Let’s face it: When it comes to promoting a race there are no magic bullets and no “best” ways to get the job done.
That is why we harnessed the wisdom of our 4,000-strong race director community to give you the definitive no-stone-left-unturned guide to everything you can do to market and promote your race: online, offline, across all channels and through various strategies.
Note the purpose of this article is not to go too deep into the weeds on every single marketing strategy. (In most places, we will anyway point you to additional resources and tutorials to help you go deeper in any one topic.)
The main focus of this guide is to give you the full scope of all the marketing tools available to you. And, as you’ll see, that’s already plenty to sink your teeth into.
So let’s get started!
There are several different ways you can use Facebook to promote your race to potential participants across the entire journey from awareness to race registration. So let’s briefly look at each one separately.
Organic marketing on Facebook consists of everything you can do to promote your race without having to pay for it.
Unfortunately, the effectiveness of organic marketing on Facebook is on the decline. However, there are still things you can do to attract attention to your event:
- Engage followers of your Facebook page with content and news. Although recent changes in the Facebook Newsfeed algorithm mean less people who follow your page actually get to see your posts, you should continue to post news and high-quality content through your Facebook page on a regular basis.
- Create participant communities. Facebook groups have recently received a visibility boost, due to those same Newsfeed algorithm changes mentioned above. So rather than broadcasting news through your Facebook page it may make sense to invest in building a dialogue with your fans through a Facebook group. Groups offer many great benefits, one of which is the ability to promote your race to an engaged community of fans.
- Promote your race on other Facebook groups. You don’t have to build your own group to promote your race. Promoting your race on relevant Facebook groups you are already a member of can be a good way to reach like-minded individuals. Make sure though you obtain consent for your promotional posts from group admins.
- Engage with your audience through your personal profile. It is not uncommon for race directors to connect personally with people who express an interest in their race on Facebook (by, for example, mentioning something about the event in a group the race director is a member of etc). Promoting this way is not a particularly scalable strategy, but it does deliver some limited results, particularly for more niche/aspirational races like ultras.
Of all paid marketing channels, Facebook has a reputation for effectiveness and value for money. It is not surprising given the almost total adoption it enjoys in most developed countries and the great targeting tools it makes available to advertisers.
There’s too much in Facebook advertising to attempt to exhaust the subject here. If you’re new to this, our advice would be to check out our step-by-step guide to creating your first Facebook ad and get started trying things out for yourself with a small budget. If you’re a little bit more experienced, you may find our guide to remarketing helpful.
At any rate, you can’t go wrong with sticking to these simple rules:
- Know how much you’re willing to spend to acquire a registration. Without this number, your advertising costs could escalate beyond what is economically affordable.
- Wherever possible, aim for conversions rather than clicks. Use a Facebook pixel to help Facebook optimise your campaigns for actual completed registrations or other actions, rather than just visits to your website.
- Test, refine, repeat. There are almost no campaigns that cannot benefit from a bit of tweaking after launch, so stay on top of your ads’ performance and don’t be afraid to try things out.
Although just another form of advertising, we make special mention of remarketing because it is a particularly potent form of Facebook advertising that you should absolutely make part of your overall marketing strategy.
What makes remarketing so special? Getting people who are most likely to know about your race to register for it.
To learn how to use remarketing campaigns to turn registration maybes into registration yeses, check our our dedicated guide to Facebook remarketing.
Another special mention should be reserved for photo marketing as a race marketing strategy that works well on Facebook and is particularly suited to mass-participation events.
Photo marketing involves the use of race pics as a marketing tool, by making pics available to participants for free and encouraging them to share them online after the event. For maximum impact, race pics can be branded with the race and sponsor logos and even delivered directly onto finishers’ Facebook feeds.
Giving away free race pics as a marketing device is becoming increasingly common, with lots of races using specialised platforms like Pic2Go or simply choosing to distribute finisher pics for free after the event.
Unsure how to make the most of your events’ photo pool? Take a look at your options in our overview of race photography.
Twitter is often considered by race directors as a secondary marketing channel. Like Instagram, however, it has some unique virtues that may be worth your consideration:
- Twitter combines the ability to broadcast with the ability to foster user discussions, in a way that brings together the best of Facebook’s pages and groups.
