People ask me, “Where can I best spend my limited signage budget?”
I’ve arrived at a quick two-part answer. The first place is wayfinding. Directional signage. You can’t have too much. In a time of too many races and too many athletes, customer service can be enough of a differentiator to keep your athletes not only coming back but telling other people how good you are.
If a participant has to ask, “Where do I go?” you’ve taken the first step toward failing the needs of that individual. I’ve written previously about wayfinding in this space (and probably will again). Here’s a link: https://mpagraphics.com/2017/12/27/the-art-of-wayfinding/
The second area is the finish line. No one location can give more back to individual participants. The finish line is where you have the chance to truly celebrate the achievements of your customers. This is the opportunity to cheer them home, to make them feel like the heroes they just might be.
A successful race director in 2018 understands that his or her event — even a race as short as a 5K — can be a life-changer — the first step of a new future for people from all sorts of backgrounds and all walks of life.
It’s so easy to become jaded. Race after race. Thousands upon thousands of athletes and semi-athletes crossing the line in times that 30 years ago would have seemed ludicrously slow. Are they looking for that outdated arbiter of quality, “flat and fast”? They are not.
The “Experience” is the driver these days, not PRs. Folks are looking for fun, comradery, personal fulfillment. The more bells and whistles the better, because that’s even more fun. I showed a couple of slides at a conference this year to a group of experienced race directors and they got it immediately.
“This used to be your customer,” I said, pointing to the first image. “And this is your customer now.” Here are those two photos. Which do you think is which?
My point, of course, was that there are a lot more these days of the latter than the former. “Nostalgia,” I said, “is not profitable.”
So how do you make you finish line memorable? Here are some ideas we’ve used successfully at MPA.
- Dress your barricades. We developed our ScrimLite product specifically to allow long runs of fencing to be covered attractively and inexpensively. Use at least 150’ on each side. I would recommend at least 300. The alignment of the barricades should be perfect; the fencing should be tight. Use color-coded zip ties for an even cleaner look.
- Compress the finish chute. Don’t make the chute wider than it needs to be to accommodate your field. Tight is exciting. Wide will diffuse the emotion and mute spectator interaction with your athletes. Beyond the finish line, the chute should widen again to facilitate traffic flow.
- Use flags to line the chute. Lately I’ve noticed that traditional blade or teardrop flagstend to block the view of the spectators. I’ve started to pitch the use of 60” x 36” rectangular flags that flutter strongly in even a light breeze. We can produce these much less expensively than blades or teardrops, and you can buy 10’ lengths of inexpensive metal conduit at Lowes or Home Depot that make great poles. Use as many flags as you can afford.
- No matter what your finish line truss looks like, make the most of it. Cover it cleanly with banners or Coroplast boards. Take some time, take some pride. Kill the wrinkles. Your finish line is like the front door to your home. It speaks to how you think about your business — and your customers. (We’re doing some cool and inexpensive things with die-cut Coroplast boards that help give trusses a bit of a 3D look. Price is not much more than square-cut boards.)
- If you can afford it, use street graphics.
- Allow or encourage your sponsors to pull tents up the barricades. Not only will they provide shade for your spectators, they will add color and a heightened sense that something special is going on.
- Find an announcer who knows the sport and can do something other than read names off a rolling computer screen. She/he should be a cheerleader, connecting with the athletes and interacting with the spectators. You know you have the wrong person the moment your announcer starts using the pronoun “I.” It’s not about the announcer, it’s about the event. It’s about your customers.
The best advice I ever heard from a race director was something Valerie Silk, the driving force behind the early growth and development of the Ironman World Championships, said back in 1984. “I think of (the race),” she said, “as a party for a thousand of my best friends.”
Use your finish line to throw a great party. Give ’em something to remember. Thrill yourself and your staff. Spend your signage budget as if it means something. Because it does.
Until next time. Be well.