Marketing Your Race Internationally

Sports tourism - you’ve heard the phrase, people traveling to places to participate in sporting - that’s a whole thing these days. And a very fast-growing thing at that.

So, how can your race capitalize on this trend and how can you position your event to attract more overseas or out-of-state participants?

That’s exactly what we’ll be getting into today with my guest, George Kakourides, Marketing Director for the Logicom Cyprus Marathon. As you’ll hear, George has worked really hard on growing international participation for the Logicom Cyprus Marathon since 2014 with some amazing results, and has tons of tips to share on marketing your race internationally  and reaching new audiences through social media, micro-influencers, specialist publications, race expos, and other channels. So get your notepads out and get ready to take notes!

By the way, we’re going to be using the term “international” here a lot, but the lessons we’ll learn here today apply equally to a race that aspires to attract participants from a different country, as well as, say, a US-based race that wants to attract participants from nearby states. Everything we’ll touch on today basically falls under the category of marketing to participants that will travel to your event - so anyone besides your local crowd.

In this episode:

  • Positioning your race brand for international appeal
  • The importance of infrastructure (airport capacity, accommodation capacity etc) in being able to attract international participants
  • How to pick the most promising international markets to target with your marketing
  • Getting buy-in and material support from local government, local businesses and your local tourist board
  • Partnering with local hotels and designing custom-made accommodation packages for participants
  • Working with international specialist-press journalists and relevant influencers to promote the event in target markets
  • Why getting Runners World and other high-profile mags to write about your event is easier that you think
  • Measuring ROI on your international marketing efforts
  • Why you want to translate key landing pages and your ad copy into the language of your target market participants
  • Reaching international participants using Facebook Ads and suitable country/interest targeting choices
  • Content ideas for engaging potential participants year-round through your social media accounts
  • Lessons in building race partnerships from the Swedish Classic

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.

Episode transcript

Panos  2:19  
George, welcome to the podcast!

George  2:21  
Hi, Panos. Thank you for inviting me and nice to see you!

Panos  2:24  
Well, thanks a lot for coming on. For people who are listening in, can you tell us where are you based at? 

George  2:30  
I'm actually based in Nicosia, Cyprus - a small island in the Mediterranean Sea.

Panos  2:35  
Yes, I think most people would know that. And you are the marketing director for the Logicom Cyprus Marathon which we're going to be talking quite a bit about today. Is the event happening this year in-person?

George  2:49  
Actually, yes. It was organized to happen in March 2021 but, unfortunately, was postponed to the 5th of December - actually, in a few days - in Paphos. And again, we'll go back to normal, hopefully, on the 13th of March in 2022.

Panos  3:13  
So you'll have those two races so close to each other. So you'll do one in December and, then, in a few months, in March, you'll go back to the regular month.

George  3:23  
Yes. Hopefully, COVID will let us organize the second one. It's a bit hectic because of too many organizational matters when organizing a marathon so close to each other but we have to honor our decision to postpone the race and give the participants the entries they registered for 2021.

Panos  3:49  
Perfect. How are registrations for this year in December?

George  3:52  
We have a maximum capacity due to the COVID measures and we'll hit it easily in the next few days and, then, we'll close registrations. But we're focusing our efforts on 2022 because we want to go back to normal and keep growing the marathon as we have done in the past.

Panos  4:13  
Okay. So tell us a little bit about the history of the Logicom Cyprus Marathon. Today, we'll talk quite a lot about international marketing. I chose this race and I chose to speak to you because I know you've done some amazing things here that we'll go over. The Logicom Cyprus Marathon, if I'm correct, has grown quite a lot since you took over as marketing director and it has grown a lot internationally since your time. So can you tell us a little bit about the event, sort of, history - when you came on board, where you pick the event up, and where you're currently at - in terms of numbers, progress and growth?

George  4:51  
Yes. I was actually involved in the marathon since 1999 when it started. It was started by my father, actually. So I've seen what goes on behind the scenes since a young age. I was just nine when it started. And after I finished my studies in sports management in London in 2012, I started to take event organization more seriously. And since then, I was more focused on the business development side of things. The event, as mentioned, was started in 1999. And it was the first international marathon event in Cyprus. Let's take a step back before that to 1987 when my father organized the first charity marathon in Cyprus, raising £2,700Cyp for patients with thalassaemia back then. And he continued pioneering, let's say, his ventures in running. He also founded the first running club in 1988. He also served as a president for six years. So let's just say that he set up some pretty solid foundations for later success with the marathon. And since 1999, the year it started, it used to host around 400 to 700 runners yearly. As this was not the main job of my father, he couldn't take this to the next level until I got the--

Panos  6:34  
The most recent number of a normal year would be, kind of, like, in 2019, I guess, with the last in-person race. So how much has the marathon grown since you took it up, like, when it was a few hundred people?

