LAST UPDATED: 18 May 2023
Growing a Digital-First Race
Matt Trevett, founder of the award-winning Weybridge 10K, takes us through the challenges of launching and growing a new race with a digital-first focus.
At the tender age of 24, with no prior experience or any interest in running, Matt Trevett decided to take a gamble and launch a new 10K in his hometown of Weybridge in Surrey, UK.
Matt promised local business groups and the local council he’ll bring 1,000 people to the race in its first year. As you can imagine, everyone was very supportive of the idea - in between thinking Matt was crazy.
Fast-forward a few months, and Matt delivered his 1,000 people inaugural Weybridge 10K, as promised, and went on to produce more award-winning races in his hometown, putting the former through-town firmly on the regional running map.
Beyond the amazing story of Matt and the Weybridge 10K, today’s episode is not about Matt or the Weybridge 10K. It is an episode about attitude, persistence and - more importantly - taking a lean approach to putting on races that focuses on building community, forging partnerships with local businesses, and marketing smart online, often with little more than a bunch of pictures of empty roads to go on.
If you’re starting out as a race director you’re going to love this episode, and, if you’re a more seasoned race director, getting the perspective of a young millennial colleague will hopefully help trigger a lightbulb moment or two for you.
In this episode:
- The Weybridge 10K story
- Planning a new race in the town you grew up in
- Coming into race-directing with the perspective of a non-runner
- Picking your race distance: the merits of a 10K for a new local event
- Not cutting corners on health & safety
- Pitching your vision for your event to town officials
- Being bold, making mistakes and learning from them
- Focusing on race experience, rather than profits in your first couple of years
- Being transparent and genuine with the content that you share with your audience
- Canvassing residents and local businesses before the launch of the race
- Making advocates of your biggest local critics
- The digital-first approach: launching lean, launching online
- Do organic promotion first (Facebook groups, running clubs), paid later
- The importance of remarketing to "warm" audiences
- Using Facebook Events as part of your race promotion strategy
- Marketing your race on Instagram
- Giving away free race photos and using event photos to market your race online
- Managing a participant death in Weybridge 10K's inaugural race
- Email marketing: less is more
- The future of content marketing: switching from long-from written to short, sharp video content
Thanks to GiveSignup|RunSignup for supporting quality content for race directors by sponsoring this episode. More than 22,000 in-person, virtual, and hybrid events use GiveSignup|RunSignup's free and integrated solution to save time, grow their events, and raise more. If you'd like to learn more about GiveSignup|RunSignup's all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events visit runsignup.com.
Matt, welcome to the podcast.
Hey, Panos. How are you doing today?
I'm very well. Thank you. How are you?
Yeah, not too bad. Thank you. Not too bad. It's nice and quiet at where I am.
Well, thanks a lot for coming on. Where are you exactly?
I'm in a hotel at the back of the London Marathon Expo, which is at the ExCeL Center. So I'm in my quiet hotel room. It's very peaceful even though it's not too early. But I think the mad rush is going to come very soon at the ExCeL.
Yeah. We'll get into that in a minute. You guys are actually working on the London Marathon over the coming weekend, I guess?
Yes, yes. Personally, I'm involved with the project. So from an entry platform perspective, we've worked with them for the last one year and a half. So I'm very lucky that I get to come down to work with the entries team, I get to be at the finish line on Sunday for the actual marathon, and to support the ballot launch that will happen this Saturday. So I'm very lucky that I get to see a lot of things that will happen this weekend. It's nice to be back with a real event. So I've worked with them for, I think, a year and a half now. And it's the first time that I get to see the actual marathon happen. So it's kind of surreal to have worked behind a laptop for a year and a half. And it's like something does exist. There's a real marathon happening. The project is kind of ending in that way.
Indeed. And it's not just any type of marathon. I mean, London Marathon is a pretty special event. You can say who you work for, by the way. I mean, there's no censorship on that. So you're with njuko - a really, really great company - doing registrations in the UK, Europe and elsewhere. And you guys recently took on the London Marathon contract which is really great for you guys. Congratulations.
Thank you very much. Yeah, it's good for us. We are a small French company in the south of France, just above the Spanish border. We've been going for about 7-8 years. I've been helping for a couple years. So there's a few of us in the UK. And yeah, we've done well across Europe. And now, we're starting to make a little bit of a name for ourselves in the UK - with London Marathon being, surprisingly, one of the bigger first names that we've got. We hope to continue that. But it's been very exciting for us and we're very lucky to work with so many great event directors.
You guys deserve it. I hear great things about you. Well, today, we'll go back to your race directing days. Many of our listeners are probably wondering about all this digital-first stuff that they have seen on the podcast title and we'll get into that in a sec. I should say that today's episode is a little bit different. Usually, what we do is we focus on the topic and we go really deep into that. Well, today, on this episode with you, we will be tracing a race that you've came up with, planned and executed from inception - through its very, very remarkable growth - all the way to the point when you actually sold the race. And I think it's particularly interesting to trace that journey and race with you because I've followed you for a couple of years and I've been really impressed with the stuff you've been doing for the race on the digital front. You guys have won some awards. Honestly, for a race that's only been a couple of years into its life, you had done amazingly well. And I hope that some of the junior race directors amongst the audience can pick up a lot of tips and share a lot of emotions as we go through the kinds of stuff that you went through. And I think there's some great lessons for some of the more senior race directors on the podcast because you'll share from a young race director's perspective. I mean, how old were you when you put on Weybridge?
24, actually, when we started the pre-planning. And I did give myself a year for pre-planning. But I was 24 approaching 25 when we launched the concept of the first race that happened. This was back in 2016-2017 when we started. I don't feel so young now. But I definitely felt young back then.
Yeah, I think that's exactly the perspective that I hope to get out of you today, like the perspective of someone - you weren't even running - who wasn't a runner, who was quite young, who came into this without any preconceptions - right? And you went on to have great success with the race - which we should say was the Weybridge 10K - which you've sold. So tell us a little bit about you and a little bit about Weybridge 10K, sort of like as a summary from start to finish. I think we'll touch on several things as we go along. But like, just give people a quick overview of the whole Weybridge journey.
Yeah. I think a good starting place is getting into the space for the first time. So for me, I'd say that this is my first real job - I did have a few jobs before - my first step into this space into this career almost came by accident. It was a job that was advertised for a sports running company called Sweatshop - not so much as big now, if they exist at all, to be honest. I recently got bought by Sports Direct. I joined them, I think, when I was 20-21 years old. So that gave me so much exposure. So at that time, Facebook and social media were just starting out. So I think what happened across the industry was any young kid in the office were given those platforms, "Here you go. Go and learn it." At that age, I was very fortunate to be working with brands like Adidas, Nike, Mizuno, Asics, and being given marketing budgets to work with on their products and help watch them in the UK. That was exciting. That was my first spark of interest in the sports industry, I'd say. It could just be the free trainers that I was getting on a monthly basis, but that was a part of what helps. And as part of that company, we also worked with Redding Half Marathon and the Nottingham Marathon that was in fact owned by Hugh Brasher who was, obviously, the event director of London Marathon. So I was indirectly working for London Marathon through many layers at that time. So they managed to get that close to him. And there's people that are race directing, marketing, growing these races - and they are quite small teams. People are quite surprised, sometimes, because there's only three or four people who, generally, hold the fort for some of these big events. So I think absorbing that information was interesting - just seeing the project come to life, working in a mixture of E-commerce and, then, going to the event, doing these tasks on the day. I used to drive the lead cars for the events or even just handing out medals. It's kind of something tangible that you can see - there's a project at the end of it, something comes to life, and people cross the finish line. So I think that was the interest spark. And I was very fortunate to be in that space for about three years, to just absorb all that information, and to work with really smart people that organize these events - the now CEO of Parkrun and all these, you could say, mentors. When I left that role, there was a couple of years when I was out of the sport space. I just I missed it too much. And that's where the Weybridge idea came from. I think, just looking at how we used to have these big events, how I used to market these big events with 15,000-20,000 people, we used to always work with our sports shops. And people come into the shops, they'd pick up their race packs, you'd meet them face-to-face, and then come out of that space. And I've got really good friends that own a sport shop, which I think we'll come on to in a minute as to who we work with. There is a sports shop here in a town that I grew up in. I've got all this knowledge in my head. I can just take that and bring it to that business. And I think that's where it comes from. And I think sometimes you get these ideas - I call them Golden Nugget ideas. Sometimes, it kind of clicks in your head, and you just kind of grab it and think, "That's going to work. With all the right things, we can make it work." So that's the foundations of where it came from, why it started and, I think, where the interest began.
