A former accountant, Pozo parleyed business smarts and a master’s degree in sports administration into a successful sports career that has included coaching Olympic athletes and leading the nation’s biggest women’s half marathon series.
Organizing events all over the United States and in Puerto Rico, Pozo marries his two passions—travel and sports—revolutionizing the endurance industry along the way.
How did he get started? How does he stay on top? Read on for Pozo’s story.
How did you get started as a race director?
By trade, my first degrees were in accounting and I was working for a large accounting firm. I was also very much into triathlons, which is so different than it is now. But, I participated in a lot of running events, cycling events, triathlon.
I got my second masters degree in sports administration and when they told me to work an internship, I was not your traditional student. I was no longer 21, 22 years old, so instead I approached the dean and asked him if I could do a business plan, start a company and that would take the place of an internship.
Always thinking that we could build a better mousetrap, I produced a cycling event. Then produced a couple running events, then duathlons, triathlons, and that’s really how it all started—just from my experience as a participant, knowing and seeing what people like to do, what they didn’t like, what mattered, what really didn’t matter.
Outside of planning events, what do you like to do?
Love to travel, love to go to foreign countries and see the world. I’ve got that bucket list that we all create and I’d say that’s pretty much my number one thing, by far.
Up to a couple years ago, it was coupled with coaching triathletes. I actually took two triathletes to the Olympics as their coach. Both to Athens and to London, but they’ve since moved on, gotten older and I’ve decided to end on a high note.
Outside of that, it’s really producing events because when you’re producing events in every place where you’d really want to be at, whether it’s DC’s wine country, whether it’s Temecula in California, whether it’s San Francisco Bay or San, Juan, Puerto Rico, or Honolulu, Hawaii—that feeds that interest in travel. It’s really fun and outside of it, I don’t do that many other fun things because that is so much fun.
Way back when you were planning your first event while getting your masters, what challenges did you face as a first-time race director?
You know what? I think the biggest challenge for me—Miami, when we were producing events, was not that dog-eat-dog. In Miami, there weren’t a lot of cycling events, duathlons or triathlons. It was really the city not knowing you and then Miami is a very, very difficult and challenging city to produce events in. So, forget about not crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s, you have to do the alphabet 14 times over. It’s kind of like trying to produce a first-time event in Manhattan—it’s a three-ring circus.
What I had in Miami was the challenge of not knowing, not having the experience and the city not being very helpful.
How did you overcome those challenges?
If you get to know me, just being hard-headed and bull-nosed and just keep going at it and not giving up. And really talking to other people who produce the same type of events and getting a little knowledge and know-how from them. The funny thing is the first time we tried to produce a marathon down in Miami, the city just pretty much said, no. We’re not going to help you out and it was something like four loops, what we had proposed. In today’s day and age, you look back and think “oh my god, that would have been horrible.”
What I did was I wrote an open letter to the county and the city pretty much saying, you know you’ve got a hometown boy here who wants to do something. Miami doesn’t have a marathon and it’s one of the only major cities in the United States that doesn’t have a marathon.
The Miami Herald picked it up and wrote an open letter saying, the city and the county want to bring things in, but yet they don’t support their own. I think it fell on some ears that felt slighted in the local government and they gave us a chance. But, again, it’s persistence.
I wanted to ask you about one of your event series: The Divas Series. It’s part of a pretty strong push to reinvent the idea of a runner and now you have stuff like the Nike Women’s Half and Girls on the Run-type of events.
How do you stay competitive in that industry that’s growing really fast and more people are trying to enter?
The decision to go and produce the Divas Half Marathon series really came about because we sold our company that had the Miami Marathon and a few other events, then we had the economic drop-off and the economy just got horrible. Running is recession-proof. When people are making less or being laid off, they need to work off the stress and there’s really nothing less expensive than running.
We decided to get back into it and the decision to go into the women’s half marathon is because it’s statistically the shortest distance for which people will travel. The other thing we saw was that women were outnumbering men in every distance except for marathons.
