Bobby Petersen & Brent Walla of ROC Race (Event Director of the Month)

Petersen - WallaBobby Petersen, ROC Race Marketing Director (left), and Brent Walla, ROC Race VP of Operations (right), are two of the masterminds behind this game-show-inspired run featuring 12 larger-than-life obstacles. Billed as “the craziest 5k of your life,” these guys know how to create an incredible event experience. But they are also dedicated to producing a highly professional and quality event that has safety as a top priority.

How did you get involved with ROC Race?
Bobby:  I started out doing sales and marketing for VAVi’s local sports leagues and events in San Diego. I really began to focus on digital – PPC, email, etc. and one of my gigs was the Electric Run. When Electric Run first launched I was running their online marketing for them. I moved into my current role of marketing director for ROC Race about a year ago when we decided to expand the event to a national tour. So now I’m responsible for the digital marketing as well as managing the marketing and communications team.

Brent: I’ve been in the entertainment and production business for 22 years. I started in college as a stagehand and worked my way through to lighting tech to rigger. From there I moved into production management and got into experiential marketing. I landed in San Diego and became the production manager for Street Scene and then started my own company experiential marketing company producing large-scale events for corporate clients like Anheuser Busch and Southern Comfort. After several years I left the business and started freelancing. I got involved with VAVi and co-produced the Del Mar Mud Run and the first ROC Race. I came on board full time in January 2013 and produced the first five Electric Run events. Then my role became building up the team for ROC Race and taking it on the road.

ROC Race has grown fast. What were your most effective marketing tactics?
Bobby:  For each city we go to, we partner with other sport and social organizations that are similar to VAVi.  We work very closely to get them involved, give them some ownership, and market to their network. We also use ACTIVE’s marketing services to target participants in new cities.

What has helped you be successful when managing such complex operations?
Brent: I’m used to handling large-scale events for corporations with very high standards. You can’t make many mistakes when you’re dealing with thousands of people, music stages, alcohol, complex builds, etc. My mentality is to exhaust all details in pre-production so we can deal with the unforeseen (like weather and issues with contractors) on-site. That approach is very different from a company that strictly produces running events. Our goal is to be viewed as the elite producer of obstacle events in the race industry.

Can you give me some examples of the ways you go above and beyond with the details?
Brent: One example is that we have a meteorologist send us custom reports daily. On event day, the meteorologist at the National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma, monitoring our event site and providing constant updates. This has paid off—in Austin, a wind storm was headed our way and we were able to respond and take action. We had everything secured and ready before the storm hit our event site..

In general, we hold ourselves completely accountable for the safety of our participants. A lot of people have never done an event like this before, so we have a detailed, tiered staffing plan:

  •   Event Manager manages the overall flow of the event and fields all information
  •  Race Director reports to the Event Manager  and helps handle issues and logistics
  • Director of Safety oversees the course, points out potential issues and monitors day-of happenings
  • Multiple technicians who strictly look at obstacle functionality
  • EMTs dedicated to each of the four zones of the event

Bobby: Safety is something we are vigilant about. We remind our participants that it’s more of an experience than a race. We make a major safety announcement via email and social media prior to the event and give tips on hydration and pacing when necessary. We strongly encourage them to take their time and be safe.

How do you keep ROC Race fresh and make people want to sign up again and again?
Bobby: Our return rate for participants is really high—in some cases it’s around 25 percent. That’s an indicator of how fun the experience is. Every year we come up with new obstacles and we’re constantly going higher and higher and better and better. The focus for us is not on making money and throwing up some easy inflatables that we bought at Costco. We have a custom inventory that is constantly being upgraded because we want participants to love the brand and have a great experience.

Brent: A reporter from Phoenix came out and covered the event and I think he said it best. He said it was one of the few opportunities as an adult to feel like a kid again. I think that’s a big part of the appeal.

Has working with ACTIVE and using our technology been helpful?
Bobby: We came to ACTIVE in the second year of ROC Race. We realized the tool was something we could benefit from and ACTIVE’s made a lot of advancements in the technology. The design and decision flow of the software has been accelerated.  Some really cool features include allowing teams to prepay and the ability to “share” on Facebook from the confirmation email. We use the registration and revenue reports a lot too (both standard and custom).

Plus, we incorporate a $5 donation to our charity, the Challenged Athletes Foundation, as well as a co-branded technical t-shirt within the registration path, and we’ve gotten good results from that.

As far as marketing, we’re always evolving our plan with ACTIVE. Our budget depends on the number of projected participants for a particular event, but I will say we’ve been pleasantly surprised to see the success outside of our hometown market of San Diego.

And I feel like you listen very well. Our account manager has been great at listening and trying to get results.

Do you have any advice for other event directors?
Brent: Don’t underestimate the project or the workload. It’s expensive and a ton of work to do it safely.

Bobby:  I think putting on an event like ROC Race can be a shiny object and people jump in without thinking through the cost and details. To be a successful  and safe race series, you need to take control of the quality of your event.

What’s something upcoming that you’re excited about?
Brent: We’re going to be partnering with the Event Safety Alliance, which will be a first for our industry. We want to be on the forefront of bringing best practices, training and resources to the endurance event space.

Learn more about ROC Race

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