So you actually grew up in Weybridge - right?
Around Weybridge. I went to college in Weybridge. So, I grew up closer to Guilford, Surrey way. I went to college in Weybridge
So can you put that on the map for non UK listeners a little bit?
I'll try. It's in Surrey. That's probably the best way to put it - so, places like Cobham and Weybridge. Then you're kind of edging towards Richmond, which is a bit more well known. So I do classify it as the posh areas of Surrey, which is always good news when you're marketing an event because people have got a little bit of cash in their pocket to spend in your race. So that's another bonus. It's one of the things that you think about when you're launching a business - can people afford my product and do all these things matter?
Right. So Weybridge is the town you grew up in. I think it's fair to say that it is within reasonable distance of London - right? I mean, you can commute back and forth London. I mean, it's sort of, like, a satellite of London. So you have lots of people in that area - right?
Yeah. Actually, the River Thames goes alongside our race village, which I purposely did for that reason. It's picturesque. There's a couple of drone shots from two years ago, and I do milk those on social because they are amazing pictures. And we're very lucky that the actual venue isn't in Weybridge. Funnily enough, it's in Shepperton, which is the town next door. The route goes through a bridge. The venue is very nice and it is alongside the River Thames. So, when we're marketing, that's one of the selling points. When you're clever with your words and use things like the River Thames, people don't see it as far out as they might think. There's fast trains from London. And that's important with the marketing because to be sustainable in the first year or so, you do have to think, "Okay, how do I get these people from London?" When you start to market the race out in London, it's a whole different ballgame. You spend a lot more cash. It's a lot more unpredictable. There's lots of different running clubs. It's not as easy to get people.
When the idea occurred to you, there were probably no other races of that kind in Weybridge and in the surrounding area. What was the market like?
There wasn't anything particularly close. There is a really great running club - Elmbridge Road Runners - that have an annual 10K. It's quite a small event but it's very, very loyal. They've been doing that for a few years. So they're great. That was one race that I was aware of. A couple of years before I launched, there was someone who attempted to do a half marathon in the area. They did it for one year. They didn't get that many people. And I think that was their attempt but it didn't happen. People have tried. There wasn't anything in the immediate area. There's a nice Thames Half Marathon that happens but it kind of goes through where we start. So there's a few events, I'd say. It was super important for me that when we came in and differentiated ourselves. And we also said, like, "You guys have been doing this here. You're the main running club. This is the concept I'm coming in with. It's completely foreign. We're gonna go and close all these roads. We're going to make a big hassle. We're going to aim to triple the numbers that you guys get. I'm going to try and use that to help you guys. You guys can enter for cheap rates for as long as you want to take part and as many people as you want." It's very important if you come into a space with another race.
And we should say, I think, mostly for non-UK listeners - correct me if I'm wrong - 10K is sort of the default distance you'd pick for a new race in the UK - right? Because you have Parkrun, which you don't have in the US killing all the 5K stuff. I mean, they do a great job of putting on free 5K's all over the place. So it doesn't really make much sense to go into a 5K. So probably 10K, I guess, is like the entry level distance you'd offer.
Yeah, I think so. We touched on this a bit early but that's kind of my whole, "Not coming from a runner background" approach. There's positives with that and there's negatives with that. I'm really transparent with it. Like, I've started running way more and I've been way healthier since I've done this stuff. And then, there's people that think, "You might not understand as much about the route and the aspects of running because you're not a runner yourself." And that's completely fair. I completely get that. But for the 10K distance, I looked at it and thought, "What would I like to achieve in the next 1-2 years? I can run a 5K. But I haven't yet run a 10k." And my approach from not being a runner was, "What would I want from the event?" And for me, 10K is a big achievement. It might not be for a lot of people, but at that time, it would have been a big achievement for me. And I know it's a big achievement for a lot of people. So one of the goals of the event is to get that particular community more active. And I think having a target beyond kind of the average 5K - a lot of people can run it - and having people like me see it as an achievable distance with a little bit of effort - when people think it is an achievable distance, then, people branch out. They go to half marathons and marathons. And the crazy ones go to Ultras. But 10K, I think, is a good benchmark. If you can run that, then I'd say you've got a good fitness level. And that's my purpose for the town - to get as many people on that level, and give them a great big medal at the end. That's what that runner base wants - something that they can look back on and just say that they've done it. So I think that is a good distance. And I think there's a lot more 10K's popping up now. So, like any business, it gets competitive and it's hard to retain. But one thing I always look at is getting new people into the sport - people like me or people way older than me - that perhaps never did running, that want to achieve something. 10K is a good distance for them.
Did you have any help when you were starting off? Or did you seek any help in putting on the event or did you just do it on your own?
100%. Again, with digital-first approach, I had marketed events. I had got thousands of runners go to events. That's one thing I know very well. I hadn't organized an event before. There's so many aspects to it. So my colleague that owned the sports shop at that time was a little bit more practical than me. So as part of the sports shop, we decided to kind of launch the project together. And the way I split the tasks was I'm more digital-focused. I can sit behind my laptop for 10 hours in a day and make stuff happen probably for a year, turn up on the one day of the event and, then, things would kind of happen. But you need someone that's on the site, gets the area, and lived in Weybridge all his life. So he helped me with the route. So he was running around Weybridge a few years before we even came up with the idea. So it's getting people that you have to accept know things better than you do. He's a runner. He knew the town. We knew what people would want to see on the route. He knew the landmarks at the town. And he had good connections with other local businesses of the same nature. So that's important. And, then, you have to accept that you don't know-- I didn't know a lot of the health and safety aspects. And that's the one thing that I look at and I don't want to cut corners. I will pay whatever I need to pay to have people that know what they're doing with risk assessments, health and safety planning, the control room on the day, and the ambulances. On the first year, we hired an extra ambulance. We went full blown with the cover because we just can't cut corners on those things. So when it came to things like that, we invested heavily. Race directors would know that it cost a lot of money. I think that's one area that you have to accept. And, then, you can kind of learn everything else. It's all logistics - right? So it's getting things to turn up at the right time, in the right place, and you kind of learn as you go. But being with events from a younger age, it's just simple things like you need to order some water. "Okay. When does that need to come? Where do you plan to store it? You need some barriers. You need the medals. You need to do all your timings." And it's just collating that. And you just learn things and pick them as you go. And, then, the scariest thing in the first year is knowing that you've got 1,000 people and thinking, "What will this look like?" So that whole week before, you will think about what if they turn up and where will they go. Will they go to where I tell them to go? Where will they park? Is it where I told them to park?" So that's the exciting part, I think. Once you've done that first one, it gives you so much confidence and then you just kind of escalate it. But there are things you have to look at. If I just don't know what I'm doing, let's pull in the experts and let's bring in people that have worked in races before. I know there was an event last year that Tom Bedford did, I think. And there's loads of race directors that came to help out - like those people just having two or three key areas - that just know how to react to things. That is priceless.
So you guys had 1,000 participants on your inaugural event?