George  6:50  
My role started officially in 2014. That year, we only had 440 participants and I knew that it was not enough. So we had to fight with some increased efforts for some funding or sponsorships because nobody knew us back then. We had a 75% increase in the first two years in 2015 and 2016 - actually, in 2016, we had 1378 participants - and another 40% increase in 2017 where we had up to 2,000 participants. And, then, we had another 50% increase in 2018 with 2,880 participants, another 25% increase in 2019, up to 3,590 participants in 2020. Well, we're on track to do more than 4,000 participants. But a few days before the event, the government of Cyprus decided to shut down everything - as everybody knows - and we canceled the event. And as you know, now we have to fight with the health protocols. And that's why we have a maximum capacity. Hopefully, in March, this will not be the case and we get back on track.

Panos  8:20  
Great. So basically, you sort of took the race in 2014 with, like, 400 odd people. And if things were normal in 2021, it would have grown 10 times to, like, 4,000, which is quite remarkable. And I think we want to focus on it today because putting on a marathon in Cyprus and getting participants up to that level of numbers is not a very easy thing because Cyprus is a small place, for people who don't know it. I mean, the running community is growing but it's not growing as fast as the marathon had. So you need to turn to the international market for your participants which is, sort of, what you did and you grew the international side of the marathon, I guess, quite a lot.

George  9:13  
You are absolutely right about the target market of runners in Cyprus, which is quite small, to be honest. We're an island of 700,000 people so there's not a lot of runners here. That's why we started to expand our numbers with runners outside of Cyprus. A percentage of international participants is around 50% every year, which is quite high compared to other international races. 25% of the total runners come from the UK, which is also exceptional for us since they have a running culture and are very supportive of one another. They are very good with word-of-mouth marketing, to be honest. Next year, they bring their running club parties and they get bigger and bigger. Other countries which are also represented quite well such as Germany, Poland, Hungary, Russia, and Israel are markets that we are actually targeting very heavily.

Panos  10:23  
So I guess it's the same mix of people that take their vacation in Paphos, Cyprus - right? We should say that the marathon is set in Paphos - right?

George  10:33  
Yes. Paphos is the smallest city in Cyprus, to be honest, but it's a cosmopolitan resort and has a lot of hotels, restaurants, clubs. And it's a very attractive destination for foreign people who come here for holidays especially during the summer time.

Panos  10:59  
So in a way, it makes a lot of sense for that marathon to be outward-looking and to be looking towards attracting more international participants. When you first decided that you'll have a go at growing the international base of the event, how did you think of positioning the marathon to the international markets that you were interested in? How did you think you would be able to sell it to attract more people to Cyprus?

George  11:31  
The city needs to have the infrastructure to be able to attract high numbers of international participants. For example, having a local airport with lots of direct flights to two major cities was probably the most important thing for the international participants. But the main tagline was, "Join us for winter sun, run and have fun!" So as you can see, we want it to be an attractive tourist destination that you can combine with a bit of sun. And it makes it ideal for a quick getaway to enjoy your favorite hobby. That was our main focus on promoting the marathon.

Panos  12:19  
So basically, you're saying, based on your point of infrastructure, that maybe not all races can aspire necessarily to be very attractive internationally. You need to have some basic stuff lined up to be able to deliver that - right? It just can't happen for every race.

George  12:41  
Exactly. I mean, if you're organizing an event in an area with just a few Airbnb's and no hotels at all, then that's a major difficulty when attracting international participants. The city needs to be able to offer you the platform to attract these numbers. For example, New York - why does everybody goes to the New York Marathon? They have direct flights to so many places and they have so many places that runners can actually stay in the city and run the marathon. 

Panos  13:20  
And in terms of the hotel capacity - I think I know the answer to this one because I tried a very similar angle with a race that we put on in Crete in 2016 - you definitely don't want to clash with peak season, right? You don't want to put it in, like, the most popular months.

George  13:38  
Yes. And that's why we usually organize the marathon at the beginning of March. It is actually the first or second Sunday of March. And this is a way to start the marathon season because, for example, if you are running a marathon in May, you will want to test yourself and your pace by doing a half marathon abroad and trying various locations and conditions that you might experience in an international event. That's the main reason we are, actually, one of the first marathons of the spring season.

Panos  14:24  
Right. And in terms of the target markets that you focus on, when you decided to go international, I guess, you were saying that flight connections are important - right? I mean, you want to market a race where people can actually travel to. But of the many choices that you had - I guess the UK is an obvious one - how did countries like Poland, Hungary, and Israel become choices for you to market the race to?

George  14:56  
The convenience factor is very important because I don't want to walk a lot. I want to be well-rested before the race. So we went to the airport website and had a look at which countries have lots of flights arriving on Friday and which countries have flights departing on Monday. So we combine these statistics and saw that countries like Israel, Hungary, and Poland have direct flights with Ryanair - a cheap flight as well - on Friday and on Monday. So that was the main reason we chose those countries to target.

Panos  15:51  
And there were existing flights in early March from those countries already?

George  15:54  
Yes. Actually, you will be surprised at how many flights that are in Paphos. I think the government of Cyprus subsidizes Ryanair to have direct flights to Paphos.

