[Bill Roach is a regular contributor to ICA. A Star 3 Spinning® certified instructor, he is the lead cycling instructor for the Des Moines, Iowa, YMCA. For most of his career, he was responsible for media relations in the Iowa Attorney General’s Office. He also worked as head of media relations for the Principal Financial Group, one of the nation’s largest insurance companies. Throughout his 30+ year career, he conducted thousands of interviews with local, state, and national reporters.]
A recent article in Harper’s Bazaar has caused a fair amount of controversy in the indoor cycling community. The article took the controversial (eye popping?) position that indoor cycling gives you big legs and thus makes you look fat.
The article quoted several celebrity trainers in varying degrees of support to the controversial proposition. Our own Jennifer Sage challenged the dubious assertion. (Exercise does not make you fat, it burns fat. Big bulky muscles can only be obtained under very specific training and diet conditions. And finally, because of the lack of testosterone, women will almost always develop lean muscles rather than bulky ones.)
John Macgowan, head of ICA’s competitor, Indoor Cycle Instructor, kicked off a debate on Facebook and in his online forum, Pedal-On. In these posts he took direct issue with Jennifer because he says (a) she or her organization doesn’t speak for the entire indoor cycling industry and (b) indoor cycling instructors should never, or almost never, speak to the news media as a matter of practice. After I commented on his Facebook post, John cited my media experience and asked for my opinion. I replied briefly on Facebook but will expand on my opinion as part of this discussion on how indoor cycling instructors can use the media to good advantage.
First, it should be obvious that no one speaks for the entire indoor cycling industry. The industry includes gyms, clubs and studios, bike and other product manufacturers, certifying organizations, educational resources, and instructors. No one speaks for that diverse of a group. Just as no one, not even the AMA, speaks for all physicians, or no one, not even the NRA, speaks for all gun owners. Having said that, if I were a reporter and needed a reputable indoor cycling source, my call would be to Jennifer Sage because of her incredible expertise, longevity, and visibility in the industry—not to mention her passion for “keeping it real.”
Second, should you speak to the media at all? The answer is not “no” but rather “it depends.”
You should not talk to the media if your employer has a policy prohibiting it. You should know your employer’s policy to understand what it does and does not include. Some employers understandably prohibit the discussion of proprietary business information but welcome their employees speaking as authorities on fitness and wellness. Sometimes management wants to speak to the media themselves. Some larger organizations have designated media representatives. In all cases, you should follow the policies of your organization.
Despite these restrictions, there are numerous media situations where an instructor can promote our industry, publicize their employer, and enhance their own credibility. For example, I was recently interviewed by a local TV station about the benefits of indoor cycling in reducing the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. In addition Jennifer has told me that she was able to generate some great publicity for her club through news interviews over the 15 years she worked for it. (We’ll highlight some of those in a future article).
As you can see, I don’t recommend avoidance of the news media. Instead, I recommend its well-considered use in the right circumstances.
There are also situations where you might choose to decline an interview. Around the same time I did the interview on the neuro-protective benefits of indoor cycling, I declined an interview on Lance Armstrong’s riding in Iowa’s cross-state ride, RAGBRAI. The story clearly was to question whether he was welcome on RAGBRAI after his admission to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. In that case, I had an opinion but I did not see benefit in the expression of it.
There is great opportunity in the “free” media. Not only will your message reach a large number of people, it will also have the credibility of having been reported by an independent source. The flip side of that benefit is that you can never have total control of your message in the free media. You generally do not get to review the finished piece before it is released to the public, and you never get the final say in how you are portrayed or quoted. To have that kind of control, you must pay for advertising.
If you are given the opportunity to promote your industry, your business, and yourself, should you do it? Is being interviewed worth the risk? How do you decide? Those are questions I will address in the next article. Following that, I will give you some tips on how to prepare for and execute your interview. We will finish the series with tips on seeking media opportunities that can help your PR efforts for yourself and/or your studio.
In the meantime, we’d love to hear from you. Have you ever been invited by the media to be interviewed as a fitness professional? How did it go? Were there any benefits or disadvantages? We will listen to your experiences and try to address any questions as we continue this series on how to find media opportunities, and how to put your best foot forward when you do. (For ICA members). Click here to read Part 2.
[Footnote: John Macgowan, head of ICA’s competitor, Indoor Cycle Instructor, conducted part of his attack of my discussion of the Harper’s Bazaar interview on Facebook and part of it on his online forum, Pedal-On. Despite my ten years of contributions to Pedal-On prior to John’s purchase of it, John has prohibited my participation on the site by blocking me. In that regard, he left ICA policy on media relations subject solely to his own interpretation as a competitor. Bill’s views as expressed in this series of articles accurately describes the role that ICA believes can be played by indoor cycling instructors and studios in promoting themselves, their facilities, and their profession. Hopefully this series will correct any misconceptions of ICA policy that may have been created during the discussion. ~Jennifer Sage]