We did, we did. So that was my target. That was my pitch to the council. I think they thought we were a bit crazy because they weren't with us. So I said, my pitch was Weybridge is quite a quiet town. It's used as a through road, basically, to go to other more exciting town. So that's what I think Weybridge was. So I knew there's a business group in the town that I had a connection with, that kind of try and organize events in bits and pieces and, also, the Surrey County Council and Elmbridge Council that are very, very nice and supportive. So that was part of my pitch to say, "I plan to close the high street - the main road in this town. I plan to close it and to get a 1,000 people." And that's my pitch to say, "Look. 1,000 people makes it worthwhile. That will generate enough buzz and excitement to justify closing the roads." So I set that target with them and I hit that target in the first year, fortunately. We had to hit it also to cover the costs of closing the roads. That's the other reason we had to hit it. But the main thing was to make it a disruptive event. And that's what I love about things that I try and do nowadays to disrupt the norm and just think of things in an alternative way. And I think maybe, it was that pressure of hitting the target to impress the council. My pitch was to make it the biggest event in the town to try and prove a point, I think, that people have done little events for so many years. Therefore, we plan to come in and do something that will really make a dent and bring people to the town from outside the villages.
I think, I mean, again, that's partly why I have you here. Like, that is super impressive - what you achieved on the first year like coming from a background of not having directed any of those things. It sounds to me, you made some great decisions with where you put on the event and how you put it on. And we will get into some of the tactics like why those 1,000 people showed up. But that is like really, really impressive. Were you stressed at all, I guess, like, financially? Because it's a big liability to take on.
It is. I think you have to be in the right space. So the way I've looked at it from a young age was - especially in my 20s, which I still am - you can make mistakes, you can take risks, you're very lucky. At that time, I was still at home with my parents. So I can take risks and make mistakes. There's always things you can be really thankful for if things go horribly wrong that I will end up on the street. So, that's the time. If you've got that opportunity, those are the time to make those risks and mistakes. And there are a load of good things and there are a load of bad things. Putting on a race isn't cheap. The best way to drive it - and it's easier said than done, it's easier to say it now after I have done it - is to not not focus on the money. If you go in with the passion, it's sounds better when you've done it and it's easier to say it when you've done it. But if you go in with the passion and you don't think about the money - to a degree, not completely, you still got your budget sheet - if you come from a good place, the business will always do better. And that's how year one was approached. It was, "I'm just going to sell these tickets. Yes, we do have to pay for these things. But if we make a loss, it's fine to a degree. If we breakeven, it's fine. I'll not take some money out of this. I'll not go and buy myself something afterwards. I want to create a good event for the people. And I want this event to be go on for 5, 6, 7 years. Every year, we'll grow it. And maybe in the future, there's some money. But for now, the main objective is to give myself some credibility, to give myself a business experience, to push myself into the industry, to challenge myself, to grow out of my comfort zone, and to improve on all these things that I wouldn't say that I'm the best at. And that works the most in every project I've launched since. And I've launched a couple of things based on that money-driven idea. I think, naturally, it can happen as you get older. You start to think about the other side of it. No one knows is successful, and no one knows good. And that's that's why.
Interesting. I guess - tell me if I have this wrong - you're sort of saying that you need to spend money to make money - right? I mean, you don't want to like cheapen the event - right? I mean, first of all, the event needs to be great. That's the most important thing. You can't cut corners on, definitely, safety as you mentioned, and also probably not race experience for people - right? You don't want to do like a half-baked thing where it's sort of a race but then it's not anything special or whatever. You need to believe in it, invest in it and, then, down the line, things will work out - right?
Exactly. You have to go full-throttle, close the roads, and know people. Because you've closed the roads, you tell people to either take part or else they'll get shut inside. And that's just the reality that works in a funny way. But yeah, I paid top dollar for the medal in the first year. Probably, the most expensive medals I think anyone has ever ordered but they were awesome medals. It's posted on social. We put a hashtag on the medal, which I don't know if anyone had done before that point. London Marathon is doing it this year, actually. So it's a few years later than me. But using things like that to kind of get the buzz. So first of all, in my post-race journey, I've invested in road closures, really amazing route, best medal, best chip timing I can get that I know - they're really reliable people. If your fundamentals are there, people don't moan about the other stuff. If they get a time, if they get a medal that they like, if the course is accurate, then they're kind of happy. There's not much that runners ask for. If those fundamental things are very good, it helps. And, then, the post-race reaction, that expensive medal that you purchased gets posted everywhere. So you already build interest for next year. People want that in the next year. People wonder what you plan to do next year. We changed the routes three times in three years and - it wasn't actually on purpose - that helped us every year. There's a different route and different road closures in place. It's always kind of change. So it costs money to do all of those things. But I think you should at least look at the first couple of years with the mindset of getting all the great reviews, pictures, and footages that I'm sure will be used in the next four years as content because it's so good. And that stuff really helps if you get it right especially in the first year. Yeah.
Video, images, all of that stuff. I mean, honestly, I keep telling people, it's such a huge investment. And as you say, if you do one proper short video once, you can use it for like 4-5 years and it will pay for itself in the end. Now that we're in the medal, I should mention that one of the really impressive things I remember from Weybridge, the kinds of stuff you did online was - on the second year or the third year - when you were redesigning the medal, you put it up for people to basically pitch in for design ideas - right?
Yeah. I'll have to credit Holly. We used to work for AAT - the company that I've sold it to in 2019. That was her concept. She's come from a similar place as me.
I mean, such a brilliant idea - right? Such a brilliant idea.
Yeah. And again, these things, I've traced it back to when I was first in the space. Every year, the Robin Hood's marathon let the kids design the kids T-shirt and the finisher T-shirt. So they go out, I think, to the schools. So they get one design from the schools. They have the four finalists, then everyone votes on the preference. So a lot of these things come from somewhere, like it's not necessarily the first, but I think it's just being transparent with the runners engaging with them. A lot of people would say the opposite but I don't think you have to post a lot of content. You just have to post stuff that gets people at the right moment because, ultimately, as a race director, you don't have much time. So I've always been against the regimented way that you market things like the medal. The medal release can be your posts for two weeks. You do a medal post and you can get a ton of activity and interest. You can just build that up for two weeks, then boom! You release that. You get some excitement. You just have to be smart with it. You don't have to spend a lot of time.
Yeah, and the great thing about this kind of like, "Help us design the medal" competition is that it's a win-win on all fronts. You're engaging your participants - right? They're excited to see what the new medal is gonna be. Some of them are participating in designing it. You come across as an event that sort of listen to your audience, and you're like constantly engaging. You have your own content sorted out for like three or four posts or a couple of weeks just going on about that. I mean, it's these kinds of ideas that races, I think, should be do more of. It's these kinds of things that come from people, I think, who are a little bit more confident around the whole digital space, and they can come up with these things because they've seen it through other brands.
Yeah. I don't know if ego's the right word. I think it's not being super protective, like when you start a race-- I think, every industry is going this way. Tech companies are going this way. Tech companies will share their product roadmap for next year, publicly. People can see exactly what they're working on in their product roadmap. It's the same kind of transparency with marketing. It's like, "Hey, guys. We need to design a medal. Why don't you help?" People know that you have to design a medal - right? It's like virtual races that have popped up. People are actively taking pictures of packing and delivering the medals to the house and, then, posting them on social media. It's just a reality of doing the race directing stuff. People aren't thinking like, "They're not super professional. It's not a massive operation happening." People don't really care nowadays. I think people appreciate it when races are being genuine and saying, "This is the reality of these races." Even just before the races, we have the builds that happened the day before. We share content of the race village looking like a mess. There are things everywhere. It's just the reality of it. I think you don't have to post a lot of stuff. But when you do, you can be very honest and direct. Even having experience from postponing a race - before COVID, I went through that whole postponement scenario - I just learned a lot by just being open with people and being transparent through your marketing about everything that's happening. When those hard times do hit, people appreciate it. So it can work with things like the medal. It can also work with, I think, everything else in the communication.
