Friday, March 7, 2014

Old School Marketing: What did we do before the internet?

In a job interview recently, my interviewer was running through that predictable list of questions while looking over my resume. When she reached, the Sugoi part from many years ago, she asked, "What was your greatest accomplishment at Sugoi?". I had to think about that for a second, as it was a while ago - pre-internet actually, and that's where the story starts to get interesting.

Again, keep in mind, this is, while not exactly pre-internet, but in 1997, the internet was the briefest shadow of what it is now. When I do think back to that time, and as I was starting to tell that story of a significant accomplishment at Sugoi, I had to be careful to qualify my comments, that it was pre-internet, and that the woman interviewing me, most likely was not even in the work-force then, and had only been in the working world with the internet more as we know it today! Good heavens - I am sounding old!

The story seems rather quaint now when I think about it. Sugoi had just launched their run line in 1996/97. As the Marketing and Communications Manager, I was tasked with raising awareness of the Sugoi brand in the running market. No internet. No social media. The only option for advertising of any significance to consumers at the time was Runner's World Magazine (RW). We could not afford ad buys, so I took a different approach - try to get exposure, through product reviews, and the holy grail, getting a cover-shot of some Sugoi product. I made it a goal to get a RW cover-shot of some Sugoi product within a year!

I worked on developing a close relationship with the key apparel review people at RW, as well as the main Photo Editor - always making sure that we had Sugoi product submitted for on-going apparel reviews. I did the same for all of the known Freelance photographers, who submitted photos regularly to RW for use - making sure that they had current Sugoi product in their bags to use on various photo-shoot work. I stayed in close contact with all of these people and made sure that whenever there was an opportunity to meet, at a Trade Show or other event, I made sure to take advantage of the opportunity, briefing them on the latest developments at Sugoi and product up-dates.

I got a phone call one day, from one of the freelance photographers - he was shooting a runner for what he was hoping might lead to a cover-shot for RW. Right away, I shipped via FedEx, a selection of Sugoi apparel to Colorado. The shoot went well. The images looked fantastic. I reached out to the Photo Editor and she did indeed, confirm that some of those shots taken by the photographer in Colorado, where in contention for the cover of the next issue of RW that they were publishing. She liked the overall feel of the shots, and she said the Sugoi Technifine T-shirt, "Really popped"! Wow!

A few weeks went by, and then I got THE CALL - they were going to use one of the Sugoi shots for the cover of Runner's World! That was just about a year, to the day, that I first hatched the plan.

I believe the circulation of RW at the time was just over 500,000. With no other options available for exposure this was HUGE for us. The Sugoi product had been getting great reviews. However, our Sales Reps on the road, had been struggling to get doors open and buy-in, in key run specialty shops around North America. This changed everything - the Reps now went to those retailers, with a copy of that issue of RW in their hand with Sugoi product prominantly on the cover, and suddenly there was interest, and a conversation. We signed up more dealers. Orders increased. A small part, to the great growth that the company had in 4 years, nearly doubling it's overall sales.

Today the marking and promotional opportunities for a company in this space are much wider and deeper. There are a lot of different options and channels to get the message out there. Back then, pre-internet, was a simpler time in some ways, but much more limiting. After a lot of hard work, you often only got the one shot! A cover shot!

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sick!


In my previous blog I spoke about being Walloped by Winter and what to do about it. The Winter season is also when Cold and Flu season peak. I'm not sure about you, but for me, I am typically felled by one garden-variety head-cold each winter. Seems par-for the course.

For endurance sports athletes, it presents a bit of a challenge. How do you beat the cold, and get back to normal ASAP? There is that gnawing worry about the down-time and the lost fitness.

Years ago, when I was much younger and perhaps not as wise, I used to push things and not listen to my body. I would ignore the early signs of the cold coming on - the body aches, the weakness, the head or chest congestion. Then it would hit in all it's fury - down for a few days, but then I would rush the come back, and the cold would then drag on for sometime with remnant symptoms hanging around for weeks.

Two events changed my views on getting sick in this way.

