By August 31, 2006

A man, a booth, and a story.

I wrote a commendation for my personal trainer Yoda earlier in the month after we finished up our 40 sessions. I sent it to our gym’s general manager and our account rep, along with my before and after pictures. I expected Yoda to get some kudos, maybe a bonus of some kind, and that would be the end of it.

Four days after I sent the email, I got a reply from a lady with our gym’s marketing department. They were making me member of the month across the six clubs and wanted a headshot, a biography, and permission to use my story and pictures. I couldn’t care less about being member of the month, but I saw this as a chance for Yoda to get more recognition and clients. I agreed, lamenting that I would have had my back waxed if I knew my photos were going to be in public.

I was wondering about cropping my pubis out of my pictures when I got another email. This time it was from the marketing director for the entire gym chain. She wanted me to do a testimonial for a radio ad they were making. I wasn’t sure about this — I doubt I could say Yoda’s name on the air. On the other hand, anything to promote his workplace might help him get more clients. Plus, going to a recording studio to lay down a spot could be a neat experience. I made an appointment, and went yesterday.

The recording studio was right on the fringe of the revitalized part of downtown Richmond, and the shady part. There were signs everywhere cautioning against loitering or parking in spots reserved for businesses. Two buildings to the right of the studio were nice and shiny, two buildings to the left had boarded up windows. Richmond is a silly place. I was buzzed in, and transitioned from an urban eyesore to a posh, funky setup. There were black leather chairs and couches all over the place. A blonde-haired pixie greeted me, “would you like some water, coffee, or tea?” I shook my head, and she flitted away. The place was lit entirely by drop lighting and generated a down-tempo feeling without being too dark.

The radio marketing folks came out to greet me. I was early, but they were ready. The engineering room for my booth was protected by a series of heavy, padded doors. I met the two audio engineers, and was ushered into my recording booth. We snaked our way through three offset doors made of wood and thick glass. I had imagined that the booth would be small, maybe just large enough for two or three people to stand it. It was big enough to hold a dozen people or more. I stood in front of a metal music stand, with the microphone directly behind on a floor stand. A small table was to my left, with someone’s cup of water on it. The marketing guy left me, and I put my headphones on. “Testing,” one of the engineers said. I started to get nervous. This was a real deal.

The idea of the testimonial was to condense my experience into thirty seconds or less. An announcer would do a voice over in the finished spot, but the majority of the content would be the gym members discussing their experience, and what they liked about our chain. I came to the studio with an idea of what I wanted to say: that I was in my early thirties, I sat in front of a computer all day, and I wanted to lose my spare tire. After working with my personal trainer, I lost eighteen pounds of fat and nine percent body fat in four months. Seemed like a good plug, yeah?

The marketing folks agreed, but pointed out that they wanted the testimonial to be about the gym in general. Personal training cost extra money, and they didn’t want the advertisement to make it seem like you couldn’t get results without personal training. Fair enough, I said, and I started to blather about all the other nice things about the chain: lots of equipment, clean facilities, open 24/7, six locations to choose from, most classes were free, etc. The next few minutes flew by, as they asked me questions via headset to lead the rest of my testimonial. Why did I choose my gym chain over their competitors? Name as many things I can do in the gym as fast as I could. What was my personal goal when I joined the gym? Lastly, and my favorite question of all: if one of my friends in their late twenties or early thirties was talking about joining, what would I tell them?

“Listen, you’re getting older, you’re going bald, and you’ve got hair on your back. You’ve got a spare tire. You’ve got nothing else going for you. All you can control is going to the gym. It’s the only thing you can do to change yourself. You’ve no one else to blame.”

My headphones were silent for a few moments. I realized that my voice was more heated than during the rest of my testimonial. My true testimonial wasn’t about meeting my short-term goal of losing body fat, but taking control of my life in a year that has been otherwise very out of control. “Wow,” the marketing guy said. “That was awesome.” I heard the other people in the engineering booth agree. “I’m going to come get you, I think we have all that we need.”

I spoke with the crew again before I left. The marketing guy said there would be some sort of compensation, to which I shrugged. “I’m more interested in getting access to my testimonial. Is there a way you can email me an mp3 or a wav file of it when it’s done?” They agreed, and hopefully the spot will air sometime in the middle of September. My contribution could be 100% of an ad, or zero, depending on what other folks have to add and how the gym wants to shape their advertisement. Once I get the spot, I’ll post it here for a listen. I hope I don’t sound like a total dork.

3 Comments on "A man, a booth, and a story."

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  1. Markie says:

    If you have any input, how about a year of Yoda as compensation…

  2. drfaulken says:

    They did mention the possibility of some free personal training. My only concern about that is how that becomes “free:” does the company pay Yoda, or does Yoda just get shafted? Surely the former, but you never know with these larger companies.

  3. Mike says:

    “Member of the month” – oh, yeah. I’d take that title any day.

    Can’t wait to hear the commercial.