Yeah. Let's go back to the planning stage for a minute. So you're there with the council. Everyone's super excited. Very few people think you're crazy. So then, you take this out to the local community - the people, the businesses - you tell them, "We're gonna close down your high street. Generally, people - even the running friendly people - don't take very well to being inconvenienced for a couple of days. So, how was that discussion? How did that evolve?
The first thing we made sure we did was before the key businesses found out about it from somewhere else like Facebook or the council themselves, we went down the high street - me and my colleague, Tom, I give him that name - and we went into every single shop on the route that we planned. We went into the shop - everyone that we could - and we spoke to the owner. So that was the whole route. And not the whole route has shops so we're quite lucky. But there's a few different mini high streets that would have been affected. That was the first thing. At least you can talk face-to-face and say, "Hi, guys. This is what we're doing. This is roughly when it's going to be. We want to help you." Some places, you can't help. There's no connection. There's just no interest. It's kind of like, "Okay, we'll just close on that day." And they seem okay with it. But the point is, your business will be on the route, if not visible. We plan to bring 1,000 people and that was always the pitch. They're not all from Weybridge. They'll be around the area. They'll see your business, at least. If not, then there will be spectators around the route that might come in. Coffee shops do great off the back of the event. Car dealerships get visibility. Estate agents get visibility. They're quite easy to please. I think as long as people just see them, they seem to be happy. So that's what I've learned. I think that's the most important thing. Again, just go and tell them before they find out from other people. And, then, with the residents, we send leaflet to as many houses as we could before the road closure signs went up. So about two or three weeks before the event, road closure signs go up which are the little yellow signs that they have for the marathon. So before those went up, we made sure that they found out again from us. So again, a one-page letter written by myself with my contact number on it. Any resident could call me directly if they had a problem, and some did. I think again, just being really honest, but the pitch was always from a place of, "Look. We've grown up in this town. Nothing really happens. People drive through it to get to other places. So you've got Ride London, which people are a massive fan of. We're going to start closing the roads very early in the first year. We're going to start at 8.30 in the morning. There's a 10K, 1 hour 15 minutes, 1 hour 30 minutes. You won't even notice it but what you can do is come out and you can see these people. And if you can't get out your house, then you might as well enter." And I put my number on there. Some people called up. We gave out some cheeky discount to people that weren't super happy. There's one guy in particular, he was very, very upset in the first year. And I did speak to him a few times and now he runs in the event every year. He comes back and tries to get a better time. I love those little stories because it's just convincing people and he just put it in perspective. An hour and a half on a Sunday morning - that's all it comes down to and then you just have a little tick box.
Yeah. And as you say, sometimes these people that you know come out and they're very passionately against it. Sometimes, they become your biggest advocates after a point. Like, if you're courteous with them, you respect them, and you just-- I mean, people have some reasonable objections - right? I mean, we all come from this industry and we think that, "Yeah. We all love running and the races and stuff." But living in a small town somewhere and having the main road closed is something for some people and you need to address that.
Yeah. And again, there are things that you learn - things that people who require carers should know about. You have to look on the map and find all the churches, especially carers and care homes within your route that are cut off access - I think we have two or three within the first two or three year on that route - and, then, you have to arrange bespoke solutions. People have to get through your road closure to get to that care home at this particular time on Sunday. So you have to open the road at this block. So, it's given the right care and attention. And again, people can express different tones on an email, but as soon as you pick up the phone, people are much easier to communicate with and you can arrange things much better. That's the one thing I always do. I called so many people in the first year. I'd sit there on an evening, and I'd just go through 50 numbers - every single person who had a slight issue, who had emailed, who was concerned, whatever - I called every single one and I tell them, "We're two young guys trying to do a nice thing in the town." And people connect with you quite quickly. But yeah, things like the carers is worth investing as well in the right areas. So the last thing you want is someone that doesn't get the care they need because you've closed the roads. Those things can backfire very, very quickly. And again, you invest in someone - a dedicated Marshal - whose only job is to look after that exact time, to open that exact road closure, to move that car to that person, and that's the kind of decisions you make in the first year. It's will happen because that's always going to be focused on.
Do you have any idea, in your first year, how many people were local and how many were out-of-towners, in terms of participant?
It was very high locality. Currently, the exact figure is over the 50% mark. That's one stat I always keep in my head, because one thing I always do is try and increase the locality every year, and also the external one. That's how you get your figures up. But there's only a certain locality you can get - right? You will always reach your capacity. But it was over 50% which, to me, was very big. And that was why it works so well because there was nothing of that nature in that town. And there's a sports shop there. There's now a Sweaty Betty. There's a nice physio with great people - as a foot care center, they do gait analysis. There's all these nice local businesses that we're all connected with, that we support as much as we can. So it's the right market for it. You've got some great gyms around there. You've got St George's Hill - quite famous gym and tennis club. So people love their fitness. People have got spare time, I find, in those areas. Some people there either retired early or got a little bit of money. So they've got some time to train for these kinds of things. So that always helps.
And if people come out on the day to support and spectate and cheer?
First, it was very, very tricky. I did think there'd be more people. But the first year, it was kind of a co-race director situation. It's probably me being very cautious but I was at the race village, and my job was to make sure people actually started the race. And my co race director was in the control room to handle any emergencies, road closure situations, or route problems. So I didn't actually see the route. I didn't see the spectators. And there's very limited pictures. But there wasn't that many people. So as much as we did, there was a few people that just kind of walked up the high street, "Oh, there's a race happening today." So that's got way, way easier, I think, after the first year. People kind of expect it now. And they know, "Oh, it's actually quite a big thing. There's 1,000 people running." So the video from a couple years ago - we see people on the high street - is really nice. It's really cool for us to see that. That's one thing we've tried to improve. During the first year, there was still a little bit of shock. I think people tried to go for their morning shop and saw these people running down the high street thinking, "I have no idea what this is."
Well, that's what happens with the first-year race.
Particularly, in a town that hasn't seen that kind of thing before.
Ok, so, if it's not obvious already, Matt Trevett here is a bit of a "Swiss Army knife" race director - doing a million things on his own. And that's probably true of many race directors, wanting to be on top of every aspect and every detail of the race.
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Ok, now let's get back to Matt Trevett and be Weybridge 10K journey. So far, we've got to getting the local community and businesses on board, now let's look at starting to build the race out online.
So, moving from the local to the digital, digital-first is a term you hear these days of many things - right? People take a digital-first approach. And I guess, it's one of those terms that people attach different meanings to. From your point of view, in the context of growing the Weybridge 10K, what does being digital-first mean?
So from my learning and experience, it came naturally to me because that's my day job in the digital space. That's what I would have known from a young age. So I'd always thought of things like that. And there's good things and bad things. The way I looked at it was, I don't know if this event's gonna happen, necessarily. I don't know if the community definitely wants this event. So I put some feelers out there. So in the digital-first tactic, the first step was to see if anyone's interested - right? And I think it's like any job - you focus on the things you're good at first. So the first thing I did was I built a website - something that explained what it is we were trying to do - post some pictures of Weybridge's high street - no runners, just very basic pictures of the town - anything you could get to make the website looks like it's formal and good. Anyone can do that. You can build a website nowadays. You don't even have to have technical skills. So that was the first step - build a presence. And, then, try and reach out to people in the community. And at the time, that was really easy through channels like Facebook. And the first thing we did was I ran a competition - the first 50 people that joined our Facebook event would have free spaces. Now, it's easy to give stuff for free. But also, what it did was it gave me that reassurance that people understand. I built a website or a Facebook page. I've got a small digital presence. I've got 50 people that clearly see that there's something real happening. They might just want something for free. I looked at all of these people one-by-one and I was like, "These are real people. They do live in the town and they show some interest." And that was my first step to kind of build-- once you get 50 people, those 50 people speak - right? And, then, it escalates. So it's not just a giveaway. So that's the first thing - building this website, this presence. And, then, the entry platform and stuff which I knew very well from just being a little bit technical-minded. So that stuff came very easy. I could get the tickets up for sale. I could prepare the website, the channels, the social platforms, the Facebook event, which is very powerful especially a few years ago. Getting that ready was the first one. And then, yeah, just getting those 50 people in. And, then, getting the ticket sales because, again, it's almost a reassurance - I don't quite know if I'd sold 1,000 entries - to the council in order to justify closing the roads. And we had to pay to close those roads. So you've got certain thresholds you have to reach to get the ticket sales open.
