When you’re ready to message the racing world about your race, do you employ a strategic approach or use a shotgun?

If you said the shotgun, then you’re not alone.

The shotgun approach is a common method used by most race promoters.

This is where they attack every form of communications — all at once — hoping at least one of their messages will generate some interest.

Often, the list will include emails, website links, online registration links, social media posts, list of cool sponsors, flyers, and maybe even car window adverts (yuck).

Yet when the smoke clears from your shotgun blast, how do you know if it worked?

Most will say that their pre-registration numbers go up, or that their race day registrations improved over last year.

But if you look at the data closely, you’ll see a spike in registrations around the time of the shotgun blast, and then a dramatic drop off afterward.

Then each consecutive shotgun blast results in fewer and fewer registrations.

What is happening?

Why does the shotgun approach not work?

The answer is consistency.

Shotgun messaging is inconsistent.

It hits a lot of other people who are not your customers, AND it requires your target customer to see your message and react right then.

What if they see your Facebook post in the car?

What if they see your email on their way to a meeting?

Can you image what a racer might think if they have to spend 10 minutes peeling your wet flyer off their windshield of their car?

Communications require consistency to work.

Communications also require precision targeting.

What if you found out that only 10-percent of your target customers find out about races on Facebook?

Would you still use Facebook to advertise your race?

Not a chance.

But what way works best for telling the world your race exist?

You’re not going to know until you first become consistent in how you communicate with your customers.

This requires that you put away the shotgun and start building tools to help you deliver messages in a systematic and measurable way.

This is why your first tool is the Communications Strategy.

A communications strategy (also referred to as a communications plan) is a document that expresses the goals and methods of your race promotion company’s outreach activities.

That’s its purpose.

However, it’s power comes from its capability to include what your company wishes to share with your customers in a consistent way.

It defines which of those customers are you trying to reach, and when do you need to reach them, with that consistent message.

But to fully appreciate how a communication strategy can work for your race promotion business, you need to understand how it is put together.

The following steps will help you break it down into understandable components for you to use in the design of your own communications strategy:

#1 – Know your Purpose

The first thing you include in your communication strategy is what you hope to achieve with it.

For a race promoter, this is not a difficult statement to create.

Ultimately, you want to use your communication strategy to engage with your customers and get them to register for your races.

#2 – Know your Place

This is where you outline what your race promotion company does.

Do you promote trail runs, mountain biking, or adventure racing?

If you do, then what are the main things you do to build those kinds of races?

Are you into long, endurance style events?

Or maybe you enjoy those short course races that are designed to be spectator friendly?

Write down what strengths your race promotion company has in building those kinds of races.

Then write down what weaknesses you have too.

What hasn’t worked well for you and what would you like to fix?

When you are analyzing your company’s current situation, understanding your strengths and weaknesses can help you understand your communications priorities.

It will help you to focus on your strengths when you trying to effectively communicate with your customers.

#3 – Knowing Your Competition

You should probably know something about your competition too.

This should mainly focus on what makes you different based on what your competitors are doing.

This does not need to be overly involved.

Simply identify who your competitors are and know which ones have a greater impact on you over another.

#4 – Know your Objectives

Your communications strategy should be designed to help you achieve your overall vision.

You cannot deliver on your objectives if nobody knows what they are.

Additionally, you cannot provide your customers with key messages if you have no idea on what you want to say to them.

Some examples of this could include:

  • Objective 1: To provide the best experience for our racers
    • Operational Objective: To train your staff effectively to deliver a Disney-like experience
    • Communications Objective: To ensure my staff knows the service standards expected
  • Objective 2: To increase the number of racers attending each of my events
    • Operational Objective: To build races that will attract a high number of racers
    • Communications Objective: To provide customers with a regular flow of information from pre-registration to post-race thank you

The purpose of this section is to think about what you want your company to look like three years from now.

Now take some time and write down some objectives you want your race promotion company to achieve.

The end result should be approximately 3-5 realistic objectives that you can hopefully measure.

#5 – Knowing Your Stakeholders

It should also detail who you believe your target customer to be.