- On Twitter you can message anyone and start a discussion with anyone, whether they follow you or not.
- Your tweets get through to everyone who follows you, unlike your Facebook posts whose reach is limited by Facebook’s Newsfeed algorithm (the flip-side of this is that your tweets stay at the top of a follower’s feed for only a very small time).
With its paid advertising service too Twitter offers some unique features that may be useful in some cases, like the ability to target followers of other (large) races. However, it seems that the reach and cost-effectiveness of Twitter ads fall short of its social media competitors, particularly Facebook.
As we discuss in our intro to digital marketing, if you commit to any social channel, do so 100%. So if you want to add Twitter to your social mix, do so only if you’ve got the bandwidth to do it right.
If you – or your team – have a good eye for pictures or are after a younger demographic, you should definitely consider setting up shop on Instagram.
Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, is a great top-of-funnel marketing tool (works best for creating user awareness rather than conversions) to complement your Facebook strategy. And there are certain aspects of it that make it particularly attractive as a race promotion channel:
- lower competition (only about half of all races who are on Facebook are also on Instagram)
- a younger audience (good for your event’s long-term growth)
- better user engagement
Because Instagram is owned by Facebook, if you’re already advertising on Facebook you get the option to display your image and video ads on Instagram as well. However, if you’re seriously interested in what Instagram has to offer, it is best that you create a profile on the platform to help add an organic voice alongside your paid campaigns.
YouTube, and other video platforms like Vimeo, used to be the best option for publishing and sharing video content online. But that has changed a lot with the rise of Facebook video.
If you regularly produce high-quality video content, it’s definitely worth uploading it on YouTube. There are many advantages to that, not least of which is making your content searchable by Google (Google owns YouTube, so YouTube videos show great on Google searches – they look terrible, on the other hand, when shared as YouTube links on Facebook, for exactly the same reason).
However, always make sure whatever video you have on YouTube is also uploaded to your Facebook video gallery. That way you can easily use it in Facebook ad campaigns and showcase it on your Facebook page and groups.
In contrast to social media marketing strategies, where the objective is for you and content to get through to the right people, Google offers you the opportunity to get your race discovered by people looking for it or similar events.
This crucial distinction creates some unique challenges but also opens up the scope of your marketing efforts to a whole universe of users waiting to be enticed by what you have to offer.
When someone is setting out to find a race that fits a certain number of criteria from scratch, they’ll start by searching Google and other search engines. Search engine marketing (SEM) is working on getting your race in front of people when they do so. And the most common way to achieve that organically (=without having to pay) is through search engine optimisation (SEO).
Contrary to what most race directors believe, good SEO doesn’t mean getting your race found when people search for it. Good SEO means getting your race found when people don’t search for it, but rather search for races like it.
Working on SEO can significantly increase your race’s visibility and create a steady stream of quality traffic to your website that converts to registrations. Amongst other things, you can get people to find you race when they:
- search for a race like yours in your area
- search for a race like yours around the time when your race takes place
- look for a race with a theme similar to your race’s theme
You should have no illusions about SEO: it is hard, laborious and time-consuming. But it pays massive dividends in terms of increasing qualified traffic to your website. As such, it is something we think you should be spending time understanding and working on.
For a brief introduction on how SEO works and on taking the first steps towards your SEO strategy, read our introduction to SEO for race directors.
Getting your race to come up top on Google for a set of key search queries, like “fast marathon Utah” or “5k obstacle race” takes time and patience working on your SEO. Getting it ahead of the queue fast takes Google AdWords.
AdWords is Google’s paid service where you can bid for a chance to get your website to appear at the very top of search results for specific keywords (even above the top non-paid results). With AdWords you can bid for clicks, which means you will only be charged when someone clicks through to your website.
There has been conflicting anecdotal evidence coming out of our race directors Facebook group on the effectiveness of AdWords as a race marketing tool. It seems results vary quite a bit by race type and each RD’s own experience with using the service.
If you’re thinking of giving Google AdWords a go, start with a look at Google’s own comparison between SEO and PPC (pay-per click advertising, i.e. AdWords) to see it’d be a good match for you. Remember, however, that investing in an AdWords campaign should not come at the expense of developing a long-term SEO strategy.
