How do I Create a Successful Themed Race

There are races everywhere. Well not really, but road racing is at an all-time high right now. With scores of not only your ‘friendly neighborhood 5Ks, but also trail races and ultra races, how do you make your race stand out? One idea… host a themed race in your community.

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A themed race is a great option to add excitement [in theory], and give that extra special something to your race. Keep in mind, when you look at the national themed races, remember that they have a lot of money, momentum, and excitement built around them, and it can be difficult to pull off a themed race without living up to those expectations.  Today we’re going to talk about a few key points in developing your themed race :  picking a concept, marketing, execution, and improvement.   We’re also going to look at a few small-to-medium sized races that have done this successfully to give you a few ideas to start with!

Deciding on a Concept
“The challenge is identifying these opportunities. Maybe it’s uncovering an underused state park, or discovering a trail that has never been used for running at all. Maybe it’s partnering with a local non-profit on recreating a local tradition, or thinking of a local tradition in an entirely new way. It’s not always easy to find that special hook, but that’s part of what makes it so rewarding.” Matthew Gray, President of Gray Matter Marketing.

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There are a number of popular concepts that are done by multiple groups as well as many ‘unique’ ideas.  Here are just a few examples and pros cons of each.

Obstacle Runs (OCR) – Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, Warrior Dash, Dirty Girl, BattleFrog

  • Pros: very hot concept, creates a big party atmosphere that encourages groups of friends, gyms, teams etc. to join, fun, great photos
  • Cons: more difficult to do well without having natural obstacles involved, higher insurance costs, higher overall costs, longer set up/breakdown
  • Color Runs – Color Run, Color Vibe, Color Me Rad
    • Pros: very popular still, high energy and marketing and makes for some great pictures
    • Cons: you have to live up to the hype and the cleanup can be messy
  • Beer Runs – Craft Brew Races, Great American Brewery Runs, Rochester Brew Runs
    • Pros: runners love to run and drink, and you can capture some of the same energy as the OCR crowd
    • Runs : higher insurance and liquor license costs, not necessarily family-friendly, more infrastructure required for serving
  • Superhero – Cambridge Superhero 5K, Clifton Springs Superhero, Superhero Racing
    • Pros: cheap and fun to execute, more children-driven, great phots
    • Cons: singular concept with less variety – not as much room in the market and people are probably not inclined to do more than one Superhero race a year
  • Zombie Runs – Zombie Run, Zombie Mud Run, 5KRunDead
    • Pros /Cons: small (but strong) niche – requires effective atmosphere, makeup, and logistics to acquire but can pay off well.
  • Other interesting concepts:
    • Separation runs: give sets of 2 random people the same number and start them in different places; they have to finish together (great for Valentine’s Day!) Another great Valentine’s Day concept is the spin on the old “Stop Light Party” with red, yellow, and green bibs. Red if you’re off the market, yellow if you’re almost committed, and green if you’re looking for…er… friends.
    • Scavenger Hunt/Orienteering – spins on these old favorites are still common; we once worked a race where they simply had pictures and random items on course, and people who picked them up got little prizes!
    • Relay/loops – Relays are always a party, with the Ragnar races being a popular option; either long distance relays, or camp-out style relays. The Mighty Mosquito 99 Mile was a popular first year event in Rochester, NY.
    • Music Themed: Telegraph Road Race (How far can you run during the 14 minute Dire Straits song “Telegraph Road”) and various “Beat Beethovem” runs (can you finish before Beethoven’s 9th symphony is finished? Spectators can enjoy the symphony), and the Rock ‘n’ Run race – a stage right in front of the finish chute, and stereos playing music on course! We can’t forget about the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series either.
    • One concept that never came to fruition was the “Run Cumorah” 3 Mile+ at the Hill Cumorah pageant – 3 miles for everyone, and a bonus if you did the whole 5K i.e. up the hill!
    • And of course there are mustache dashes, stair climbs, runs where you have to eat donuts/cookies/chili, and countless more!

Marketing
How to position your races as unique from others in its theme and execution

Our company has been in the obstacle racing and adventure racing industry for almost two decades and we saw an opportunity in the market away from the mud based races. The Urban RAID was built to be an alternative to high priced races that require hours of travel, additional fees for parking and spectating, and numerous other costs. We saw these unique, iconic areas that could be transformed into race courses for an event that no one else could pull off. We built the Urban RAID to provide a truly unique racer experience and transform the heart of these cities into an obstacle course unlike any other.” – Parker Swenson, Head of 360Media Ventures and producer of the Urban RAID series

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 Hopefully you’ve taken a look at some of the races above and taken notes on how they market themselves.  What are the key concepts of your chosen theme – is it teamwork, community, parties, challenge, fun?  Write down these words and make sure you include them in your marketing; make sure your logo and colors reflect them.

