Originally published in Feb 2012.
I’ve often heard models mention they’ve invested a lot of time, effort and money entering competitions for the purpose of getting into magazines. I find this to be common within the industry. Somewhere along the way, however, the line between publishing and competitions got blurred – mixed into one, and now, the two seem to be intertwined. This is a regretful and costly mistake for many, thinking the best way to get published is by placing well in a competition.
Let’s begin by breaking down the fundamentals of each business. Both fitness competitions and publishers (magazines) are exactly that – businesses. They exist to earn profit. I am, at present, unaware of any fitness magazine or competition which is non-profit.
Having said that, fitness competitions spend money on venue rentals, advertisement and administration. They make money by selling tickets to the shows, charging athletes registration fees and individual category fees and collecting revenues from advertisers, sponsors, and percentages from their make up artists and hosts hotels. The basic rule of a successful business is to spend as little as possible and make as much as possible. For some reason, however, people expect these organizations to perform as though they were non-profit.
The publishing industry – simply put – takes pieces of paper, puts words and pictures on them and sells as many as possible. Not to sound belittling, but it’s essentially that simple. Unfortunately, people enter competitions expecting their hard work and their achievements at events to earn them a place on one of these pieces of paper. Nowhere is it written, that a magazine is about rewarding the hard work of the athlete. The magazine is not obligated to feature those that worked hardest, had the best physiques, and placed the highest. It would be nice to live in that world, but we regretfully don’t.
The resulting confusion is understandable. In regards to ‘male’ athletes, all the bodybuilding magazines want the biggest, the most popular and the best competitors in their pages. Why? Because it sells more magazines. It is, however, quite different in the world of female competitors. Female fitness magazines sell to a different market. Their audience (the majority of it, anyway) is not aware of the best physiques or the best competitors. They are mostly people wanting to exercise, get into shape and learn a bit about fitness and diet. With that being the case, the competitors or models that land the covers aren’t by definition the best competitors, or even have the best physiques. The person that gets the cover is the one that will sell the most, or generate the greatest possible revenue. I know people have purchased covers. If the price is right, it’s another way for the magazine to make money.
Now, that said, fitness competitions do have a lot of good physiques in one place at one time. So it makes sense that some of these shows would get coverage from magazines. It makes sense, but, the competitions often take credit for the fact that their competitors are featured in magazines. Its great publicity for the shows, but they are not the main reason athletes get featured in magazines. The bigger the competition, the less stage time a competitor gets (reducing the opportunity of getting noticed and diminishing your exposure : expense ratio). The smaller the venue, the less possibility anyone from a magazine will be present. (Exposure : Expense ratio = 0). Determining which competition to compete in is a gamble in and of itself.
While there certainly are relationships between fitness organizations and publishers, money always talks. When it comes down to it, the magazine will always give the cover to the athlete they feel will earn them the most money – independent of the organization they may be affiliated with.
With all this said and done, I’m not advising anyone NOT to compete, rather laying out a clear perspective on the industry overall.
To be clear, I’m not anti-competitions, (I attend them every so often). If I had to give myself a classification, I would consider myself neutral or ‘pro-athlete’.
So why the long ramble on the industry?
During my years shooting for both the competitions and the magazines, I’ve heard many models say they entered competitions for the purpose of getting into magazines. This is an ineffective way to achieve that goal with a lot of variables getting in one’s way of getting seen or even noticed.
Fitness modeling, too, is a business. It makes little sense to take the riskier path, which costs more, requires more effort and may offer insignificant results. So what is the best path to take? If the goal is to be a fitness model, reaching out to the various magazines is a good place to start. Perhaps the editor will see your face and book you for a shoot immediately. However, because of the thousands of emails they already receive, you again, will end up potentially being overlooked. I feel one of the best ways to invest your money, is to reach out to those who can make introductions, can ensure you will get seen, who will get you considered — the photographers.
But don’t make the mistake of going to just any photographer, as the average photographer simply submits as one of the thousands of emails the magazines receive. Reach out to the photographers who are connected to the magazines; who are in every issue, shoot the covers and have personal relationships with the magazines. We are the ones that can call the right people and say, “I think this girl would make an excellent cover model”. While we don’t have authority over who gets chosen, we do, however, get heard and often listened to. On a personal note, I have made numerous recommendations which have directly resulted in models being published inside the magazine and on the cover — even models that have never competed! I have pulled models aside at expos and introduced them to editors, ultimately leading to them being published.
Who to call.
As the Chief Photographer and Founder of STRONG Fitness Magazine, I (along with my team), are directly responsible for selecting the models that get into the magazine. In this capacity, I call the shots. I was successful at making introductions when I worked for the other magazines, but too often the magazines simply didn’t see it my way. This is not a problem I have any longer.
To be fair, other notable fitness photographers include: Pavel Ythjall , Stuart Volland, Per Bernal, Robert Reiff, Cory Sorensen, Kevin Horton, Alex Ardenti……and there are others. You’ll have to do your homework. Look at their portfolios, look at the magazines they have been published in and check the photo credits inside the magazines to see who shot what. That will give you a good indication.
To save you time, here’s a link to a bunch of my tear sheets before STRONG.
A heads up.
We’re not cheap. Because there are very few of us, we are in demand. Still, factor in how much you’re prepare to spend on a competition including all the training and meals, flights and accommodations, food, registrations, tanning, outfits, make up, etc etc etc…, and weigh that against ‘greatly improved odds’, ‘the best pictures of your life’ and a direct relationship with the magazine of your choice. I think you’ll agree, for the same expense, it’s a much better investment.
I recently wrote an article about getting paid as a fitness model. Educate yourself – Read it here.
If you’re in the industry and feel this is a useful insight, please don’t hesitate to share it on Facebook.
Thanks for the support!