Skillful use of free publicity. Part 1

Skillful use of free publicity can pump up your profile and your profits at a fraction of the cost of paid advertising.

Advertising, direct mail, flyers, the Internet, phone calls and the list goes on of ways to promote your fitness facility. But there’s one method you might have overlooked that is an easy, inexpensive and, best of all, effective way to promote your fitness facility: media publicity.

Public relations

Public relations, in this sense, means publicity, not advertising. It means getting the media’s attention at no charge. Advertising, direct mail, Web designers, phone solicitors, etc., all cost money. The only thing that publicity takes is a little time and some writing.

This type of publicity catches consumers with their guard down. People are pummeled with advertising messages every day, and they’ve become numb to it. Consumers put up a shield when they see or hear advertising, and it takes an exceptional ad to pierce that armor. But with publicity, your message is woven into news. People want news; they seek it out. And the beauty of the fitness industry is that people look for news that will make them live longer, be more fit, be better looking, etc. Health news is everywhere. You just need to know how to tie your fitness news into other health and fitness news so that you can get publicity to increase your business.

Understanding the media

The first and most important step to create an effective public relations effort is understanding the media. You have to get into the heads of editors, reporters, photographers and writers. Instead of just reading the morning paper, pull out a pen and paper and make notes, and do the same for TV and radio newscasts.

Why are they covering those topics, and why do they think their audiences care? Pay close attention to the kind of news to which you can link your facility, as well as health-related stories. Make note of clips where you could have easily been substituted as a source in a quote or where a business similar to yours was featured.

When you strip it all down, the media are information brokers. They give out information that they believe will be helpful to the public. People naturally gravitate toward information, and advertisers want people — that’s the news business.

Here’s what you have to remember: The core of publicity is connecting your fitness facility and the health industry to the media’s needs. View the media as a customer — give them reliable, useful information and you’ll become a PR star. As you feed information to the media, keep in mind the key ingredients of news: proximity, prominence, timeliness, significance, human interest, conflict and uniqueness.

Forming your message

Now you need to assess what information you have or can get that the media will find appealing. For starters, ask yourself, What’s interesting, not only about my facility, but about the fitness industry in general?

There’s only so much you can say about your facility that will fit into the category of news. But the entire fitness industry has an ocean of resources that can expand your base of information to share with the media. And who better to share news about the industry than someone who makes a living helping people gain the benefits of fitness? When you share information about the industry, the media will mention where you work, and consumers will view your facility as a legitimate business. Then, when choosing where to go for their fitness needs, your facility will likely be at the top of their list.

Bringing it all together

You’ve assessed your situation, and now you know there are two parts: what you have and what the media want. Now, get some paper and a pen and write down every single media outlet in your area — newspapers (dailies, weeklies, monthlies), magazines, business journals, company newsletters, radio and TV stations, and public-access TV. Check the yellow pages for a complete list. This could be a good job for front-desk employees during slow times. Look over the list and jot down all the possibilities for media attention (titles of articles, interviews about your expertise, starting a scholarship, etc.). Don’t rule out any idea at first. Choose your most productive and creative time of day to do this, and consider bringing in other employees to help. Keep in mind the key ingredients of news. Take human interest for instance. Does someone work out in your facility who runs marathons — perhaps a senior citizen? Talk to them and see what they think about a news story featuring them and how they train (and of course, where they train).

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