CAMPAIGNS: Albany road race seeks support on 25th anniversary

PR Team: Freihofer's Run for Women (Albany, NY), and Rueckert Advertising & Public Relations (Albany, NY) Campaign: The 25th annual Freihofer's Run for Women Time Frame: April 1-May 31, 2003 Budget: $25,000

PR Team: Freihofer's Run for Women (Albany, NY), and Rueckert Advertising & Public Relations (Albany, NY) Campaign: The 25th annual Freihofer's Run for Women Time Frame: April 1-May 31, 2003 Budget: $25,000

The Freihofer's Run for Women may sound like a fundraiser, and it did start out that way back in 1979. But it's now one of the most competitive races in the country, sponsored by the Freihofer's Baking Company (a.k.a. Entenmann's outside the Northeast). It's also considered the 5K US national championship for women, and so draws to Albany some of the best professional runners the world over, including Olympians and record holders - not to mention hundreds of other road racers, some serious, and some just casual joggers. "There are two companion events on the same day: the kids run, for kids ages three to 13, and they can run anywhere from 50 meters to a mile," says Edward Parham, director of PR at Rueckert Advertising & Public Relations. "Then there's a community walk for 100 charities. All they have to do is get pledges and show up. The race is the cornerstone of the weekend." Strategy This year, for the race's 25th anniversary, the organizers and sponsors wanted to make sure they had the most amount of runners the course can support, as well as the local community out supporting the runners, and participating in the other events occurring during the race weekend. "We're looking for a general acceptance on the part of the public," says event director George Regan. "We want them to realize that this is a major event for the capital region, and it's really a lifestyle statement. It's a national championship, and it's right here in the backyard of the residents." Tactics Rueckert started with "nuts and bolts" PR, as Parham describes it, issuing press releases on a schedule in the weeks leading up to the race. "After that," he says, "we looked down the road and tried to determine which athletes were coming to keep the snowball effect going as the race got closer and closer. One of the things that you find out when you [work with] sports, especially distance running, is you might be expecting someone to show up, and all of a sudden, they're out injured." Nevertheless, Parham looked for runners who had an interesting background or racing history, and pitched story ideas to their local media. One release focused on former champion and legally blind runner Marla Runyon, who would be racing again this year. "We knew we'd get a lot of coverage when she showed up," says Parham. Other runners and Regan also did radio interviews leading up to the race. "This is a race that anybody who enjoys keeping fit can take part in," says Parham. "You don't have to be a world-class athlete to compete. [Regan] would impress upon that." Results The Albany Times-Union ran a 12-page insert on the race, which included bios on the runners, and explored the history and significance of the race over the past 25 years. There was also extensive coverage on the local CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox affiliates, as well as print coverage from as far away as San Jose, CA, not to mention Runners World and Running Times. And the Associated Press ran two features, one of which focused on the growing number of runners over 40, including a 77-year-old who competed this year. "A child at the age of six or seven starting in the Freihofer's run for kids, is now participating in the Run for Women - a whole generation has gone by," explains Regan. "They write to me all the time: 'I ran in the run for kids when I was six or seven, and now I'm in the run for women, and my daughter's running with me.'" Pre- and post-race coverage totaled 19 million impressions, but more importantly, the race itself drew 3,616 participants, its largest field ever. And about 20,000 spectators were on hand to cheer the women along the 5K course. Future Because the current course can only support about 4,000 runners, both Regan and Parham hinted at consideration of a new course to prevent bottlenecks during the race. In terms of the PR efforts behind the Freihofer's Run for Women, Parham says there are no plans to stray from the current formula.

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