The word grassroots implies that you start something from seed and watch it grow. Hard enough to imagine, that is how the Boston Marathon and Chicago Marathon got started, and they are so enormous today for runners that race organizers have to turn competitors away. The main reason why marathons got so big in the past was due to reputation and tradition. But, if you want your race to explode around the globe with planting one small seed, it takes some imagination, creativity, and understanding the niche market you are trying to attract.
Yes, even races have their own “niche” market. Obviously, any race is going to target runners, but even within the racing world, there are many facets and reasons that someone runs a race. If you want to make your event take on a life of its own and grow roots, then you have to not only know who you are a race organizer, but who your audience and target market is. To convince them that your race is the one for them, you have to first convince yourself that you are worthy of their audience.
There are two ways to create a grassroots campaign, either pounding the pavement, literally, or through pounding the social media pavement. Depending on how big you want to go, you might want to use a combination of the two. The internet is an excellent way to reach out to your audience, but the old traditional ways of recruiting people simply can’t be beaten. If you want an international race with thousands of people, then you are primarily going to want to use the internet and sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and even Instagram to engage people. But, don’t overlook the powerful nature of putting up fliers, hitting local gyms, or even recruiting families through community outreach opportunities and schools.
Before you decide which way you want your roots to grow, you have to define who you are as a race organization. Are your participants going to be running for a cause, for a person’s memory, or to encourage a cause like “kid’s health” or “health awareness” campaigns? The way to attract athletes is through having them feel vested in your cause and why they run toward the finish line. If you are running an International race, then your participants are going to have thousands of races to choose from. If you are running a local race, then they might only have a few to choose, but then, likely, you aren’t targeting professional runners to chose you, but rather the average "Joe" to race at all.
So, the way that you promote your event is going to depend on your target audience. Once you figure out who it is that your niche market is, you can better develop a way to get people excited, to feel invested, and to want to join in. Although social media is an easy way to get the word out, there are times when traditional things like stepping out into the community, forming local alliances with businesses, or just the old-fashioned flyer route, are going to create as big of a buzz as posting your event to YouTube.
A grassroots campaign is just as it implies. It is a way of building something from the ground up by planting seeds. Knowing where to plant them is all about knowing who you are as a race organization, so that you know who you are trying to attract, and the best way to find and reach out to them.