Capitalizing on Public Relations, Part 1

A few months ago, Postmaster General Marvin Runyon got an earful from disgruntled postal customers about Chicago’s mail service. In typical “bureaucraticese,” the postmaster responded to the criticism by saying, “the situation will be resolved within five years.”

Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley fired off an angry letter to reprehend the suggested five-year remedy and the postmaster. Copies were sent to President Clinton, Vice President Gore and the Illinois Congressional Delegation. The mayor stated, “All letters were hand-delivered to make sure they arrived.”

The postal service definitely has an image problem. Can you imagine a fitness facility trying to exist if it was described as having “the efficiency of the postal service and the empathy of the Internal Revenue Service?”

Even if your reputation is not tarnished, you may be doing your facility a disservice if your management style is based on the assumption that everything is OK because you aren’t getting any negative press. As professor and leadership expert James O’Toole said, “Ninety-five percent of American managers today say the right thing. Five percent actually do it.” The pressure is building in the fitness industry to “walk the talk.” How about considering a leap at the opportunity to create a more positive image by capitalizing on public relations?

Defining PR

Public relations is an often overlooked but integral tool to market your facility. While one definition calls PR “as hard to define as religion or education,” others include, “the deliberate, planned and sustained effort to establish mutual understanding between an organization and its public” and “finding out what people like about you and doing more of it, and finding out what they don’t like and doing less of it.” In essence, the purpose of public relations is to “help the company obtain and maintain a social climate in which it can prosper,” according to the book The Management of Public Relations.

Although the bulk of many marketing budgets tend to be weighted toward advertising, public relations offers a less expensive way to reach a broad audience. Advertising is recognized as paid space to promote a self-interest; PR is presented by the media as a subtle third-party endorsement that the topic is indeed newsworthy. Generally, media attention from public relations efforts tends to be more credible than advertising. Furthermore, because the news medium chooses to publish the topic, the space is not purchased. Your costs amount of the price of publicity materials and the time for your media efforts.

Why is public relations so important? Basically, PR serves to validate and highlight your company’s services and performance and, in turn, influence the public’s awareness of, opinion of, and appreciation for your facility. Ultimately, public relations efforts can lead to greater acknowledgement of your facility, enhanced retention, increased memberships and a more competitive position.

Generating publicity

Public relations ranges from media and community relations, to speakers bureaus, exhibits, sponsorships and company publications.

Your efforts need not require a new staff; you may train current employees and expand their responsibilities. How elaborate and sophisticated your PR efforts are will depend on your priorities and your staff’s capabilities.

Publicity is the cornerstone of public relations — working with media to generate stories, to handle “bad” news and to serve as expert consultant for news and features. Media attention through PR efforts provides extensive exposure at minimum costs.

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