Advertising for Results

by Sandy Franco on May 01, 2001

Successful advertising isn’t as easy as it looks. Careful planning will ensure you don’t suffer from “Place it and they will come” syndrome.

Most fitness facilities spend thousands of dollars on advertising in the hope of recruiting new members. Once a campaign is launched, if people don’t immediately start calling or walking through the doors with their checkbooks in hand, everyone is disappointed. How do you get the results you are looking for? Follow these 10 guidelines.

1. Keep It Simple. Most facilities are anxious to name every feature they offer. Their ads look cluttered with too many photos and too much copy. Keep the text to a minimum, and make use of “white space” to make the ad attractive and reader-friendly. Also, remember, the population is aging, and many people cannot read small print!

2. Be Unique. Create ads that do not look like your competitors’. Does your club feature any special programs or equipment? Do you offer Pilates training, sports conditioning or weight loss programs? Show what sets you apart.

3. Include Your Phone Number and Address. Seems obvious, right? Yet it’s amazing how many companies spend lots of money on a beautiful ad—and forget to include contact information!

4. Offer an Incentive. Give people a reason to contact you immediately, such as a price break or special package. You don’t have to compromise your club’s bottom line. Here’s one way: If you are planning to increase your prices, don’t hide the fact—advertise it! Create an ad that says: “Price increase effective June 1. Join today!” (Don’t specify the price. The goal is to get potential members to call for information.)

5. Use Attractive, Unintimidating Images. Every one of your ads reflects the image of your club. If you have a progressive, sophisticated club, don’t use artwork from the ’70s and ’80s.

Another thing to consider when creating an image is the common misperception that everyone who belongs to a club is in good shape. For years, fitness facilities have tried to attract members with ads featuring models with chiseled abs and perfect derrieres. These ads usually discourage potential members, since most people feel that no matter how hard they try, they will never look like these paragons of fitness.

Avoid photos that might alienate the deconditioned. Use photos of real people from different age groups, people who are attractive but not necessarily “hard bodies.” Communicate that fitness is about being strong and feeling good, not about being perfect.

6. Offer a Trial Membership. People who have had negative experiences with fitness clubs are reluctant to commit long-term. When you allow a potential member to try out your facility before committing to a membership, you accomplish three things:

  • You establish trust.
  • You communicate your confidence in the services you offer.
  • You send the message that you are interested, not just in getting a financial commitment, but in making sure each member is satisfied.

A bonus is that you significantly increase your prospect list. And that’s good news! Experience has taught us that we can usually convert 75 percent of the prospects on a trial membership.

7. Use Internal and External Marketing. Market your programs and services both inside and outside your facility. External campaigns target nonmembers and include print advertising (direct mail pieces, postcards, newspaper and magazine ads, flyers and posters) and media marketing (television and radio spots). Internal campaigns target members inside your club and may include flyers, posters, banners and newsletters.

You might use a themed program within the club to enhance your external marketing efforts. For example, to get across the message that our club welcomes people of any size and shape, we designed an external campaign called “Fit, Not Perfect.” We began offering 30-minute classes geared to entry-level exercisers, such as Training Wheels Cycling and Beginning Body Pump. Nonmembers received a two-week guest pass to give them a chance to try the new classes. Our internal campaign, called “Fitness Journey,” encouraged members to cross-train by trying a new activity in one of the new, shorter class formats. Every time members tried a different class, they got a box marked off on their Fitness Journey card. Awards were presented based on the number of marked boxes. Class attendance increased by 2,000 people, and we had a 158 percent increase in membership over the previous year!

8. Mix Media. If you are looking for big results and your budget allows, spread your advertising around, using direct mail, print ads, and spots on cable television and radio to ensure that more people find out what you have to offer. It is hard to select just one medium to reach the diverse fitness market.

If your budget is limited, consider direct mail; studies show that even busy people check their mail! Postcards serve well as reminders for special promotions, and they fit into most budgets. But they don’t offer much space to communicate your message, so you’ll need something bigger, like a flyer, as your main means of advertisement.

9. Choose Your Goal: Image or Action. Are you mainly interested in communicating an image or are you looking for an immediate response? An image campaign communicates who you are, what you are about and what makes your facility different. The idea is to keep your name in the public eye, not to provoke an immediate response, so typically, image ads don’t contain any mention of pricing or special offers. An image ad may include just a photo and tag line. (NIKE has some great examples.)

Once you have established an image, you’ll want to use action advertising to engender response. Action advertising always has an offer, a deadline and a call to action, for example, “Call today! Join now!” Make sure your contact information is easy to locate in the copy.

10. Create Urgency. For all action advertising, post a deadline to provoke an immediate response. The deadline should relate to a special offer or price, for example, “Join before May 30 to receive one month free.”

Choose your deadline carefully. The best days are usually Monday through Wednesday. (Weekends are often too full of activities for people to stop by.) Keep in mind that on holidays, many people are out of town. Advertisers frequently pick the 1st, 15th and 30th of the month for deadlines, and while these are easy days to remember, they may not be the best dates for you. Most people will wait until the deadline to respond, so you have to be prepared for a surge of phone calls on that date. Pick a day your facility is not usually busy, make sure you are properly staffed, and have a plan for handling any overflow.

Use these 10 elements as a guide when developing your next ad campaign, and be prepared for record-breaking results!

IDEA Fitness Manager, Volume 13, Issue 3

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About the Author

Sandy Franco

Sandy Franco IDEA Author/Presenter

Sandy Franco is owner of Franco’s Athletic Club in Mandeville, Louisiana. An international presenter at fitness industry events, she has 25 years’ experience in sales and promotions. Contact Franco at (504) 792-0200 or