With all the new methods for drumming up business for your new programs and services, the best method may still be one of the most tried and true: word of mouth, says Julie Machon, program supervisor at TriHealth Fitness & Health Pavilion in Cincinnati, OH.

TriHealth Fitness & Health Pavilion has rolled out quite a few programs over the past few years for its 7,000 members. Burn Fat Faster (an eight-week weight loss program), Teens in Training (a four-week certification program for 13-year-olds so they can use the gym equipment) and Water Personal Training (personal training in the water) are just three of those programs.

The Water Personal Training program has blown away the club's original conservative goal of $160 per month in revenue, according to Machon.

“We weren't sure if it was going to make it,” says Machon. “It's scary budgeting it for the first time.”

Perhaps the fear was unwarranted in this case. In March, the Water Personal Training program had 36 personal training sessions and collected $1,400. Much of that success can be attributed to word of mouth promotion from water instructors and front desk staff at the club, says Machon.

“Our aquatics coordinator is a ball of fire in terms of spreading the word,” says Machon. “She was like, ‘You have to try this.’ They (members) follow what she says.”

The same holds true at Akron General Health & Wellness Center in Akron, Ohio, says Sue Parker, manager of center activities and programs at the facility. Before rolling out or advertising any new program at the club, Akron General makes sure all staff are informed and fired up about the program.

“Written literature only goes so far,” says Parker. “Word of mouth really helps. Sometimes, we've challenged our staff to get a certain number of members signed up.”

Of course, newsletters, Web sites, newspaper articles, posters and direct mail are other tried and true methods of getting the word out. Akron General used several promotional methods for the facility's Girl Scout Wellness Day and Stress on Safety day. The club also used posters, fliers, newsletters, a rolling TV screen at the front desk and word of mouth to promote its family fun night.

To promote Akron General's six-week, $175 program on preventing childhood obesity, Shani Artino, community outreach dietician, Wellness Services at Akron General Health & Wellness Center, advertised the program in an internal newsletter for members as well as an external publication (a children's directory distributed free at pediatrician offices, clothing stores and other child-related places); sent out a direct mail piece using a mail house; and put up signs, fliers and posters within the center.

To promote your new programs and services, take a look at these suggestions:

  • Plan early

    When developing a new program or service, the earlier you can plan it, the better.

    “We developed our action plan in late August of the previous year so by October we have the plan for the year and can start working on it,” says Parker. That plan includes the area trends and member interests, which are gathered through surveys, word of mouth, conferences and magazine articles.

    Akron General creates an action plan about how to get the advertising out well in advance.

    “We have to know our target audience and all the media we can use,” says Parker. The club has a communications department to help with the advertising, but Parker and Artino must make sure staff are trained, get the supplies and evaluate the program themselves.

  • Know your audience

    For the Teen Training program at TriHealth, Machon knew that the club would only be pulling from current members so the main promotions were a banner at the front desk, posters on the fitness floor and a mailing to members with 13-year-old children.

  • Inform and educate staff

    As mentioned previously, staff members from the front desk to the personal trainers are your most valuable source of advertising. Make sure the staff knows what is going on.

    TriHealth trained and certified all of its water instructors and personal trainers on the Water Personal Training equipment before rolling out the program so that during classes the instructors could talk about the program knowledgeably, says Machon.

  • Let members test drive

    Not only did TriHealth train staff on the Water Personal Training equipment, but the club also offered free equipment demonstrations to members as a way to familiarize them with the program. After the demonstration, the members were given an opportunity to sign up for the Water Personal Training.

    You may also want to set up a booth at the front desk and let members sample food for your healthy cooking class or have your new salon dab free lotion on members' hands as they leave.

  • Be willing to spend on marketing

    The success of many programs is dependent upon the money spent to market those programs.

    “If the marketing is not done properly, then the program is not successful,” says Parker. “There are programs that we find if we add more to the marketing, they are more successful.”

  • Run newspaper ads

    Newspaper advertisements may not work for every program, but for Akron General, they worked for swim lessons, says Parker. She has found that advertising just prior to the beginning of a swim session pulls in more participants than not running an ad or running one ad at the beginning of the summer for all swim sessions.

  • Free press

    If you can get the press interested in a program or service by tying it into a larger issue (such as the childhood obesity crisis and your children's obesity program), then you may be able to get a free article about your program in the local newspaper or on the local news.

  • Plan a kick off party/seminar orientation

    Akron General held a kick off for the adult weight management program that went well, says Artino. A party can create interest from other members who may sign up the next time the program is offered, and it can help the current program's participants feel more comfortable about beginning the program.

  • Use your newsletter

    Machon credits the success of many of TriHealth's programs with their mention in the club's quarterly newsletter. That piece of paper is something many members will hang onto and refer back to.

  • Laminate ‘til your heart is content

    For TriHealth's Burn Fat Faster program Machon tried an internal promotion where she put up clear table tents displaying information about the program all over the building including the locker rooms, the drinking fountains, the assessment room and café tables. She also created a business card-sized laminated promotion that she taped to all the cardio equipment.

  • Visuals are vital

    To promote TriHealth's Burn Fat Faster program, Machon put five pounds of fat on display in the club's atrium.

    “Props are always very good,” Machon says, noting that people were drawn to the fat and wanted to touch it.

    In addition, pictures of past program sessions can help promote future sessions, says Parker. The pictures can help demystify a program, show how much fun the program really is and show that people similar to that member participated in the program in the past.

  • Spotlight it

    TriHealth promotes a Program of the Week in the same location within the club each week. The selected program for that week is highlight with various posters in specified areas of the club, such as on the six-foot wall behind the front desk and the bulletin boards in the locker room.

  • Cross promote

    TriHealth used the Subway restaurant across the street to cross promote the Burn Fat Faster program. The manager of the fast food shop agreed to allow the club to put a promotional piece inside the sandwich bags at the shop in exchange for her free enrollment in the class. That outside promotion may have had a lot to do with 25 percent of the class participants being nonmembers.

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