Cycling Race Organizers Share Lessons

For a few months last year, everyone in Richmond, Va., could not get enough of bicycles. The UCI World Road Race was in town for 10 days, and this was the first time the race was going to be in the United States in decades.

Now, many months later all that is left to do is to assess how successful the race was. It’s a good practice to do no matter the magnitude of a campaign or project. Reviewing the lessons learned allows you to implement those learnings in future endeavors so it’s important to be honest.

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Source: Richmond 2015 PowerPoint slide.

Among the lessons race organizers Lee Kallman and Paul Shanks shared were –

  1. People like comfort and certainty. Europeans use a paper size known as A4. US paper is 8-1/2 x 11 – not quite the same thing. This caused some early consternation.
  2. Plan, listen and then plan again.
  3. Embrace help. Kallman noted that the Richmond2015 team that worked on the race was small. “Sometimes we weren’t good at accepting help, but we got better over time.”
  4. Just own it. Parking was going to be an issue no matter what race organizers did. One of their team members spoke at a meeting and directly stated that no parking would be available on a particular street. There was no sugar coating. Residents weren’t happy with the news, but they could accept it.
  5. Relationships matter. Race organizers leveraged their relationships with partners and reporters.

The race organizers recognized that message management would be critical in the months leading up to the race and throughout the race. “The event was more than a bike race,” Kallman said. “We knew cycling wouldn’t get [people] excited.”

Richmond2015 launched a website to help with navigating the race. Once it launched, it gave people confidence, said Kallman. “People were interested in how to get to work.

The UCI Road Race in the United States had zero brand recognition and, yet, is a storied event in Europe. While organizers struggled to get early coverage, the turning point came when the Washington Post ran a story about the race. “It became a proof point,” Shanks said.

During the final four weeks of the project, the team earned 54 million media impressions.

Kallman and Shanks also focused on social media and crisis planning. They developed a Joint Information Center and their efforts became a case study for how to handle crisis planning. They acknowledged, though, that despite all the planning there were a few small incidents, including a stolen bicycle of one of the riders. It was resolved quickly with the bike recovered and “reflected the hospitality and vibe,” said Kallman.

They may not be planning another cycling event in Richmond, but they have learned from this event and are ready for whatever comes next.

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