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Article published 23/10/2020

Tell us about the Baxters Loch Ness Marathon

The Baxters Loch Ness Marathon & Festival of Running is the largest participatory sporting event in the north of Scotland featuring the iconic marathon, the River Ness 10K, 5K, Corporate Challenge and Wee Nessie kids race.

In addition to the running events, there is plenty to entertain runners and spectators over the weekend with a Sports Expo, Runners Café show, street food, live music, pipes & drums and family activities.

The 2019 event attracted a record 9,500 entries with the largest marathon field of 5,200 runners in the 18-year history of the race. 60% of marathon runners were from outside Scotland and 17% of these from overseas representing 45 different countries.

What were the key reasons for creating a digital event?

The 2020 event would have been the 19th edition and we felt we couldn’t let the event weekend pass without celebrating everything we love about the event. We also felt this was a great opportunity to engage with our running community and to launch the 2021 event.

We also wanted to focus on the emotional connection with the Loch Ness Marathon and the Scottish Highlands, in particular what makes our event so special, what makes so many runners return or have the race on their bucket list.

Tell us about your digital event

Mindful of the potential for ‘virtual race fatigue’ during and since lockdown and also aware that the virtual London Marathon was being held on the same day as well as many other large UK marathons holding virtual races throughout Autumn, we decided to focus on the successful Runners Café show held the day before the race.

In addition, to celebrate what would have been race day, we encouraged runners to join us ‘together apart’ for their Sunday run. Although they were not required to run a set distance and there weren’t any official results or medals, we wanted to connect them with our Loch Ness running community. They were encouraged to share photos on social media out running in a Loch Ness t-shirt, a kilt or tartan and to download our Spotify playlist with lots of tracks associated with the event / running.

The real star of the show however was Nessie who turned up at the marathon start on Sunday morning having not got the memo that the race was cancelled! After an interview with Bryan Burnett she decided to run the marathon anyway and we followed her journey from start to finish with video clips and photos showing the spectacular Loch Ness scenery on social media.

Did you come across any challenges?

We worked with a fantastic team of Bryan Burnett, Baby Grand Productions and two PR agencies: Curious Panda in London and Whale Like Fish in Inverness to brainstorm and develop the initial ideas and concepts into a format that we all felt would work well to showcase what is special and unique about the event.

The only challenge was the weather during the filming which luckily was not quite as bad as forecasted and a couple of noisy fighter jets flying at speed down Loch Ness mid interview!

What was your approach?

The virtual ‘Runners Café’ event was hosted by BBC Scotland’s Bryan Burnett, who as our race commentator is the ‘voice of Loch Ness’ and featured informal chat and Q&A with Vassos Alexander, radio sports presenter and Tom Craggs, endurance running coach, Darren Sivewright, Innovation Chef at Baxters Food Group – they have all run the marathon and are passionate about our event. We also included soundbites from other contributors connected to the event and our race director.

We felt it was important to use iconic Loch Ness as a backdrop for the virtual event, so Bryan’s interviews and links were pre-recorded from the banks of Loch Ness and at the spectacular marathon start. The contributors were interviewed via Zoom and we used previous video and drone footage to bring the event alive.

The virtual Runners Café was held on Saturday evening as a Facebook Premiere, which is our biggest social media platform; it was also uploaded to our YouTube channel afterwards. It was available to watch back on both channels for those that missed it or were in a different time zone and we could link to both these channels from Instagram and Twitter. The other digital activity was posted across all four social channels on Sunday.

We decided to make it a free event as felt it was a good opportunity to engage with and give back to our running community as well as launching the 2021 event.

How did you promote your digital event?

  • Promotion of the virtual event was done via our social media channels: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in the run-up to, during and after the event.  We also provided content to our running focused influencers who had either taken part in the 2019 event or were due to take part in 2020 which they featured on their Instagram channels. 
  • Two press releases were issued to mainstream local and Scottish media as well as specialist running media: one to announce the virtual event and one to launch the 2021 event linked to Nessie completing the marathon.  
  • The virtual event was also promoted via a dedicated email to our existing audiences on our e-newsletter databases.

Results

  • The overall social media reach of the digital activity was 129K with total engagement of 8K (Facebook and Instagram). 
  • The PR engagement generated 18 articles (online and print). 
  • We used the virtual event to generate awareness and promote ticket sales for 2021.

Was it a success?

This was new territory for us however we wanted to provide our running community with something completely different to the ‘run a virtual marathon’ format and connect them with everything that they love about our event. The engagement and all the comments we received on social media was fantastic – it made us realise how much we have missed staging our physical events this year and how much our participants miss taking part; their support and enthusiasm was wonderful.

Conclusion

As a participatory sporting event we can’t wait to stage our physical event again however there are certain elements that could be considered for a digital platform in the future such as possibly live streaming the Runners Café show for those unable to attend / travel so they can be part of the event virtually.