149.7 Metres – The Difference Between Good and Bad Publicity

Last week, a friend in London sent me a recent BBC article “Great Scottish Run half-marathon course found to be short”.

It highlighted the complexities of delivering successful mass participation events, especially in the heart of major cities, as well as the power of social media and wearables to keep organisers accountable.

The organiser of the event, The Great Run Company, is one of the most experienced in the business, having been around for over 30 years and delivered events for over 4 million participants. So if such an industry veteran can experience an issue, there are clearly potential lessons for others.

The event, held back in October, was won in what at first appeared to be a course and Scottish record time by Olympian, Callum Hawkins, and no doubt hundreds of runners also thought they had set personal and season’s bests.

Questions were posed soon after the race by participants who indicated that their Garmins and other devices showed the course to be about 200m short. Chatter soon started on the likes of Facebook and Strava and the organisers committed to re-measure the course –something that would have had to happen anyway due to a record being broken. The re-measure was only able to be done in late January.

The miscalculation of the distance was down to human error, with two problems identified. A small section of the prescribed route was not followed correctly on race day and in addition, when the course measure was conducted, the roads were unclosed due to essential utilities works. It is easier for measurers to take the exact line athletes will run when the roads are closed.

Measurement of road courses for running events is a complex process that has evolved significantly over the past 30 years. With such huge bonuses at stake these days for breaking of records, it is an even more critical component.

I was lucky enough to be involved in the route measure for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Marathon. A police escort helped close roads, often ridden in the wrong direction. One of the highlights was cycling diagonally across Sydney Harbour Bridge devoid of vehicles apart from a long line of stationary traffic on the lane closest to the Opera House. We were greeted with a mixture of cheers and jeers and no doubt a good few people were left bewildered. The measure could clearly have not been accomplished without the support of a number of city agencies.

So what are some of the lessons that we can take from the events in Scotland:

  • Collaboration is key: for the safety of the measurers and to ensure accuracy, the support of city agencies to close roads or provide police escorts makes a challenging task far easier
  • Identify every possible way to eradicate the risk of human error: participants going the wrong way is almost always the result of human error. Look at ways to reduce this both during course set-up and whilst the race is on
  • Monitor your social media channels
  • Have a clear crisis communication plan that outlines how you will communicate clearly and in a timely manner with your stakeholders. This is likely to include sponsors, host city and of course participants
  • Try to resolve and clarify the issue/s as fast as possible
  • Accept responsibility and apologise, as happened with the Great Scottish Run
  • Appoint a certified course measurer and provide them with the appropriate information and environment to conduct the measure
  • Do a thorough debrief and identify how processes and procedures can be improved

Ultimately in this day and age, there is nowhere to hide as problems are aired and scrutinised in real time on social media. Robust and detailed event planning delivers many benefits including the opportunity to minimise the risk of negative publicity.

I believe that there are huge opportunities for our industry to collaborate and share best practices globally. It is one of the reasons why I started the Mass Participation Asia conference – to bring the industry together and learn from each other. If the operational aspects of such events is relevant to your line of work, perhaps you would be interested to attend our next edition: http://massparticipationasia.com/.

Managing a Postponed or Cancelled Event: A Seven-Step Framework

During my 32 years in the mass participation industry, I have been involved with numerous event postponements and cancellations with many more close calls.

It is often challenging and each time there are key learnings that can be applied to future events. As with success in all aspects of a mass participation event, it essentially boils down to good planning.

My recommendation is that every time you plan an event, your contingency plan should address potential cancellation or postponement. The mistake that people often make is to focus their plan on event day cancellation but the reality is that you may be forced to postpone or cancel an event weeks or even months before it takes place.

Over the years, I have had to deal with actual and near cancellations or postponements for a myriad of reasons including the death of a participant, huge storms, haze, collapse of a major highway and even political demonstrations to name a few.

More recently in October, out of respect for the passing of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, I made the decision to postpone the Mass Participation Asia conference originally scheduled for Bangkok in late November.
The conference has now been rescheduled for 3 and 4 of April 2017 at the Centara Grand in Bangkok. Managing the postponement helped reinforce a seven-step framework that I have successfully used many times in similar situations

1. Pause
In my opinion, the power of pausing cannot be overstated. Under pressure, it can be easy to rush into action and make decisions without all the facts. Ensure that you take a few minutes, hours or even days before making an informed and considered decision.

2. Evaluate
Together with your core or crisis team, gather as much information as possible and evaluate it, ideally against your existing contingency and crisis plan if you have one, before making a provisional decision and action plan.

3. Engage
Engage with key stakeholders, share your proposed course of action with them and seek their feedback. For example, in the case of MPA in Bangkok, this included Thai government officials, our event partner in Bangkok, sponsors, key speakers, staff and the venue.

Confidentiality is crucial at this stage if you are to manage the communication process effectively. Sometimes, you may be in the awkward position of deciding not to consult with a particular partner if you have concerns that they may leak the decision before you officially announce it. On occasion, the process may be more on a basis of ‘for your information rather than in consultation.

For example, “I wanted to let you know before making the public announcement that as a result of the impending cyclone we have decided, as per the contingency plan, to postpone the event”.

4. Re-Evaluate
Revisit your plan and be prepared to reconsider or tweak your initial decision based on feedback and impact on your key stakeholders or participants that you may not have initially considered.

Be confident in your decision and be conscious of the potential impact of politics from the usually multiple stakeholders.