Panos  16:07  
That's an interesting point. And actually, it's a good segue to my next question. When people listen to this, hopefully, they'll take a few tips on trying to build a marketing campaign for their race internationally - and I should say for our US listeners-- I mean, Cyprus and Israel are just two small countries next to each other, a lot of the lessons that, hopefully, we'll share today would be relevant if you're in one state in the US and you want to attract people from, like, two states over. That's the equivalent of international, I guess, for very large countries like the US. And lots of people will want to take away some tips from today and put that into action. But many people may not have the kind of support that you guys had domestically from the Cyprus government, sort of, who's quite versed in attracting people through tourism and using these events as a stage. So did you receive a good amount of support from the Cyprus government and agencies when you were trying to market the race internationally?

George  17:13  
Yes, of course. Cyprus, as an economy, is feeding off tourists. Just to put things in perspective, almost 25% of the total GDP of Cyprus is based on tourists. So this is why various student organizations in Cyprus are offering subsidies and sponsorships to help promote Cyprus as a tourist destination. The more support comes from the Deputy Ministry of Tourism and its regional boards, such as the Pafos Regional Board of Tourism. They provide financial and networking support in promoting the marathon to other countries. The Deputy Ministry of Tourism has offices in various other countries working like an embassy. They can bring us in contact with local travel agencies and running clubs which also saves us a lot of time looking for leads.

Panos  18:14  
So you actually went to that office in Cyprus and they actually gave you the contact details of travel agencies abroad to get in touch with?

George  18:25  
Yes, we did. And we actually visited Poland, Israel, and Hungary. And the people from those offices or the Deputy Minister of Tourism arranged, for us, some meetings with various stakeholders with running clubs and travel agencies. We made lots of contact with them. And when we came back, we sent them lots of information, tailor-made packages, and better group discounts so that we can attract more people from those countries.

Panos  19:03  
Yeah. Well, you're very lucky to have such great support locally. So I guess, you didn't have to sell it to the local authorities. They immediately understood the potential of, basically, making the race more attractive internationally.

George  19:20  
The Logicom Cyprus Marathon is, I believe, the biggest event in Cyprus that attracts the most international number of people to Cyprus. And this is a very big thing for us because marathons are very big events in terms of participation numbers. And that's why there is no other event like a music concert or a football match that can attract this number of international participants.

Panos  20:00  
In terms of the support you guys had, also, from local businesses, were local businesses equally enthusiastic about supporting the efforts - and I'm thinking of hotels and other tourist industries - did you immediately get, like, a good buying from them?

George  20:15  
The fact that the city in itself is a cosmopolitan which focuses on tourists helps a lot with international visitors. The Pafos Regional Board of Tourism's cooperation with the local people and hotels also supports us with the international visitors who are currently in Paphos or are going to arrive in Paphos during the marathon weekend. So they can support the runners and create an enthusiastic atmosphere. In regards to the hotels assisting us in promoting the race internationally, it is something that we have not explored yet since hotels are more focused on the general public rather than just the runners. But we do have lots of cooperation with them in accommodating our runners.

Panos  21:06  
So you don't share, for instance, promotion materials, brochures, or leaflets of the marathon with hotels? Let's say that the marathon is in March, someone who visits in October in the previous year won't be able to see anything from the marathon, just in case they're a runner or they want to come back to run the race?

George  21:28  
That will be a good idea, actually. Maybe we can implement it from next year onwards and you can charge us a consulting fee.

Panos  21:39  
Okay. Yeah, I think the people who come in and stay in a hotel in the area are generalists, for sure. I guess some of these hotels may have some sports activities that they offer and it's not totally crazy to think that, maybe, some of these guys may want to come back and run the race. Did you work with the hotels during the stay for the athletes to produce any special packages or anything that you can, then, market to your international participants or people registering? 

George  22:16  
There'd be interest from international runners to jump into the waters of hospitality - a very big industry. And since 2018, after receiving our license from the Deputy Ministry of Tourism as an official travel agency, we went ahead and contacted local hotels in order to create hospitality packages that include airport transfers, accommodation and even race entry. In this way, we can offer a 360 service and support for the runners from the moment they step their foot in Cyprus. The hospitality part is not, though, our main focus of work because we focus most of our efforts on the marathon itself. It is a very convenient way for international runners to book their accommodation without having to worry about special requests such as early breakfasts on the day of the marathon, transfers to the start line, and other small details that a runner should not worry about during the marathon weekend.

Panos  23:25  
And obviously, when you put those packages together, you also hope to get some kind of kickback or some kind of revenue share with the hotels that you partner with.

George  23:36  
Yes. That's the main target. We actually have a part-time person who is handling all of these quality communications with the hotels and the customers, and we're trying to become profitable in that section of our business. It still has a long way to go because, now, with Airbnb and booking.com, etc, people try to do it themselves. They think that they can find a cheaper deal although we actually offer the cheapest prices on the market. We're not doing this to be profitable but we're doing this to be hospitable and helpful to the runner themselves because we want them to have a great experience. Because when he goes to a restaurant and the food is not up to standard, this will affect his whole experience in Paphos and the race itself. Whereas, if he finds everything as good as it should be, then, he'll go back and refer it to everyone.