One time before my biggest triathlon race of the season, I came down with a head-cold just over a week out from the race. It was a doozy - sent me to bed for a few days. I was then wrestling with what to do in the run-up to the race. I chose to do nothing - no training at all. All tolled, when I toed the starting line, I had done no training for a full week. I did not feel that great physically, but that race ended up being one of my best races of the year! The one week sick-with-a-cold taper in full-effect! Lesson: A week of resting and recovery from a cold, does not impact your fitness.

The other event was more sinister. I came down with a really bad chest cold. It was very bad. I thought I had recovered and I jumped right back into training at a high level. I had a relapse, that morphed into full-blown pneumonia. This really knocked me out. Close to being hospitalized. Had to take 3 weeks off work. Two of which were spent at home in bed.

Follow-up x-rays and testing discovered that I had done some permanent damage to my lungs - perhaps losing as much as 25% of my absolute, lung capacity. Disturbing news for an endurance athlete. However, I was advised that the lungs can over-compensate and some of this 25% deficit could be taken back and the loss not noticeable.

Lesson here - listen to the body. Take the time to recover fully, before resuming heavy training!

In summary - when you get sick with a head or chest cold, just take the time to fully recover. Recent, studies have shown that despite what all the cold-medication companies tell you, nothing that you can take will make the cold go away any quicker. The OTC drugs, just make some of the symptoms easier to cope with. In short - rest and relaxation and letting the body fight and deal with the infection as best as it can,  is the best thing to do, and for the endurance sports athlete that means stopping training until you are 100% recovered and ready to go. When you get those early symptoms - the weakness, the body aches etc . . just shut it down and get as much rest as you can. Help your body help, itself!

On the defense front - the old fashioned way of frequently washing your hands, has been proven to be the best defense from getting sick in the first place. It's far better and more effective than many rumored methods that people talk about. Many of the more popular defense methods - over-dosing on Vitamin-C,  taking echinacea etc . . have proven to have little to no effect on cold prevention! Eat a healthy and well balanced diet, and you should have all the natural disease prevention and immunity that you'll ever get. Also, make sure you are getting enough sleep. Recent research has concluded that sleep, is the #1 recovery tool for your body.

Again - wash your hands. And if you do get sick, don't panic. Just take the down-time to rest up a recover well. Know that under normal circumstances your garden-variety head or chest cold runs it's course in a week to 10 days, and there is really not much you can do about that other than doing nothing at all!

Have you been sick this winter? How did it go?

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Walloped by Winter! What Are You Doing?



I saw a map this week online. It showed that  2/3 of Canada & the U.S., ie most of the North American continent, was covered in snow. I know that for almost all of Canada (save for the lower-mainland of B.C. and Vancouver Island) - that's normal. The snow-cover and deep cold has also extended much farther south in the U.S. than "normal" this winter.

We've been walloped by winter, actually. In my area, just north of  Toronto, ON, after a number of rather benign winters, it's been full-on this year with, from what I can tell,  record snow-falls and, the coldest average temperatures in over 10 years. For endurance sports athletes who for the most part train outside - runners, triathletes, and cyclists, it's been challenging to keep the training going. How have you been coping?

I've always had two views on this - you either take it inside, and shun winter as much as you can, or you embrace it, and make the most of it.

For the Shunners, the solutions, are obvious: For the triathlete - swim/cycle/run, can all be done indoors. If you are into this, and have access to the right facilities and equipment, in a perfect world, there can be minimal interruption in your training. True - the cycling and the running, on indoor trainers and treadmills can get a little tedious, but videos can be a great distraction and some of the interactive, computer driven indoor bike training set-ups are truly extraordinary! If you are just a runner or a cyclist, just plug into the above.

For the Embracers - the great outdoors can really open things up. Full disclosure - when I was training seriously for triathlon this was my approach. I was never a fan of the treadmill or the indoor bike trainer. What did I do?

First - I never stopped running outdoors. In fact, winter is when I would lay down the most overall volume of miles running. With the right apparel and attitude, you can run in just about any kind of weather, anywhere. Sure the footing, was lousy, the deep snow sometimes slowed you down, and the wind would force your pace to a crawl. Note the word "volume" back there - that was the focus . . not speed, pace or time. Just get the miles/K's in!

Second - I cross-country skied . . . a lot. Both classic and skating. Nordic skiing is the king of aerobic sports - it works more muscles in the body than any other single activity - upper body, lower body, core etc . . It all get's worked. When I had a great winter of skiing - where I put in the biggest volume of skiing and took my skiing to the highest level of performance, I noticed two things: 1) My cycling and triathlon performance the following summer was always better. 2) Despite very little cycling through Dec/Jan/Feb, come March, after just a few weeks of riding, I could ride 100K at a decent pace with very little ramp up!

Third - I did not eschew the indoor training completely. I would get in the pool maybe ounce a week, just to keep in contact with the feel of the water. I would also get on the indoor bike trainer, and would do one or two very high intensity sessions a week, lasting no more than 60 minutes. As to the latter, they say that even for the cyclist, who just rides, the time on the trainer in the winter, is better spent with a focus on higher intensity, power based riding, than slogging out long sweaty sessions on the trainer. These days, I only ride, and that's my focus: 3 - 4 very specific high quality session on the bike, and never more than an hour. Plus some cross country skiing mixed in.

As a Canadian, I've always had to put up and deal with a winter of some kind. It's part of being a Canadian, in my view - that's why I have always embraced winter. The Winter Olympics are about to begin, and I've found a great deal of truth, honesty and inspiration in the Canadian Olympic Committee official hashtag for the Canadian Olympic Team - #WeAreWinter.  For Canada and Canadians it's perfect!

Do you shun or do you embrace winter? What's your strategy to coping with this real winter we are having this year?

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Monday, January 13, 2014

Shorter Cranks: A Case (n=1!) For Older Cyclists & Triathletes


There is a bit of a buzz these days for going to shorter cranks (crank arms) for both triathletes and cyclists. It's not for everyone, and like many things there are some misconceptions and misunderstandings of what's going on.

If you are in a great position on your bike and are having no issues, then going to shorter cranks is most likely not going to be helpful for you: Shorter Cranks does not automatically equal better/faster! If you are suffering some specific issues, relating to to your bike fit and in particular, where an opening of the hip angle will be helpful, then going to shorter cranks may be beneficial to you.

I had always ridden on 175mm cranks on every bike (road & tri bikes) that I have ridden since getting into cycling via triathlon in the early 80's. I had never given this a great deal of thought, because every, "58cm" bike I had ever owned, came with 175mm cranks on it! However, a couple of years ago, when I had just turned 50, I noticed a few things when riding the road bike:

1. I was getting increased lower back pain when riding
2. I could no longer ride in the drops of my road bike for extended periods of time
3. I had lost a bit of my jump

A swapping of kit on one of my wife Paolina Allan's bike made a set of Shimano Dura Ace 170mm cranks available to me. I looked into this a bit, and came across the findings of the 2001 Jim Martin study in several articles online (this one on the Cervelo web site), that came to the conclusion - basically, power generation is the same for a rider, using a wide range of crank lengths. I also compared notes with friend and Pro triathlete Jordan Rapp, who had just gone to shorter cranks on his set up, and noticed no difference in performance.

I started to put this together with what I knew was happening with my body - as I aged, I was becoming less flexible, and I was becoming weaker and less fit. Hey, it's inevitable! Shortening the crank arms, making the appropriate changes in the fit elsewhere (raising the saddle and bars slightly, to compensate), would open up my hip angle, and also make the circles that I pedal in slightly smaller.

The great news about the new crank and bottom-brackets, is that with the right tools, these are very easy to make changes - so, out with the 175mm cranks and in with the 170mm ones. I did this in the winter, so that the first few rides would be on the trainer. Just to check everything out.

I did notice a slight difference when I first started to ride with the 170's. However, by the end of a 45 minute ride on the trainer, I could not really tell any difference. Some informal bench-mark testing on the trainer over the next couple of weeks, backed up the research and observations previously mentioned - I noticed no difference in my "performance". Another difference I noted was that, at a given level of effort, I might need to drop down one cog to maintain the pedal RPM that I preferred. For me, not a big deal as I have always been a bit of a "spinner" with a naturally higher pedal RPM.