Nike [Women’s Half Marathon] had been around, I believe, for a year and we saw that they were doing well. Since then, we’ve been able to tie in the boa, the tiara and we always add stuff—this year we added more bling, we’re giving out a tutu as well.
So how do you stay competitive? By giving people more and more. God knows everybody else is, too. By doing that, we’ve been able to build the largest women’s half marathon series in the nation. We are larger than Disney’s Princess and Tinker Bell, [Half Marathons] we are larger than Nike, we go through 45, 47,000 women—no other women’s half marathon series has done that.
What are your go-to marketing and promotion tactics and what have you learned about marketing since you started producing events?
Marketing, we look at it from a local, a regional, a sectional, a national and even international, because of Puerto Rico. By local, we attack all the small, similar races that are happening in that area.
Let’s say we’re producing a race in Miami, we would go to all the other races and guerrilla market, grassroots marketing, that sort of thing.
The next step is regional, let’s say we’re producing that race in Miami, but there is the [Disney] Princess Half Marathon in Orlando—we’ll be at that expo, we’ll be at a lot of different expos, that’s how we reach that on the regional level.
Then we start getting into more of the sectional magazines, whether it’s Midwest Running and Triathlon, where it’s covering the whole Midwest. Then obviously we take it to the next level where it’s national. We’re going to those publications like Women’s Running, Runner’s World, obviously with ACTIVE.
There’s a social media side, but there’s also the digital side and with ACTIVE, we do a lot there, too. We do geo-targeting or we go on the national level and just blast it to anyone and everyone who taps into ACTIVE.
And internationally, we use a local race organizer who comes to us with other magazines and publications.
If you had to choose just one way to promote your events, whether it’s emails or pay-per-click ads or social media or partnerships—what would it be and why?
I would say, it would probably have to be two. One of them is Runner’s World. What we found, in half of the country, there is no replacement to a magazine of that caliber being passed on. For example, in the South, our race in Myrtle Beach, that’s still very prominent to get that magazine and pass it on.
The other one is going to a pay-per-click or whatnot, more digital. That’s the best ROI, for us. By far. But, it’s even higher when you get into places like the West Coast.
On the West Coast, Runner’s World could just sit there, not only because of the recycling, but they’re just so savvy that they’re on the computer all day and that’s how they get 100 percent of their information. Having an ad in a magazine, or even in Runner’s World, you’d probably get a much better rate of return by doing the pay-per-click.
The other thing, by the way, we do not ever do Groupon. We are a premier race with a premier pricing and we don’t highly discount. What we found is it works for some, but for us, it doesn’t. It’s almost like if you go to Tiffany’s, or you come to me and say hey I’ve got this Tiffany’s watch and I can give you 70 percent off. You don’t think what a deal, you think, it can’t be real. And that’s the thing for us.
You brought up pricing. How do you determine when to open registration?
One is what we’d love to do and the other is what we can do. We love to open registration the afternoon of the race and that’s when you can get the deepest discount. Why? Because what we found is the day of the event and the following day or two days is when the website is visited the most because people want to see results and pictures.
That’s how we’d like to do it every time. Unfortunately, there are cities that say we need to know how it goes this year before we allow you to go next year—and they do this every year. Even though we’ve been there for three years, four years, they like to make sure everything’s good before we open up. So there are sometimes we open a week or two later, but that’s not because of our liking.
As soon as we can start right after the race, that’s when we would prefer.
Last question: Why did you choose ACTIVE?
We’ve been with ACTIVE since the very beginning. Over the years, we’ve gone through peaks and valleys and stuck together. Now I have an incredible [account management] rep in Robert Henson, who has not just been a rep, but has become a friend in a very short period of time. I don’t think there’s anybody out there that can give us the amount of support and deliverables.
There’s not one instance that we’ve said this needs to happen and ACTIVE said well we can’t do it, take a walk. We make it happen, one way or another. The best way to stick with somebody that’s been taking care of you is loyalty, and that’s obviously what we’ve done.
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