We are often asked what the difference
is between marketing and advertising. Simply put, marketing is everything you do as a business. Marketing is the process of letting your community know who you are and what you do and of encouraging people to try your services. Marketing encompasses a lot. It includes 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 within your community. Advertising is just one form of marketing.

We typically recommend that personal trainer entrepreneurs focus first on developing a solid internal marketing campaign. This includes ensuring that all 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—the quickest ways to grow your business and to reach financial stability and success.

At some point, your company will be in a position to begin a strong external advertising campaign. As Mark Twain once pointed out, a product or service does no one any good if no one knows about it. A cautionary note: it’s very easy to spend a lot of money on advertising and get very little return on your investment. Here are a few pointers based on how we advertise at Northwest Personal Training.

Free Advertising

The best way to advertise is to do it for free. If you can position yourself as the local fitness expert, you’ll receive plenty of free print, radio and TV press. Here’s how to make this happen:

  • Develop a list of key local media contacts in your area, including print editors, radio show producers and TV segment producers. Gather their e-mail and mail addresses. While this is a tedious process, it doesn’t require more than a day’s work, and you can access a lot of this information online.
  • Complete regular mail-outs, e-mails and fax-outs to develop relationships with these key media contacts. Tease them with some health and fitness information. For example, state, “I was just at the IDEA World Fitness Convention® in Las Vegas 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 say, “I was just at the IHRSA show in San Francisco, and I’ve got to tell you about some of the hottest and craziest new equipment on the market.” Another idea is to offer a human-interest story about a client’s success—with the client’s approval, of course. Just by whetting the media’s taste buds, you can expect at least one or two callbacks from each of your efforts. Of course each time someone runs one of your ideas, you are mentioned as the “health and fitness expert,” and you can also ask for your business name and phone number or website to be mentioned so people can contact you if they have further questions. When launching your campaign for free advertising, a monthly teaser is a good starting point. Soon you’ll find that you’re being quoted in articles, asked to write for publications, invited to be the guest speaker on a local radio talk show or booked for a quick guest appearance on a local TV newscast.
  • Offer to write a free weekly/monthly fitness column. The time spent writing 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 ad.
  • Offer a couple complimentary sessions to key media contacts so they can experience your services firsthand. Perhaps propose a “Media Fitness Challenge” or “Getting Into Shape Challenge,” and place rival reporters and producers of various networks in competition against each other. The press you get will be huge.

The key guideline for working with the media is to understand that while they are always looking for a newsworthy story, they are also always on a very tight deadline. So if they learn to trust that you will get back to them right away, provide them with great information, and become a resource for them when a fitness story surfaces, they will come to you first because they know you will make their job easier. Whenever we deal with the media, we always make an effort to send them more information than they asked for. For example, we might send them a few websites that will help them out, or a few sample articles on the topic they are researching, or a few ideas to provide a different slant to their story.

Don’t Shoot Blanks

When you’re ready to start paying for advertising, be sure you’ve established a smart plan. Ask yourself, who are your potential clients? What are their demographics (age, gender, education level)? Which newspapers, magazines or local papers do these people read? Which TV stations do they watch? Which radio stations do they listen to? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, ask your current best 20 clients and look for some trends.

Metropolitan Newspapers. We’ve found that although big metropolitan newspapers have the highest readership numbers, these papers are not a focused target for us. They go to a large range of demographics across such a wide geography that we couldn’t possibly service the majority of the readers, because they simply live too far from us. Plus, these newspapers tend to be more expensive. However, if we decided to advertise in a metropolitan newspaper, we’d really want to be clear on targeting the right section of the paper to best service our needs. For example, if we determined that the majority of our current and prospective clients were business professionals, we’d take out an ad in the business or stock market section. If the majority of our prospective clients were athletes, we’d consider the sports section. If our potential clientele was predominantly female, we’d consider an ad in the Lifestyles section.

Neighborhood Publications. We’ve found greater success in advertising in the smaller, community-based magazines, which are often printed every few days or weekly, and which focus on topics and businesses relevant to a smaller neighborhood. The rates are lower, and the readership numbers among those who live and work in our business community are as high as for the metropolitan newspapers. Depending on your clientele base, there are often publications that focus on kids (parents’ magazines), athletes (city sports magazines) or general news.

Targeted Newsletters. Because our training studio attracts many business professionals, we’ve had great success in advertising in trade newsletters. For instance, in our community, there is a newsletter that the local bar association sends to all attorneys in our city. The ad is extremely inexpensive ($80/month) and puts our business in the minds of individuals who often see the value of our services and are willing to pay for them. We’ve had similar successes with real-estate, banking and entrepreneurial organizations and newsletters. If your key clientele consists of mothers, perhaps you can access a newsletter that is distributed to a moms’ group in your community.

Business Publications. Again, because our clientele base is business professionals, we receive positive responses from targeted advertising campaigns in our local business journal or chamber of commerce publications. They speak directly to our clientele, and the rates are lower than for the larger newspapers.

In summary, be prepared to commit some time to doing “free” articles, appearances, etc., to build a reputation for yourself as an expert and to gain exposure in your community. When you’re ready to invest dollars in advertising, spend intelligently by positioning your message in the right medium based on your goals. Sometimes new trainers expect things to just happen. If you want to succeed, you will have to work at it. Remember this: what goes around, comes around. Your efforts will not go unnoticed!