How to Best Utilize Advertising at Your Health Club

I am often asked what the difference is between marketing and advertising. Marketing is everything you do as a business to let your community know who you are and what you do in order to encourage them to try out your services. It is how you answer your phone, what you wear, the look and feel of your business, how you treat your team, the service you provide your clients, the education you provide your trainers, the results your clients experience and the relationships you develop with those in your community. Advertising is just one form of marketing.

I typically recommend that a personal training business or department focus first on developing a solid internal marketing campaign. This includes ensuring all the systems are in place to develop a strong personal training team, to exceed client expectations and to create efficient operations and administrative systems. The end result of this focus will be client retention and word-of-mouth referrals, which are the quickest ways to grow your business and reach financial stability and success.

At some point, your business will be in a position to begin a strong external advertising campaign. But you want to be smart about spending your money so you are not throwing it out the window. It is easy to spend a lot of money on advertising and get little return on your investment. Mark Twain once said, “A product or service does no one any good if no one knows about.” So here is how we do it at Northwest Personal Training:

Free advertising. First, the best way to advertise is to do it for free. If you can position yourself as the local fitness experts, you will receive plenty of free print, radio and TV press.

Develop a list of key local media contacts in your area, including print editors, radio producers and TV producers. Send regular email blasts to develop relationships with these media contacts. Tease them with some health and fitness information. For example, “I was just at a fitness conference, and I learned some of the most incredible exercises for the abdominals. It’s stuff you've never seen before. Call me if you'd like to hear more about it.” Or offer a human interest story about one of your clients and their success. Just wet their taste buds, and you can expect at least one or two calls for each of your efforts.

Each time they mention your idea, you are referred to as the health and fitness expert. You also can ask for your business name and number to be listed so people can contact you if they have further questions. A monthly teaser email is a good starting point. Soon you will find that you are being quoted in articles, asked to write articles, becoming the guest speaker on a local radio talk show or doing a quick guest appearance on the local TV show or newscast.

Offer to write a free fitness column. The time spent writing the article will be well worth the advertising value, and the credibility you receive from the column will be of far greater value than paying for an advertisement. Offer key media contacts a couple of complimentary sessions so they can try out your services. Perhaps propose a media fitness challenge in which rival reporters and producers of various networks can compete against each other.

The key guideline for working with the media is to understand that they are always looking for a newsworthy story, but they also are on a tight deadline. To become a resource for them, they need to learn they can trust you to get back to them right away and always provide them with great information. If you do this, they will come to you first when a fitness story surfaces because they know you will make their job easier. So whenever I deal with the media, I always make an effort to send them more information than they asked for. For example, I might send them some websites that will help them out, articles on the topic they are researching or ideas to provide another angle to their story.

Don’t shoot blanks when advertising. When you are ready to start paying for advertising, be sure you have established a plan. Ask yourself: Who are your potential clients? What are their demographics? Which newspapers and magazines do they read? Which TV stations do they watch? And which radio stations do they listen to? If you do not know the answers to these questions, ask some of your current clients and look for trends.

I have found that although the big metropolitan newspapers have a much higher readership number, their subscribers are not a focused target for us. They go to individuals of a wide range of demographics across such a wide geography that we could not possibly service the majority of the readers because they live too far from us. Plus, these newspapers tend to be more expensive. However, if we did decide to advertise in the metropolitan newspaper, we would really want to be clear which section would best service our needs. For example, if we determined that the majority of our current and prospective clients were business professionals, we would purchase an ad in the business or stock market section. If the majority of our prospective clients were athletes, we would consider the sports section. If our potential clientele were predominantly female, we would consider an ad in the lifestyles section.

We have found greater success in advertising in the smaller, community-based magazines that are often printed every few days or weekly and focus on topics and businesses relevant to a smaller neighborhood. The rates are lower and the readership for those who live and work in our business community are as high as the metropolitan newspapers. Depending on your clientele base, you often can choose from niche publications.

Because our training studio attracts many business professionals, we have had great success in advertising in trade newsletters. For example, in our community, the local bar association sends a newsletter to all the attorneys in our city. The ad costs $80 per month and puts our business in the line of sight of individuals that often see value in our services. We also have had similar successes with newsletters for real estate, banking and entrepreneurial organizations. We also receive positive responses from advertising campaigns placed in our local business journal and chamber of commerce publications. The rates are lower than the larger newspapers and speak directly to our clientele.

Online and social media. Target exactly who you are trying to attract to your business. We have been experimenting with Facebook ads, Groupon and other daily deal sites as well as website banner ads with various local high traffic web pages. Things change so quickly online that it is difficult to give sweeping generalizations and recommendations. Instead, it is critical to have a lot of different marketing initiatives to create as many funnels for potential new clients to learn about your business.

At the end of the day, you should be spending about 3 percent to 5 percent of your total revenues on your marketing budget. But remember, the more loyal and happy your customers, the less you need to spend on advertising because your clients become your walking billboards and active sales force for you.


Sherri McMillan has been inspiring the world to adopt a fitness lifestyle for more than 20 years and has received numerous industry awards, including the 2010 CanFitPro International Fitness Presenter of the Year, the 2006 IDEA Fitness Director of the Year, the 1998 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and the 1998 CanFitPro Fitness Presenter of the Year. She is a fitness trainer, fitness columnist for various magazines and newspapers, author of five books and manuals, including "Go For Fit - The Winning Way to Fat Loss," "Fit over Forty" and "The Successful Trainers Guide to Marketing." She is a featured presenter in various fitness DVDs, an international fitness presenter and a spokesperson for Nike and PowerBar. She can be reached at or

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