Should You Talk to the Media? Part 1

[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]


  1. Media interviews aside, the sadness for me is that in our small segment of the fitness industry we are so fragmented. Sides have been taken, lines drawn.

    I’ve been saying for a long time now, “The power of us is greater than the sum of our individual efforts.”

    There is no doubt that indoor cycling is a business. Those that allude otherwise obviously have not tried to pay the studio bills with their passion. It doesn’t work for long. There are many former studio operators that would support that.

    There is an obvious – to me at least – distinction between the business of indoor cycling and the business of educating indoor cycle instructors. The former must be run as a business to be viable, the latter just run to fund the education.

    Remember this: At the end of the business day, if indoor cycling fails to draw large enough numbers, it will get axed in favor of the ‘new’ hot class in the main studio. Then it won’t matter how good the education is, we will have no where to ply our craft.

    Let’s stop arguing about who speaks for us, or what we say to the media and let’s put indoor cycling back at the top of most sought after classes in the gym.

    Effecting cultural change widely within our industry seems unlikely as we are doing it now. If we truly want to put spinning back on the map, we must team up and learn to do something we’ve not – to date – done well. Work together. Form strategic alliances. Merge. Whatever it takes. While I truly believe in this approach, it will prove difficult as it means sharing profits. Yes regardless of how much passion there is, money still counts.

    The power of us is greater than the sum of our individual efforts.

  2. Author

    Thank you, Sherin, for expressing many of the reasons that I too rely on Jennifer for scientific and practical advice. She has earned our support by any measure you care to choose.

    More on media relations: I want to bring us back from the Harper’s Bazaar interview for one important reason. It is misleading us as to what a typical media interview might be. Yes, bad interviews can happen. It did happen to Jennifer. We need to be prepared for them. But it is not the norm.

    The most likely interview scenario for an indoor cycling professional is a local health feature on TV or in the newspaper aimed to promote exercise and expose people to various options including indoor cycling. These kind of stories can occur at any time, sometimes around New Year’s resolution time. Many news outlets now have reporters assigned specifically to health, wellness and fitness year round.

    In most of these cases, the reporter’s interest and yours are exactly the same. You both want to promote health and you both want the side benefits that come with that promotion in terms of either publicity or a successful story.

    While I want people to be prepared for anything that might happen, I don’t want anyone to turn down interviews out of undue fear, or perform overly cautiously and act stilted.

    For this reason, I don’t agree with Mairead’s suggestion to whip out a tape recorder when you start the interview. While being within your rights, it suggests paranoia. (See Richard Nixon). And, as Matt says above, it helps your cause to be likable. Mairead also has a good number of points with which I agree, by the way. So thanks for sharing.

    It’s interesting to me that I am not seeing the kind of comment yet that tells any kind of story about being interviewed. I totally get that it is not an everyday occurrence but I am curious because surely some ICA members have stories to share.

    Thanks for sharing one and all!

  3. I did not get a chance to see the “squabbling” mentioned earlier.I really don’t have any time to waste. But I saw the silly “Bizarre” article (not a misspell!). And reading this article (thank you Bill for dissecting this issue for all of us) I take exception to some of the comments and want to add my two cents for what it’s worth 😉
    Jennifer is the heart and soul of indoor cycling. She was a critical force,and the reason most of us (searching for substance and information) considered, and finally joined ICIpro a few years ago. Her name was the “brand” we recognized, and what peaked our interest to pay the fees to become members of ICI at the time. If she weren’t a public voice,if she had not put herself out there, we would not have found ICI. Would we? She moved on, and….many of us moved with her. The reason is not because we are star-struck!hahaha!
    There are many reasons we listen to Jennifer’s interviews, read her articles, and pause to hear what she has to say, and get irritated when she is misquoted.
    Her credentials, a good one to start with. Her “education”, her life long career in health and fitness, her background in research (did you know she was using HR, and LT in her research in her early college years, developing case studies to show the effects of training using these most important fitness factors?!. Her education gave her a solid start to the strong scientific background that we have come to rely on. Why would we give our precious time to listen to anyone who does not have the science in their pocket to support what comes off the tip of their tongue or their pen?! I certainly value my time.
    Her long term cycling career is another good reason. I think it’s safe to say all of us value leaders who practice what they preach. She is an accomplished cyclist. She raced (MTB)in her early cycling years. While one does not necessarily have to be a pro or elite cyclist to be an effective coach, most of us cyclist have additional respect for the “keeping it real” factor in someone that has first hand experience and not just talks the talk. She leads cycling tours in Italy,France, etc. Her master ride profiles are gripping because she has actually ridden those epic climbs and not fantasized them!
    Need more reasons? look at her “indoor cycling experience and knowledge”. Her expertise in all that is indoor cycling has a huge range, from her 12 years as one of the most sought-after Master Instructors with our beloved (and original) JohnnyG Spinning, to countless national and international conferences, workshops and seminars she has been commissioned to lead…. These should testify to her “indoor cycling” expertise and credibility.

    These are the reasons Jennifer Sage stands out from those who are in the “business” of indoor cycling. She comes from a place of passion for cycling and isn’t afraid of ruffling feathers when she knows she has to stand up.
    I look for heart, passion, science and logic. I am a member of ICA. I take pride in what I do, and I am very grateful for leaders like Jennifer, who selflessly put a target mark on their backs as they promote “keeping it real”.
    Integrity is doing the right thing, and giving credit where it’s due.

  4. Just one point you may not like but don’t dismiss it .. Harper’s Bazaar a fashion rag it is not. It’s a leading well respected magazine with a worldwide reputation. It’s very widely read by a huge population.

    Otherwise very considered points Matt.

    Indoor cycling need to stop squabbling and point scoring and market properly . It’s all marketing folks, consider your marketing speak ,write it down and know exactly your words.

    Don’t be led to paths you don’t want to go and if you’re being interviewed, and you’re not entirely at peace with the process tell the journalist you would like to record the interview for your own clarity and records, it’s not personal or paranoid, you just like to have a factual record as part of your business records.

    It’s the freedom to communicate that enables us to develop and make good choices. This does not mean to say the media won’t occasionally cheat , behave badly, and do the wrong thing, but we must communicate and be confident in our beliefs and ability to express them clearly.

    Separate the business from the heart and you will clear your vision.
    Not speaking to the press ? Why not? Just remember you are selling a product it’s not just your passion. Read up on that side of your craft , study a bit of marketing.

    Indoor cycling is not just about riding a bike indoors it’s a business.

  5. Author

    Hi Matt. I appreciate your tips and largely agree with them in substance.

    As to your preface, I understand Jennifer to be saying that it can be important for us to talk to the media in some circumstances. And I understand John to be saying almost never do so. That is more than a tie-score in my opinion.

    I don’t wish to come off as a self-appointed “expert” but I believe Jennifer characterized me as expert in order to emphasize my experience. In any event, my purpose in writing this article was to share the lessons of more than thirty years of experience dealing with the media for those in our industry who wish to take advantage of it. I appreciate and respect that you have similar experience.

    I don’t see any divergence in our specific recommendations. Your statements cover some of the material I plan to cover in the subsequent articles. I am grateful to see them expressed because I think they will benefit the members of the indoor cycling community.

    Thanks for sharing your constructive suggestions.

  6. Wow!Wow! And Whoa! Its funny to read this. Its sad to read this. In fact, its a shame to read this.

    No, not the issue regarding indoor cycling’s propensity to make ones behind and thighs larger or elongated, but to see an industry in its infancy already fighting amongst itself.

    Jennifer and John two self anointed industry leaders squabbling amongst themselves. And doing so over a question that both are answering incorrectly.

    Again, the question isn’t about cyclings effects on ones tush or thighs, but on if you should talk to the media.

    Jenifer gets half credit for her answer being “It depends”.

    I guess John should get half credit to for his comments which amounted to leave it to those who know what they are doing.

    I come from a journalistic family. I myself have worked with, and/or been the subject of the media, for more than twenty years. I’ve had numerous involvements and been in many venues in doing so. I’ve been the point person for the court system, public housing agencies, and major international brands and their corporations.

    I’m also an avid cyclist, indoor cycling instructor, and Fitness trainer.

    I come at this from a number of angles, some already expressed. Since Jennifer already has an “expert” on the subject, I’m not going to attempt to write “Working with the media 101” here.

    I am going to suggest that you (1) be clear, and sure of yourself, and your knowledge before you speak to the media or for any group or organization. (2) Be clear what is being asked of you, and/or about you and who the reporter is, and where they’re work is going to be published. (3) Do not think in terms of self promotion, reporters are trained to sift through that, and will credit you only if they “like” you…so be careful what you try to be likable for, and gain credit for. (4) While Jennifer is likely correct in her comment that she was taken out of context, and John is also correct in that sometimes [in an effort to get all sides of a story] a reporter might misrepresent their perspective, those assertions come in part from feeling as if they were burned by the media, which is common and not without foundation. The reality is, if Jennifer and John had asked a few questions of their own, and gained clarity for themselves, and been clear on their responses, it would have been less likely they’d have been burned by the media. When you speak with the media, it is hugely important to speak, not so that you are understood, but so that you are not misunderstood. These are some of the differences between an indoor cycling professional responding to an “fashion” reporters questions, and an experienced indoor cycling media manager responding to a professional journalist. Bottom line, know what you say, and to who you are saying it.

  7. Robert,
    while I agree with you on most of those points, two of them I respectfully disagree! 😉

    No, I didn’t say Spinning “makes you fat”. But she took most of my comments out of context. That is being misquoted (especially the “layer of fat” one). I gave her a lot of scientifically based information on why someone might not see results if they were to take 5-7 classes a week, and she chose to ignore every word. There was not one mention of proper technique or of diet. The stated premise of the article & interview prior to publication was not whether “Spinning makes you fat”, so I was misled by the journalist.

    The article was poorly written, researched and irresponsibly presented. Even the premise is wrong. To print that someone said they had to “let their quads atrophy” to get them back to their regular size?

    But yes, you’re right, it’s a fashion rag, so I’m not too worried. However, it adds to the cesspool of misinformation that a lot of the students who go to classes actually refer to and believe. That only hurts our industry and increases the challenges we face as instructors who try to do it right. Unfortunately, there are even some trainers/instructors who tore this out of the magazine or printed it online and said “see? I told you so!”

    And, as you correctly infer, to use this as an example of why one should run away from the media, is wrong on all accounts. Au contraire! Let’s go get ’em! =)

  8. To put it simply:

    (a) the article wasn’t actually that bad, it’s just that it can be misinterpreted.
    (b) Jennifer didn’t say that Spinning makes you fat or even misquoted to that extent.
    (c) it’s a fashion rag, not a respected fitness publication.
    (d) an expert giving their thoughts to a journalist is nothing new, do we ban all expert views?
    (e) not promoting Spinning (or any programme that Keeps It Real) is what allows SoulCycle to flourish.
    (f) John has cynically tried to use this to score cheap points against ICA. It has backfired!
    (g) If John is adamant to we shouldn’t talk to the press, he should remove his website and Pedal-On…it is public, after all!

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