Did you lean quite heavily towards spending time and doing stuff organically at first, either because of budget or because you were exploring things? Or did you also go into paid stuff?
It was all organic very early on. So I still take the same approach now. If you want to attract as many people organically before you start paying for things then that's always better. And some people don't take that approach because, ultimately, on channels like Facebook and Google ads, people who search for your rates will naturally go to your website. So I spent the first 3-4 months just messaging local running clubs. I don't do that too much now because I find it quite spammy.
But it works. So I think it's a great tactic, by the way.
It is. Not just having a copy-paste, like sending the same message to one and then another. Like there's different clubs for different people. We have Elmbridge Road Runners. Most of their runners, they're doing good times. They want to improve their PB. I call them proper club runners. Then, you have the new wave of clubs that are more about just getting people running, getting them up to a certain level, and then improving. So you have to send different content to different people and you do that organically for the first 3-4 months. Look at the clubs to get their history and see, "Okay, what will interest you guys? Let's talk about the medal. Let's give them this percentage of--" because I know it's going to go well. These people may get a bigger discount because they can't get as many people - so adjusting all the discounts. And you can do that without spending any money - just your time for a good few months, just connecting and finding, not just running clubs, but also different sports pages that you can reach out to. And you can do that. And then you can start to look at the paid stuff. And I still do that every year now when we launch an event. I don't spend anything for the first few months because I want to know that I can get all my runners without having-- I think of it as a commission in my head. I want to retain as many people as possible. They get the email first. The people that have done it before. Everyone that searches Weybridge 10K - there's no Google ads above my link - will find me if they search for my race. And that's how we've done it. And then you go into the paid stuff. But I think people underestimate how much value-- and perhaps, it is a time thing. People don't think they have the time to sit there, go through, and do it. So that's the way up, potentially, that people have to think about.
The paid stuff, by the way, are probably an even better proposition back in 2016. I think these days, both organic and paid are a lot harder anyway. So like, paid and organic was a lot easier back then. Everything was a lot easier, I guess, online back then.
Back then, organic was something - right? So you have 500 people on your page. Most of those people would see what you post. So I think organic is quite a tricky term nowadays because that's what it used to be. But nowadays, I don't really bother to post anything on the page, to be really honest, because there's just two people who will see it. And I'm like, "That makes no sense to me." I utilize the events and the groups. It's common knowledge now. It's not as fancy as it was a few years ago to do that. So it's obviously more competitive for people like me. But when I think organically now, I just think of being proactive and more direct with the other pages and the channels. I mean, Facebook's always going to get you to try and spend some money.
Well, apart from running groups back then, were there any Facebook groups or other places where you could sort of tap into for potential participants and spread the word?
Yes. I think when we first started, there wasn't even groups that do come around. So they definitely won't utilize that much. Tapping into events was the most powerful thing. It was used a lot. I kind of took inspiration from a lot of nightclubs because, if you go to a nightclub, they would get you to kind of agree to go to the next event on Facebook. So, if you've had a few drinks, you're going to click anything on an iPad. That was very smart because, once you're in that event, you then get all the notifications. And the next day, you try and leave all these events that you ended up joining. I took that approach with the races. Once you've got people in a space, you can do that for free. You can send an email to people to get them into an event. You can put your facebook event on a leaflet or have it in the sports shop. That was the main driver. Once they're in this space, anything you put into that space, everyone gets notified of that post and people are engaged.
Right. So the Facebook event sort of was the Facebook group back in the day, that kind of thing. Did people also have a chance to post in the event themselves? So basically, did you have like a community thing going on the event page?
Yeah, exactly. And I think now you can moderate it. So you can stop that. Back then, I can't remember, I'm not too sure, but we left it going regardless. So you just get a notification if someone does it and you just have to check what it is that they post, which I'm sure you're familiar with the process. That's all it was. So you get the odd spam things pop up. But generally, it's people asking about the events. And, again, it was easier back then with a bit more time. But every time we see those posts or comments, we'd just jump straight to reply to them instantly. We did that for a good solid first year. Every time someone was interacting, we would reply within 5-10 minutes maximum - I think that is invaluable. And it's very hard to maintain that definitely now. It's very hard when you're busy. But if you can put that time in the first year, that "quick to reply" reputation does stay with you, I think, for many years afterwards. And I think it's a bit of an alternative technique because you can't measure very well, you can't measure super accurately how people are converting from your ads when you're using the event response. You can use the tracking pixel. You can get a rough idea but you're not converting people directly from the ad to go to your website because you're paying less money to get them in your event, and you're remarketing to them in that event over and over and over. So that's the way I think of it. You get them in the event space. It cost me way less to do that than it does for someone to get links. It costs me pence to get a person. One week we post about the medal, they might get interested by that. The next week, we post about the route. They might get interested, they might not. And at some point you're going to convert those people. So I've got an event ad running at the moment. It's easy for me to get-- I think, I got 700-800 people within the last few weeks in this year's Facebook event for Weybridge in December. It's very, very cheap to do. Once I've got them in there, it's now my job to pique their interest to take part. But they're in this group or this event - we call it a group. And I can interact with them. They get notifications. They get automatic reminders from Facebook. This event will happen in X number of weeks. I've always done it but the similar bit out there because you can't directly correlate. People can say to me, "Matt, how many people directly entered from your Facebook event?" I can give you a rough figure. I can export the names. I can look up my entry list. I can see who's involved especially a few years ago when we just kind of knew it was working. You'd see the peaks go up after these posts. And you can probably take that to a big, big race marketing company or a big event and sell that concept. For someone like a local race director that hasn't got too much time, you have to think like that. You can't be too much in the detail. You just have to think, "What's working for me? What can I play around with? What's cost effective?"
So using the Facebook event is still something you do today, as kind of, like a place where you want people to go to?
Yeah, yeah, exactly. And I still got the same ad tricks that I use many years ago. And I think it's still working - it seems to be. I'm waiting for the day when it doesn't. And, then, I think I might have to retire because there'll be a new algorithm and I lose my hat. But I still do the same thing. It was very, very powerful because it wasn't used when we first started. And I still do it now. But I think you just have to be smarter, like, you have to innovate. At some point, it's gonna cut off. So it's not the sole reliance on entries, it's that particular ad. It was in the first two years because it works so well. All I had to do was that. There was no email marketing for the first two years. I can rely solely on that for this event.
But the Facebook event-- correct me if I'm wrong, because I haven't looked into this for a while - after the Facebook event expires or after the race is done, you lose all of that audience. I mean, you lose all of those people who've came to that event and, then, you need to reengage them on the new Facebook event page that you put together - right?
Technically. Or like I did a couple years ago, I just changed the date to the next year.
Okay. So you keep all the people. You just change the date.
You keep all the people. I didn't do it in the first year. I tried it in the second year and it worked. And it's okay as long as you tell people, "This is why the date has change. It has not been postponed. It's just a clever way to do it." There's a few virtual events that I was involved in and I was helping. And you can utilize Facebook events, and you can have it so that every weekend, the event takes place and it's recurring. So every weekend, people get a nudge automatically from Facebook about your virtual event. You can have that running for say, six months. If it's one of those long challenges, you can use things in that way. And I think it's just about using some of the few remaining kind of organic style tools that Facebook does have, just using them in smart ways and, then, recycling old stuff. There's still Facebook events from 2-3 years ago. Even small ones like we did, we do shop open day. People come into the shop and they can meet me if they want to. They can chat with the person that founded the route. They can do anything. They can ask questions about the event. Those small events that maybe had 15-20 people, I'll still go back to those and we'll still drop in a post every now and then. I'm not completely sure if they get notification but some do, I think. And we just keep using those to keep tapping into those people that we know who are really loyal, like a big loyal customer base.
