With a history of greatly expanding events and a knack for creatively marketing endurance events to different groups, Mike James of Endurance Sports Ltd has mastered some of the more difficult aspects of event directing. From Carlisle, UK, he’s learned the industry inside out after nine years as an event director and another six creating his own events.
As a life-long athlete (He wanted to become the English Karate Kid as a child!), Mike is passionate about getting folks to be more active, more often.
We chatted with Mike about some of his best endurance event ideas:
How did you become an event director?
I was working for Carlisle City Council and then Carlisle Leisure Ltd as a sports centre recreation assistant and then duty manager when the organizer of The Great Cumbrian Run decided to retire. The Centre Managing Director at the time, Jim Douglas, created a role as activities and events coordinator, which I applied for and got. I went on to event direct the Great Cumbrian Run from 2000 to 2008 before I set up my own event company. I progressed this event from 600 runners to 2,000-plus and learned so much about the events industry and, in particular, endurance events. This period held me in good stead for my life as a company owner going forward.
What was the craziest event you ever took part in?
My father is an 8th Dan Karate Black Belt and I can always remember taking part in his karate competitions as a kid growing up as I wanted to become an English version of the Karate Kid! I did quite well in most of my fights but did change the shape of my face over this period and a broken nose and blacked eye was a regular occurrence as a youngster. I suppose this was pretty crazy because I would always get hurt! But, it also toughened me up as a kid and my father is still actively teaching and is my mentor in life and in business as he has been self-employed for 40 years.
What has helped you become successful in managing your events?
You need to be able to think outside of the box and do things differently to what most people would do in order to become a successful event manager. You also need to be able to learn from your mistakes because if you can implement the good things you have learned in the industry and eradicate the bad you will eventually get there.
My nine years working as a raw event manager thrown in at the deep end to event direct one of Cumbria’s most popular endurance events, The Great Cumbrian Run, was hard at first, but certainly taught me a lot. I have respect for those I worked with over this period and my old Managing Director is involved in my current business as he is retired, yet we stayed in touch and he is very experienced and advises me wherever he can.
From 2009 onwards, I was involved in either creating from new or event directing the following events: English Half Marathon, Edinburgh Half Marathon, Carlisle 10k, West Cumbrian Run, Coventry Half Marathon, Rock n Roll Edinburgh Half, Rock n Roll Liverpool Half.
These events were key in my learning process, as I had to deal with all aspects of event management to make them a success. I finished on the road running scene in 2014 and worked for a period at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games as Venue Operations Manager for Road Events and this was also a key learning curve for me. (It taught me mainly that I much prefer working for myself! Yet I did enjoy the experience.) Gelt Gladiator is my first Mud event and I am delighted that my knowledge from doing mainly road events has paid off in the world of off road activity.
Why did you decide to use ACTIVE Network?
Although based in North England, I worked for The Competitor Group for a period on RnR Edinburgh & RnR Liverpool and got to know all processes linked to the San Diego company. ACTIVE Network is also a San Diego company and worked with Competitor Group for a period. I always found ACTIVE easy to understand which is important for the organizer and the registrant.
How do you keep your participants engaged with your brand?
My brand is completely new. I have created a Gladiator-themed Mud Run. I have also created an extensive Facebook marketing campaign in a way that everyone feels a part of this event. Its location is stunning. Gelt Woods is a beautiful area and it was crying out for a major event. Fifty-two percent of our runners are female. We have created a 1-mile, 5k and 10k race with 210 teams signed up in the first four months. Many teams are all women taking part in the 5k as we have promoted this as an ideal race for those new to Mud Runs. This seems to have worked.
How do you differentiate yourselves from other challenge-type organizations?
We have not said we are going to be the biggest and the toughest! But, we have said we are going to ensure the best kind of event fun imaginable and that is what the masses want. It is not all about being the hardest! Everyone does that so be unique and think how you can be different. For a new event, runners are also skeptical because they do not know what to expect so we put a lot of time and effort into creating a stand out, spectacular-looking website that is slightly different to others and is easy to follow.
My web designer also was responsible for obstacle illustrations that went live about six weeks after we launched the event. We trickled them in through Facebook and then created a page on the website showing them off. They look really professional and quality and gave runners a reason to sign up because they could see what to expect. We are always thinking how to be different and this in particular has really worked.
What set of marketing tactics have been the most effective for you?
The illustrations, the professional website, early and professional course design and getting big name sponsors for the obstacles has shown a local desire for business to be involved. Banners on roundabouts, my joiner displaying banners on his vans! Daily Facebook posts but not only promoting the event, but giving away free entries, hoodies and regular community-linked posts!
Show the runner that it is not all about being commercial, but you have a genuine love for the community and want the event to be a success for everyone involved. Involving everybody equally from your 10k runner to your child fun miler! GG really has come across as an amazing family event and the Gladiator brand is now most definitely born. Team entries are huge so show the love to your team captains. Give them freebies and they will do a lot of recruiting for you.
Do you have any advice for race directors who might just be getting started?
Listen to other event directors. (Do not create events behind others’ backs!) Speak to the large ones in your area. They will show you respect if you show them respect and ask for advice. Many will help. I got excellent advice from the largest local event in my area. Do not necessarily stick to all the promotional rules! Think differently about how you can engage with your potential runners. Nail the health and safety aspect to ensure it is sound and safe. Spend as much as you can on creating the very best course, event village and car parking for your runners. Go the extra mile in offering something different and communicate as much information as often as possible to keep everyone feeling excited about this event. Then deliver exactly what you say you are going too! Gelt Gladiator will be awesome I assure you.
What does the future hold for Endurance Sport Ltd?
More Gladiator mud obstacle runs for sure. We are speaking to potential land owners in the north east and intend to build a trilogy of Gladiator Runs in 2016. Watch this space! I love my job. I love sport and event management and I want to make a difference making more people more active more often!