A nationwide attempt at a full-court press to get Americans to visit health clubs for free and learn more not only about clubs, but in general about fitness may have fallen short, based on SNEWSÂ® sleuths that did stealth club visits and calls around the country.
According to sponsor IHRSA, more than 1,600 clubs had signed on for the May 17-23 Get Active America event that allowed members to bring guests for free during the week and for any community member to drop in on the weekend for a no-charge workout. The association did some national press releases but left much of the promotional footwork to local clubs in their own communities, supplying them with manuals on how to promote the event.
"No news on this in the local press," said one SNEWS sleuth about a large metro area where no information was also seen in several area clubs. "Seems like it just blew past here."
Pre-event information from IHRSA promised an open-door policy, product giveaways and exposure for the sponsors, including premier sponsors, Cybex, Life Fitness, Matrix, Technogym; sustaining sponsors, Nautilus, Star Trac; contributing sponsors, FreeMotion Fitness, Iron Grip, Precor, True; supporting organizations, ACE and the American Cancer Society; and premier consumer sponsor, California Strawberry Commission.
Our sleuths may have gotten a free workout, but none found giveaways or fliers that gave sponsors exposure, nor did they seeÂ local promotions. Few foundÂ in-club signs. Most found front desk staffÂ knew little or nothing about the event either when they visited or called, and some were left feeling uncomfortable with a perceived "hard sell" not only when they called a club, but also when they arrived or when they left.
One SNEWS sleuth was connected with a salesperson who said the club chain had "big discounts on training and memberships," with the implied message being "that's why we're participating." "He worked hard nailing me down on what day and time I wanted to come in. He said I needed an appointment, because 'If you come to the front desk, they'll say you can't just work out for free.' I guess they didn't tell the peons at the front counter about the program, just the sales team. Since my initial call, they have called me at home asking if I still want to come in. I could 'smell' a hard-sell in the air even across the phone lines."
Another SNEWS visitor-on-the-sly said simply: "No signage, no samples, no knowledge whatsoever of any campaign that was ongoing, but they were more than willing to let me workout, after I sat with a 'fitness counselor.'Â It was not necessarily as hard a sell as I remember it to be, but I did have to 'sneak out' after the workout!"
Our sleuths also wisely asked around with club members when they were on-site to see if anyone knew anything about the promotion or had brought anybody. Clueless again: "I asked folks that are members of the gym if they noticed more people during the promotion. They didn't know of any promotion â€¦ other than the big outside pool was opening up soon."
At a small-town independent gym, the caller spoke to the owner, who said to come on in, but since she wasn't around on the weekend, be sure to stress to the front desk staff that she said it was OK otherwise the staff wouldn't know about it. "Make sure you call it 'Get Active America,'" the owner said, who promised to leave a note for her staff that people might come in to workout.
In another larger town, the front desk also fell on its face. Said one of our SNEWS sleuths: "I waited on hold for about 3-5 minutes and (the person who answered) came back on stating they were all busy and would call me back.Â As a new user, I would have been slightly frustrated -- more frustrated since I gave them my number at 8 a.m., and it is now 1:30 pm and I have yet to hear back from them!"
One sponsor told SNEWS that it was nevertheless the right thing to do, but that it certainly wasn't a good investment. "Throwing dollars at good ideas with no plan, established goals or ROI is a shame, and most manufacturers/sponsors are learning their lessons the hard way," the sponsor told SNEWS. "It has been over a week since GAA, and we haven't received a word of follow-up â€“ no thank-you, success 'snap-shot,' listing of media coverage (save what's on the website), local success stories, etcâ€¦."
Compliments were given to the Get Active America website (www.getactiveamerica.net), which was calledÂ clear and easy-to-use, plus it pulled up clubs well and marked them on maps so a user could identify their location. And some of our news sleuths, once they got in the gym, did find fliers taped on lockers or on walls telling members about the promotion to bring somebody for free.
To take a look at some media coverage collected by IHRSA, click here
SNEWSÂ® View: OK, so this was IHRSA'sÂ first try at this, and a valiant one, indeed, considering its scope. Plus, consider it DID conflict directly with the IHRSA Legislative Summit in D.C. Nevertheless, it seemed that many of the clubs that signed up weren't in it for anything except a way to get their claws into a potential sale â€“ that's the wrong approach and only gives non-club members another reason to stay away. Who likes buying a car? Why? Because of the hard sell and uncomfortable tactics employed. The club industry doesn't want to be perceived as no better than a car salesman, that's for sure.
One club manager told us that although he'd signed up, it was yet another program that really didn't get enough resources to give it a chance and was simply thrown at the club to promote. Funny, really, since there was a line-up of sponsors that brought in, we're guessing, some $200,000 for IHRSA for the promotion. What was that spent on? We know the sponsors, although altruistic, didn't participate just out of the goodness of their hearts, but to gain additional consumer awareness for their brands. Ideally, there should have been coordinated media coverage in most markets, as well as email and ad campaigns, plus even the likes of community walking events that literally were free (but could start and finish at the club). This would be a huge effort, especially if done nationally, so perhaps instead of trying to eat the whole burger at once, IHRSA should have nibbled and just piloted the program in a couple of hand-selected metro areas â€“ perhaps ones where a sponsor is headquartered to be able to enlist its help â€“ and figured out how to do it really right before trying to go national. We don't want to just throw tomatoes: The idea was right; the implementation and timing perhaps could have been better planned and pulled off.