Panos  24:49  
Yeah, I completely agree. I think the point with those packages - and we had the same thing when we did our race in Crete in 2016 - is you offer something that is standardized that takes care of those things such as early breakfast, transportation, and all of that stuff. And the other thing when I mentioned kickbacks back then, I didn't necessarily mean, like, hard cash, but when we worked with hotels back in our race, they gave us free rooms, for instance, that we could offer to people. We had some VIPs or some journalists travel from abroad so we offered them those rooms. Or they gave us a conference room to do the race briefing or do, like, packet pick up, and all of that stuff - right? It's not just about the cash.

George  25:37  
Yes. And this occurs in our marathon, in our partnerships with hotels as well. Some of them, as you mentioned, offered free rooms, and we gave them to volunteers that come from another city or other partners such as photographers, videographers, etc. As you mentioned, we also have some even influencers and ambassadors. And for the conference as well - we were supposed to have the biggest marathon expo that happened in Cyprus in 2020 - we had a very big room that was given for free because we arranged lots of accommodation at that hotel. And hopefully, when things come back to normal, we'll be able to achieve our goals and do it again.

Panos  26:29  
Speaking of ambassadors and journalists, tell us a little bit more about your strategy, internationally, in targeting those journalists, influencers, and ambassadors, and who were the right type that you went after, and why, and in which countries. 

George  26:48  
We have been working with some runners who have some influence in social media. But the most important factor for us is that they have to love the race. We don't see how many followers they have or how many likes they get. If we see that they are sharing their experience on social media with passion and excitement, then we approach them and discuss a way of partnering up. They might create a review video. Or we send them a promo code that they can share with their group. And we assist them, in general, to promote the event in their own sphere of influence because if one person can bring you 10 people, that's a bonus, that's a benefit. We don't go after the big whales that will bring 100 people. We want small micro-influencers that actually love the event and can speak authentically about the event. In our industry, the objective view of a race comes from reporters and editors. Inviting reporters of major running magazines to experience the race and write about it has also been extremely helpful. This gives us more credibility as an event. And it also helps satisfy sponsors as it provides exposure in media like magazines, other than social media. For the countries, we're focusing, again, on the four or five countries that we said earlier - the most important one is the UK. That's where we have a lot of reporters and influencers come from. For example, one influencer who is a running coach has a team that she's supporting - we give her a promo code, we give her a free entry, we make her the cover girl, let's say, for some of our promotions. Another runner who's a big influencer, again, from the UK is Adam Holland. He won the marathon two times in a row. And he's coming again to complete the hat-trick. So this is a very good promotion as well. Another one is from Hungary. He's a running coach who also organizes marathon traveling tools. We also have a good partnership with him. So you need to mix and match, find good runners, mediocre runners, running coaches, travel agents. And the most important thing, again, is for them to love your race. This will give them excitement. It will give them enthusiasm to speak about your event. 

Panos  29:46  
Yeah. It's like any race ambassadors program. We had a podcast on this very recently. Number one thing is people need to love your race. They cannot be effective if they don't love the race. I guess the one difference with running a regular race ambassador program might be that in a regular race ambassador program, people come to you. But I guess, in your case, you went out, recruited, and found those people yourselves which couldn't have been very easy.

George  30:14  
Exactly. I'm very active on social media, especially on Instagram, and I'm looking out all the time for marathon events as well as the whole running industry. And I'm looking to find opportunities. And actually, if you don't knock on a door, it will not appear. So I tried to look on Instagram and see who's sharing and talking about the event and how much influence they have on their social sphere, and I approached them myself. We try to do a couple of stunts, let's say, with very big influencers. We brought them to Cyprus. They ran the event. We hosted and gave them free accommodation and everything but they don't come again. It's just like lightning - it just happens three seconds and only once. Whereas, our other ambassadors who come back every year - I mean, we have people who come back for 6-7 consecutive years - they're here with their group and with their friends. And this is the most important thing. You need people that actually love the event as a whole.

Panos  31:30  
Yeah. You mentioned, I guess, that you pick those people from runners who have already run the event and, then, you realize that these people also have lots of influence in their respective countries. And you reach out to them and you say, "Hey, you love our race? Why don't you help us reach out and we'll give you some promo codes and you help us, basically, bring a few more people to the race to experience it?"

George  31:54  
Yes, that's how it went. And we're trying to build an ambassador program. I mean, it's difficult because it's difficult to measure and see the ROI. We also have ambassadors in Facebook where we had a close private group of 10 to 15 people and whatever idea I have in developing an area of the marathon - for example, the logo design, the T-shirt design, a new goodie bag, a new item to be added in the goodie pack, a change of the course, something to add at the fluid station like Coke - these main things are being asked to them and they help with their feedback. And I think this is also important because they do it out of love. They don't do it for money. They do it because they enjoy the race and they come there every year and they want it to grow and become better.

Panos  33:05  
And in terms of journalists that you managed to bring out to the race, I guess, many people would think-- we had some journalists in our Crete race as well. I mean, for our race, we had Runner's World, we had Ultra Magazine - I mean, it was 100-miler. So we had, like, all the big magazines that I wanted to target - all the specialist press. They were all very happy to come out because they love the content - right? I mean, that's what they're there for. And they didn't ask for - I thought they would ask for - like, massive cash payments and stuff like that but they don't. Was it the same in your case as well that they were really approachable and easy to bring out to the event?

