Parenting Towards Event Success

February 7, 2013 § Leave a comment

I recently had the pleasure of giving a short talk on online registration at DG Productions’ Race Director workshop in Oklahoma City.  One of the most interesting presenters at the workshop was Abbi Meadows, who founded Hot Mamas Run, billed as “Oklahoma’s Only Women’s-Only 5K Race and Baby Parade.”  I felt a particular affinity with Abbi, since I did the same crazy thing many years ago and started a 5K in Chicago, basically on my own.  However, while my first year event had about 250 participants (admittedly mostly friends and family), the inaugural Hot Mamas Run drew 1,000+ women from eight states!  How did she do it?  Following is an excerpt from her presentation.  Incidentally, Abbi has two step-children, her own 3 year old son, and is expecting another.  It’s not surprising that she compared race directing to parenting!

Race director Abbi Meadows (right) congratulates a finisher.

Race director Abbi Meadows (right) congratulates a finisher.

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by Abbi Meadows

I became a mother three years ago and a race director just last year.  It turns out that race directing and parenting are lot alike.  Your race becomes your baby: you want it to be successful, yet you lie awake, wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into!

Your race becomes your baby: you want it to be successful, yet you lie awake, wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into!

I developed an acronym to help guide me. I’ve found these 6 tenets to be the most critical components of race directing.  I’ll be focusing on two of these key factors:  advertising and networking.


P is for Particulars (whos, whats, whens, wheres, whys)
A is for Advertise
R is for Research
E is for Empower
N is for Network
T is for Trust


  • Create a great logo and put it on everything. I have a background in design, but if you aren’t a designer, find one!  Local colleges often have budding designers who are eager to build a portfolio.  Print shops also employ their own designers.
  • Be clear, concise, and catchy. As long as your race has a memorable name or look, people can always find you online. When they do, make sure there’s something for them to see.
  • NEVER underestimate the power of word of mouth. Out of our 1,000 registrants, we got 150 through Facebook and Twitter and 460 through friend and family referrals.  That’s over 600 registrations without spending a dime.
  • Focus on your website.  A great website not only strengthens your brand, but posting important details there will cut down on the number of emails and phone calls you receive.
  • Be careful not to lose your voice too soon.  Especially with a 5K, people aren’t thinking about what race they want to run 6 months in advance.  Concentrate on the 2-3 months just prior to your event.


  • Networking is about building relationships and serving others.
  • Find organizations and groups with a similar mindset or goal and let them know about your event.  For instance, our mission at Hot Mamas Run is “to benefit Oklahoma-based organizations that provide education, resources, and support to women, children, and families in our community.” Partnering with our beneficiaries – the Food for Kids Programs at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, and the Oklahoma BirthNetwork – not only raised awareness about the two groups but helped us recruit volunteers and participants who may not have heard of us otherwise.
  • Network with your sponsors as well. Don’t be afraid to ask companies to consider sponsoring your event. As the old cliché reminds us, “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.”
  • Network with other event directors!  I want to encourage you to help each other and try to avoid the “scarcity mindset” that fools you into thinking helping someone else somehow diminishes your own success. Don’t be threatened by each other, but instead take the time to build a friendship and help each other to grow

If you would like to learn more, feel free to contact me at

Got Sponsors?

January 17, 2013 § 4 Comments

One common question asked by almost all event organizers is this:  how do I attract and retain sponsors for my event?  Not sponsors that will give me a flyer for a goodie bag, but quality sponsors that will help me make the event a better experience for its participants and the community?  As a recovering race director and former Texas Field Marketing Manager for Clif Bar, I have been on both sides of the sponsorship aisle.  Here are 5 ideas that could help.

