizations actually provided sample press releases to use as templates). Your club could have announced that it was reaching out to local doctors to promote the national campaign. Such information was ideally suited for a traditional press release to local media.

A potentially more explosive news story could have been the rise and fall of Kirstie Alley’s recent and very public use of the Jenny Craig diet. The Hollywood star went from fat to trim, advocating pre-packaged food. Alley is now seen on tabloid covers as re-tipping the scales in the wrong direction. A club that has a blog could easily post a strong opinion on the use of pre-packaged food, stating that no diet alone will keep the weight off without regular exercise.

The bottom line is that using news stories can help a club generate exposure that it would not and cannot get from traditional advertising. By combining news topics that raise controversy with the proper medium, a club may have the good fortune of generating free press or even finding itself featured on “The Today Show.”

Casey Conrad has been in the health and fitness industry for 25 years. In addition to authoring “Selling Fitness: The Complete Guide to Selling Health Club Memberships,” she has created and published more than 20 other sales, marketing and management training products specifically for the health and fitness industry. Conrad is the creator of the Take It Off in-club licensed weight-loss program and founder of an international chain of weight-loss centers called Healthy Inspirations. She has spoken in 16 countries, is a feature presenter at conventions and trade shows worldwide, and writes monthly for numerous international magazines. Conrad can be reached at her Web site, www.healthclubsalestraining.com.