A lot has changed over the years in the world of race promotion, making marketing your event seem daunting. “I’m not a marketer,” “I don’t have a marketing budget,” “I don’t know where to start.” I hear it all the time! Gone are the days of simply paying to advertise in the local race magazine or posting your event on a race listing website and watching the race registrations roll in. There’s a lot of competition out there so, yes, you’re going to need to do a little more work to make the magic happen and stand out from the crowd. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it because you’re not a marketer, though!
I’m going to share with you some ways to get you telling the right story to the right people, at the right time in the right place, which will ultimately help you grow your race. We’ll break it down into a common marketing concept called the 4 P’s of Marketing: Product, Price, Place, and Promotion. To help break it down (and hopefully add to your success) I’ll even break out a 5th P: People.
So let’s start right there with the last P; the People.
You probably don’t want to hear this, but you can’t be all things to all people. This is actually a good thing though, because it can help you target your race promotion outreach. For example, you may want to plan a 5K in your hometown. If you’re thinking, “I want anyone to be able to run it”, that’s OK. Just understand that you probably won’t attract competitive runners with that approach. (See? You’ve already started targeting!) In this example, you could focus on getting the community out and running (and maybe walking) together.
Think about what would motivate people in your town to go to your event. Encourage neighbors to form teams. Bring out the mayor. Can you get the school principals involved in some friendly rivalry? Perhaps the fire and police departments? Maybe you can get the neighboring towns involved in a similar capacity. You’ll also want to be sure not to pick a date when there are other big local events (even youth sporting events like opening day for Little League can stifle your numbers).
Think about what your target audience’s pain points are, too. If you’re targeting “anyone”, do you think parents are going to want to drag their kids out of bed at 6am on a Sunday so they can all participate together? Probably not. Figure out how to make it easy for people to do things like:
- Find each other in the start and finish area
- Find a port-a-potty
- Run with strollers
- Walk without getting in the way of runners
- Take fun and shareable, “I’m proud of my community” pictures
If you want to target more competitive runners, think about what motivates them on race morning. We’ll give you a hint: a lot of it’s the opposite of what we just talked about!
Your product is your race. What makes it different from all the others out there? Tell your story through content, images and videos if you can. While your images and videos need to be compelling (and hopefully share-worthy), they DO NOT need to be professionally done – what a relief, right? The elements of your event story should, at a minimum, include the following:
- Event name
- Event info like how to register, date, time, etc.
- Price tiers
- What the participant gets for the price
- Any charity affiliations
- Stories/testimonials from past year(s) if you have them
- What makes your event special/unique/different (why should people participate in your race)
- Tone of your event – Fun run? Competitive? Family-friendly? Dog-friendly?
- How you are addressing potential pain points like those mentioned above
Make sure you’re clear on what your story is before you start talking about it. Otherwise, you run the risk of starting out your race promotion efforts saying one thing and evolving into saying something different. You’ll end up disappointing a lot of people if you let this happen due to mixed expectations across participants.
Place is all about finding your audience. Where can you reach them, both in physical settings and online, with your race promotions? Local running stores, gyms, schools, libraries, dry cleaners and take-out restaurants can be great physical locations to reach people for local events. This doesn’t just mean flyers though; think outside the box! Can you form partnerships with these companies and organizations that could be mutually beneficial? (Think local sponsors and exposure for everyone, a win/win).
What about other local events? This may seem like competition, but it doesn’t have to be. Can you join forces with other local races to promote both of your races? Think of the triple crown model. Not all of those types of races start as one race director’s events!
Online is the next obvious place to look for your audience. Facebook is a no-brainer. Instagram is great if you have compelling imagery to share. Twitter is worth tapping into if you have some experience there growing followers.
Obviously price can be a big factor for your race. First and foremost, make sure you know what it’s costing you to put on your event. You can use our online cost calculator to help sort out your costs and try out different registration fees to hit your sweet spot. Be sure to factor in things like price breaks, discounted pricing and even comped VIP entries. And again, know your audience. Is your event in a blue-collar neighborhood or somewhere with more disposable income to spare?
Be sure to check your competition. Check out a race listing site like Raceplace and see what others are charging in your area for a similar event. Unless you are adding significant value to your event that goes above and beyond what others are offering, you’ll want to stick in the price range that you find in your research. Make sure you aren’t breaking any race pricing rules either.
People will pay more for an amazing course, nice views, great swag, VIP treatment, and even guaranteed celebrity sightings. Your race is an investment: be sure you are communicating the value participants receive for the money they’re spending.
Once you’ve figured out what your story is, who your audience is, where to find them, and your price, it’s time to pull the trigger on marketing your race. Social media takes some time to build up but once you get the wheels turning, it’s an incredibly inexpensive and efficient way to not only grow your race but also communicate with your existing customers. (Download our beginner and advanced social media guidebooks for race directors for extensive social media techniques and marketing tips)!
Email is an obvious cheap win to grow your race. But if you don’t have a list, what do you do? Ask your timer if he/she has an email they send out promoting local events. Many of them do. Try tapping into other local race organizers to see if you can create a relationship where you mutually promote events. They may ONLY be using email, whereas you’ll be marketing your event like a pro, using all of these different channels and reaching people the other event may not be.
Here are some other ways you can get added race promotion exposure:
- Your local government’s social media channels
- Flyers at local companies and organizations mentioned above
- Social media channels of those physical locations. If you give them exposure, can they give you exposure on their social channels in exchange?
- Local runners, “celebrities”, clubs… Offer up discount codes that can be shared with people’s networks to help grow your race. This could ultimately turn into your very own ambassador program
- PR via local news outlets
- Locally-targeted paid advertising. Try Facebook first. It’s pretty straightforward and there are tools within the product to help you create your own ads
- Inclusions in local running magazine and online event calendars
- Try other tactics from this blog on free or almost-free ways to grow your race
If you’ve made it this far, you’re armed with a lot of information to help make your event marketing a success. Don’t skip over the additional thought it takes to write down your ideas around the 5 P’s. If you take the time to thoughtfully go through the exercise, your event story will come across clear and you’ll target your audience with the right message in the right places. And of course, experiment with the timing of your outreach. The further out the better! Even if you have everything else in place, if you’re too late with the timing your audience’s calendars will be booked up and even a deeply discounted registration won’t get them to your race.
Laurie was a contributing writer to our race planning guide. Download our guide on how to plan a 5K race here.
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