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Positive Publicity for Better Business

In light of the recent rash of negative publicity generated by Consumer Reports and the Better Business Bureau (BBB), one thing is for certain: Business isn't going to get better for the fitness facility indusry without a really big positive PR shot in the arm.

In light of the recent rash of negative publicity generated by Consumer Reports and the Better Business Bureau (BBB), one thing is for certain: Business isn't going to get better for the fitness facility industry without a really big positive PR shot in the arm. And, we need to begin the injection now. Because, it appears that the effects of these organizations' newly released reports are going to go on for some time. But, don't rely on the media to shed any positive light on our industry all by itself. It's going to take a strong dose of proactive campaigning to get over this latest spate of bad PR.

As a subscriber to Google News Alerts, each day, I'm reminded about the information released at the end of 2007/beginning of 2008 by the BBB and Consumer Reports. Interesting timing, huh? It almost makes one wonder whether these two groups conspired against our industry? Whether that's true or just a coincidence, the information is, nonetheless, disturbing. And, as I'm writing this at the end of January, it's being passed from one media outlet to another with surprising speed - as though the information is hot off the press, rather than the reprocessed news that it is.

It's no secret that our industry's reputation leaves a lot to be desired. But when the BBB reports that complaints received about fitness facilities have increased more than 90 percent in the last five years, it's time for a reputation reality check. These complaints, by the way, centered mostly on members continuing to be billed after cancelling membership contracts. So, perhaps Consumer Reports did us a favor by following up the BBB's report with a survey rating the best and worst facilities. After all, it's easier to identify what our industry can do to improve its reputation if we understand why the members want out of their contracts in the first place, and which facilities are the real culprits, right?

Consumer Reports asked more than 10,000 respondents who used a fitness center within the past six months to rate facilities in eight areas: staff, equipment, cleanliness, locker rooms, classes, value, crowds and workout options. Unfortunately, although the results may be interesting to consumers, they shouldn't be too surprising for those in our industry. Private studios rated the highest in most areas, except for equipment, followed by corporate fitness and community centers, which rated average in most areas, yet best in classes. Next came YM/YWCAs and JCCs, which rated average pretty much across the board. And, then, there were the chains, which scored average to low across the board. Except one chain, Life Time Fitness, which scored above average in everything except value and crowds (they're definitely onto something!).

What can we gain from this? I know some will say that bad publicity is better than no publicity. At least we're in the news, and people are thinking about us! Not really. What we need is positive publicity. So, while they're interested, we should be giving them something to really sink their teeth into.

Programming, the focus of this issue, is perhaps one of the easiest ways to get news for your facility. Since classes are one of the eight important factors of fitness facility membership, now is the time to highlight the interesting programs you've implemented.

This issue talks about programming ideas, including pre-choreographed and freestyle group exercise programming, incentive programming and sports programming. But, more facilities are getting creative by offering atypical programs that focus on specific groups and a broader look at the meaning of wellness. For instance, dance classes that are aimed at certain age groups and ethnicities; games and programs centered on television shows; fitness challenges that benefit charities; chiropractic, nutritionist and hairstylist services; sports-specific training and leagues; high-tech training and tracking; as well as acrobatics and trapeze.

Programs inspire individuals to get involved, and by spreading the word about yours, you have a chance to create some positive news, rather than waiting for the next onslaught of the negative. It's positive news, not negative, that will make your business better.

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