As a race director, you know it’s vital to garner publicity for your event — it’s a great way to attract participants, sponsors, and general excitement around the big day. Of course, it’s much easier said than done, and outsourcing to a publicist or Public Relations agency may be out of budget. Luckily, with a little bit of creativity and elbow grease, there are a few things you can do to help raise awareness and get publicity on a budget for your event.
Before anything, be realistic about your goals and how much time you have to do everything to accomplish those goals. The more time you have, the better you can devise your strategy and involve as many staff members and volunteers as reasonably possible to help with a smooth execution. Remember, as much as there is good publicity, there can be bad publicity too — if team members aren’t aligned on the plans and messaging for the event, you could risk the reputation of your event if you aren’t prepared. Here are a few ways to get you started.
Set Your Timeline
It may not seem like it, but it takes time to garner publicity. Keep in mind during race planning that, unless you’re super well-connected with journalists who cover endurance events, it takes time to nurture a connection with media. Remember, journalists are people too! They receive hundreds, and even thousands of emails a day from people asking them to report on events, products, and services. So, it’s important to understand that even though your event is hugely meaningful to you and those involved with putting it on and participating, it may not mean much (at least not yet) to someone who has no connection. It’s important to give yourself more than just a week or two to plan your publicity efforts for your event. As soon as you decide to put on an endurance event, that’s also a great time to also start giving thought to race promotion and your publicity campaign! Or, at the very least, give yourself 2-3 months to map out your plan and execute it.
Make a Plan
First, it’s important to state your goal, or goals, so that you can devise a realistic plan with the time you have for publicizing your event. Are you hoping to generate publicity to help drive registration to your event? Or, has your event just concluded and you’re hoping to gain awareness of its success to secure sponsorships for next year? Whatever your goal, make that part of your plan, so that you can map out the right strategy and tactics. This will help you eliminate any activities that aren’t necessarily going to help you achieve your goals. There’s no point of spinning your wheels on tactics that won’t help you garner the right coverage when you have other fish to fry!
Determine What’s Newsworthy
Figure out what’s so special about your event and make an exhaustive list. Is it the biggest event of its kind? Will a local or national athlete, celebrity or well-known public figure participate or be the Master of Ceremonies at the event? Is the event taking place around a unique landmark? Are you trying to raise awareness for a cause or celebrate an occasion? Identify what makes your event so unique and leverage that as your lead when engaging with media. Make a list of each aspect of your event that’s interesting or newsworthy. Then, brainstorm with your team on which media outlets might find each topic interesting. These will eventually become your top 4-5 media pitches.
Identify Your Target Media
The beauty of the internet is that it’s not hard to find out who typically covers your type of event. Again, thinking about your goals will help narrow down your search. For instance, if you’re goal is to drive race registrations, focus on local news media outlets. Of course, it’s important to make sure you get into local calendar event listings like Raceplace, as well as sites that aggregate running events like RunningUSA. However, beyond calendar listings, finding reporters from the respective media outlets is what you’re after so that you can start to build your media list. A simple Google search will help you find recent articles written in the media about local endurance races as well as local news websites, broadcast channels, and national news publications. From there, you’ll find different types of coverage patters. For instance, some events may have been included in round ups like, “Fun Things to Do in the Spring”. Others may cover human interest stories about past participants with a compelling story. As you build your list of media outlets and contact names, be sure to add in whatever contact information you can find such as email, Twitter handle, or even phone number. Reach out via all avenues to ensure you make the connection.
Foster Relationships with Media
Be sure to use every tool to identify the right target media. It’s tempting to send a blanket email to every media contact you find, but it’s well-worth the time to target your pitches accordingly as you build relationships with different reporters. One way you can start to build relationships with reporters, through social media, is to “follow” them on Twitter and start having meaningful conversations on the topics they already cover. Not only will this allow you to better understand what’s interesting to them, but also help you fine tune your future pitch.
Other useful tools beyond social media, are resources like Help A Reporter Out (HARO). This is a free tool that enables you to receive daily updates on reporters who may be looking for resources to help with stories they’re working on. Other resources that connect reporters with experts include ProfNet and MuckRack, but do come with a fee. While these may be good resources, it’s often like fishing in a bigger pond since the topics are much broader and you’re up against other folks who may be responding to the same inquiries.
Develop Your Pitches and Assets
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. After you’ve identified your targets and (hopefully) started nurturing your relationships, it’s time to draft your pitches and determine to whom they should go. Depending on the media outlet type, you’ll want to make sure that you provide them with enough time to cover your event. Some media outlets need much more time to run the story idea by their editors – for instance, magazines may need up to three months, while online outlets may only need a week, and broadcast media typically needs just a few days.
It’s also important to develop and have assets ready. These include a press release about your event (including the who, what, when, where, why and how), photos, videos, logos, and anything else that will help a reporter more easily craft their story. In addition, have some sort of internal alignment when it comes to media as the big event arrives. It’s important for your staff and volunteers to know your designated “spokespeople” when working with reporters who either call or arrive on-site.
Once all is said and done, and you have coverage leading into, during, or after your event, be sure to thank the reporter and share the news about the coverage via your event’s own social media channels. And, if you don’t have a press page on your event website, then you’ll have the perfect reason to start one!
Need help with more than just PR? Download our guide on how to plan a 5K race here.
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