No-Cost, Low-Cost Marketing Tips

As seen in the trade publication of the fitness industry...Club Industry

"Advertising is paid for, public relations is prayed for"! I don't know who said it but it doesn't have to be that way. You can build a better club but if people don't know about it, they will never beat a path to your door. So let's talk about PMS. Now don't get ahead of me, I'm referring to Promotion, Marketing and Sales, the bottom line for all successful fitness professionals. You needn't spend a fortune in any of these areas if you take advantage of some unique and innovative promotional strategies, using a little creativity and alot of chutzpah.

  • Donate a membership to a community auction
    This gives you visibility in the community, creates a "warm, fuzzy", you gain a new member and can write a press release to get more mileage out of the promotion.
  • Support dance recital programs, especially if the target market for your club includes families with kids. Take an ad in the program, publicize event at your club, attend the recital or send staff, show support and develop mutual rewarding referrals while garnering publicity.
  • Affiliate with a real estate or relocation expert who can direct new residents to your facility. Always in a great position to barter memberships or services, this should be used to enhance these types of relationships that will promote memberships.
  • Host a thank you party at your club for a local group that provides great service to your community such as teachers, charity boards, police, or firefighters.
  • Promote summer programs for youth, elderly or special populations.
    Grant scholarships for these programs.........and don't forget to write a press release.
  • Register with the Film Industry Council
    Through membership and notification at your local chamber, let them know of your willingness to use your facility for any upcoming film, TV and media assignments coming to your town. They filmed the video, "Thin Thighs in Thirty Days" at my club and of course,........... I wrote a press release.
  • Look for the hidden opportunities in your local paper Cooking, gardening, lifestyle, people in the news, calendars, letter to the editor, just get your name in print, that's the objective, the rest is just the vehicle for the promotion.
  • Special interest publications are a great opportunity for visibility. School newspapers, alumni bulletins, corporate newsletters, sports and entertainment programs, create name recognition.
  • Host a job fair
    Invite people in the community to attend and learn about employment opportunities with local companies......and write a,.......... you know what by now.
  • Write articles for pay, barter, ad space, visibility, Depending on your market, you may want to do it locally or in a national trade magazine.
  • Build equity in your members. Get sample items from your suppliers and use them in member giveaways, it's a win-win for all involved.

I believe there are three abilities that you need to understand the concepts of successful PMS. The reasons why you market, sell and promote all basically fit into these three categories; you want visibility , credibility or profitability or all three. Be inventive, the more other clubs do what you do, try something different. Flyers can be handed out anywhere, people standing on a movie line are often grateful for something to read. Use as many promo vehicles that you can so you develop name recognition. Get a great rep with a company that deals with all types of promotional items and incentives. I don't mean pens with your logo on them or baseball caps or water bottles. Too common, think outside the box, create your own. I have "Carpe Diem" mugs that are thermographic and change to "seize the day" when you pour hot liquid in them, with my phone number and logo on the cup. I found a company that produces a business card that says "when you're looking for he best, give me a ring". When you open the card, a telephone rings. Find things that are unique to you or your markets and create, experiment, take a risk, challenge the obvious and you'll stand out more.

  • Establish a community fitness award.
    Award it annually at the local high school, host the winner at your club, make it a big celebration and get media coverage.
  • Free fitness appraisals to service groups like police, fire, EMS, people who need to be in good physical shape to serve your community better. Have them sign up at work and go to the club for the assessment.
  • Use Seniors, College Interns, Physically challenged for projects that give them enjoyment and interest and keeps your costs down.
  • List your club or services in the Directory of Experts, Authorities and Spokespersons to highlight your differential advantage. This is the ultimate guide for the media when they are looking for an expert to interview. You can be interviewed from radio stations all across the country from your own office. What's the value? Certainly, the press release you write will give you visibility and definitely credibility.
  • Put your photo on your stationery, business cards, postcards. People associate with people not physical facilities and cold hard steel.
  • Participate, Volunteer, Join!
    Local business organizations such as the Chamber, host business after hours at your club, social opportunities at luncheons, fashion show, theater benefits, charity affiliations such as Bachelor Bids, Celebrity Waiter Luncheons, March of Dimes Gourmet Gala.
  • Public speeches
    Go to local Toastmasters to learn how and overcome fears, then speak to all the service clubs, Kiwanis, Rotary, Garden, Democrats. They are always looking for monthly luncheon speaker in exchange for a rubber chicken lunch and perhaps a mailing list and opportunity to promote your business. Offer to speak at school career days, and church groups.
  • Volunteer to judge.
    Local beauty pageants, sporting events, school competitions, community challenges, 10k,.
  • Be interviewed
    Get editor of local paper to interview you on the hottest topic in fitness, transcribe a radio interview and use as a flyer.
  • Create your own radio or television show
    Go to local stations and make proposal that will benefit their listeners.
  • Create a media kit
    Purchase a shiny presentation folder, include your photo as well as the club brochure, testimonials from satisfied members and corporate clients, list of services, articles you've written or those that have been written about the club, list any recognition's, awards won, member profiles who are well known in the community.
  • Set up an advisory board
    Invite prominent members of the community to be a part. Make it another win-win, no time on their part, no pay, just the opportunity to be promoted to your membership while you are promoted to their client.s
  • Serve on community boards
    Helps to become known to the community and other prominent board members, can host some of the meetings at your club for increased visibility.
  • Offer special services or free memberships for college faculty, cheerleaders or any group that will spill over into additional visibility and opportunities.

I've owned nine different businesses and I have used these techniques in all different industries. They work, if you do. In my twenty years in the fitness business as an owner, manager, aerobic instructor, chief cook and bottle washer, I've learned one main thing. You must network, self promote and get you and your staff out in the community as much as possible. All of these ideas take effort not big dollars. The challenge is the investment of time, not money. As time becomes a rare commodity, it is indeed a challenge. I'm a firm believer that if you are motivated to achieve the best possible promotional visibility, credibility and profitably you must make the investment.

Everytime I give this seminar at Club Industry or consult with clubs, the feedback is always overwhelming in terms of the success ratio. The results speak for themselves. Successful club owners like Hazel Gitlitz of Multiplex in Chicago, Tony de Leede of Australian Bodyworks in Atlanta, The Multnomah Club in Oregon, Sports Club, LA, The Chevy Chase Athletic Club in Maryland, and other clubs that I have worked with in different capacities all utilize a variety of PMS efforts to capitalize on their ROI.

Perhaps the best way to convince yourself of the benefits of committing bigger blocks of time to self promotion is to start out by making a small investment. Advertising and public relations all part of your marketing mix. Many club owners focus only on acquiring skills and not spotlighting them. Both skills and visibility are keys to getting ahead. Use the three "abilities", visibility, credibility and profitability. When the earth begins to shake, it's better to be sitting on a three legged stool than to be balanced on a single pedestal. As Edward L. Bernays, the father of public relations, said, "I always tell everyone to be personally modest, but professionally as immodest as good tast eand pragmatism will allow"

Mikki Williams, CSP is an international speaker, trainer, and consultant, based in Westport, CT. A former club owner, and IDEA's Businessperson of the Year, she is consistently one of the highest rated speakers at all Club Industry events. She can be reached at phone 203-454-0770, fax 203-221-7071 or e-mail

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