Have you not thought about maybe trying to grow a more permanent community? Like lots of people use Facebook groups, they use Strava clubs. I mean, there are pros and cons in each, but they work quite effectively. There's many things you can do. Have you thought about transitioning all that stuff you're doing through Facebook events to a more permanent sort of, like home for the community?
Completely. Yeah, completely. I think that this leads on nicely to the next point. But that's something that it all comes down to time. You know you should do these things. And I think I got to that point where you see the shift happening in the Facebook groups and think you need someone that's in here, posting stuff regularly. We have got something set up. It's nowhere near the activity or the time spent, I think, that we could put to make it really powerful, which is frustrating when you're preaching because I know that I can make it powerful. But you just have to prioritize your time right. That is the new wave. I'd say to race directors, "Don't post once every three weeks on your page, but spend all your time in that group. Drive as much traffic as you can." But you're right. It is the way forward. It just needs some time, attention, love and care.
What was the issue with the sale? Did this come up sort of thing, like - you mentioned - the sale of the vendor?
Yeah, I think, there's many, many different avenues of work I was doing. There's a few reasons that this sale happened. One of them was a time thing - when the event is growing so quickly and it's mainly yourself that's driving that event forward. And you think, "Okay, for this event to grow, there's a couple of paths I could take. It could become a 100%, full time project for me, which might not be the right way. One person with limited skill set might not be the way this race grows to a 5,000 - 10,000 person race in the future." Or, in this case, you could sell the event, or you could part-sell like kind of what I did and still be involved in the event, but have a team of people that have been doing this for way longer than you have. That can take your concept to the next level. They can spend more time on the marketing, the Facebook stuff, the social, get a little bit of structure as you grow a little bit of the regular comms, which you do need as you get the race bigger. So that's kind of accepting that you haven't got as much time that you should have to make the race be as good as it was in the first couple of years. That's the honest realization.
So beyond Facebook, when you started out marketing the race, were there other channels that you spend time on? Was Instagram a big thing back then? Did you do anything outside of Facebook?
I think Instagram was just starting to become a big thing. So I think we were probably one of the early adopters of using that for a race. We've got quite a nice page now with loads of content. So I roped in. I think at that time, my younger brother was way more fluent with Instagram than I was. So I made it sound like a cool job but his job was to take the pictures and use the Instagram, which is very hard - right? Using Instagram which is a picture-based platform when you've not had an event is like, "What do you post that makes people interested?"
Exactly. What do you post?
So the first thing we did was we walked around the route and I took a picture every every few minutes. So I got a picture of just roads, the turning, and the high street. That was the first thing. So that kept us going for a couple of weeks - just the pictures of the route. But it's not necessary to post the most amazing pictures, but you just have to have simple captions like, "This year, we're closing the roads. This is St. James' Road. This is Desmond's Island. This is Morton Lane." And, then, just having that content there. You could use very limited and local hashtags, so just the Weybrige stuff, #Weybridge, #WeybridgeBusinesses, #WeybridgeMoms - I always use that quite a lot. Just people like groups that you know that are active.
It's the best hashtag for Weybridge. So, our best customer base
Yeah. Over 50% of female. There's more female than men and the age ranges-- I'm not saying that all moms are the same age but it's kind of 30-40. That's our biggest market. And I think it's great. I don't know if any other races had that, especially in the first year. But that was my prime market in the beginning because everyone's exercising. I could see people running on the streets when I was growing up around the town or when I go to college. I was like, "They need something to do. They're doing the running. This should be an event here for them."
So you walked around, took some pictures and said, "In a few months time, this is gonna be quite busy. We're closing the street down and you just hashtagged it with #WeybridgeMoms."
That's it. That's the secret. This the transparent truth of it. And, then, you just start to post more pictures. So you start to find sponsors - right? So you can take pictures of the sponsors. You can get some leaflets printed. You can set up a stand. One thing we did was, outside the sport shop, I just bought a table and some chairs, and I had a bit of paper with just a list which I could put people's names in. I just sat there just selling the events to everyone that walked past the shop on the street, outside the sport shop. And I had a few leaflets that I designed. I'm an average graphic designer. But I could do something that looked reasonably presentable and that's it. That's why I love the local stuff, as well as the digital stuff. I know we talked about digital-first. That was the comfort zone - right? That's why I go out on the street and talk to people face-to-face about an event. That's what I would do completely outside the comfort zone. And the more I did that, the more you improve, the more you get to know the audience, and you just get better. And when you talk about something you're passionate about, it just comes across. I think that was something I didn't want to miss. So yeah, we've done everything like that. And, then, of course, we took a picture of it and post it on Instagram. But that's when I realized that those platforms just need content so badly. And I think in the first race, I've hired Sports Action Photo - really nice photography company. I've used different people. They're great guys. They take such good pictures. And we did free pictures in the first year. I said, "Take as many as you want but take pictures of not just the people running. I want pictures of people with their medal, people in the village, people sitting down, and families. I want kind of the opposite. I don't care so much about the running pictures." People notice a running race - right? They're going to assume you're running. I want pictures of emotions. And I hope to think that I've spent more time with them than maybe other race directors do. I spend a lot of time with the photo and the video guys to brief on exactly what I want. Again, digital-first - right? This is the comfort thing. But yeah, that's when we realized that those platforms need all that content. And I still use pictures from 2017. It rains a lot on that day - very, very heavy rain. It's not the best picture, but you capture that essence and the atmosphere of it.
Yeah, it's super important. I mean, whether it's for paid ads, or whether it's for organic stuff, having a good inventory of people looking happy, smiling, having a great time is invaluable. And, actually, it's something that you need to plan for in advance - right? Because if you don't have those pictures from year one, you're screwed, basically. I mean, you need to wait for another year. So it's something to keep in mind to be able to get those shots from your first event.
Yeah, exactly. You have to think like that. And one of the most challenging things I found is having to think about year two while we haven't even delivered year one. And when you haven't delivered year one, you don't know what to expect. You don't even know if people will turn up. I mean, people have entered your event but you don't know really what to expect. You want to bring the pictures in but you think in the back of your head, "Look, if something goes wrong, I really want pictures of this event." Like that's what you think in January. That's what I was thinking anyway, to be really transparent. And every race director, I think, has those thoughts about the next year, like I need these pictures when the race is over on Sunday. It need to be released straight on Facebook as quick as possible to get the reviews as quick as I can. It doesn't just stop when the race stops. But it's very, very hard, I think, to have that mindset in the first year - to think beyond that race date. So all that years where the planning comes down to one day. So that's very tricky, but it's worth the time. I think if you do it for the first time, you just have to go with the nature that it will be okay. Generally, it will be okay. Like things always go wrong. In every event I've been at, there's an event debrief where you learn what things went go wrong. You learn from them. Next year, you mitigate specifically against those things. The next year, some other things will go wrong, then you mitigate against those things, and just so on and so on and so on. It happens from the smallest events to the biggest events. So you have to accept that things will happen.
Yeah. And actually speaking of things going wrong. I mean, you had a postponement plus - which I guess is probably the worst thing any race director might expect - you also had a very unfortunate death during one of your races which must be really super hard for a junior race director to have to go through.
