The Seven Nags

Editor's note: This is the ninth of a series of 13 weekly articles originally published on Slowtwitch in 2003/4. The articles chronicle newbie RD Jeff Henderson's journey toward the production of his first race: the Musselman Triathlon in Upstate New York. After these 13 weeks worth of diary entries, we'll flow directly into a new series Jeff is writing for us, where he talks about his challenges and goals now, as he prepares for Year-7 of Musselman.

Sometimes you get lucky. About every hundredth call I make asking for something—permission, product, cash, able-bodied individuals—I find myself talking to not only a receptive soul on the other end of the line, but someone who genuinely cares about what I am trying to do and sincerely believes this is perhaps the best idea they have ever heard. I don't know if these folks are otherwise sheltered from the legions of solicitors that pour through their doors everyday, but our race has somehow captured their imagination. The Town Supervisor of Lodi is one such individual.

Our bike coordinator, Jim, called him up to ask for assistance. Our bike course goes right through the heart of downtown Lodi, and though it's not a big place (one road in... one road out), we need some traffic control, parking restrictions on Main Street, and maybe an aid station. The Town Supervisor, Mr. Walter Smith, couldn't say yes quickly enough, no matter what Jim threw at him. He's also the president of the Elks Club, so the 60-odd members are now enlisted for volunteer detail on July 11th. The fire police will be handling all of the intersections, the townsfolk will be coaxed out of their homes to cheer, and the potential for the high school marching band to attend is high.

"I'm a progressive guy," he told Jim. "I want to get these people out of the hayfields and involved in what's going on around them." Brothers and Sisters, can I get me a Hallelujah.

It's time to start buying stuff. One morning I woke up and our race was a mere ten weeks away. After the initial shot of panic, I started outlining the major purchases that need to happen. Then it came to me that I have remarkably little idea how many people are going to show up. I could be off by a factor of a hundred, and I need to order things like swim caps, finisher keepsakes, and food now.

The sponsor segment of race preparation is nearing completion because it is time to exclusively focus on raceday logistics. Our sponsorship tactics could have been lifted straight from James McNeal's book Kids as Customers, in which he classifies juvenile nagging tactics into seven major categories. Though McNeal was analyzing sales of toys to children and we are selling a triathlon to adults, you'd be surprised how similar the two really are. Often we approached the deal as a cunning child would, and what follows is a brief discussion of the effectiveness of each strategy:

1) A pleading nag is one accompanied by repetitions of words like "please" and "mom, mom, mom." Though I never had to call anyone "mom," I did say please an awful lot and I must say that politeness goes a long way. Please do not expect to receive the same congeniality in return.

2) A persistent nag involves constant requests for the coveted product and may include the phrase "I'm gonna ask just one more time." We were nothing if not persistent. I have records of calling one winery every single week from early February until mid-April, when they finally buckled and donated a case. We did not, however, resort to the aforementioned "one more time" phrase as that would be exactly what the winery was after.

3) Forceful nags are extremely pushy and may include subtle threats, like "Well, then, I'll go and ask Dad." In our experience this was extremely effective in completely shutting down negotiations and being shown the door.

4) Demonstrative nags are the most high-risk, often characterized by full-blown tantrums in public places, breath-holding, tears, a refusal to leave the store. This was a bit too high-risk for me so, alas, no tantrums occurred. A shame, really.

5) Sugar-coated nags promise affection in return for a purchase and may rely on seemingly heartfelt declarations like "You're the best Dad in the world." Time for a confession: I've used this one. It was intended to be sincere, but came out sounding rather pathetic. My suggestion would be to avoid this tactic unless you fully intend to become the Godparents of the proprietor's children.

6) Threatening nags are youthful forms of blackmail, vows of eternal hatred, and of running away if something isn't bought. My standard phrase, "The Musselman may not happen next year if we don't get support this year" could be considered a form of the running away threat, and in one case it worked: the State Park agreed to lower parking fees to encourage the race to return in 2005.

7) Pity nags claim the child will be heartbroken, teased, or socially stunted if the parent refuses to buy a certain item. Many would argue I am already socially stunted, so this nag didn't have much bite. But in all seriousness, "for the sake of the children at the Boys & Girls Club" had less punch than "it's a tax-deductible donation."

So we move from seeking sponsorships to seeking warm bodies: time to flush out volunteers.

My mom, our Registration Coordinator, is in a mild panic due to the number of volunteers I have been tossing around as needed on raceday. Following her lead, the rest of our committee likewise furrowed their brows and Emergency Talks were commenced on where to get 200-300 individuals with nothing else to do on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in July.

A plan was hatched to lure unsuspecting heads of all the appropriate civic groups (Rotary, the Elks, VFW Post 2670), larger companies, and religious organizations in the community to a luncheon, where we would proceed to introduce the race and badger them into collective submission. The hypothesis was that as soon as one respected individual pledged his group's support, all of the others would follow in a grand orgy of unfettered goodwill.

The pieces have fallen into place—a local restaurant has offered to host the gala in exchange for a flyer in our goody bag—and we are slotted for May 13th at high noon to make our best pitch. If no one bites, we may have to resort to Effective Nagging Strategy #4.