Just Because You Build It, Doesn’t Mean They Will Come
Late in the game, I recently jumped in to support our local running club’s “Tread of the Undead” 5K zombie race by acting as lead volunteer coordinator. In this position, I was placed on the core team of folks working closely with the two race directors. (Yes, things get complicated when you’ve got both zombies and humans involved, and thus, two directors.)
While the race had great participation in 2013 (its first year on the race roster), it really struggled to find its place this year. And it’s hard to pin down any one factor that attributed to its struggles. Could it have been that the original race director quit six weeks before the race? Or that registration opened late? Or that the race moved from October to September 21 to accommodate for weather (zombie makeup and rain don’t mix). Or the fact that the organizers of another themed run (The Color Run) booked the day before our race (after our race was already officially scheduled).
Honestly, I think all of the above.
But what really hurt the race was the lack of promotion. On-going event marketing is a real thing. You can’t rely on the fact that just because somebody had a great time at your event last year, they will automatically sign up again the following year. Every event suffers some form of attrition each and every year and the only way to truly combat that attrition is through marketing — whether it is traditional paid advertising, public relations or social media. If you do this right, you can not only sustain your event but grow your event. I run into situations on a regular basis in which people think that a snowball effect occurs and the event can just run itself.
Well, ask anyone (including my co-worker Megan, who organizes the Windermere SUP Cup) if it gets any easier over time. The answer is “no.” There are so many “what ifs” when planning an event, let the marketing be the easiest thing you do. Put the effort behind it early and write a plan. Line up your sponsors, write your press release, prepare your marketing materials — and then drop in the date once it is set.
And then, you can rest assured that while other things might go awry on event day, what you built was a successful marketing strategy to ensure “they will come.”
P.S.: And in case you are wondering, with a bit of marketing (albeit late in the game — thank goodness for PR) and a lot of blood, sweat and tears, we pulled off the race this year with over 400 participants.