Attracting media to your race

Let's consider the media categories separately. We'll break them down into five parts: local newspaper, local TV, local radio, endemic print magazine, and endemic online media.

There are several reasons you want media.

* You want them to cover your event early — i.e., weeks and months before the event — so that you can use this coverage to increase both your registration numbers and your number of volunteers.
* Assuming you have sponsors, you want them to receive as much value as possible, and this means coverage both before and after the event.
* You've got to please the local politicians and municipal department heads who've stuck their necks out for you. If they've gotten behind your race, they'll be encouraged to see wide coverage of your event, and relieved that they've backed the right horse.
* Finally, you want your local media to be your ally in heading off problems. Radio stations do traffic reports, right? Wouldn't they like to know in advance if your race will cause traffic delays? If their traffic reporters can broadcast the day before, and the morning of, the race that certain routes are going to be problematic, that helps you.

The local newspaper coverage is fairly easy to get. Triathlons are big events, especially if you are ambitious about the size and scope of your event. They don't have as many contestants as your area's biggest footraces, but neither do Formula One events, or the X-Games. Triathlon is in between these two types of events. They're much bigger productions than most 10k races, and they have more spectators. But they're also substantially contestant-driven, and so they generate numbers. Newspapers like triathlons. They're colorful and camera-friendly. They're novel and newsy.

But go further. On Slowtwitch you'll find a 21-week Beginner's Training Schedule. It's been reprinted in quite a few daily newspapers. After gaining my prior permission, of course, your newspaper can use this to get your area's newbies ready for your Oly-distance or shorter triathlon. This schedule has proven to be very popular, and as it's free it'll fit into your newspaper's editorial budget nicely.

Or figure out some other novel idea. The point is, you want to make it easy for newbies to join in, you want to create a cultural scene, you want your community to be knitted into your event, and you want your local media to join in.

I've made this work with my local newspaper — using my beginner's training program — and I've made it work with the local NBC affiliate as well. I agreed to train them personally for several months prior to one of my races. Twice or three times cameras came out and filmed their own news anchors and reporters, and then (of course) they came and filmed the race. Here's an interesting epilogue. One of their news anchors — a 20-something gal — got quite good. She went on to do the Hawaiian Ironman multiple times, and actually contemplated taking out a pro card.

Needless to say, this is the sort of thing you want. Just make sure you're ready to execute this, and have your ducks in a row. Don't over-promise.

I must confess, others are better at the radio thing than I am. Newspapers and television, yeah, I can get these to come out (and I can get them out early, months prior, which is the mother lode of coverage). But radio hasn't been my forte. However, as I write in an installment above, this is probably where I'd try to use the leverage and muscle that a sponsor might provide.

How do you leverage that muscle? I suppose I'd consider who it is that buys a lot of radio ad time. Car dealerships? Supermarkets and specialty food stores? Restaurants? I suppose I'd consider taking a lot less money from a prospective sponsor if I could get them to produce a radio spot, and also do whatever it is they do to get the station to come out and broadcast live from the event.

One reason, however, that I'm less interested in radio is that I'm greedy by nature, and I'm not quite sure how radio directly makes me richer. Will it bring me incremental registrations? Will it get me volunteers? Probably not. In the end, radio is a nice thing to have, but it's icing in the cake. It's fluff. Maybe a few more spectators. Maybe it'll make some local sponsors feel good. It's a plus for the city fathers. But it's less sexy to me that TV and newspapers.

That leaves endemic print and online media. Endemic print: Triathlete Magazine. Endemic online: you're reading it (okay, there are a few others as well). I'm probably an exception to what I'm about to write — I'm pretty much going to go to a race that interests me, and not much is going to change my mind about that. But in general, with the other guys, anything you can do to make it easier on their travel budget is going to help. So, if endemic coverage is what I want, I'd just flat-out pay their way. I'd invite a reporter, roll out the red carpet, and cover all expenses.

But there are a few problems with endemic media. First, you're not going to get much coverage unless you're also offering a big pro race. Second, it's post-race coverage. The best you're hoping for is coverage that people will remember when they go to choose their race schedule for the coming year.

This brings us full circle, to that media coverage that is most beneficial to you, your sponsors, and your city fathers: local TV and newspapers, especially pre-race coverage. If I were you, I'd sketch out a media plan in reasonable detail and have it all worked out before I made my pitch. If you're trying to get a TV or newspaper reporter to train for and do the race, perhaps you ought to bring a bike shop and/or bike manufacturer into this. For me it was easy. I was a race promoter and I was also a bike and wetsuit maker. I could offer a turnkey package: "Have your reporter come to my race, I'll train him, I'll set him up on a bike, with a wetsuit."

You can do this too, you'll just have to bring someone along with you. A strong LBS is can be a good ally, since it can contact the necessary manufacturers on your behalf. The LBS swings a bigger club than you do. If I'm Cannondale, or Cervelo, or Aquaman, and a strong customer of mine asks for a free bike/wetsuit because of an important promotion, few bike/wetsuit companies are going to say no to that.