How to market your 5K run during COVID-19

August 26, 2020

COVID-19 has not only changed the business lanscape, but also the future of in-person events. The new normal has forced people to shift to new ways of thinking and that includes planning virtual events. From solo marathons to virtual walks, traditional running events have definitely taken a different approach this year.  Other than being surrounded by sometimes hundreds of people, not much has really changed in the ways you need to plan and market your events--just the way you think about it. If you are still planning a virtual 5K, you still need to effectively market your event to attract the most participants and revenue. This post outlines detailed advice to help you develop a powerful marketing strategy for your upcoming 5K.

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What makes your 5K special?

Before you consider what marketing tools you’ll need and marketing channels to explore, start by listing anything that makes your 5K special. If you can’t think of anything, consider adding a unique twist that will help your 5K stand out from competing events. You want your 5K to be more than a virtual, solo run – it should be an experience that gets people out of their homes and gives the something to look forward to, share and recruit friends and family to join--from a safe, socially distance approach. 

Here are some ways to make your 5k unique:

  • Partner with a charity or nonprofit organization. Find a reason to give back. If you’re raising funds for a popular cause, you should promote this on all your marketing materials.
  • State how to participate virtually. This is important to note on all promotional materials. Make sure to include something along the lines of  "online" or "held virtually" to encourage people to participate from anywhere. 
  • Choose a theme. Typical 5Ks are fun family affairs and continue to increase in popularity as organizers come up with new creative ways to infuse fun into runs.
  • Prioritize personal goals. Runs that are part of larger programs, such as hospital-sponsored wellness events and runs that serve as qualifiers for competitive events are popular for those seeking to achieve personal goals.

List everything that makes your 5K unique and be sure to include it – along with date and registration details – on your event marketing materials.

Create an early-bird incentive

One of the most difficult parts of organizing a run is not knowing how many people are going to participate--especially spreada across the nation during a global pandemic. This can be a challenge  if you’re buying shirts, sunglasses, bandanas, color packs, wristbands, numbers, and other items. The last thing you want to do is order 100 shirts you don’t need and can’t sell!

This is where early-bird incentives can help. Give something to those who sign up by a set deadline to encourage early registrations, which will inform you how many additional items you need to buy. Doing so will also help you determine whether you need to boost your marketing investment or whether you’re in good shape to reach your goal number of runners.

Incentives include:

  • Deadlines before price increases
  • Deadlines for shirt sales
  • Deadlines to receive other promotional gear and items
  • Deadlines to receive free entry to another event


Create powerful marketing materials

Now that you have a unique way to market your 5K along with at least one early bird incentive, you’re ready to create your marketing materials. They should include:

  • The name of your 5K (come up with something memorable)
  • The theme of your 5K
  • What cause, if any, your 5K supports
  • The date ( time and location in a pre-pandemic world)
  • Costs
  • Early sign-up incentives
  • Registration options
  • Website URL
  • Social media pages
Consider the following marketing channels for your 5K

Print marketing

Print marketing helps you get the word out to both mass audiences and targeted individuals who are likely to want to participate. Here are some ideas:

  • Postcards sent to past 5K runners and those who subscribe to running and fitness magazines
  • Banners placed in high-traffic areas, intersections, and along roadways
  • Refrigerator magnets to help remind runners of the event
  • Brochures, especially if your 5K is part of a series of events 

Online marketing

  • A website with registration is a good start. Services like Red Podium and Race Entry make this easy
  • Social media – Facebook, in particular – is a great way to boost your 5K to local runners, earn shares, and use targeted ads to reach a well-defined audience (services such as Ad Espresso can help you optimize your ads)
  • Email, if you have a list of past attendees or can acquire a list of likely runners
  • Event websites – in particular, local event listings and websites that list 5K’s, such as Active, Runner’s World, and Road Race Runner

PR and advertising

  • Submit press releases to local media
  • Consider advertising in target publications as well as local newspapers, entertainment magazines, radio, TV stations, and local event blogs
  • See if you can get interviews with local media to discuss your event

 Even in the new normal, you can still plan a successful virtual 5K run. If you're ready to get started marketing your upcoming 5K, do it for less with premium discount printing!

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