George  33:50  
Yes, they were. And I was surprised as well, to be honest. We also had Women's Running. We had Runner's World. We had a Runner's World Germany as well. We had a few good names and they didn't ask for money as well. They just wanted to experience and showcase it to the people. And this is the most important thing because media is a bit charged lately as not being truthful or having various and different other ideas. But in the runners' industry, I noticed that everybody is truthful. There's something like a unique duty between the runners and those editors. Those reporters actually wrote exactly how they felt about the race. And I didn't try even to change their opinion or discuss what they're gonna write. I let them do it themselves. I let them experience it. And if our event was good enough, I was ready to accept a very good article. If our race was not good enough - yes, it was a risk - I was ready to accept the consequences. But all the reporters had a great time and the results of their articles were amazing.

Panos  35:18  
Whether you're marketing your race locally or working to push your brand out to new countries and states, you're going to need a good way to track and measure results.

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Okay - now, let's rejoin the interview with Logicom Cyprus Marathon Marketing Director, George Kakourides. 

Panos  36:55  
You mentioned earlier ROI, which in the context of race ambassadors, which is very important, I guess, for any marketing strategy that any event decides to deploy. Do you have any sense on paying for, I guess, accommodation or equivalent to host the influencers or the journalists? What kind of ROI you were getting out of that?

George  37:17  
How we started improving the numbers in Poland, Hungary, Germany, Israel, etc, was actually bringing 10, 20, 30 runners who try to have their running clubs come to Cyprus. There are big running clubs that we helped with group discounts, with special accommodation, and other incentives. If Israel will have 100 runners next year, then that's the only way I think you can measure your return on investment. There is no other good way to actually measure your return on investment. So I suggest trying this: find a target market - for example, another state or another country - visit them, make a couple of partnerships, and bring back 10, 20, 30 people. If they enjoy the event, then you will experience a ripple effect every year. The word of mouth will increase that number. But in order to reinforce the interest from the people of those countries, you need to have a lot of touchpoints between you and the potential runners. For example, if you visit a country with another language, for example, Poland, we had our marathon landing page translated into their Polish language. And we also did a few Google and Facebook ads directed to that city. And then, if you have 20 Polish people in 2019 and, then, next year, we had 100 registrations, that's how you can measure the ROI. 

Panos  39:28  
That's interesting because when we did ads for-- Poland actually was a really strong country when we had our race in Crete - and Israel as well. I mean, there are quite a few countries actually now that you mentioned. I don't know why, probably because of the holiday angle - they like coming to Crete as well. And Crete, I think, is quite similar to Cyprus in some regards. 

George  39:49  
Yes. 

Panos  39:49  
But the interesting point is that I never thought of running Google ads in Polish, which you did. Do you think that made a big difference, structurally, when running the ads and the landing pages in the native language of the country that you want to target?

George  40:07  
I think that was one of our very important steps in attracting so many Polish people. Why? Because, again, we'll go back to the matter of convenience. I'm a runner, I'm on my sofa, I just saw a photo of my friend running in Cyprus in the Paphos Marathon. If I go and check, I'd be a bit jealous as a runner - if I see someone with a medal, who just had a great experience, the endorphins running around our brain - we want to see what happened and where is this. So if I go and search the Logicom Cyprus Marathon on my own Google as an organizer, as a website owner, I have something on the website that tracks when someone from Poland went into our website, and then I can retarget that person with a native banner saying something in their language, "Come and enjoy Paphos on the 13th of March 2022". And when they click it, they go and see the most important formation of the marathon in their language. So I have a hot lead which I'm trying to get hotter. I mean, a hot lead means having someone who is very interested. And if I have it in a language that they don't understand, I will lose him. But if I increase his interest by a lot - because I gave him all the information he needs in his own language - he can easily complete a registration form in English. So that's the only touchpoint that is in another language that they know is not native. And that's why we actually did, like, a marketing funnel to bring them up to the registration point - and that's dependent on various aspects that we cannot control afterward.

Panos  42:13  
And I guess the bonus side of having all of those different language landing pages is that you can also, then, track the statistics explicitly of what languages are the landing pages being accessed in. Because if you brought everyone to the English landing page, you will know whether they would-- I mean, you could check at the country, but it's much better to have the different landing pages that will tell you that there's this many visitors who went through the page in Polish or in Hungarian and all of that - right?

George  42:47  
Yes, you're absolutely right. The critical point is to be able to measure it, to see that this campaign that is aimed towards the Polish people is working and bringing registrations. And how we did this is with the button that is named "Register" on the landing page - that is in the Polish language - when you click it, it takes you to the registration platform. I track how many clicks that button had, and how many registrations were completed using that button. So when I go back to the analytics, I found that 1,000 people visited the Polish landing page, 100 people clicked on the registration button, and 10 people completed the registration after they click the registration button. So I can track and see how much did I spend on the Polish campaign, not just the Google ads, but also how much money did I spend on accommodating influencers from Poland, how much money I spent on the airplane tickets for me to visit Poland. And, then, you do a total calculation separated from the total marketing budget. And you can see that my expenses were €1,500, for example, but I got 100 registrations. 100 registrations translate to €36,000. So I can say that I profited that much from the Polish campaign. And you can then see that throughout the year. 

Panos  44:37  
Right. So is it fair to say - you keep mentioning Google ads and stuff - you used paid media quite a lot for growing your numbers internationally? Was that a big part of what you did as a success story?

George  44:50  
Our online marketing channels are changing. As times are changing, so is the preferences of people's platforms. And because our target market is mostly 50 plus year olds who have a decent income and can pay for international, we can get away. We still focus much of our efforts on Facebook and mostly on paid ads. Facebook doesn't have any organic reach at all lately. 

Panos  45:25  
Not anymore. 

George  45:27  
Yes, unfortunately. And we combine it with also Google ads. Facebook ads and Google ads are our go-to market. I mean, we spend around 80% of our marketing budget on these two channels. But we're also very engaged in Instagram. We don't do any paid things on Instagram but we are very engaged in hashtags, following, liking, etc, as well as in email marketing, but that's mostly for engaging with the previous participants rather than attracting new ones. And lately, we were actually exploring the Strava clubs. But I believe it is not developed as a marketing channel to be able to offer analytics or targeting but it does have the ideal audience. So please, the founder of Strava, if you're listening, please improve your marketing capabilities and you will have lots and lots of income from marathons around the world.

Panos  46:32  
Yeah, it's interesting. I was talking to a couple of other people on the podcast and they keep mentioning Strava. It almost looks like it could be the next big thing. So I had a guest from Big Run Media, a guy very, very well versed in marketing, who said that, basically, what Facebook used to be, back in the day, when organic reach on Facebook was significant is what Strava clubs are today because there is no filtering on the feed and stuff. But as you say, the features are not quite there. I mean, you can, sort of, have some kind of communication and reach within your Strava club membership. But you can do a whole lot of things - right?

George  47:14  
Yes, that's very unfortunate. I mean, we try to post a few images, etc, on our Strava club. They do get engagement, I will say, somewhere around 10%-20% of the total members that we have in our club. They like the post. I mean, that's quite high compared to the zero point something percent of Facebook. I'm not sure why they are not exploring or developing their marketing capabilities in Strava. I'm sure that there are lots of other brands that are trying to do, like, club events, weekly running events, trying to do some giveaways to their Strava club to keep them engaged. And I believe because that's where all our target market is, this should be the next big thing for promoting not just marathon races but running brands as well like Nike, Adidas, Saucony etc.

Panos  48:21  
Yeah. Well, I mean, you can keep on building the Strava audience and the features will come, I guess - it's their hope. In terms of Facebook paid stuff and Google ads, do you use them in a similar way? Do you use one more for retargeting people and one for - like, top-of-funnel - new people coming into the race? How do you use those tools separately?

George  48:44  
Google ads is mostly used to attract new people - that's what we do. We try to attract them to our website by doing lots of campaigns and some paid keywords that we want to be first on. Whereas, Facebook is mostly for branding and improving our leads. If you like our page then that means that you have a small interest, at least, to participate in a marathon. So whenever we post a photo, say, we post a photo of "30 days to go", or "Prices going up this Sunday", or "Why run when you can fly?" when we do this, we actually try to target the people who visited our website. Whereas, Google ads will try to attract new people to visit our website on Facebook. It's mostly for people who already had a touchpoint with our website or a banner or whatever. So that's how we split the two.

Panos  50:00  
And in terms of the targeting that you do, the way you build the audience that you target those ads to or the keywords that you target when you try to reach out to an international audience that you want to attract to Cyprus to register for the marathon, what kinds of audiences and keywords do you target? What are, like, the good groups that have yielded results for you?

George  50:30  
On Google ads, it's mostly running enthusiasts. I mean, there are millions of running enthusiasts. If you narrow down your running audience with frequent international travelers, you will find quite a lot of people who enjoy running and, also, traveling two or three times per year. That's the people you want. On Facebook, it's the same. If we cannot wear a brand, a campaign, to attract new runners, they will find people who like marathons - they like the Virgin London Marathon, they like the New York Marathon, they like the Berlin Marathon - and narrow down the audience by choosing international frequent travelers. Also, not all cities have an airport and direct access to the airport. If someone is in Poland, he is an international and frequent traveler, he's an avid runner, but he lives four hours away from the airport, then we don't want to target that. So choose your audience that is close to the city to target on.

Panos  52:12  
Oh, that's really interesting. So you go down to that level of detail. So you show your ads in Poland to people who are both runners and like some races because runners aren't particularly targeted - right? I mean, lots of people are recreational runners but not many people race. So you say, "Okay, show my ads to people who race and also people who like to travel," but you also add another step which is making sure that these people are close to airports so that they can be more likely to catch a flight to the airports that actually have flights inbound to the race destination.