This means you should probably know a little about your riders by going to where you know they hang out and asking them questions (or using a survey).

You need to find out where they like to eat, where they shop, what they buy, and then go find those businesses, become their partners, and get them to become sponsors.

One way to help you understand how your customer are (internal and external) is to map them.

This could include a list that shows customers as follows:

  • Racers
  • Sponsors
  • Park Managers
  • Community Groups
  • Public/Recreationists
  • Staff
  • Volunteers

A stakeholder map can show you which of your customers are the most important.

These should be the customers you should be spending most of your effort communicating to.

#6 – Knowing what to say

Once you know who your customers are, and who you most want to communicate to, you then need to decide what you want to say to them.

You need to create relevant messages for each customer group, starting with those who are the highest priority.

Messages to each customer group should be relevant to who they are.

Some examples of this may include:

Messages for Racers

  • What they need to know
    • What is our race
    • Where is our race
  • Key Messages
    • We provide unique endurance events
    • We locate the best venues for each race

#7 – Knowing how to say it

You can now decide on which communication channels (or methods) to use for each customer’s message.

Some customers will not use certain channels.

For example, you might not tell your sponsors to go to your website to find out when the race is.

Instead, you might include that information in an email or bulletin to them.

Same goes with your racers.

You might communicate with your racers 8-10 times before and after the race, where you might only communicate with sponsors 2-3 time during that same time.

Your available resources might also dictate how and when you communicate with your customer groups.

You might not have time to write and publish a weekly newsletter.

Or decide that a blog post shared via social media is more important than an email sent to everyone on your contact list.

When you decide on what channels you will use, you can then begin to build your communications plan, linking customer groups to messages and channels.

#8 – Know your Dates

It is now time to plan out when you will need to be communicating with your customers.

This usually involves a table where you establish who receives what message, when they receive it, and who in your company will send it.

When setting up your table, you should consider certain dates to not send out messages.

Some holidays like Easter, Christmas, Independence Day, and Labor Day are all family travel days and not so great for communicating with customers.

#9 – Know your Success

Each message that goes out can support you in measuring how well you have been communicating and how effective those communications have been.

An example of this could be registrations.

If your goal was to get 200 racers to pre-register for your race, then you should be able to count how many registrations you have gained since you started sending messages.

Another example could be volunteer recruitment.

If you had no volunteers prior to your communications campaign, and after three months, you have 10, that could be measured against your overall need.

You could include other metrics that try to measure breadth and depth of each of your messages.

This could include a digital strategy being employed alongside your company’s communications strategy looking at only your online presence.

Long before you race registration is even available, you could be communicating with potential customers to engage with you on your website or on social media.

#10 – Know your Strategy

The final communications strategy should be used as a tool to reach out and attract riders to your race.

This is not something that is set in stone and each message is a tiny experiment all to itself.

Why an experiment?

Because customer groups might respond to your selected channel in unexpected ways.

When a message on a specific channel fails to create the desired result, you may need to shift to another channel, change your messaging, or re-evaluate that customer group altogether.

You will find that your communications strategy is a constantly changing document where not everything will work.

However, without it, your messaging will be inconsistent, your delivery might be late or non-existent, and you may end up ignoring entire customer groups without knowing it.

Without it, you have a shotgun, not a precision-guided missile.

What comes next

Effective communications is a cornerstone of a successful race promotion business.

If you are able to communicate with your customers, your customers will communicate back by hopefully showing up to your races.

Next, you need to find out what channels work best with which customer groups.

When you have a clear understanding of what that is, you can start experimenting with your message content and deciding what information produces the best results.

And now you know.

Posted by Kyle Bondo

Kyle started Reckoneer with the simple mission of helping those who want to become race directors and learn the mechanics of outdoor recreation engineering. Kyle demystifies outdoor racing with over 20 years of endurance and outdoor industry business knowledge. Combined with his top-rated podcast Merchants of Dirt, dozens of articles, lessons, and infographics, Kyle has made Reckoneer the premier educator in outdoor event management. Build better races today!