4 cycling-mountainbike-touring-B

  • Ask, don’t assume.  Ask your sponsors about their marketing objectives so you can help achieve them.
  • Create sponsorship levels, and make it clear on your marketing materials which sponsors are at the top level.  Not all sponsors need to be mentioned on every marketing piece.
  • Introduce sponsors to each other and encourage them to create cross promotions around the event.  For example, if you have a beer sponsor and a restaurant sponsor, suggest that they host a pre-event party at the restaurant and feature the beer.
  • Create a post event marketing report that details how you helped fulfill their objectives.  It always impressed me when the 3M Half Marathon would send out a binder that listed all the media on which they had placed the Clif Bar logo.
  • Host a post event party and invite your sponsors (as well as volunteers and others who helped on your event).  Tell them how important they are to you.

Share what has worked for you in a comment below.  Or, if you need more marketing ideas or want to spend a few minutes brainstorming , feel free to contact me at

Heart at the Back of the Pack

January 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

Harnessing the energy and enthusiasm of those in the “back of the pack” isn’t hard to do and it’s well worth the effort.

One of the favorite parts of my job as the IT director of the Chicago Marathon was being at the finish line.  I had a prime post since timing and scoring fell under my role, along with the honor of facilitating certification for three world marathon records during the time I worked on the event (1997 – 2003).  I was also there as the last finishers crossed the line.

Which is more memorable?  The world records are something I’ll always be proud to have a small part in, but the joy on the faces of those final runners as they reach the 26.2 mile goal is unforgettable.  While the crowds in the grandstands may have gone home, the energy was just as abundant as when Khalid Khannouchi or Paula Radcliffe finished first.

Harnessing the energy and enthusiasm of those in the “back of the pack” isn’t hard to do and it’s well worth the effort.  Many of these runners and walkers are new to the sport and have a circle of supportive friends and family who could be inspired to join in and become your future participants or volunteers.

Of course every event organizer wants to create a fantastic race experience for all participants. Here are a few things to consider when focusing on the back of the pack.

  • If your event has a strict finish time due to the course and arrangements with the town or city, make sure you deliver that message up front and include it on the first page of the online registration form. This will help manage expectations and avoid the disappointment of registered participants who may not make the cut-off.
  • Have enough water, post-event refreshments and giveaways for everyone.  No event organizer wants the added expense or hassle of left-over items, but place importance on providing the perks to all registered participants.
  • Deliver on-course support to everyone.  Talk with the leader at the hydration or aid station ahead of time.  It might make sense to start breaking down a station once the majority of participants have gone by, but pre-arrange to have a few volunteers dedicated to handing out water or fluids and cheering until the last participant has passed.
  • Keep the music at the finish line going strong until the last participant has crossed the finish line and encourage everyone to stay and cheer fellow participants.
  • Ask your event photographer(s) to stay until the end.  It seems the smiles on finishers’ faces get brighter as the finish line clock ticks on.  Your favorite race photo could very well come from one of the last shots of the day.

So don’t forget about the back-of-the-pack and I’m not saying that just because that’s where you’ll find me these days.  Embrace the emotion and energy you feel at the finish line long after your top finishers have gone for their cool-down and you’ll find yourself with an event that has more heart.

Do you do anything particular to support the last finishers?  Tell us about it.


Registration Resolutions

January 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

New Year's Resolutions

Now that it’s January, I thought it appropriate to suggest some New Year’s “online registration” resolutions.  I promise these aren’t nearly as difficult as losing 20 pounds.  Plus, implementing them just might get more registrations for your event.

  1. Promote your event on social media, and motivate registrants to do the same.  You can post your listing to Facebook when you publish a form directly from the FormBuilder or copy tool.  If you miss that link or aren’t ready at the time, go back to the first page of the online registration form and click the “share” button at the top.  Registrants can post to Facebook from their screen and email confirmations.  If you need suggestions for other social strategies, take a look at Ryan Heisler’s recent guest blog article, Feed the Beast:  Social Media for Events.
  2. Check out the SignMeUp tools that you haven’t used, especially in the Form Menu->More Tools section.  There you’ll find Friend Get Friend, our easy-to-use viral marketing program; a tool to create and upload Coupon/Promotion Codes; the Snapshot Widget, a quick summary of your form’s most important statistics; and more.
  3. Maintain a consistent brand image by customizing your online form with a logo and colors that match your website.  You can find customization tools in the Form Menu->Edit Form.  For more help, see SignMeUp Support Guru Katie Petralia’s article, 5 Tips for Building Better Online Registration Forms.
  4. Publish your online registration form well in advance of your event, and, if appropriate, encourage early registration with “early bird” pricing.
  5. Lose 20 pounds (just kidding).