George  52:51  
Exactly. You follow a logical path of who is more likely to attend your event. And that goes back to the convenience part that nobody is going to take a four-hour drive to the airport to catch a five-hour flight to Paphos to run a half marathon, for example. This can be done by someone who's running the New York Marathon because it's a lifetime opportunity. But races like Cyprus, Crete, Malta, and Majorca, and etc - and you need to be the most convenient one to be able to attract that runner.

Panos  53:32  
And on Instagram, what are you guys doing? You said that it's mostly organic, but how are you trying to build that international reach through Instagram? What kinds of things do you post - in terms of all the content that you could post - throughout the year because events struggle quite a lot to find stuff to post, completely, offseason? How do you build a publishing schedule with the right type of content that would attract international audiences?

George  54:00  
So that's a two-part question. Actually, the most important thing about Instagram is our stories. So what we do and what we suggested, kind of, our followers to do is that whenever they train or whenever they wore our previous years' T-shirt to take a photo, put it on the story, and tag us. When they tagged us, we mentioned them in our story. So the other followers can also see, "This guy ran. He wore the T-shirt from last year. Let me wear it on my next run and I will also take a photo and post it." Whenever this happens, our followers watch the repost of the story. Also, the person who posted the story will have their followers look at the Cyprus marathon. So most of their followers are also runners. So it's, kind of, free advertising. So, I suggest that you find a way to promote the Instagram stories and tag the account of your followers. For example, you can actually do a contest. Say, "Tag us in your story. And whichever gets the most views, we'll give them a free entry." This way, we initiate a habit of people posting more stories and tagging you as well. The second part of your question in regards to what content should be added and how the schedule should be, I mean, you need to find a few international days - for example, International Day of Volunteer. You can say "Thank you" to our volunteers and post a big photo on social media. And then, you can do things like thanking the sponsors or offering a ritual. I think we had a lot of engagement for our ritual. So, maybe you can do something like a ritual - maybe a 5K run this Sunday and giving a free entry, new T-shirt, or medal - that's a good way to create user-generated content. And having a "100 days to go", "50 days to go", "30 days to go", "300 days to go" is a good way to keep the content pumping, or having an interview with the previous participant who is coming back for the 5th or the 10th year, or someone who wants to run for Alzheimer's disease - you want to support their cause, to showcase their cause so that they can get more donations as well - or promote the medal or the T-shirt, and other benefits that the people will also get. So that's a few ideas. I mean, people can visit our Instagram "@cyprusmarathon" and they can have a good view of what to post on their social media as well.

Panos  57:31  
Yeah. I've seen the trick, actually, before. It's good that you reminded me because using those international dates stuff as an opportunity to post about things is not so obvious, because you get international data about anything, pretty much. And I've seen races that would make a post out of International Donut Day or whatever. And they would say, "Who ran today?" Like, who has earned their donut or whatever - right? I mean, if you want to be creative about these things, you can post something meaningful and engaging every day. I mean, there's so much stuff to talk about.

George  58:10  
Yes, there is. Another idea would be International Dog Day which you can take a photo of a finisher running with a dog. Or posting "Have you run with your dog today?" and these kinds of things can make you relevant and keep your audience engaged. I mean, when you're running for a marathon, you're doing a four-month training plan. You need to be engaged. You need to see that, "Listen, my objective is to run the Cyprus Marathon in four months." Every day, if I see a post that keeps reminding me of my objective, I am focused and very engaged, especially because running a marathon is a lifetime experience. It's not, like, running a 5K on Sunday but I woke up and registered on Friday. So you need to keep those people engaged with your brand. And that's a lot of ideas to do some content.

Panos  59:17  
Yeah. And we also use - quite a lot in our event - the stories of international runners. The stories and the content you get out of your participants are gold. And I think you need to also make a habit of getting that information, maybe, on registration or something, from participants. Like, you would ask, like, "Why did you register?" Or, like, trying to get that data from them so that you can then create content around people's stories. People respond to that quite a lot.

George  59:48  
You brought up a very good subject, for example, on the registration form. We have been having - in the past few years - a question, "How did you hear about us?" This question can help you promote the event in various ways. For example, in the beginning, we had lots of percentage of runners saying that they heard about us from another event, another Marathon Expo, etc. If that rating is, maybe, 3%-4%, then I will not focus on that next year. I will focus on social media because it's 30%, or I will focus on email marketing because it's 20%, or Google or running calendars because those are another 20%. So, you need to ask questions to your participants while they're registering, not just, "What is your expected finish time?" Maybe, ask them, "What is the running shoe that you will wear during the race? Are you combined with any other sports? Do have a Garmin, Strava, or something else?" So if you can see that, maybe, you can attract sponsorships by going to Garmin and saying, "Listen, 80% of my participants wear Garmin. You should be in our event store." It's good to have that information.

Panos  1:01:12  
You mentioned race expos and I know that these are quite important, maybe, more important in promoting races internationally. What kind of work did you do when traveling to other countries, other races to promote the Cyprus Marathon?

