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Filling your race

Written by: Dan Empfield
Date: Thu Apr 10 2008

Plenty of race directors don't even print paper brochures any longer. The Malibu Tri enters its 3000 participants without them. Terry Davis' TriCalifornia takes upwards of 15,000 entries for its races in the Bay Area and California's Central Coast, an no trees are felled in the gathering of these entries. No Ironman competitor in North America fills out a paper entry. Everyone enters online.

But you're not Terry Davis (unless you, in fact, are Terry Davis, in which case Hey Terry!). This means you've got to market your race. You might think the answer is to get a couple of stories printed in the local paper, get on a few websites and tri calendars, and to let Active.com do the rest. Not so.

In point of fact, the marketing of your race is done the same way you'd hope to get your local political candidate elected. It's really very analogous to politics, if you think about it. Yours is a one-time sale, and is executed on one specific date on the calendar, just like an election.

What you need is a confluence of visibility, noise, impressions, whatever you want to call them, that reach a crescendo far enough in advance of the event (or election) to get people to enter (or vote). You can't rely on ads or race calendars alone. Imagine what you have to do to get your candidate elected. Retail politics. Pressing the flesh. Speaking in front of every group of people that'll have you. That's what you've got to do to get your race entries up to the level for which you've budgeted.

Therefore, you can't rely simply on online registration. You've got to print entry forms and, yes, you've got to go out to every Tom, Dick and Harry triathlon starting six or eight months out and flyer every windshield wiper of every car in every parking lot. Speak to every tri club. Pester every magazine, website, and tri club newsletter editor. I can't stress this enough. I love Dave Scott, but he won't fill your race, and neither will any other pro. If you gave me the choice of having Lance Armstrong appear at my first year event, or having a high school kid flyer every windshield in every parking lot of every triathlon eight months out, I'd take the latter in a second. There is no single person, no amount of prize money, no championship status, nothing that takes the place of retail grass roots marketing. All the other stuff is accretive, but you can't replace the good old windshield flyer. In fact, you can't replace anything. You need it all. You need to write down every conceivable idea for adding entries to your race and you need to execute each and every strategy within your budget.

Your most important marketing is grass roots marketing. But by all means use the power of the media, and of the internet. Are you in possession of any email lists? Get them if you can. Or better yet, try to get the holder of such lists to do your emailing for you. I say this because it's not a piece of cake to do a mass email, especially with spam blockers of every sort attempting to keep your email from getting to its addressee. So, if you can get a blurb about your race embedded in someone else's newsletter, you might have better success. Do a hard target search of every conceivable list holder and get your race the attention it needs.

In one or two installments I'll write about attracting media, and you'll want to use the media to help you get both volunteers and racers. Just realize that the media will only be of limited help to you if it simply covers your race. For both your sponsors and your entry totals, local media is a lot more helpful if they're writing about your race weeks out.

  

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