Google’s Display Network, much like Facebook’s Audience Network, makes it possible for Google advertisers to display ads outside of Google on partner websites.
The reach of Google’s Display Network is truly staggering and joining it as advertiser means you get the opportunity to advertise your race to people visiting fitness, outdoors or other websites relevant to your target audience. You can choose to display ads on the network in text, image or video form and be charged per impression (times your ad is displayed) or per click (times your ad is clicked on).
The Display Network is part of Google AdWords so opening an AdWords account will allow you to create campaigns for both Google’s own search results pages and websites in the Display Network.
Promoting your race through email is something you’re likely already doing in some form or other.
Email marketing is a particularly intimate type of communication with your audience that you don’t want to abuse. It is good for keeping people up-to-date with important announcements, such as registrations, but should be used sparingly otherwise.
If you are not already building a mailing list, make sure you have a subscription form set up on your website, so people interested in your race can subscribe to your email updates. If you are using email already, consider investing into getting more out of it through the following:
- Personalisation. Personal touches can dramatically improve your email’s open and click rates. Take a look at our detailed guide to using personalisation for creating more effective email campaigns.
- Segmentation. In some cases, it makes sense to segment your main mailing list into groups and email those separately with a message that resonates most with them.
- Integration with other channels. You no longer have to rely only on email to communicate with your mailing list. Facebook custom audiences and other tools can help you also target those same people on Facebook and other channels.
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Race calendars and listing sites
Adding your race on quality race calendars should be one of the first things you do once you have a date for your race. Not only will these race listings help promote your race in front of hundreds of thousands of athletes searching for their next challenge, they will also help boost your website’s search engine authority through quality backlinks.
Depending on where your race is based, we’ve put together some great lists of race calendars you can freely list your race on, all of which include direct links to listing your race:
- UK race calendars, suitable for UK races and categorised by race type
- US race calendars, suitable for US races and categorised by race type
- International race calendars, suitable for races in any country. Also look into these if you host a UK/US race and want to promote your race internationally
You can also let us do all the heavy lifting for you and submit your race on up to 50 race calendars with one click. Take a look at our race calendar auto-submit service.
Race ambassador programs
Race ambassador programs tap into word of mouth by getting people who are enthusiastic about your race (race ambassadors) to promote your race to others.
In exchange for free entry to your race and other perks, race ambassadors will help spread word of your event on social media and the local racing community, persuading people – sometimes through the use of a small discount or other incentives – to register for your race.
If you’d like to learn more about recruiting race ambassadors into your event, take a look at our comprehensive guide to setting up and managing a race ambassador program.
Bloggers and influencers
Similar to race ambassadors, bloggers and so-called social media influencers (fancy name for people with a large social media following) can work at the grassroots level to increase awareness for your race and drive registrations to your event.
The type of people you’d want to look for are frequent racers with a flair for writing good race reviews or any person, really, with a good following amongst the sort of people you’re looking to reach. And you’d want to look for them on Twitter or Instagram.
If you’re seriously considering adding influencers to your race marketing mix, you may want to take a look at BibRave, a service that connects races with bloggers and social media influencers. Or, instead, spend some time hanging out on social media.
Race partnerships are a great way of building strategic relationships with other events with the aim of leveraging each other’s audience to expand your overall reach.
There are many forms race partnerships take, from simple cross-promotions (I’ll link to you, you’ll link to me type of arrangements) to more elaborate arrangements where races may come together to create race series, grand slams or other multi-race “cups”.
If you’d like to explore going into partnerships with other events further, start by reading our article on race partnership strategies for a few tips on common partnership models. But do go into this with a long-term view, as it does take some effort to get right.
Exhibiting at race expos can be a good way to create awareness for your event amongst an audience of racers similar to yours. But it does come at a cost – literally.
Because usually only larger races have the appetite and resources to hold expos for their events, bidding for expo booths can be outside the reach of races with limited marketing budgets. Not only are you competing for a small pool of spaces, you’ll probably be doing so against some big-spending sports brands.
If the price makes sense and the expo is a good match (the lead time to your event, type of race hosting the expo, expo