George  1:01:30  
We actually visited three different countries. We only attended one marathon expo in Poland. And to be honest, the runners are not very focused on having another event in their mind before running their marathon. They are thinking about other events as soon as they cross the finish line and that is where you need to focus your attention. I mean, if I go to the marathon on Saturday, my mind is on, "What is my pace tomorrow? Do they have a pacer at my pace?" and these kinds of things. So that's where you need to focus your attention. And what I would suggest is forging partnerships with other events. Maybe, do something like four or five different races a couple of months between each other, offer incentives, and have cross-promotions between them. I mean, for example, Cyprus Marathon, Crete Marathon, Marta marathon, all these marathons are based in the Mediterranean Sea. They offer sun and they offer fun. So maybe, the Mediterranean challenge can offer a race entry to all of them in the next 3-4 years with better pricing with cross-promotion. For example, when my event finishes and I know that my partner's event is in two months, I can send a newsletter to my participant, "Well done for finishing our Logicom Cyprus Marathon. Here's a €10 discount to register for this marathon in two months." So this is a good cross-promotion that you can do or even share resources. For example, in the United States, if the states or the cities are close to each other, and one marathon is in March and the another marathon is in October, maybe you can share the timing equipment, or you can share volunteers, or you can share ideas. I mean, as a running industry, we should improve the running community and help runners because this takes them to the next step to say a big thank you, like what you're doing with the Race Directors HQ. I have been active on the Facebook group that you have - asking questions, learning about other events, and discussing matters. It helped me a lot with taking some strategic decisions such as changing our registration platform. And I hope more and more race directors learn and develop their skills so that we can all offer a better service to the runners and keep the community growing. And now is the best chance. Why? Because when the COVID hit, lots of people started picking up running with clothes, jeans, etc. And the running community has grown. Let's not lose those new runners. Let's keep them coming back. Let's offer them lifetime experiences and keep the community growing.

Panos  1:05:14  
Yeah, I think you're right. I think, generally, race directors can do a lot more to work with each other. And I think, cross-promotion between races, lots of people are not making the most of that, particularly for international races. The idea that you mentioned, "What can I have in common with some other races that, maybe, we can cross-promote and say, 'We're Cyprus. There is another race in Majorca or another race in Malta or something. And let's build the Mediterranean League.'" There is a very big success story in that international race marketing with the Swedish Classic. So in Sweden, there is this thing called the Swedish Classic, which is, I think, one cycling race, a couple of trail runs, some skiing races or whatever. And they all came together-- amazing races, each and every one of them in their regard, for sure. And they all came together and they said, "We're going to make this thing called the Swedish Classic. And if you complete all of those races, I think, within 12 months or 24 months or something like that, you get a special certificate to prove that you have completed the Swedish Classic. And I know many of my friends - Swedish, mostly - who wouldn't have completed all of the races if it weren't for the Swedish Classic but, maybe, they can cycle and they can run. And then, if they're thinking to pick up cross country skiing or something, they may force in another race just to be able to say that they completed the Swedish Classic. And those kinds of promotions are really, really important. I think you told me the other day on the phone about another, kind of, like, league thing you explored which, I think, is an interesting idea with the castle.

George  1:07:04  
You're absolutely right. We discussed this opportunity with another marathon that is actually finishing next to a castle. And to be honest, there is something that is inspiring about finishing next to a castle. I mean, these medieval forts where battles have been fought and people have been killed - that's a lifetime experience - it's quite breathtaking, to be honest, and we thought of doing something. We actually started sharing resources. We sent him leaflets and he was about to put them in the goodie box for his participants, but the race in 2020 didn't happen. So this is something we need to pick up again. And I'm sure to send him an email after this. There are a lot of race directors all around the world that can give you their two cents and help you improve. So I'm sure that opening up those doors of communication will help and benefit everyone.

Panos  1:08:17  
Absolutely. So, George, it's been a very interesting discussion on marketing internationally. I think for some people, it would be super relevant. I stress, again, for some of our US listeners, that they should take everything that we discussed and, sort of, cast it in the light of interstate marketing, which is quite important. So thank you very much for your time today. If people want to reach out to you to discuss some of these things - I know you're in the Facebook group, but if they also want to get in touch with you by email or something like that - how can they do that?

George  1:08:53  
Yes. They can send us an email at marketing@cyprusmarathon.com. Or you can find me on LinkedIn as George Kakourides and I'm open to discussion or suggestions. Let's keep the running community growing.

Panos  1:09:19  
Super! Well, thank you very much! All the best with your December race - not that long to go now - in a few weeks followed by the full in-person race in March 2022. Thank you very much.

George  1:09:30
Thank you, Panos.

Panos  1:09:32  
Thank you to everyone listening in and we'll see you on our next episode

Panos  1:09:42  
I hope you enjoyed this episode on international race marketing with my guest, Logicom Cyprus Marathon Marketing Director, George Kakourides.

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 marketing your race or anything else in our Facebook group, Race Directors Hub.

If you enjoyed this episode, please don't forget to subscribe or leave a review on your favorite player and, also, check out the podcast back-catalogue for more great content like this.

Until our next episode, take care and keep putting on amazing races.

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