It was the first year when, I think, it happened. I know it happened to another event in Surrey. Yeah, that was very hard. It's almost surreal. It's hard to explain. It's always in the back of your head. And that's one thing I'm very, very cautious of nowadays, because we attract a lot of beginners. And this particular person, it was his first 10K. He had a heart condition that he wasn't aware of. We were so lucky with the health and safety team that we got around, I think - they're very, very good and very, very quick. We had first responders on in seconds at the finish line - so it's at that last part where people are pushing themselves the most. There's a doctor running the race. Actually, he was running directly next to him. So we were very, very lucky that we had the right people in the right place. But until it happens on the day, you don't know. And there was a week before the race, we had the option to get an ambulance specifically for the race. We didn't have to have it. All our risk assessment said that we didn't need it due to the number of people. We don't have to have it. Like, we'd be okay without it from a legal standpoint if something was to happen. And there's X cost with that. And I said, "Yeah, pay for it. Let us have it." And that was the one that turned up on the scene within minutes - that exact ambulance. And I think those kinds of decisions are very hard to make. That's a good thing. That's a good hindsight. Look back at that decision. If those decisions hadn't been made, I think it'd be very, very tricky to push forward because you would think, "What if?" Well, in that situation, there's no "What if's." Everything happened. And we're very lucky to have the right people. But it's very tough because at that moment, people are still finishing the race. So there's a joyous atmosphere for people you're trying to work around with. I was with the family in the back of the ambulance whilst people were finishing because that was the main priority. And it's very, it's very hard. And the first thing you want to know as a race director is, "Did we do everything? Is everything going as planned to direct people to help? Did they get the care?" And that's not from a selfish perspective. It's just that's what you want to know. You don't care, at that moment, if certain things will come back in the future that might get picked up. It's just you want to know that, "That's happened." So yeah, we had that happen in the first year. Since then, we've talked to the family every few months. I mean, I'm in close contact with them. We've always kept that up. We did dedicate on the race numbers for the next year. The runner - his number was 27. So everyone had 27 on their race numbers. So we always do small things like that. It doesn't change anything but, for us, it's important the family's there. And before we do the race, I always talk to them about what our plans are. They actually run it every year - a few of them run it. So we're very lucky. Obviously, they get free places. They can bring whoever they want. And our headline charity is British Heart Foundation, which I wanted purely because of what happened in year one. So it took me a while to get them. But because of that story, that's where we've gone from. So that's the charity that we help as much as we can.
Right. Yeah, that's really important. It must have been really hard. I mean, I didn't mean to go into that. It's just that, when you mentioned all the difficulties that you've face, that you've went through that, I think it would be quite instructive, particularly, for young race directors listening in to know that these things also happen, I guess, very infrequently. And you can do as much as you can, I guess, to provide support and do all the right things. But sometimes, these things just happen. Yeah. So I was just about to go in to another segment like returning to the digital-first stuff. What were your efforts around email? Was that something that you focused quite a lot on? For younger people, does email marketing still mean a lot as it used to?
Yeah, we didn't do it too much. So my experience was, when I first stepped into the space, it was quiet. We plan to email a whole database. This is when I was first working with sports events. We're going to email our database - everyone has entered the race. We'll take them off that list and we'll send a new email, like once a week. The content will be very similar to this event. A couple of banners might change. I used to design the emails for these big events, like for the first company I worked for. And it was very formal. It was very regimented. There's blocks of content. "Here's our sponsor. Here's our charity. Here's some blurb. Click here if you're interested." I'd say it's not super engaging. So what I took away from that was, again, not having lots of emails. And again, for a race director starting out, we haven't got all the time to sit there and do emails. Like, this is the honest truth. If you're in the same position I was in doing 50 jobs, email marketing is quite low in your list. Even as a digital-first person, you do have to think about the logistics stuff and things. So the approach that I took was, kind of, "Less is more. If I do an email, I will put out very transparent content and very direct stuff." So we ended up doing, kind of, newsletters. Like, letters from the race director was the approach that I took. And it would be once about once a month. And it would be just a letter about what we did, what we were working on, what the plans for the event were, how many entries we got - sometimes a tiny bit exaggerated just to push people who might be sitting out soon. Not quite, but we did in the end. Just try a few little punch lines in there. But it's a transparent bit of content. And then, that'd be one. And then, the next one, there might be a whole email from the race director about the footcare center or physio or sports shop this month. That's the approach that I took because I could sit down for an hour and write that letter. And it would be like honest, transparent, and engaging for people, very in depth about the community things we're doing, like an enjoyable read for people that live in the town.
Well, you did this as a first person thing. So you were saying, "Hi, I'm Matt. I'm your race director and this is what we're doing."
Exactly. And I think it's hard to say in depth if that stuff works because, at that time, you can track X amount. But for me, I think it works. The way I kind of measured it was, I'd go into the duty sports shop for things like race pack collection - and we'd have open days - and I've sort of just turn up and work on that space, or be in a cafe down the road. And people would come in and talk about the event. And I would be sitting there and be like, "Oh, yeah. I sent that email." And they'd mentioned something about, "Oh, you guys were doing this," or "I heard about this part of the roads being closed," or "The medals coming out next month." So that's how I kind of knew in my head that people do read what we put out and it's kind of interesting. So I think, again, it's not super by the book. But again, with the time that we had, it worked really well. Facebook events was going great, so I didn't need to do too many emails. Nowadays, I think other companies take a similar approach. I have seen it within E-commerce platforms. They're a lot more transparent now with what they do. If there's problems like events, they're a lot more open. So I think the industry is going that way, anyway.
I see this sometimes with SaaS businesses. It's very popular to send out emails in the first person and say, "Hi, I'm Matt," or whatever. Sometimes, they put on the CEO. Like, we're cynical enough to not think that this person is actually like, addressing me personally - right? He didn't sit down and write that letter just for me. But I think compared to just getting an email that says, "Oh, register now. Prices are increasing," the approach of having something more personalized - a little bit more custom and sort of, like, going out from the command center from the people behind the scenes in the first person - I think that could be really effective. It's authentic, right? As you said, it's genuine. It's basically the voice of the event and you're building on that community feeling.
Yeah. I saved a lot of the price increase and the sold out messages in the last month before the event because that's when you get your biggest spikes, especially with a 10K. On average, 80 days before the event, you see big spikes start to happen especially for a 10K where you get a lot of last minute signups. And you can say about the price increase or you've only got limited spots left or things like that. The one thing I think is tricky for race directors is to use emails in a way that helps sponsors. That's the one thing I've always tried to crack because the way I've looked at sponsors is to give them as much value back and I use those letters - soulless emails, if you'd like - and one would be dedicated for a sponsor per month. Because again, that's all I really had time for. But when they got content, it was dedicated content about their brand from the first person engaging. And people would walk into their businesses the week afterwards and, then, the business would call me and say "Hey, we have someone come in." I'd say that's the email, I think. That's quite hard, I think, to just have banners with discounts and vouchers and email it to them. I don't know if people connect to the business with that stuff.
I think that's exactly the kind of perspective that someone I think of your age and, again, probably of your disposition and experience of having lived with all of this digital media from a very young age brings to this - right? Sometimes, I include myself in that kind of like cohort of slightly older than you people for sure. It's difficult to know where to begin. And sometimes, you try to force yourself into being authentic and it doesn't work out, and it comes across even weirder - that kind of thing. So do you find that all of this stuff, in the end, gives you a better chance of attracting younger people to events because this industry has a very like persistent issue with attracting younger people like yourself into running? Do you feel that that has helped you?
