In this guide we will talk about the importance of having a buy-in from the local community for your event, particularly in the case that your race requires road closures or uses public land. If you are looking to grow it to several thousand in the years to come, the chances are that your event will become known in the area and a certain image will develop with it. You want to make sure this image is as good as you can make it, and much of that will depend on how you handle your community engagement.
Here are our key bits of advice, so that you can start thinking about how best to integrate your race. If anything, it's also just good marketing!
- Develop an extensive community outreach program. Among other things, make sure the public is aware of what roads will be shut down to prevent problems on race day. If you eliminate the element of surprise through an extensive community outreach program then everyone gets along. If you don’t, it’s going to be difficult to get the permit again.
- Get early buy-in from city officials and the public. If the police department has a say in where the course goes, as opposed to the department of commerce, you’re going to be better off having the public on your side. You need to get them to feel like it’s their idea also.
- Start planning sooner than you think. Depending on the city or parks and recreation or police department, planning and obtaining permits may take as long as 18 months to two years to get buy-in.
Forms of Engagement
There are different ways you can make sure that everyone affected hears about your event. Some are more expensive than others, but it's up to you which way you want to get in touch as long as you make some form of contact. The effort and cost involved will also depend largely on the area you are organising your race in, and how busy it is with businesses and residential areas that you need to communicate with.
- Letter dropping is the most effective way to get your message out there. It can, however, be pricey if your route crosses some busy areas with heaps of houses. Services like royal mail will only do this if you have a list of addresses that you can access, and the only way you can get this is through the council or highways department. If its doable for you to go around the route and letter drop yourself, this is a great option. Time consuming, but will guarantee you visibility of your race information.
- Flyering can be just as effective as letter dropping as long as your flyer doesn’t look like junk mail. There are lots of companies that will offer a service for you that can target a location for you, however, this comes at a cost. You should also be wary of the format in which they package your flyer, as if it's in a pack of other flyers it will definitely look like promo mail and its visibility will decrease so significantly that it won’t be worth your buck.
- Local paper adverts are an easy way to put your information out there. It’s not guaranteed to be seen by many other than the older population in the area, but its cheap and straight forward and can be a great addition to your other efforts.
- Village hall bulletin board. Similarly to a local paper advert, this isn’t likely to be seen by many more than the older population, but it’s completely free (usually, unless you have a very fancy hall) and can get some visibility. It can also be helpful to get you talking to some key figures in the area who can help you spear the word.
Parties you need to communicate with before your event is fully underway:
- Parish councils should know what is happening if you are using roads and public areas. It's not necessary for you to tell them, but if you don’t at least reach out they might feel unappreciated, which could backfire later down the line if they complain to the council about not being in the loop.
- Churches are important to bear in mind in your plans, as most races take place on the weekends. If your run is clashing with their service times, you should make sure you can work around this and come up with a solution together so that their regular members can find alternative access.
- Pubs don’t usually open until around lunchtime, but if your run is taking place during their open hours you’ll have to make sure they are kept in the loop. Complaints about loss of trade can hit hard with councils and you don’t want to have to deal with that. If there is going to be an impact on their business due to road closure timings, why not try and work out a mutual marketing campaign to offset the impact? If you can promote their Sunday roasts to your participants, send out an email campaign featuring them, or put their leaflets in your finisher packs, this could all help them feel positive about your event to welcome it back in the future.
- Local Shops similarly to pubs are better to keep on your good side. This is relevant for for independent local stores rather than multichain stores who’s regular clientele is much more difficult to affect. Cross marketing and considering them as a potential sponsor can be a great way to work together and keep them on your good side.
By doing a little bit of work to ask for feedback now, you’ll be better equipped to make important race management changes down the road. Here are some pointers with how to handle feedback so that it benefits your race and its integration.
- Take every piece of feedback seriously — within reason. There’s a healthy balance between taking constructive criticism and dwelling on your mistakes. The sweet spot is listening to learn. Try to view constructive criticism in a clinical way. Your event is a machine, separate from you. What parts of the machine worked well? Which parts were weak?
- Don’t jump into action right away — as a new race director, you’re going to want to research, test, and react appropriately to make sustainable changes to your event. Ask yourself: Does this fix the problem today or for years to come?
- Lastly, know your audience. The internet especially has no shortage of trolls stirring up trouble and taking down small businesses for sport. Disregard criticism from anyone but your target audience.
The better integrated your event is with the local community, the easier it will be to get repeat permits from the council, and the more it will be welcomed back in the future. It could also aid your sponsorship search if there's good reviews about you amongst the local population, and double up as marketing.