Fitness Industry PR Update: Clubs Are Hurting, Safe, & Vital

    Hot off the presses, right to your screens, IHRSA’s efforts to spread the news about what health clubs are doing and going through are picking up steam.

    Since lockdowns began in the U.S. in mid-March, IHRSA has been working to communicate three major PR messages: clubs are hurting, clubs are safe, and clubs–and exercise–are essential.

    Message 1: Clubs Need to Be Reopened & Need Relief

    We aren’t directing this message to the industry or consumers. This message is explicitly for political and policy media to reach lawmakers for two important reasons:

    1. To tell members of the U.S. Congress how badly and uniquely the fitness industry is hurting, in order to gain financial relief and stimulus for the industry, and
    2. Ask all levels of government—state, county, city, and even the White House—to allow clubs to open.

    We have been communicating since April that clubs are safe, clean, and well-prepared. Thanks in part to that message, President Trump included gyms in Phase 1 of his opening plan. You would not believe the tornado that hit my in-box the day this CNN article hit.

    “Their inclusion follows a last-minute lobbying push by an industry not known for flexing its muscles in Washington. While not every major company was part of the effort, conversations with 10 leaders in the fitness-club business reveal an influential network of relationships that kicked into gear over the past few weeks and helped move gyms to the front of the line -- even to the surprise of many in the industry.”

    Michael Warren, Ellie Kaufman, Jasmine Wright, and Caroline Kenny


    We’ve directed most of our media outreach on how badly the industry is hurting to Capitol Hill and policy media, like this news release, “Congress Must Act to Save Hundreds of Thousands of Fitness Jobs.”

    An exception is this article, featured in Mediaplanet’s FUTURE OF WORK campaign—which through print and online distribution from USA Today, will reach an estimated 18.3 million consumers.

    Message 2: Clubs Are Safe, Clubs Are Clean

    The next equally important effort is to show how clean and well-prepared clubs are to open and keep their members and staff safe. This message has dual targets; first is governments, to allow clubs to open—and now remain open—and second is consumers.

    Clubs Are Safe Message to Government

    The message that clubs are clean and well-prepared, along with IHRSA's four-prong safety framework, was sent repeatedly to the federal government, all 50 U.S. governors, and local and county health boards. The exception being Alabama, which opened clubs in their Phase 1 without the need for us to advocate.

    Then, when COVID-19 cases started to rise, and states began reclosing health clubs and gyms, IHRSA and 60+ fitness industry leaders once again sent a letter to all 50 governors explaining how “gyms are not causing the spread." While we sent the letter to governors, consumer media thankfully picked up the message and ran with it. Industry leaders appeared to speak about the letter on The Today Show, Cheddar, and on Fox Business' Neil Cavuto and Varney & Co.

    PR Update Clubs are Hurting Safe Vital Column Width

    Clubs Are Safe Message to Consumer Media

    In addition to the above media hits, we've been working to explicitly show consumers how clean, safe, and well-prepared clubs are to open.

    For instance, this article promotes all the amazing ways gyms are ramping up cleaning protocols to welcome back members. In its first 24 hours, it was picked up by 111 media sites, including Yahoo Finance, with a potential audience of 41,088,892.

    Then, we were all thrilled to see the significant new research out of Oslo, which I combined with great data on contact tracing and check-ins to write "Research Shows Health Clubs Are Safer Than You Think." My intent is for clubs to share this research with their members and in their local media markets.

    Here's an example of how Life Time Fitness shared the article with its members.

    PR Update Clubs are Hurting Safe Vital Column Width 2

    Of course, sometimes we have to counter negative press too. IHRSA’s Senior Manager of Health Promotion and Health Policy Alex Black Larcom, MPH, RD, LDN, wrote an excellent rebuttal to the often quoted—and extremely misleading—South Korea study, and IHRSA’s Research Manager Melissa Rodriguez just released data that shows members are coming back.

    While the above messages are critical, there's perhaps an overarching message that supersedes them all.

    Message 3: Clubs—and Exercise—Are Vital

    Had the world recognized the value of our industry years ago, we would have fared better against the disease, and clubs—like physical therapists—would have stayed open. This third message is ongoing, but a great example is that Dr. Oz partnered with IHRSA to showcase the benefits of exercise and getting healthy. Steve Forbes included a post about the partnership and Dr. Oz's message to the vulnerable.

    Finally, there’s the terrific and clever rebuttal CBI’s Jim Schmaltz wrote to counter the illogical article that insinuates Americans turning against gyms would be good for the nation’s health.

    So, where do we go from here? IHRSA will keep working nonstop to spread these three vital messages, and you can help. We encourage you to share the articles I’ve linked to on your social media accounts, and with friends and family.

    Author avatar

    Meredith Poppler

    Meredith Poppler previously served as IHRSA's Vice President of Communications and Leadership Engagement—a position dedicated to growing, promoting, and protecting the industry through media, policy, and advocacy, and raising awareness and support for important policy issues.