My wife didn’t divorce me after the first event I organized, but that is the only reason it can be considered a success. It was one of the most challenging and difficult things I had ever done.
Having run in quite a few events, I mistakenly thought event directing would be a cinch. I figured I would advertise a great, fun race benefitting a worthy cause, mix in some good weather, and wham-o bam-o I would have myself a 1000+ person event.
Ha. I wish I could go back in time 14 years and tell young(er) Lonnie there’s a lot more to it.
Alas, don’t you worry, you can learn from us and thus I present to you some of the most common event planning mistakes I’ve seen or made myself!
- Give yourself enough time. Be realistic. Give yourself at a minimum six to eight months (preferably more) to have the time to adequately plan and coordinate your event. It is likely this isn’t your full-time career: lots of race directors are volunteers or doing this work alongside a full-time job. You will be dealing with everything from permitting venues, marketing, sponsorships, to logistics and more. You will need all the time you can get. An overly-aggressive planning schedule can set the stage for failure. Bonus tip: Remember that the first year lays the foundation for future years. Don’t expect a first event to be perfect. Be sure you have realistic expectation you can build on the following year.
- Focus on the Experience, not the Cause You have an amazing charity and cause. Yes. So do 10,000 other charities. If you try to sell the event based only the fact that the event supports a good cause, you’ll struggle. Here’s why: charities with large bases can easily draw a good number to turn up for an event, but most do not have large bases. Often, nonprofits are hitting up their base multiple times during the year for support. The task before you, then, is to create an event that will motivate the person who isn’t part of the base to show up. This “hook” is why Color Runs, Spartan Races, The Great Candy Run, etc. are all popular. They support charities, or are produced by the charity, but they focus on the experience, not the cause. Draw on your inner Disney and create an amazing experience from start to finish.
- Market to the correct demographic. I see this one all the time. Event materials portray the elite athlete breaking the finish line tape in all her glory. Guess what? That image speaks to only one person at your event, the person who can actually win. Don’t market to that elite athlete: market to the people who attend events. Keep in mind, too, that people who actively run in multiple events a year don’t, oddly enough, see themselves as runners. Highlight the features of your event that speak to them. How? Think of the things that truly would motivate and excite you.
- Don’t go cheap. The cliché, “you get what you pay for” is true for events. If you go cheap on shirts, swag, and vendors, you will encounter issues. This isn’t to say you can’t get good quality for reasonable price, but realize that exceptional vendors cost a bit more. They are worth it. Bonus tip: don’t wait until the last minute to secure your vendor needs. As timers, for example, we are often booked by organizations eight to twelve months in advance of an event. As soon as you have an idea in mind and potential time frame, that is the time to secure your main vendors.
- Leave old school marketing behind. Marketing today is much different than it was even seven years ago. Social media changed that landscape forever. I see many events still marketing the old fashioned ways by printing materials and having them distributed in store locations, etc. Another mistake is that old Marketing 101 staple; using the same image and message all the time so it will sink in. That doesn’t work anymore. With social media, our attention spans are (wait, a squirrel!) short. Use social media, and make it engaging. You want every different image and piece of info to be liked, and shared, and on the way to going viral. According to Running USA, over 50% of likely participants will decide to do your event based on what they see on social media. The other 50% hear about it from a friend, who heard it from social media. (REO Speedwagon eat your heart out now).
The good news in this race world of challenges? We at HAL Sports are here to guide you every step of the way to ensure you have a successful and professional event. If you’d like to learn more, we’d love to talk to you.