Ask yourself about the theme:

  • Is it in the name?
  • Is it in the colors and the logo?
  • Do I have a tag-line and promotional tie-ins that reflect this theme?

Execution
How to set up your race, find the right amount of tie-ins, prizes etc. without either overdoing it and/or under delivering.

 “Our focus has always been on high-quality events that provide a unique experience.  For example, we manage an event (the Citizens Bank Pell Bridge Run) that lets runners cross Rhode Island’s most iconic bridge. It’s a breathtaking view and a bucket-list type of experience. Elsewhere, our Craft Brew Race series connects runners with local craft breweries, allowing a sort of local cross-pollination between event and community, so that’s sort of a special thing.”  – Matt Gray, Gray Matter Marketing

In actually executing your event, make your theme everywhere people look.  Don’t just buy color packets to throw at runners in a color run, add a color wall, colored banners, wear multi-colored or tie-dyed shirts, park multiple colored cars at the finish line – go all out!  You don’t have to spend a lot of money, but a successful theme should be everywhere participants look.

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One of the most excellent examples we can think of for this is the Vino and the Beasts series (also an obstacle run!), which places itself in the middle of a vineyard, winding through the fields. It starts and finishes on the main space where the vineyards throw their parties, utilizing the natural buildings and winery to duh… serve wine!  Wine is available for tasting and sale, of course – it features in the logos and the prizes as well.

Ask yourself about your theme:

  • Is it on the course?
  • Is it at the finish line and the post-race party?
  • Is it reflected in the give-aways and prizes?

Improvement– How to utilize partnerships, vendors, or sponsorships to improve value in the event by connecting with the brand.

“The goal of the Urban RAID is to create an event that takes place where people live and work. You don’t need to travel hours and pay for parking or just to spectate. We want to work with the city, the vendors, the local partners, to create a race that is unique in each location, not just cookie cutter for each race.” – Parker Swenson, Urban RAID

There’s a hundred examples of this, but perhaps the simplest and best one is there Heritage Christian race from this post, which teamed up with a local heating and cooling company who pretty much shot cold water through a misting fan at the finish line on a hot August day.  It can be as simple as this, but every sponsor and vendor has an opportunity to connect itself with your theme, and it should go both ways!  You should find sponsors that YOU think could fit in with your theme as well.

Ask yourself about your theme:

  • What could my sponsors do to improve it and how does it reflect their brand?
  • Do I have vendors who could support the theme with their branding?

The Full discussion with Parker Swenson, head of 360Media Ventures and producer of the Urban RAID series.

Marketing – How did your event position itself as unique?

Our Company has been in the obstacle racing and adventure racing industry for almost two decades and we saw a opportunity in the market away from the mud based races. The Urban RAID was built to be an alternative to high priced races that require hours of travel, additional fees for parking and spectating, and numerous other costs. We saw these unique, iconic areas that could be transformed into race courses for an event that no one else could pull off. We built the Urban RAID to provide a truly unique racer experience and transform the heart of these cities into an obstacle course unlike any other.

Execution – How did the event find the sweet spot of the right amount to offer (obstacles/beer/prizes/tie-in activities) without overdoing it and/or underdelivering?

The Urban RAID has been fortunate to partner with some fantastic partners over our five year history; partners who share our vision of an active, healthy minded consumer. Our partners add a lot of value to the events from giveaways and prizing to an increased sponsor village and post-party.

Our demographic is the post-work athlete who is just as likely to be doing a pre-work Crossfit WOD as a charity 5K on the weekends. We have also found a great balance with our audience, gender-wise. Our marketing and races are not spear-throwing, fire jumping, beer chugging testosterone parties. The Urban RAID is about 52% female across the whole series, an even ratio we’re very proud of and one which our partners really like as well.

Organization – How did the event utilize partnerships, vendors, or sponsorships to improve the value of the event along with the branding, strengthened the theme, etc

The goal of the Urban RAID is to create an event that takes place where people live and work. You don’t need to travel hours and pay for parking or just to spectate. We want to work with the city, the vendors, the local partners, to create a race that is unique in each location, not just cookie cutter for each race.

The parent company of the Urban RAID is 360 Media Ventures (www.360mediaventures.com), an event and content marketing company. We have a full production suite at each RAID event who capture high level event videos, photographs, and additional content. This is a great added value to us and to the participants, as it allows the event conversation to last beyond the Finish Line.

Thanks to all who helped contribute to this article.

Now get out there and plan Santa’s Jingle Jog!!