8 Things We Learned at the Running USA 2014 Industry Conference

rusaEarlier this week we attended the 2014 Running USA 2014 Industry Conference in sunny San Diego. With a record 550+ attendees, both the conference and the expo were sold out for the first time ever. There were lots of great sessions and three themes were prevailed: event safety/emergency planning, bringing more diversity to the sport, and (you guessed it) social media.

Knowledge bombs were being dropped left and right, but here are 8 ideas that we thought were important and/or inventive:

1. Give comp entries to youth in your community to expand the diversity of the race and create lifelong participants.

2. Introduce other distances at your event, or prior to your event (as a training series) to increase participation. For example, add a 5K or kids’ race to your half marathon, or stage a 5K, 10K, and half marathon in the months leading up to your marathon. This expands your audience and will also stir up competitiveness and a need for bragging rights in participants!

3. Create a task force and define common terminology when collaborating with city officials. You want everyone to be on the same page and understand roles and action plans clearly. As Mike Nishi of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon said, “It’s hard to plan for an emergency, but even harder to explain why you didn’t.”

4. Use social media. It’s not going away and it is driving a ton of participant engagement and brand awareness for events. Need some social skills? Download the comprehensive Social Media Playbook for event directors that we debuted at the conference.

5. Keep up on technology, particularly with timing and online registration. What was once sticks and paper is now all online and automated. Technology is becoming even more sophisticated and will give you more insights into your event (e.g. detailed registration reports) and opportunities to connect with participants (e.g. split-time photos posting instantly to Facebook).

6. Have a great communication plan. A big way to ensure that is to store EVERYONE related to your event (participants, volunteers, event staff, sponsors, etc) in one system and you can contact any segment of people with a few clicks.

7. Develop your media contacts all year long. Local news stations are starving for content and like to feature positive stories about health and sports, which you can use to build buzz. The storytelling, human interest pieces generally air on the early morning and 4/5pm newscasts, so it’s best to pitch your ideas for those time slots.

8. Don’t go on vacation the day after the event. You job isn’t done until you assess the event and document your successes and failures. Since you only saw a small percentage of the actual event, it is crucial to debrief your stakeholders immediately after the event.  And turn your incident tracking into a post race report.

As the indomintable Dave McGillivray advised, we’re all in this together. Share knowledge with other event directors, volunteer at other events, learn from each other. Conferences like Running USA are a great opportunity to put that advice to practice.

If you attended, tell us the best idea you walked away with! Comment below.

And don’t forget to download the Social Media Playbook: