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Recap: Overcoming Negative Media Misconceptions


On August 12, REX Roundtables and Club Solutions Magazine presented the 19th installment of a weekly virtual roundtable series aimed at helping clubs navigate through the COVID-19 crisis.

Panelists included Vicki Brick, the CEO of Brick Bodies Fitness Services, Inc.; Scott Gillespie, the president of Saco Sport & Fitness; Aaron Moore, the director of operations at VIDA Fitness; Bill McBride, the co-founder, president and CEO of Active Wellness; and Blair McHaney, the CEO of MXM and owner of WORX health clubs. The discussion was led and moderated by Brent Darden, the founder of Brent Darden Consulting and chair of REX Roundtables.

Following is a summary of top takeaways from the discussion, centered on strategies clubs can use to overcome negative media bias against gyms reopening:

Highlights from the Discussion

A message from Scott Gillespie:

The panel says the fitness alliances that are popping up in a lot of states have been key to club’s having their voices heard and more advocacy power.

“Gyms are part of the solution, not the problem,” said Brick.

According to Gillespie, a lot of policymakers are well intentioned, but their perception of our industry is tainted. As a result, it’s vital for clubs to have a seat at the table at the local, state and national levels; and within their communities especially. 

As an example of this in practice, Gillespie shared that upon reopening, a local medical practitioner who is a member of the club shared publicly on social media he wouldn’t be returning to Saco Sport & Fitness because he felt gyms were high risk. Gillespie invited him to come into the facility so he could see in person the safety measures and protocols the gym had put in place. The medical practitioner changed his stance and said he would be returning to the gym the next day because of how safe he felt.

“Speakeasy” gyms are popping up across the U.S. — gyms that are operating under the radar and illegally. The panel agreed this is hurting the industry’s overall reputation.

To combat negative media, VIDA Fitness has implemented a four-point communication strategy:

  1. Let customers know the gym is in fact open. Many aren’t aware the gym is open.
  2. Communicate the gym is safe; and how.
  3. Share the messaging that exercise is medicine – highlight all the benefits.
  4. Urge members to check out the club, i.e., “Don’t let the media make up your mind for you.”

Once people come into the clubs, many are happy with the safety measures and procedures being implemented. The biggest challenge is actually getting them in the door.

The panel highlighted the importance of more advocating power, and encouraging clubs taking part in IHRSA’s ILC.

Clubs need to emphasize the social and mental health benefits of gyms, NOT just the physical.

A few of the panelists have hired PR firms to help with messaging and positive press, and to educate the local community.

According to Brick, if government or medical professionals brush you off, keep trying. Sometimes it takes multiple attempts to be heard and gain traction in a positive direction.

Work with local physicians and scientists and make them brand advocates so they can get positive messaging out on your behalf. This prevents messaging from appearing self-serving; and these reputable, third parties are advocating for you. Consider creating a medical advisory board as well.

Reference MXM’s Visits to Virus data when making the case gyms are safe to reopen.

“We have to have ONE voice as an industry,” said Brick. “We need to unite.”

VIDA is now viewing themselves, in part, as a PR/marketing agency. Educate your customers.

“There is culture of confusion,” said McBride. “The industry’s messaging should be simple and fact-based.”

Make sure your social media and email images/marketing match your guidelines. A lot of clubs have shared images on social from before COVID and gotten negative feedback because people think the images are current and not meeting socially distancing and mask guidelines. Also consider how your website homepage may need to change.

“Show people safely having fun in your gym,” said Moore.

Recommended articles:

To access the on-demand version of this webinar, click here

UPCOMING: Don’t miss the 20th installment of our virtual roundtable series, “Successful Strategies for Shaping Your Future: Bridging the Gap for Schools” on Wednesday, August 19 at 2 p.m. EST. Limited seats are available. Click here to reserve your spot.

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko is the editor-in-chief of Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at rachel@peakemedia.com.

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