For many Americans, the new year brings new fitness resolutions.
David Ward finds that the companies best suited to help achieve these
goals have a wide range of magazines with which to reach the public
One tradition that follows the excesses of the holiday season is the New
Year's resolution, and for many, that means getting in shape. While
published studies show that more and more Americans now qualify as
clinically obese, a booming fitness industry and a host of media outlets
dedicated to everything from eating right to doing the right exercises
prove that most haven't given up the "battle of the bulge."
Catering to this desire to better one's body are a series of
industries - including weight-loss companies, fitness clubs and
equipment manufacturers, apparel and shoe makers, and nutritional
supplement firms - that offer increasingly sophisticated fitness
solutions. "As an industry, we're a far cry from the medicine ball,"
notes Jon Harris, VP of media development and communications at Bally
Total Fitness. "It's important we communicate that."
Pressing fitness issues
It's up to fitness magazines to not just evaluate these products and
trends, but to also serve a motivational role, mixing testimonials with
encouragement and goal-setting. Fabiola Zanzo, VP at Alan Taylor
Communications, says the editors and staff reporters at fitness outlets
take this role very seriously, and often have almost a proprietary
relationship with readers. Zanzo, who represents GNC, explains, "A lot
of times they're very closed-minded to their readers' wants or needs.
GNC might have a lot of products that interest their readers, but they
have this wall up, saying, 'My readers don't need that.'"
There are media outlets for every type of fitness, although much of the
content is geared toward the already-committed fitness enthusiast. Some,
like Bicycling and Runner's World, target a specific sub-group, while
others, such as Men's Health and Shape, are more general-interest
outlets that compete for both ad dollars and readers with Maxim and
Fitness outlets are mostly divided along gender lines. Jason
Schlossberg, account supervisor with Middleberg Euro RSCG, says
different approaches are needed when pitching men's and women's fitness
reporters. "Men's magazines are obviously product-focused and
results-oriented," he notes. "My pitch to a male-oriented publication
also might be a little more irreverent.
The women's magazines do have products and results, but they often look
at the emotional underpinnings of the importance of fitness in a women's
Ashley Molloy, account exec at The Blaze Company, says she's noticed a
trend toward more service reporting. "Fitness publications seem to be
doing more product and service evaluation than ever," says Molloy, whose
agency represents Reebok, Denise Austin, and fitness spas such as The
Palms at Palm Springs and The Oaks at Ojai. "For instance, Self has a
rating system that lets readers know what testers think of new products,
diets, or services."
Tom Armstrong, communications director with bicycle maker Cannondale,
warns that the mainstream press also devotes a lot of space to fitness,
but the requirements are different. Main-stream reporters, he says,
often don't even give a new product a hands-on trial before doing a
story. "First and foremost, the magazines are interested in something
that's going to have great visual appeal," he says. "If you have a new
road bike, for example, that's really light but looks exactly like the
previous model, that's going to be a tougher sell."
On the other hand, a new look goes a long way. Armstrong says he's had
recent success getting coverage in outlets such as GQ and Good Morning
America for a new Cannondale bike that has a distinctive natural wood
grain appearance. Unlike most other PR execs we spoke to, Armstrong
tends to pitch a single product story rather than integrating the
company's products into overall trend pieces.
Fitness is a subject not generally covered by high-profile
Among the most influential journalists in the field are David Zinczenko,
editor-in-chief of Men's Health, Linda Lewis and Linda Shelton at Shape,
AP writer Ira Dreyfuss, and Fitness magazine's Nicole Dorsey and Janet
Most fitness publications are long-lead outlets that tend to rely a lot
on freelancers. "Even if you talk to an editor, they'll usually pass the
story idea on to somebody they pick," notes Schlossberg. "But once you
learn who the key freelancers are, you can pitch directly to them and
get stories in a lot of different publications. They might be writing on
fitness for Marie Claire one month, Shape the next, and Ladies' Home
Journal the following month."
Targeting more mainstream outlets
TV, on the other hand, requires a different approach. While there are
fitness programs on networks like ESPN, Zan-zo feels they're not ideal
for new products. Instead, she prefers lifestyle shows, adding, "Morning
shows are the best, especially this time of year. It's not just the
shopping guides and the resolution shows, it's also how to get rid of
the pounds you put on during the holidays."
The past few years have seen a convergence between mainstream and
specialist publications. While mainstream titles are adding fitness
coverage, fitness-oriented outlets are trying to position themselves as
more mainstream. "I don't really differentiate between Cosmopolitan and
Shape," confirms Schlossberg. "They may have slightly different
demographics, but I consider them all part of the general-interest
A similar phenomenon is occurring on the men's side. "They're all
competing with the Maxims of the world," Zanzo says. "It's a smart
business move because their readers want those kinds of stories." She
says that one reflection on this is more advice-type articles on
sex-themed topics, adding that she produced a "sexercise" guide for one
client in order to take advantage of this trend.
Publications that aren't following that trend are bodybuilding outlets
like Flex and MuscleMag. These tend to be a genre unto themselves, and
while a few outlets, most notably the Weider publications, have some
editorial polish and flair, many are very small operations started and
run by bodybuilders rather than journalists.
There is also a host of regional fitness magazines that are very
receptive to pitches. Jennifer Prins, who left as editor of Atlanta
Sports & Fitness to become an account supervisor at Trone-Atlanta, says
these magazines tend to focus on local health clubs, as well as new
classes and new trainers. "But for products and trends they pretty much
mimic the national magazines," she adds. "The regional publications want
to be on the cutting edge."
In general, the best advice is to pitch fitness stories across a range
of media outlets. "You want to get where people expect to see you, such
as in Shape and Men's Health, but also where they don't expect to see
you, such as when we recently were on Today for their toy drive," says
A celebrity hook can also help. In some cases, these can be experts such
as workout queen Denise Austin or Tae Bo guru Billy Blanks, but they can
also include Hollywood stars. Zanzo recommends that while a star
spokesperson for a fitness campaign is ideal, "if you can't get the
A-list celebrity, the next best thing is to get their trainer."
Where to go
Newspapers: USA Today; local papers' health and lifestyle sections
Magazines: Men's Health; Men's Fitness; Muscle & Fitness; Women's
Fitness; Exercise & Health; Self; Shape; Fitness; GQ; Cosmopolitan;
Maxim; Gear; Stuff; Muscle Media; Women's Physique World; Muscular
Development; Runner's World; Flex; MuscleMag; Iron Man; MH-18;
Triathlete; Men's Journal; American Health & Fitness; Bicycling
Trade Titles: Athletic Business; Club Business International Magazine;
Club Industry; Fitness Management; Street & Smith's Sports Business
Television: ESPN; morning shows
Internet: Fitnessonline.com; Menshealth.com; health.yahoo.com