Rained Out! How to Turn Your "Big Fitness Non-Event" Into Promotional Gold

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Has your fitness or wellness business ever put on an outdoor promotional event — at considerable expense — only to be rained out? It’s not enough just to have a “plan B.” Let’s face it, your “tai chi picnic” just doesn’t work as well indoors. But fear not! This may be an unexpected opportunity to advertise a fresh message to your prospects.

Forty Days and Forty Nights…

In case you don’t know it by now, the Spring of 2015 brought Noah-esque storms and flooding to the DFW area. And with it, a lot of cancelled triathlons, re-routed runs, and outdoor events moved indoors or just flat-out cancelled.

One outfit, though, grabbed the bull by the horns. Dallas Athletes Racing, the organizers of the Disco Tri, trotted out their attitude when making the difficult decision to move the date of their event. They didn’t just say, “Sorry, rained out, moved to September.” They created an advertising piece that was all about the flooding, and connected with their triathlete customers on a very real undercurrent (pun intended) of disappointment about not being able to do the swim portion of the event.

Yes, it’s possible they could have alienated prospects by putting down the concept of a duathlon instead of a triathlon, but they made a decision.

And in doing so, they brought out who they are as a business. They also capitalized on the obligatory notice sent out to registrants about what was going to happen on race day, and turned it into a little bit of notice and a LOT of message about who they are: ordinary folks who know how triathletes think, don’t waffle on customer service issues, and call things how they see them, with a good bit of swagger.

If I were ever waffling about whether this was just another triathlon, I’d know for certain it was not.

All because of the weather.

Lessons for Your Business

1. Know who you are

When sudden, unexpected events occur, it often tests us personally; and by extension, our business.

Is yours the karate studio that’s hard to find but worth the search? The kickboxing club that builds self-confidence among young women? The tough-guy gym that trains amateurs for strongman events? The yoga club for orthodox Jewish women?

If you don’t know, that’s not good. Take time to ask yourself what your business is really about — you need this information anyway for your “elevator pitch” to people unacquainted with your business — and who you are personally. Maybe you’re one of those laid back, positive, “wag more, bark less” types. That’s great! Now work it into your message.

Without knowing IN THE MOMENT the true nature of your business (which, believe it or not, many of our customers don’t know when they first encounter us) you’ll miss chances to network your brand, buddy up with similarly-minded businesses and individuals, or recognize chances to act quickly when opportunities arise.

2. Ask how you can tie local happenings to your message

A lot depends on the local “happening.” A happening can be anything from a planned event such as a city centennial or a charity fundraiser to a flood or tornado. What’s important is that “focus events” mobilize businesses and individuals. That’s why you see so many ads for 4th of July sales or Black Friday specials. Literally ANYTHING can be a focus event.

Now, consider what your business provides that can be made specific to the circumstance. Is it calm in the face of chaos? Strength? Tools for turning over a new leaf?

What can be done with that?

For instance, if weather or other factors prevent you from putting on your own event, consider joining up with one already planned that has the same purpose. If that’s not possible, look for ways to reimagine your event using the same resources in a completely different context. Weightlifters competing in an Atlas stone contest are also probably pretty good at putting sandbags down around a hospital or animal shelter to help hold back floodwaters. Or let’s say your kayaking class can’t be held because the local lakes are 30 feet above conservation level. Well, if you sell or rent kayaks, consider loaning a few to the city to help with search and rescue, cleanup, and so forth. If you’re concerned about liability, you don’t have to organize the effort — but you can let folks know in your newsletter that the city’s looking for volunteers to help.

Even if it’s just (literally) raining on your parade, ask what the parade was really about and find a way to capitalize on the rain.

If you choose to do public good to increase your business’s visibility, don’t be afraid to bring it up with customers. It can connect them more strongly to your brand, it’s a feelgood gesture, and they may become even more loyal by working together on something meaningful, somehow bigger than just their own health. (As if that weren’t important enough!)

Just don’t forget to share the news that you’re doing it, and why.

3. Don’t be afraid to OWN your message

We’ve seen a lot of wellness businesses fall prey to the lure of getting new customers — ANY customers — no matter how bad the fit. One outfit we ran across was actually doing quite well at establishing itself with a clientele of image-conscious women who wanted to be masters of their own health and fitness destiny. But they wanted to move into general fitness, fitness for men, and other areas where they didn’t have a lot of traction. Which is fine, except for the fact that they had spent a lot of time and money becoming a destination for their existing clients.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with deciding you want to be someone you’re not, as long as it’s a conscious strategic decision and there’s a road from here to there. What troubled us the most was that they were willing to completely ditch their reputation to chase customers they weren’t equipped to serve, in a niche they had no plan for growing into.

The fact is that as soon as your offerings are the perfect diet, workout, or supplement for one kind of customer, they’re not going to be for others. No business or product is perfect for everybody, and trying to create the perfect promotional message for everyone is a bit like catching unicorns. It can’t be done.

The organizers of the Disco Triathlon made a bet that the kind of folks who would be satisfied doing a duathlon would have already signed up for one, and that the bulk of their registrants signed up for a triathlon because they actually wanted to do one.

Were there a few customers who were disappointed that they couldn’t just do the bike and run? Probably. But the organizers decided those customers weren’t really theirs to start with.

4. Strike while the iron is hot

As I write this, it’s June, and the floods of May are fading into memory. If you’ve got something to say about bad weather, diabetes awareness week, or the city centennial, don’t wait six months. Don’t even wait a week.

This may mean moving your planned newsletter content out a few weeks to run something more timely. It may mean creating a special flyer you didn’t intend originally to do. It may mean marshaling already scarce resources to pull together an impromptu event to coincide with another one happening elsewhere. Recently in Dallas, the Rolling Stones performed at a large arena and needed a choir for the introduction to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” I’m sure the University of Texas Arlington A Capella Choir had other things on its calendar, but it dropped them to do the show. They had to scramble together resources and rehearse like crazy, but it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and their reward was that now everyone knows they performed with the Rolling Stones. There’s a lot of promotional mileage in that.

We’re not suggesting that your mixed martial arts studio is doing to be featured in a remake of The Karate Kid, but then again, you never know.

5. Have a Plan for When You Don’t Have a Plan

When you get a chance, take the time to ask what your studio would do if the power was out for an extended period of time, or if the A/C quit on you, or if the streets are closed due to some unforeseen event. Think about what you’d do if the technology you use changed seemingly overnight.

It’s good to have a disaster plan, but not all unforeseen events are disasters. Could your business react quickly, for instance, if a well known athlete were passing through town and looking for a few places to stop by and visit?

Unforeseen events need not create undue concern if you’ve thought ahead about its true personality, core customers, and core message. To well-prepared organizations, these present new and unique opportunities to stand up, be heard, and reach customers whose own convictions resonate with the spirit of their business.