So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Can You Say, "Bake Sale?"

So you want to raise money for a "worthy cause," huh?

And, because you have an active vibrant running community you think the easiest way to get a chunk of change will be to put on a five-kilometer run?

First of all, let me tell you the exact same thing I have told well-intentioned true believers who called or e-mailed me when I was the state representative for the Road Runners Club of America:

Hang up the phone.

Hold a bake sale.

In the same manner as a business, the would-be event promoter has to understand it takes money to make money; in the case of most running events it takes money to (if you're lucky) to break even in the first year.

My wife, as always, is not easily dissuaded or readily swayed by my words of counsel. She believes that hard work, persistence, and serious "outside-the-box" marketing strategies can win the day. And, rather than tell her "no" I agreed to take care of the technical aspects of the run; I would deal with anything that had to do with the actual run itself.

If you really, really want to put on a running event here are some of the things you better be prepared to do or have at your disposal...

AN ORIGINAL CONCEPT: This town is what I have occasionally called (in a derisive manner) 5K-saturated. A cursory scan of the local running club's yearly calendar of events showed at least 50 events within a one-hour drive of my home...with another dozen 10Ks, 21.1Ks and 42.2Ks. Open dates for races are either in the hottest part of summer or in conjunction with a holiday...which means more often than not your planned event is competing with at least one and maybe two others in the area. I've seen three events in a ten-mile radius of my home. No kidding.

AN AGGRESSIVE MARKETING PLAN: We had an event presence in social media from the outset, but don't be lulled into equating "likes" with participant numbers. I know of a second-year race which had 600 people the first year and 150 the second, all because of what could be kindly classified as desultory marketing. When a banner for a 5K a week after the event is posted mere blocks from the start line and you don't see a flyer about the event you're planning to run until the day before, well, the marketing committee chair screwed the pooch. It has to be a mash-up of e-mail marketing, paper-based forms in places where the target demographic can be found, and electronic advertising of any sort. Just because "it hasn't been done before" doesn't mean it cannot be done; only that it hasn't been figured out yet.

SUFFICIENT LEAD TIME: A well-meaning friend of mine works at the local running emporium. We chatted at a local run club get-together, at which we happened to be marketing our run. She told us to not worry about the possibility of low participant numbers because we planned our event on such a short notice. Part of me gave her the "blah, blah, blah..." look, but lead time is everything for an event planning process. It gives you the opportunity to get all that important paperwork out of the way, to talk to the (potentially-) affected (and potentially-aggreived) parties whose life or livelihood might be temporarily inconvenienced. Some times it takes more than one schmooze session to win over a potential sponsor or overcome a potential barrier. In some municipalities you might be thankful for that extra month of time, especially when dealing with bureaucrats.

SPONSORS: If you pick up nothing else from this piece, know this: Without sponsorship, participatory recreational athletic events are impossible. It takes money to do everything. The municipality will not let you use their roads and their public safety infrastructure without money (up-front in some cases). Unless you (as in the words of Jean Knaack, executive director of the Road Runners Club of America) are willing to lose your house because someone gets hurt on course and sues you (or your not-for-profit do have one of those, correct?) you're going to need event insurance. T-shirts cost money. Bib numbers cost money. Timing companies cost money. Awards cost money. Food and beverage costs money.

If you're going to go after sponsors, you better have a thick skin - because you're going to hear a lot of "no" - and a clear message as to what the money is going toward...and what the sponsor will receive in return. If all they're getting is a pat on the back then you're going to need a whole lot of sponsors.

There's different levels of support for an event:

In-kind sponsorship - this is the least painful for most businesses, like a grocery store providing fruit or bottled water. You're not going to turn it away, naturally, but the local constabulary usually doesn't take payment in gift cards.

Participatory support - sometimes there are schools and other civic organizations who don't have a lot of money but like the cause; they know showing their face makes for good marketing. These groups are also a good "in" to get persons to show up who otherwise might not have participated in the first place.

Monetary sponsors - the folks you are looking for. If your event is a non-profit organization these fine persons will be glad to write off some of their taxable income, as long as they're keen on the social benefit. Not every monetary sponsor gets the same degree of "love" from a race director. Perhaps every sponsor gets a logo on the shirt; bigger sponsors might get placed on bags or have signs prominently placed along the course. It's up to you, the race director, to determine up front what you'll do in exchange for what you get.

PHYSICAL HELP: Unless you are gainfully-unemployed or independently wealthy you are going to want to lighten the potential workload from the outset. Many hands make light work and all that. Because putting on a race, even a small one, is going to consume an inordinate amount of your time, energy...and yes, your own finances. Be prepared, if all else fails, to do EVERYTHING yourself that doesn't violate the laws of physics. You will find, as you walk into this kind of endeavor, just who your friends are.

As well as the people you mistook for your friends.

You've heard the phrase, "a friend will help you move; a good friend will help you move the body," correct? A running event is like an Irish wake; everybody's good to go with standing around an getting drunk but nobody's going to stick around and pluck the cocktail napkins wedged between the guest-of-honor's hand and torso. Don't be afraid to enlist friends-of-friends-of-friends; they might not show, but if they do a good job at cat-herding they'll probably become your friend for life.

SPECIALISTS: People who possess specific knowledge, skills, and abilities are a plus when developing your race production team. Someone smart with money; either an accountant or a really-honest person who won't pay ANYONE until the say-so at the end. Someone graphically-skilled to develop clean, uncluttered race print materials. Someone who knows how to sell ice cream to Siberians in winter, or gas grills in the nether regions. A person who doesn't get flustered by anything. And I do mean anything. You're going to need them when you have to deal with the bureaucrats. A course measurer (a first year event doesn't need to be certified, but it can't be measured with an automobile odometer, either). One computer geek; especially impotant when dealing with on-line registration portals.

It takes a forward-thinking, well-prepared team of persons to put on a successful event, which often doesn't occur until the second year of an event's existence. If you don't have a team and you're looking at the short term you're probably better off...yes, having a bake sale.

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