Gold Medal Marketing
Building brand awareness through a community race.
By Kristen Wilson, PT, DPT
Attracting the attention of new clients can be a daunting task for a small private practice, especially when competing with large physical therapy chains, hospital-owned facilities, and physician-owned practices. Marketing efforts are often limited by a tight budget, difficulty isolating a target market, or finding a voice in a saturated area. However, one advantage of the nimble private practitioner is the ability to establish a notable presence in the local community. Whether participating in community lectures, volunteer opportunities, or local events, today’s physical therapy private practice can create a connection with the local consumer by contributing in meaningful ways. One effective way to give back to the local community while building brand awareness for your practice is hosting a community running race.
In addition to the marketing visibility, a community running race offers an opportunity for an organization to donate to a local charity and subsequently create revenue for the business. Clear messaging of how the proceeds are being distributed allows the business owner to allocate a portion of the revenue toward a beneficiary, while reinvesting the remaining profit in the business. This dual benefit, revenue and brand exposure, reinforces the argument for pursuing this creative marketing avenue.
In 2016, nearly 64 million people reported “going for a jog,” and of those, nearly 17 million finished local community running and walking events.1,2 Comprising an impressive market share, runners not only value fitness, but also often require health care services due to high rates of injury.3 Hosting a local race offers the small practice an opportunity to interact with a large number of people who could benefit from therapy services. Local races also create an opportunity for the community to gather together for a family event, contribute to a local charity, or showcase the physical fitness of dedicated athletes. Organizing a race is a time-consuming pursuit, but with a concise plan and effective marketing, even a novice race director can create a successful event.
Here are some tips to get started with your community race:
1. Choose a race theme and date that is unique to your community. The spring and fall are typically the most popular times for community races, potentially making it difficult for your race to attract attention. Consider choosing a race date that is less popular, like Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, or Valentine’s Day, which offers an opportunity to capture racers who are seeking opportunities to run in the “off season.” In addition, choosing a unique time of year offers the possibility of pairing the date with a theme. Our company hosts a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day boasting the slogan “Cross the Line Before You Dine.” Our community does not have other races on Thanksgiving, so anyone interested in stretching his or her legs in our area can do so at our race.
2. Create a website and Facebook page for your race to act as a landing page for information. Given the reasonable cost of hosting a domain, a website is an affordable and effective avenue for marketing your race to the general public. In addition, a website allows you to post information about the race including events, timelines, and sponsor information. Choose a catchy name for your race that is easy to find via an online search engine like Google or Yahoo to further direct traffic to your site. In addition, Facebook allows you to create race-specific content to attract local runners and walkers, as well as offering an opportunity for inexpensive advertising through targeted ads. We use our race Facebook page to post race photos and videos and to gather feedback about the race. Consider creating a separate race page from your business Facebook page to allow the race information to be more visible, but do not hesitate to share posts between the two pages.
3. Partner with local businesses by offering them a chance to sponsor the race. Race sponsorship allows other businesses to gain visibility through your event. For the cost of sponsorship, offer those who participate a spot to advertise on your website, logo recognition on the T-shirt, or other benefits like race day signage. You have the opportunity to be selective with your sponsors, choosing to offer sponsorship only to businesses you respect and can form a mutually beneficial relationship with. We allow our sponsors to have a display table at the race in a vendor area for the community to visit before the race begins.
4. Know your numbers. Hosting a race is an expensive process; however, preparing a budget in the same manner you prepare for your practice’s fiscal year will enhance your profitability. Diligent tracking of your expenses—including permits, liability insurance, a race management system (i.e., starting line, chip timing, etc.), T-shirts, race day supplies and events, prizes, advertising posters/signs, and a DJ—will help determine the number of racers you require to break even. Along with the registration fees, sponsors can help to defray the cost of these items. Perform some market research on the going rate for races in your area and price your race accordingly. We chose a lower registration fee to encourage racers by charging $26 for early registration (prior to October 31) and $31 for registration thereafter. Offering a discount for early registration attracts racers early, improving your accuracy as you purchase items like T-shirts and awards. While your first year may not yield a robust revenue, as the popularity of the race grows, so will the profit margin. Your company can decide to donate some or all of the profit, or reinvest all proceeds back into the business by hosting a for-profit race.
5. Pick a beneficiary that your community will be happy to support. Having a beneficiary is not mandatory but helps to attract racers who prefer to participate in events that give back to their community. Our company chooses to contribute 20 percent of the race profit to a local homeless shelter. Consult with your accountant to determine the tax rules for donating to a beneficiary and how that will affect attracting sponsors. Celebrate your beneficiary on race day by presenting them with a giant check before the race begins—a perfect opportunity for a press release!
6. Certify your racecourse with USA Track and Field. While the 5K remains the most popular race distance, a growing number of racers are seeking alternative distances to vary their race experience.2 Whether 5K or a marathon, a certified racecourse will attract more serious runners. This process is easy and inexpensive. Once a course is certified, racing on that course can be used to qualify for other races. Consult www.usatf.org4 under the Products/Services tab for more information.
7. Consider the whole family when planning your event. Hosting a kids’ fun run before the start of your main event is a great way to involve other members of the family. In addition, features like face painting, a photo booth, team contests, and a DJ offer an opportunity for those who may not be physically inclined to participate. Our biggest race success is a 6-foot-tall “Step and Repeat” banner that serves as our photo booth. By attaching a hashtag to the race, our racers were able to post photos from the photo booth to all social media platforms with our logo in the background.
8. Plan early. Coordinating a large race takes months of preparation. Race planning for our Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot begins in July when we apply for our permit and insurance policy. Registration typically opens August 1, and marketing efforts accelerate in September. With a good organizational tool to track your tasks and a conservative timeline, it is possible to effectively host a race while continuing your daily business tasks as practice owner. The option to hire a race director is always available, but the high cost might detract from your profit. Utilizing the support staff in your clinic to assist with race marketing can alleviate some of the administrative burden.
9. Be patient. It is not uncommon for first-year races to struggle with attracting attention. Our first race year resulted in an unimpressive profit, but in the following three years attendance has grown 88%, yielding over 760 participants in 2016. As the race has gained popularity, awareness of our physical therapy brand has accelerated, as well. We have attained several patients as the result of the association with the race and, more importantly, have established our practice as a meaningful contributor to our community. Our first few years were difficult as we struggled with establishing a timeline for organizing the race while continuing to run a private practice, but our efforts have been rewarded with a race that yields a minimum of 48 percent profit margin year after year.
Using these tips as a guide, hosting a community race event is attainable, even for the busiest practice owner. Not only can a community race provide a lucrative opportunity for attracting clients to your private practice, but it will also establish and reinforce your brand within the community. With ever-shrinking profit margins from reduced payment and increased regulatory burdens, why would you not pursue a marketing avenue that does not negatively affect your bottom line? Go out and start a community race event today—the gold medal is yours for the taking.
3 Videback, et al. Incidence of running-related injuries per 1000h of running in different types of runners: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Med. 2015;45(7):1017-1026.
Kristen Wilson, PT, DPT, is co-owner of Action Potential in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, and Race Director for the Action Potential Turkey Trot held yearly on Thanksgiving Day. She can be reached at email@example.com.