So, You Want To Organise Your Own Event?
Over the years, I have been involved in, raced in, and organised events of all sizes, formats and degrees of success. From the largest of fun runs and triathlons to the smallest community race, no event can take place without meticulous planning, forethought and a large dose of team work.
Lots of people have approached me for advice on how to stage an event in their town or for their sporting group, and I thought the best thing I could do was to lay out a fairly comprehensive guide to getting started with organising your own event – whether it is a fun run, a triathlon or duathlon, or something more complex such as an adventure race.
So let’s look at what’s needed, in some sort of logical order –
Where is your event going to take place? This may be dictated by what type of event it is, and what type of market you are pursuing. On-road, off-road, public lands, private lands, in or near the water, or urban or country. Each possibility has its own challenges, but when considering the location, always think about safety, access, ease of permission, appeal to your target group, access for disabled participants (if any) and the impact on the general public – especially those who may be mingling with your participants on race day.
Make sure your course is measured (a Garmin or MapMyRun will do it unless you want to be IAAF certified), and have a contingency plan if your course is affected by some elements on race day. And a course map is always a good idea.
Wherever you stage your event, you are going to need written permission from a whole range of organisations and/or individuals. Police, local Councils, maritime authorities, landowners, Parks and Wildlife, traditional owners and business owners/lessees that your activities may affect.
The type of forms you need, whether online or hard copy, the costs of lodging the forms, lead times, and even the order in which the permissions should be sought, will all matter.
For instance, did you know you needed Police permission for a group of people to use a public road, same as if it was a parade? It’s called a Notice of Public Assembly.
Some authorities will require you to carry out a Traffic Management Plan (TMP), a Risk Management Plan, and environmental impact study, or a Development Application. You can either learn how to do these things yourself, or outsource them.
You can never have enough insurance. Public liability, participants’ cover, cancellation insurance and professional indemnity – you may not need all of these, but it is critical that you find out and source those you do need. If you are running an event on behalf of an organisation such as a sporting club or a charity, you may be covered by the larger organisation’s PL insurance. If you need to source some, then athletic, triathlon and cycling organisations in your State may be able to help. In Australia, you can contact iRun for various levels of insurance depending on whether you are a volunteer or professional race director.
Some sports require participants to purchase a day licence to take part, if they are not already a member. This will cover them on the day for any personal injury or loss.
Which brings us to –
Contrary to popular myth, waivers are not a complete waste of time. Depending on the court, they may or may not be upheld as indemnifying an organiser but even if they don’t, the very existence of an “assumption of risk” document will cause a court of law to perceive that the organisers have taken due care to protect the participants and make them aware of any risks involved. Be aware that minors cannot sign such waivers as they will be void, but instead a parent or guardian must sign.
Most waivers are boilerplate and standard, but for added peace of mind, get yours checked by a legal expert.
How many and what sort of manpower will you need leading up to, during, and after your event? Can you raise enough volunteers or do you need to employ people? Do you need to engage contractors for specialist jobs such as race timing, medical, photo finish, or traffic control? Will you need other specialists – whether voluntary or not – such as water safety, first aid, drivers, and catering? Will they need training before they take up their tasks?
How will you source your people, and how will you communicate with them leading up to and during the event? E-mails, phone calls, SMS, and 2-way radios are all valid methods of communication on the day.
Don’t forget to appreciate your personnel – feed and water them, don’t leave them exposed to harsh elements or dangerous situations, and be sure to thank them afterwards.
What type of registration will you use for your participants – on-the-day only, online, or a mixture of both? Will you make paper entry forms available either on a website or at strategic points? What information will you gather from the registration process, and how will you use it? Will you have teams and/or family entries available, at different pricing? What age groups/award groups will you have for your event, and are these clearly laid out during the registration process? Will you offer extras during registration, such as event merchandise, donations to a charity, or special membership including day licences, if required? What payment types will you accept – cash, cheque, EFTPOS or online? All the above? Will you allow teams or discounts for families and groups?
How much money do you hope to make from the event? Is some of it going to a charity or an organisation? Do you have sponsors to lighten the costs? Is your entry fee reasonable for your type of event?
Sometimes it is worth handing over the registration process to a specialist company such as Register Now, or Active Network. In this way you can build a registration process that suits your event, and they will also take care of the sometimes complicated task of online payment. If your web guru is sufficiently skilled, you may be able to structure all this into your event website. A bonus of online information gathering is a ready-made e-mail address list for communicating information about your event.
Be sure to set a specific day and time for registration cut-off. This may involve a different day and time for paper forms, online and last minute entries. It is also worth thinking about different price structures whereby early entries are available at a lower cost, to encourage early take up.
Marketing Your Event
In this digital age, there are endless opportunities to market your event, including the more traditional methods of print media and posters. Social media, websites, SMS, bulk e-mail, and online advertising are all valid ways to get your information out there. Be aware of the laws regarding spam before you get too far. Decide whether your social media campaign will be organic or paid.
Don’t neglect the many online race calendars posted by sporting organisations and magazines. Even your local government area may have a “What’s On” website that is worth adding your event.
Lastly, there is good old word of mouth – underestimate this at your peril. Just a word dropped in the ear of a keen runner or triathlete will see your event mentioned at the next group training session or committee meeting.
Finally the big day when all your planning comes together. You will need to be on top of a lot of different things and be able to think fast on your feet. Here are a few things you will need to have under control –
Equipment and logistics – road barriers, tents, tables and chairs, signage, race bibs and pins, course markers, start gun/airhorn, aid stations, recovery area, portaloos, athlete bag drop area, security, communication, PA system, traffic control equipment, escort vehicles, finish arch.
People – registration personnel, information and help people, marshals, medical and first aid, water safety, race announcer, finish line and recovery, aid stations, event photographer, timing, photo finish.
Afterwards – results, presentations, sponsor thanks, media releases and photos, medals and prizes, lucky draws, litter cleanup, course pack up and bump out.
As you can see, there is a lot to think about, and being organised is your best method of attack. Make many checklists, a timetable for the lead up and a separate one for on the day. Give yourself plenty of time to gain the necessary permissions as some government agencies will not be hurried.
After it’s all over, you must give your participants the chance to have their say about how the event was run. Whether it’s a feedback form on your website, a survey to all participants, or just an open forum, be thoughtful about all feedback – positive and negative – and whatever you do, don’t take comments personally.
Above all, surround yourself with a good team you can rely on and communicate, communicate, communicate!