Yeah, I think so. I think that approach has helped. I'm feeling in the same boat recently as well because there is a new generation coming up. And there's a lot of new platforms that I don't know if I even want to go near them but I feel like I should, but I feel like maybe I've missed the boat and now I'm in that bracket. Like, the new wave of things - and these things are big ones. I'll have to start doing and just learning. It's a lot more video content - short, sharp, transparent, authentic content in video format. People don't read anymore. People won't be read my letters. I think I sent them two years ago. They wouldn't read that content. They haven't got time. So condensing that into a short video clip - lots of race directors are doing it. It's really good to see that they just record a video of themselves walking around the race village, talking about the event and, then, that video goes up online. And then, repeat the same thing again on the week after. That's where it was heading. Just having short, sharp clips takes way less time than writing an email. But it shows the transparency and authenticity of, "This is who I am. This is the event. You support me and my mate, Dave. We're going to do this event and we hope you're going to turn up." For the younger generation, that is the key thing to get them interested. And you can do that with ads now. If we look at some Instagram ads for that kind of content, it's just very, very quick buzzwords such as Weybridge 10K race, December, Date Time, what it is - people get the gist. And that's almost what it is now. And it subconsciously gets into people's heads through those different short videos. So I think it's just planting the seed, which is a term I use quite a lot. I like planting the seed in people's heads quite early and, then, coming back at a later date and be like, "Yeah, I know these people will come. But you have to start that quite early." So I think that kind of content is where it will go to. But I am a little bit scared, to be honest, of what the new generation wants to look for and if I'm going to be in the right kind of place to engage with them. But that's where you have to, again, bustle in the race. People come in. Younger people come in. They've got new ideas. And as a race director, you have to step back and say, "These people know more than me. As my younger brother told me when he was doing our Instagram, "I have no idea what I'm doing." So it's like, great. If you know what you're doing then perfect. You just give them a shot.
Yeah. I think, whether you're a race director or whatever, things are changing too fast. You need to just be open to learn new things and just experiment with things. And the video, as you mentioned, back in our age, maybe it would be like, slightly expensive drone film thing. Maybe these days, just holding a camera phone or something, and recording for like 20 seconds and, then you post it - that's good, that's authentic. It cost you nothing. You didn't need to bring yourself into that mindset and feel comfortable doing that kind of stuff.
Yeah. And you don't have to be great on camera. It's just a trend now. People are doing it. So I look at things like that, I think, "Jeez, do people really want to see my face and see what I'm doing?" I mean, in the first year, for me, I think it would have just been me behind my laptop, so that wouldn't have worked very well. So you need to have the right people in the right parts of the events and the right moments to do it. But I think that's where it's heading. So it will be interesting to see what happens in the next few years. And I think from a younger race director perspective, it's very hard to get to that race director part and that place nowadays, unless you just go out and do it yourself. So that's one thing I'm always open to try to see how I can help. Maybe this podcast is a good first step especially around the sports events to work your way in a company to get to that event director level. It takes some time and there is a certain path that you have to go down. I don't think that just having an idea and doing it is that far out. You do have to learn from people that have been doing this way longer than you. You can pull them into health, safety, and photography - you get the right people involved. Then, your job is just to coordinate and take the financial bearing - if it goes well or if it goes bad.
I think actually, like many things, sitting out to plan your own race is probably easier than ever - right? Because as you say, you have all of these tools - right? You can start lean, like you did. You can experiment. You can focus on the things that matter rather than going all out and big like shutting down London or something. So you can definitely do it easier. Speaking of which, as you went through that like one of those one-man army, what kinds of really cool smart tools did you use, particularly, for your marketing to save time and, basically, do more and get more out of yourself?
There was a few back then. Other people use these now - things like Hootsuite. You could probably get post across multiple platform.
I use Hootsuite, yeah.
Yeah. So this is what I'm using, Panos. I'm slowly using it. So I'm using things like that across multiple platforms. But I'll be really honest, I did enjoy just going into every platform directly. I think it was just not posting stuff all the time and just picking the moments. And people say the opposite. People say more contents - doesn't matter what it is - get you more engagement, which is true. But more engagement isn't always the right engagement. So that's how I save time. I was going to platforms directly most the time, just picking the moments, like I'm in Weybridge today and someone was running - that might be a good picture to post or that might be something interesting. Boom. Done. Post. Just that off the spot, not necessarily thinking, "Is it the peak time that I should be posting? Is it 6pm when people are finishing work? Are they going to see this on the train?" If people want to see it, they'll find it somehow. I'll do a little quirky hashtags and see if it works. And that's, again, not by the book. So that's how I kind of save time in a way - just doing things at the right moment. What feels right, I think, comes from the gut. And when it's your business, and if it's the town that you know really well, that stuff should come to you, I think, naturally. And that's probably where the power is. And just like any business, it's kind of a golden nugget when that happens. And I've done projects where I just haven't felt that. And you can see that it doesn't go as well, or you struggle a bit, or it's not as natural. So if you have that natural drive, or you see something, then it's gonna go well.
Cool. One last thing before we go, what would you say to someone - like yourself a few years back, being 23-24 - who sees nothing's happening around in their town and they want to launch a race. Any words of advice from someone who's done that with some great success with Weybridge?
Don't do it. It's stressful. It's nicely stressful. Every race director will tell you it's stressful - but that's why we keep doing it - right? So that's why I'm here today. Everything's a good project. Again, everyone that comes to the other side, it's easier to say this, "Just kind of do it." It's not hard to start a race. I think the one thing I learned was, I found that going big is the winner. I've seen loads of people take different approaches. You can set up a small trail run and aim for maybe 1,500 people. Your costs are very small. And you can try and grow that. That can go really well. You can have many of those. But I don't know, I found that if you can afford to take some risk, go a little bit bigger and invest in aspects that you think are unique to your market. In my case, it was the medal and the route - the obvious ones. And, then, I think the risk will pay off. And, then, I think don't be afraid to accept that you don't know everything. And you can learn as you go. It is possible to learn as you go. I've sold 1,000 tickets to an event when I was still working out that event. We're still measuring the course a month before race day. It was two kilometers too short. We were trying to find two kilometers on a 10K. We're very off when I measure. So it's just accepting that those things will happen. You have to take a bit of a hit. And you can learn as you go. Maybe it takes a certain kind of person. I've always been that person to go into things that aren't in my comfort zone, absorb all the stress, and just be like, "I'm going to work it out." If I need to sit here at midnight and try to work it out, if I need to google or ask someone for advice, I don't mind. I'll ask 50 questions. And at some point, I'll understand it. You don't necessarily have to take a course. I think finding the right people to surround yourself with and take some guidance from them is not that difficult, to be honest. And it's a nice kind of stress because the buzz when it's over is amazing. And, then, you just do it again the next year. You don't know why you do it again next year, but you'd always go back and do it again, and that's once you've coped with that stress of the first race. Now, it's probably the biggest weekend for njuko as a company. We will launch the ballot on a new product for the marathon on Sunday. And I'm actually quite calm and I think it's because I've race directed an event that this is nothing for me compared to that. So that's the thing you come out of it, I think - it makes you stronger.
Definitely. Is there any way people can reach out to you, if you want to help someone out or if someone has any questions and want to reach out to you? How can they get through to you?
I'd say LinkedIn is always the best platform. I find that really easy to work with. And I'm quiet. I always try and be generous with my time because people have always helped me so much. So I'll always try to give time to people. I'll always have a phone call with anyone in our space, and won't try and sell anything to anyone. Generally, I'd help people in the industry. So I speak to people just for fun. I meet people in London all the time over coffee just for fun and to share ideas. So LinkedIn is the best way. I'm always open to anything I can do to help.
Okay, we'll put your LinkedIn profile link in the show notes. By the way, if you have some time, you should come into the Race Directors Hub group that we have on Facebook. Many people don't know that there's an actual mentorship function that the group has - many groups have it on Facebook - and lots of experienced race directors have signed up and lots of like new people coming into the industry go there. There's a way that Facebook pairs up mentors and mentees. Like, one can help each other out in specific areas or more generally. So if you have some time, do come into the group and put up like a mentor profile. I think lots of people in the back of this podcast may want to be your mentees. So, thank you very much for your time today, Matt. It's a really stressful time, I guess, now with London. All the best for the London Marathon weekend.
Thank you very much.
Thanks again for all the help you're giving out to younger people. Thanks to everyone listening in and we'll see you on the next episode.
I hope you enjoyed this episode on growing races with a digital-first focus with my guest Weybridge 10K's Matt Trevett.
You can find more resources on anything and everything related to race directing on our website RaceDirectorsHQ.com. You can also share your questions about launching and growing your race or anything else in our Facebook group, Race Directors Hub.
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