5. Communicate
Once the final decision has been made, develop a very clear communication plan to be used across multiple channels including social, digital and mainstream media. Ensure that staff and stakeholders are fully briefed and that there are written answers to likely frequently asked questions. It is important to be clear on who will be the key spokesperson in the event of media enquiries.

6. Monitor
Once the decision has been announced, be sure to monitor the reaction from participants and public across all channels and be prepared to respond appropriately where necessary in a timely manner.

7. Review
At an appropriate time, conduct a formal review of the process and document any key learnings and recommended changes. Even though the cause of the next cancellation or postponement may be completely different, you can be certain that the learnings will be invaluable.

The seven-step framework is also covered in detail in my book Mass Participation Sports Events available HERE.

The Power of Mass Participation Events as a Fundraising Vehicle

Mass participation events have long been used as a vehicle to raise massive amounts of money and awareness for a multitude of charities across the globe.

Many events such as the hugely successful Mother’s Day Classic in Australia and the Cancer Society’s Walk for a Cure have been specifically created and owned by charities. Some of the most iconic events, such as the London, New York and Chicago Marathons, include a strong charity component.

In the case of London, which is massively oversubscribed, charities pay the organisers a premium for race entries that they then onsell to participants who have missed out. Participants must commit to raising a minimum amount of funds for the charity. This has helped the event raise over 450 million pounds. There are some similar interesting insights into Chicago and New York City Marathons shared in this article.

As the industry continues to evolve, it creates interesting opportunities as well as challenges for fundraising.

I am sure there is hardly a week that passes for most of us without receiving shares and requests for fundraising support from our network across various social media platforms. The amplification of a cause or event can be massive compared to the pre-social media days and statistics seem to indicate that total contributions have increased significantly in recent years.

It’s not only the ability to create engagement and awareness that has changed but also the ease of making a contribution. The industry has spawned the growth of platforms such as Everyday Hero and Give Asia which make is easy for participants to set up their own fundraising pages and for supporters to make a contribution at the click of a mouse.

Long gone are the days of walking around the office or suburb haranguing friends and colleagues to sponsor you or spamming them with emails. In addition, the power of social media spreads the message and pool of potential donors on a global scale.

On the flip side, charities are facing a number of new challenges:
The sheer number of events and varied options for consumers with the growth in triathlons and cycling and new concepts such as Tough Mudder, Spartan, Color Run, Music Run and host of hardcore endurance events mean that competition for the fundraising dollar, participants and event dates are getting more intense. Some of the original charity events, particularly walks, have experienced declining numbers and in some cases disappeared completely.

Increased scrutiny from government regulators also creates challenges both with regard to how events can be structured as well as the time and resources that need to be allocated to compliance. For example, in Singapore, the 30:70 rule means that the cost of fundraising must not exceed 30% of the funds raised.

In Asia, the massive growth in mass participation events has spawned a number of charity events and the inclusion of a giving component into many existing events. The reality is that the dynamics can be quite different to other parts of the world. In some cultures, raising money for charity through events is not universally embraced. For example, a few years ago on the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore, we decided to use the ekiden team relay component to drive fundraising.

The 300 teams usually sold out within a matter of days. We required teams of six to make a minimum donation of $500 to a charity of their choice to qualify for an entry. There was significant backlash on social media and we ultimately only sold 230 teams.

Accountability is also a key question that is asked by both individual and corporate contributors as well as events that are looking to partner with a charity. Is the cause we are supporting worthwhile? Do they do good work? How will contributions be utilised? How do we communicate the impact that each participant will be making? With a number of high profile cases of misappropriated funds, donors in some countries are now more cautious.

An interesting, relatively new entrant to the giving space, is an amazing organization called Buy1GIVE1 (B1G1). The core concept being that for every transaction, businesses or events can create a “Giving Impact”. So it’s not about the amount of money raised but the number of impacts created. For example, an event may decide that for every participant that enters they will give drinking water to a family in Ethiopia or the gift of sight to a person in Bali or a school uniform to a child in India.

All charities are meticulously screened and the process of selecting a beneficiary from hundreds of charities across the globe is as simple as a few clicks of a mouse. B1G1 is a matter of weeks away from making its one hundred millionth giving impact.

At the upcoming Mass Participation Asia conference, we have decided to partner with B1G1 to create giving impacts from each registration to benefit villagers in Tigray, Ethiopia to access clean, disease-free water. The impact of such an essential human necessity will reduce their average daily water collection time, reduce child mortality rates and allows children to receive a proper education instead of spending their time collecting water.

Why Ethiopia? Working with B1G1, we have identified WellWishers Trust as the beneficiary because water is such an important element in any mass participation event and the fact that Ethiopia has produced so many top athletes made it an obvious choice.

If you have a story about fundraising and mass participation events, or why and how you picked a charity of choice, I would love to start a conversation by commenting below.

We are in the final stages of assembling an exceptional panel of speakers, which will also include those in the fundraising space, for the second edition of the conference in Bangkok on 29/30 November. Information and super early bird tickets available at http://massparticipationasia.com/

If you can’t make it to the conference but would still like to contribute towards the cause we are supporting, you are welcome to make a donation here: https://www.b1g1.com/projectdetail/285


Notice: Undefined variable: post_query in /home/content/a2pewpnaspod04_data01/10/41367210/html/wp-content/themes/chrisrobb/archive.php on line 64

Notice: Trying to get property of non-object in /home/content/a2pewpnaspod04_data01/10/41367210/html/wp-content/themes/chrisrobb/archive.php on line 64