Emphasizing strong internal promotion among your staff is a decisive step toward the success of new services, special events and membership benefits your business offers.
One of the fitness industry’s hottest new workouts is coming to your facility. To prepare, you meet with fellow managers and arrange a preview event for members. After posting eye-catching promotional signs, you write a brief memo urging all staff to vigorously publicize the special event and new program.
A week later, you ask a membership consultant how her promotion of the event is going. She stares at you with a blank expression. “I haven’t really given it much thought,” she admits.
You thought you had prepared carefully, but something went wrong. What happened?
Successful programming requires strong internal promotion, especially when introducing new programs or events for which members pay extra. Yet, many fitness programmers are stumped about how to increase cross promotion between club departments. The membership team seems to work hard at getting people in the door, but not at keeping them excited about other events and opportunities in the club. Busy front desk staff often gloss over memos that do not directly affect them. You can change these scenarios! Here, top programmers offer their suggestions for improving cross promotion.
Communication is the cornerstone of successful cross promotion. You have to do more than simply circulate a memo. According to Debbie Nogawa-Wasman, group exercise director at the Pacific Athletic Club in Redwood City, California, managers must share information in a variety of ways, including face-to-face contact when possible. Julie McNeney, the 1999 IDEA Program Director of the Year and vice president of marketing for The Fitness Group in Vancouver, British Columbia adds, “Everyone learns and is ‘sparked’ differently. The more ways you communicate the message, the better.”
To be effective, communication must be ongoing. McNeney takes advantage of a weekly club newsletter, company voice mail and staff room bulletin boards to remind staff about upcoming programs. Nogawa-Wasman likes to check in with employees once a week leading up to an event. Michael Jenniex, MS, fitness director at the Wellness Centers of Cape Coral and Fort Myers in Florida, gives himself eight to 12 weeks lead time to properly communicate the details of an event and allow excitement to build.
McNeney also recommends planning programs well in advance. To make sure The Fitness Group staff are always on track with program promotion, everyone adheres to an eight-week marketing plan.
When staff can easily access information about an event, they are more likely to promote it. Photocopy memos and post them in the staff washrooms and lunchroom, at the front desk and where group exercise instructors will see them. To guarantee that staff will at least come in contact with your memo, staple copies to their paychecks.
You also can supply them with a “script” that specifically outlines the who, what, where, when, why and how of the event or program. Jenniex recommends including answers to frequently asked questions, which staff then memorize and convey to members in their own words. “This way,” he says, “everyone in the facility is on the same page about the event and what to tell members.”
When employees lack confidence about their knowledge of a new program, they may feel uncomfortable promoting it, notes Peggy Cleland, program director for the Sports Clubs of Canada/Bally Total Fitness Canada in Toronto. Allowing staff to sample a program firsthand can dramatically improve cross promotion. “It is one thing to have a script, and another to experience the program,” notes Jenniex, who recommends all staff—or at least the “key players” at a club—take part. “When staff go through it, they have a better appreciation of what is going on, and can tell members about it from the heart,” he says. McNeney adds that members feel less apprehensive about trying something new after hearing staff recount their positive experiences.
When planning a one-time event that would be difficult to recreate just for staff, Jenniex suggests arranging a “mock run-through.” For example, if you are organizing a special lecture about osteoporosis prevention for members, enlist a knowledgeable employee to prep staff for promotion with a mini-lecture on the topic.
Cleland recommends holding regular managers’ meetings to raise awareness about activities in various departments. Managers then disseminate this information to their respective staff. Jenniex, however, goes one step further: To increase the effectiveness of cross promotion, managers should consult with front-line staff and encourage communication between all club employees, not just department heads. “Front desk staff may never get into a professional conversation with fitness or membership staff,” he notes. Yet, points out Nogawa-Wasman, “in the eyes of many members, the front desk staff are expected to know everything about everything—that is a tough responsibility.” According to Jenniex, it pays off to provide nonmanagement employees the opportunity to voice their opinions about which promotional strategies they think work best. “If people feel involved, they will take ownership,” he says.
Cross promotion often depends on what employees perceive is in it for them. “Unfortunately,” says Cleland, “staff members sometimes do not promote a program or event if it doesn’t specifically benefit their department.” According to Jenniex, managers must encourage staff to work together and focus on improving the facility as a whole rather than as individual parts. For example, he says, “show [the membership department] that people will want to join the facility based on the excitement of what is going on in the group exercise department.” Club departments that work as one promotional team can share the wealth when the program generates profit, adds Cleland.
On the other hand, Cleland also acknowledges that you can stimulate a “little friendly rivalry” between departments with a contest. Nogawa-Wasman agrees: “If your front desk staff are told that the person who signs up the most members for next month’s cycling camp receives a $100 bonus, your employees will treat it like a game. That is definitely incentive.”
At the Wellness Centers of Cape Coral and Fort Myers, Jenniex and other managers routinely quiz staff about upcoming programs and new policies. When employees answer appropriately, they receive club money, which can be put toward a paid day off. “This is more valuable to most employees than just promoting a program,” Jenniex says.
“Allow your staff to let their hair down and have some fun with the members,” advises Jenniex. Team spirit, or what he calls “club personality,” goes a long way toward successful cross promotion. Club spirit motivates all staff and generates an internal buzz about current and future programming. Once this is in place, staff will be poised to promote your next big event—and beyond.