As always, if you need assistance or want further suggestions, feel free to contact our support department or me directly at  We’re here to help you succeed.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

December 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

by: Ralph Harrington, co-founder and president of SignMeUp Inc.


As we say goodbye to 2012, we’d like to thank you for your continued support. It’s been an exciting year for SignMeUp.  We launched the beta of SignMeUp+ and doubled our size!  We look forward to rolling out RunFree, our new loyalty system, next month and expanding the SignMeUp+ feature set and reporting throughout 2013.

“We will continue to roll out SignMeUp+ features as we prepare to launch the full version 1.0.  In addition, we will begin rollout of SignMeUp version 4.0…completely new, built from the ground up.”

We’re excited about the beta launch of SignMeUp+, a system designed specifically for specialty running retailers that provides them with a single view of their event and retail business.  For 2013 we will continue to roll out SignMeUp+ features as we prepare to launch the full version 1.0.  In addition, we will begin rollout of SignMeUp version 4.0, the latest version of our industry leading service that we initially established in 1999.  Version 4.0 isn’t an update, add-on or patch; rather, it’s completely new, built from the ground up.

In late 2011 and early 2012 we added nine employees, expanding our company to 18.  Our sales and marketing team now includes two-time Olympian Todd Williams and Keith Dowling, the first US Finisher of 2002 Boston Marathon.  Todd and Keith are leading our charge into specialty running retail.   Andy Kulina, formerly the Director of Loyalty at TSYS in the UK, designed the Run Free Miles program.  Elizabeth Vincenty worked at Chicago Marathon and Fleet Feet Sports Chicago, Chris Leon is most recently from Clif Bar, and Joe Garza has more than 20 years’ experience in payment processing.  Kelly Matthews, an AOL veteran and our new User Interface Designer, and Dave Crouch, a software engineer from Yale are great additions to our tech team.  Jeremy Leithold-Patt, who has several years’ of direct customer support experience, rounds out our Support Department.

Happy Holidays from SignMeUp and all the best in the New Year.  We look forward to working with you in 2013 and beyond.


Feed the Beast: Social Media for Events

December 20, 2012 § 3 Comments

Ryan Heisler is Social Media Manager and Online Registration guru for Maine Running Company, Maine’s only running specialty store.


Social media wordcloud

Social Media. It’s a scary term for many event organizers. How do you properly market yourself in a medium that is by and large controlled by the end user? How do you know what social media tools are for you?

The answer itself is also a scary one: it depends.

The incorrect answer at any one point in time is ignorance. You have to be a player in this realm. Unlike other marketing opportunities, you’re not talking at your participants; you’re talking with them. You’re providing content that can be liked, shared, retweeted, pinned, and commented on. Social media provides you the way to create not a customer, but a raving fan; one who is ready to sing your praises at every whim.

Social media allows you to connect with your audience, to make your raving fans a part of your event. It’s a lot like word-of-mouth advertising, except you receive actual data about how many people you engaged.

Feed the beast.  It looks worse to have a Facebook or Twitter page that hasn’t been updated frequently than to not do it at all. You’ve got to be continually thinking about how you can engage with your customer.”

In terms of guiding your own social media strategy, you need to take a few steps to ensure success:

Who is the contact person? You need to have one person in control of the message across the multiple media that you select to use. This person needs to understand how social media works, but also understand the message of your brand. You can teach how to properly use social media tools; you can’t teach someone how to be invested in your brand. Choose someone who knows what it is your event stands for and how that relates to your participant.

What social media platforms to use? Understand that each tool is different from one another. Facebook is not Twitter, for example. Although at their heart they are both status update sharing tools, the way that each is consumed requires you to think about what content will be readily accessible. Choose the three that you think would be most beneficial to your brand and be different enough from one another that you’re not always posting the same content to three platforms.

Make those tools stand out: Provide different content across your media tools. You can always re-post content in one tool versus another, but think about how those tools are consumed. In the example of Facebook and Twitter, the average person spends 15 minutes per day on Facebook. Twitter, however, is more often consumed in a scrolling fashion. Your Facebook posts should be longer, to engage with the consumer longer as your consumer tends to stay on Facebook longer. Twitter, on the other hand, requires multiple short posts to reach out.

Building trust in your brand: I use Twitter primarily as a customer service vehicle. This engages our customer base, but also shows transparency: if something goes wrong, we won’t hide it. It creates trust that we will do everything to make the customer happy. How can you best utilize your social media tools to reach that end?

Don’t overdo it: If you’ve understood the mediums that you’re using, you know about the tools that people spend the longest on. Therefore, you don’t want to overstimulate. E-mail marketing is a weekly tool; don’t wind up in the spam box because you send too many e-mails. Facebook is a daily tool; people spend so much time on it that they will see your post. Twitter is an hourly tool; you need to be constantly updating to make sure you appear in someone’s feed. Very rarely will someone scroll through all of the tweets they missed during a day.

Feed the beast. It looks worse to have a Facebook or Twitter page that hasn’t been updated frequently than to not do it at all. You’ve got to be continually thinking about how you can engage with your customer.

These steps are just the preliminary manner to get started. But understanding how to engage your customer is a way to have them invested in your brand. People want to feel like they belong to something; make them feel like they belong to your group of raving fans.

Event Sponsorship: The Inside Scoop

December 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

Several of my SignMeUp colleagues and I recently attended The Running Event in Austin, TX.  The three days were packed full of workshops and presentations, as well as a huge product expo and a particularly intimidating 5K run (the winning time was 14:23 – a 4:38 pace – and the top 11 finishers  were all under 5:00 per mile).  I sat in on one especially relevant workshop, “How to Make Events a Real Win for Your Business,” sponsored by NATHAN, the leading running accessories brand.  Presenters included three SignMeUp online registration and retail customers:  Dave Zimmer from Fleet Feet Sports Chicago, Kathy Dalby from Pacers Events, and John Rogers from Maine Running Company.  While targeted to independent retailers, the discussion provided some excellent general tips on how to make your event more valuable to your running store partner, and in turn, make your running store partner more valuable to your event.

The Expert Panel

Dave Zimmer, Rebecca Wallace, Kathy Dalby, John Clark, John Rogers

Notably, the moderator kicked off the presentation by defining what the word “event” means to running retailers, and the elements that are most important for an event to contain.  Each panelist returned to this list when presenting case studies of successful events.  An event must:

  • Be a noteworthy, social experience
  • Elevate the store’s cause and brand
  • Allow the store to gain social currency among its community
  • Generate revenue for the business

There are many ways for an event to fulfill these criteria beyond the standard in-store registration and packet pickup.  Pacers Running Stores, for example, was looking for a way to “gain more traction in the high school market.”  Solution?  Pacers teamed up with New Balance to develop the Pacers & New Balance High School XC Tour.  Pacers replaced the outdated popsicle stick timing system used by many high schools, set up a retail tent at every Tour cross country meet, created activities for the participants during downtime, and offered student discounts on formerly slow sales days.  Kathy said that the high school coaches greatly appreciated the assistance, the participants enjoyed the more dynamic atmosphere, and students engaged with Pacers brand.

The other panelists’ case studies were equally as informative and helpful.  Thanks to NATHAN, you can download a copy of the presentation deck here.  I encourage you to check it out.

Running retailers are a creative bunch.  If you want to strengthen your partnership, try meeting with the store’s marketing team to come up with ideas.  It will be a win-win situation for both of you.