Select Page

Having supported leading brands in the health and fitness sector for more than 15 years, boutique PR agency, Big Fish, is well placed to offer advice and guidance to operators on getting seen and being heard, and how PR can work alongside other marketing channels to bring new members through the door. 

The Side Hussle spoke to the Managing Director at Big Fish, Abigail Harris.

Let’s start right at the beginning, what’s the difference between PR and marketing?

Marketing refers to activities that promote the buying or selling of a product or service.  Activities that often fall under the term ‘marketing’ include the promotion of goods, via advertising and direct mail, as well as selling, delivery and websites.

While Public Relations often falls under the umbrella of marketing, PR activity centres around reputation management – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.

What are the benefits to operators of consumer PR?

People buy from people or companies they like and/or trust, so image, credibility and reputation are everything. Effective public relations is pivotal to the success of a business; it’s a cost-effective way to create a buzz around your facility, which can ultimately lead to new members.

Potential members are far more likely to believe positive messages about your club if they hear it from others. Of course you will say good things about your club in an advert that you’ve paid for, but if someone else is saying positive things, whether that’s in print, on TV or radio, or across social media platforms, it’s far more believable.

This third-party endorsement gives your message credibility, which is why we recommend a combination of marketing and PR activities.

Where should fitness operators that are interested in utilising PR to grow their business begin?

Public relations involves placing information about your club or centre in the public domain, whether that’s in the traditional media (local press, TV and radio) or on social media, by doing some of the following:

– Writing press releases and blogs
– Speaking to and developing relationships with local journalists/influencers
– Writing articles on behalf of journalists
– Hosting events that generate media interest
– Taking strong ‘media-friendly’ photos
– Positioning yourself as an expert in the field of health and fitness

One of the most important aspects of generating publicity is being able to spot a newsworthy story. You won’t believe the amount of people I talk to that say they have nothing newsworthy going on but then, half an hour later over a cup of coffee, tell me all about their latest fancy dress fundraising event, the postman turned personal trainer they’ve just employed or a miracle member!

If you have a ‘real’ story to tell, particularly if it comes with a great photo or filming opportunity, the media, and your potential members, will want to know! And if you’re not sure, ring them up and ask – it’s a great way to create a relationship, too.

The rest is just down to how you sell it. It may sound obvious, but always remember the six Ws:

Who / What / When / Where / Why / How (well, it has a ‘w’ on the end!)

As a journalist on a local newspaper, I often found the vital information buried at the bottom of a boring three-page press release – the six Ws should always appear in the first two paragraphs.

Make sure you know who to contact. Establish a relationship with your local media by inviting them to see your facility, offering a free trial and suggesting they write a feature to document their progress at your gym.

If you’re holding an event ask them to take part – you’ll be guaranteed bigger and better coverage if they’re an integral part it.

Making ‘friends’ with the local media will also help you establish yourself as the area’s health and fitness expert. Why not offer to write a regular health and fitness column? You could link this to health and fitness in the news or the latest trends – how to get J-Lo’s bottom, or the waist workout for this season’s fashions for example.

Make the most of any photo or filming opportunities – the media love them as they bring a story to life, so each time you write a story or hold an event, think about how you can make it more visual. Always send an invitation to the picture desk or forward planning desk for TV and radio, as well as the news desk, and take pictures and video footage to send to after the event as well.

On social media, the key is to see and be seen, and all of the above activities for traditional media work well on social media too – particularly if you have great images. So if you’re using Instagram be sure to regularly post updates, follow your members and your staff and tag them in your posts. Ask any journalists who you offer free trials to tag you in their posts, too.

The same goes for Twitter and Facebook – social media is all about raising awareness of your facility through engagement, so whatever you’re up to, post about it, tag others and ask them to share your story.

Encourage members to share their fitness experiences on social media and tag you too – just make sure you’re giving them a first class service to shout about.

It is often said that PR can have a halo effect on other marketing channels. Can you explain why?

As we advise all our clients, PR should be carried out in addition to other marketing activities to create the drip, drip ‘we keep seeing you effect’.

Studies have shown people need to see a message at least seven times before it sinks in, so the more ways you can get your messages out there the better.

We’ve talked a lot about Customer Acquisition Costs recently. How can PR help to lower the cost of acquiring new members?

The great thing about PR is, in the majority of cases, it’s free! And as we’ve said, the added bonus is people are more likely to believe good things about you if someone else is saying it, so PR acts as a referral portal.

For instance, customer testimonials perform extremely well on all media platforms, including social media. People can truly connect with testimonials because these people are just like them, whether that’s a mum at home juggling work and children alongside her workouts or a retired person using activity to keep more mobile. Testimonials help people picture themselves in your club, as part of your community.

What about SEO – can PR help with that too?

Search engines now draw upon a hybrid of results including web pages, tweets, blogs, images, user-generated content and video. This means SEO includes all of your digital content, wherever it appears.

Many people won’t go directly to your website, but will find you through other content, such as a blog about your services, a film/video, an Instagram image or a tweet about a PR story.

Any common pitfalls you’d like to offer advice on?

Post pandemic, the only reassurance people will have before they come back (and a major thing influencing whether they decide to come back at all) is your communications with them, so it’s vital you get this right.

Use positive, confidence-building language at all times. Don’t dwell on any the negatives associated with Covid; be optimistic about every adaptation you’ve made.

For instance, you could sell the added bonus of free virtual classes continuing so people get two memberships for the price of one, and can access your content 24/7 365 days a year.

It’s also important to remember to talk to your whole community, not just your members, so target comms at everyone – the new normal could well have changed who is receptive to your messaging.

Know your brand: you can’t be all things to all people – decide who you are, who you want to target and stick to it. Make sure you highlight this in all your communications. People need to know what makes you different and what makes your club a great fit for them.

If you do this well you can capture your own niche market and will be less likely to lose members to competitors, as no other club will be quite like yours.

If you would like to speak to Abi or the team at Big Fish PR about your goals you can reach them via their website which is: