If members are the lifeblood of your gym, marketing is the arteries that carry it there. But marketing for local gyms can be famously expensive and bring in poor return on investment (ROI) if you’re not careful.

You already know about running Facebook ads, putting out flyers, and raising yard signs all over town. These marketing ideas below are underrated but innovative and powerful ways to market to your community without breaking the bank.

Direct-Response Marketing Campaigns

Direct response marketing is one of the most consistently powerful and affordable methods you have available to you, regardless of business.

You’ve seen the Coca-Cola and McDonald’s commercials. They’re creative, sometimes even artistic, and they flash the brand elements on the screen. Sometimes they advertise a limited time offer, but overall, no direct action is asked for by these commercials. 

Megacorps with established brands can afford to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on these campaigns, but small business owners would be foolish to try and match this. Asking viewers or readers to take action in a tangible and clear way has proven to improve conversion rates in virtually any type of marketing campaign. This is called direct response marketing, and it’s usually paired with some sort of free, useful upfront product to amplify the conversion rate and get readers or viewers on an email or mailing list.

Once you have someone on your email list, you can remarket to them as often as you want, 100% free of charge, until they decide to unsubscribe. Email lists are the easiest and cheapest way to maintain a list, but there’s evidence that classic direct mailers can actually be more effective than totally digital direct response campaigns, so keep the old school methods in your back pocket, too.

To learn more how to put together a campaign, read our article on direct response marketing. It’s oriented at martial arts schools, but everything applies the same to gyms and other fitness-based businesses.

Press Releases & Earned Media Publications

Publishing press releases on the opening (or reopening) of your gym to local news sources is a fast and cost effective way to get hundreds, perhaps thousands of people aware of your facilities and service offerings.

It’s important you get a hold of the media kits of each news outlet you want to submit your press release to so that it’s written in proper style and format. If you don’t follow their guidelines, you risk getting your article tossed out before it’s even considered. If you have the budget, you can hire a PR agency to make this process a breeze.

Depending on how those news sources prefer to run press releases, you might also get some really high quality backlinks to your website, which will help your local SEO performance.

To learn more about PR and media publications, check out our page on earned media publications.

Corporate Wellness Partnerships

Company spending on corporate wellness programs expands year over year. Why not seize a piece of that pie for yourself?

Prospect with medium to large businesses in your area offering on-campus classes. Work with the company to negotiate a reduced “corporate” rate for employees to become members at your gym once they’ve finished the class. Or, you can skip the onsite classes and just negotiate a corporate rate.

Doctor Referrals

Physicians and other types of doctors in healthcare will sometimes refer individuals to gyms for fitness programs that have strong trainer or community support. Besides hiring personal trainers, these programs might include zumba, spin, and any aerobic exercise class with other individuals who can be supportive to one another.

While many physicians are not sold on it, some will also refer patients to a gym to use weightlifting as a way to resolve back pain and other types of muscular pain. Your free weights and trainers can fill this need readily.

This could work especially well if you have trainers certified in modalities that can help support physical therapy or resolve minor physical ailments, such as NASM’s Corrective Exercise certification. That said, it will take time for you and your gym’s representatives to build the sort of relationships that earn you direct referrals from a doctor.

Local Influencer Marketing: How to Recruit

Put some effort into recruiting and wowing important individuals in your community. If they love the program, they’ll spread the word, and their ethos lends credibility and creates interest in your gym within the community. 

This works the best when the influencers you recruit have significant social media followings made up mostly of local people. Don’t be afraid to ask for a shout — it’s free marketing, and it’s some of the most effective marketing you’ll get for the price.

Member Referrals

People trust their people. Set up an incentive for people to invite their friends to come to the gym. This can work particularly well for specific services such as a fitness class or personal training.

To supercharge this strategy, give a positive incentive for both the member and the invitee. This way, everyone wins when a referral successfully signs up for a membership. To learn more about this, read our article on how to put together a strong referral program.

Our gym software makes creating and tracking referral programs a breeze. You can offer automatic membership decreases or activate some other incentive for each referral tracked through the system. Because it’s fully integrated with the whole gym management system, you can see which members are the movers and shakers, and you can see which referral programs are working the best and which aren’t.

Leverage Your Space for More Clients

Opening your space temporarily to bring in people you’d normally never appeal to is another little-known tactic. If you have some down time and some space, you could host game nights. Even non-MMA gyms have hosted MMA fight weigh-ins. This garners a lot of attention and lets you penetrate markets you previously could not enter.


Most gym owners know the usual approach to marketing. In this article, we went over several lesser known, very powerful, and innovative ways to market the gym inexpensively:

  • Direct-Response Campaigns
  • Press Releases
  • Corporate Wellness Partnerships
  • Doctor Referrals
  • Recruit Local Influencers to the Gym
  • Incentivize Member Referrals
  • Leverage Your Space

If you find yourself scratching your head at how to get your marketing rolling and stop bleeding advertising dollars, try these strategies instead. Or simply add them to your current effort!

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