When I think of publicity, a favorite quote comes to mind by Vivien Kellems (1896–
1975), a noted U.S. industrialist and lecturer: “Of course I’m a publicity hound. Aren’t all crusaders? How can you accomplish anything unless people know what you are trying to do?”

Some people say that there is no such thing as bad publicity, but I beg to differ, especially when you are a fledgling personal fitness trainer trying to develop your reputation. That’s the time when you most need to generate good publicity, which is the focus of this month’s column!

Defining Publicity

The term publicity (not to be confused with marketing) is the effort to make your service or product “publicly” known. A basic element of publicity is the deliberate attempt to manage the public’s perception of what you’re trying to sell. In other words, you send out information first to gain attention from potential buyers and then to influence those buyers to take an interest in—and ultimately purchase—your product or service.

Publicity generates interest in and educates consumers about who you are, what you do and why it matters. Additionally, publicity builds your identity or brand, increases visibility, creates name recognition, gets your message across and encourages people to do business with you.

When I launched my fitness business, friends who were also business owners told me, “People will buy from you because of you.” I thought for sure people bought from me because I had such a great service to sell, but the truth is that your business will succeed because of you. Put simply, you are your business!

With that said, here are my 5 favorite publicity strategies for growing your reputation and your business.

Strategy 1: Establish Yourself
(Get Street “Cred”)

Soon after I started my business years ago, I was asked to participate on a panel with other health and fitness experts. When I showed up, I noticed that one of the trainers had brought along a huge poster complete with her headshot and the name of her business in a banner across the top. During the presentation, she handed out her business cards to anyone who would take one and constantly repeated her name and the name of her business. I remember thinking how full of herself she must be to plug her information so shamelessly. That woman ended up owning and operating one of the most successful in-home training studios in the Chicago area.

In retrospect, I realize that in fact she was shamelessly plugging herself because she knew it was what she needed to do to gain recognition and credibility. If she didn’t, how would people remember her business and become clients themselves or refer others to her? What seemed to me to be aggressive and overly assertive behavior was just smart business practice.

So now you have to ask yourself, “Do you believe in your business and yourself enough to shamelessly plug what you do?” If the answer is no, you need to go back to square one to define exactly what it is that you’re trying to do. If you can’t toot your own horn and tell others how great you are, how can you ever expect anyone else to do it for you? You should be your best publicist!

Strategy 2: “Buzz” Is an Inside Job!

In order to launch a successful publicity campaign, you have to be ecstatic about your product or service. You must create the path you want to follow, and plan how you’re going to make your objectives a reality. Basically, your excitement must play a role in the development of a successful publicity campaign.

Trouble is, you can’t whip up excitement within your business if you don’t foster the right environment. In other words, your staff and the “energy” of your facility must inspire people to want to be part of your business. Think about the most popular people you went to school with or famous movie stars whom everyone likes. Often, the reason people reach that kind of stature is that they are positive, so others are naturally drawn to them. When you create your own positive environment, you will draw people in and generate a “buzz.”

One way to do that is to get involved in your community and encourage your staff to do the same. First make sure that each of your employees is well versed in your philosophy and mission statement. Hold regular meetings to make certain that all staff members are aware of these things and that they handle clients in a manner consistent with your policies and philosophy. Keep in mind that good customer service is in itself a form of good publicity.

Strategy 3: Publish or Perish

A sure-fire way to get your name out there is to do the writing yourself. Even if writing is not one of your strong suits, it is a skill worth honing if you want to generate your own good publicity. If your writing skills are sketchy, get help. Draft a list of the points you want to make in your publicity materials and then hire someone to clean it up and get it ready for print. In the end, it will definitely be worth it.

Confused as to where to submit your own writing? Here are some publishing avenues to pursue:

  • your own newsletter
  • your company’s website or blog
  • industry or local magazines and newspapers
  • books—published by yourself or an existing publisher in your field

Strategy 4: Parse Press Releases

I’ve been writing and mailing off press releases long enough to know that newspapers will either love or hate what you send them. If a press release is well written (and it’s a slow news day), it will likely find its way into the paper. If, however, the release is poorly written or too long, it will probably end up in the trash bin.

When writing a press release, make sure that what you have to say is newsworthy. For example, the fact that one of your clients just completed a 5K walk will do little to spark an editor’s attention—unless that client is, say, recovering from a tragic accident, which gives the story a great twist or angle. Your headline should encourage the editor to want more information; otherwise, you’ve missed your opportunity. Make the headline simple (ideally one line) and enticing.

Next, be sure the release is short and sweet. Editors are reading all day long. To increase your chances of being published, be quick and creative as you get to your point.

If you’re not sure whether your press release will draw interest, share it with some objective parties and see what they think. You have only one shot to get your piece published, so you need to make it shine.

Strategy 5: Create a Seminar

It has been said that by learning you will teach; by teaching you will learn. One of the greatest opportunities I ever had was developing and overseeing my very own seminar. This project accomplished two things. First, it made me realize just how much work goes into putting together a successful seminar. Second, I learned that simply creating a good seminar can draw in the perfect audience (i.e., prospective new clients).

If you’re new to the industry, it’s best to start off doing “free” seminars. First and foremost, stress that they are free when you advertise them. For example, announce a “Free Weight Loss Seminar!” Weight loss is a topic that interests an overwhelming majority of people, and if it’s marketed correctly, you’ll draw in many potential clients. Once they are your captive audience, you’ve got a chance not only to share your knowledge and expertise but also to inspire others to join your team long after the seminar is over.

A great starting place is to create a seminar for service clubs; this will give you a chance to gain experience and to target your ideal audience. Each time you offer the seminar, ask attendees to complete evaluation forms (that you provide) so that you can determine how you are faring as a speaker and which areas you need to improve on. There is no better way to become a strong speaker than to get honest feedback.

If you suffer from stage fright, public speaking may not be for you. However, a staff member may be willing to present the seminars for you. Make sure this person is a good representative of you and your business. To ensure things go as planned, you can be on the sidelines handing out cards while meeting and greeting.

Make a Good First Impression

However you go about generating publicity, remember that it all hinges on your initial contact. Regardless of the venue (e.g., an ad, a press release or a seminar), if your first contact is a positive one, people will come away with a good impression of you and your business, which is the goal. However, if your initial contact is negative, you have pretty much set the stage for a poor reputation.

Publicity with panache can take your business to levels you never thought were possible. I doubled my business in the first year simply by using these strategies as part of my whole marketing plan. I did my homework and made sure I accomplished things in a polished and professional manner. I have maintained that polish throughout my career, and I’ve come to realize that good publicity has been my secret to success.