The real test came in the spring when I was outdoors again and going for longer rides:

A) Lower back pain was much reduced on longer rides
B) I could now ride in the drops like a used to
C) My jump in big accelerations on group rides was much better.

Conclusions: If you are an older triathlete or cyclist, (45+), and you are not feeling comfortable on your bike, and you have some other issues such as I noted, and all other things being equal, you might want to look at your crank length and consider trying shorter cranks. Even shorter than "recommended", or what just came on your bike. Note - at 6'2" (188cm) generally speaking, my recommended crank arm length would be 175 and as noted, on every bike I owned, it came with 175's. For me going shorter helped.

Hope this helps.

Are you an older cyclist/triathlete? Have you tried shorter cranks?

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

PowerBar - An Early History



"Steve, I can't afford to buy an ad right now, but I can send you as many boxes of PowerBars as you like"!

And so began my relationship with PowerBar, and PowerBar founder Brian Maxwell. I was trying to sell Maxwell an ad in the magazine that I was working for at the time. We agreed on a volume of PowerBars that would be the "payment" for the ad, and Maxwell was good on his word, the shipment of PowerBars did show up, and I used them regularly for my training and racing for triathlons in the late 1980's.

It's hard to imagine these days, but PowerBar had humble beginnings. The products introduction also started up a whole new category of sports nutrition. Prior to PowerBar, "sports nutrition" for endurance athletes was water, Gatorade and bananas! Maxwell, a world class marathon runner, had struggled to finish a few marathons, due to what we now term, "bonking", or what in physiological terms is called hypoglycemia - what happens when you start to deplete, your bodies carbohydrate stores, that start to dwindle significantly beyond the 90 min to 2 hour mark, when working at a moderately high intensity. You can keep going, but you need to take in more carbohydrate to replenish those stores.

Maxwell had qualified for the ill-fated 1980 Canadian Olympic team. It was the pinnacle of his career as a distance runner. Unfortunately, he never made it to the Moscow Olympic Games due to the boycott. He took a job as the Track Coach at his Alma Mater, University of California, Berkley. Maxwell and his wife Jennifer Biddulph, a nutritionist started to think about and try and come up with solution to this issue of, what then was commonly referred to as, "hitting the wall" in a marathon or other long distance endurance sport, when the body starts to run low on carbohydrates and the blood sugar starts to drop. They started making and baking energy bars in their kitchen of their home in Berkley, CA. It took a while to come up with a formula and a composition that would be functional. Eventually they did. By 1986, and with $55,000 cash, they started PowerBar!

It was a tough go, as many business start-ups are, particularly because, as noted, it really was a whole new category. There were many skeptics. A key strategy, was to get as many athletes, to try the PowerBars  - thus, the using of the PowerBars themselves as currency to "pay" for advertising, marketing and sponsorship opportunities. They gave away, a lot of PowerBars in the early years, and really launched as well, the whole business of experiential marketing  - try-this-ounce-and-you-will-then-be-a-customer! PowerBar and Maxwell also pioneered the concept of, "photo contingency sponsorship" - they would sponsor athletes, and then pay that athlete, either in cash or early on, in more PowerBars(!), only when they would get photo logo exposure in magazines and other media!

 FYI - The PowerBar logo colors, that are used to this day, are the team colors for the UC Berkley Sports teams!

Early competitor, Gary Erikson, who founded Clif Bar in 1990, pays tribute to the hard-work and legacy that Brian Maxwell laid down in Erikson's excellent book "Raising The Bar".

The first real boom in the sport of triathlon occurred in the late 80's and it coincided with the early years of PowerBar. Long distance races, such as the Ironman triathlon, that for the top competitors take 8 hours to complete, require that competitors take in significant amounts of carbohydrates for them to keep going for that long. Many triathletes were early adopters and fans of the PowerBar product - that gave them 220 calories of carbohydrates in a neatly wrapped, easily transported and easily digested package.

Other endurance sports, such as cycling, soon caught on as well and the growth in the early 90's for PowerBar was impressive! In addition to Clif, a number other companies jumped into the sports nutrition business and by the end of the decade it had become a world-wide, $billion business!

In 2000 Brian Maxwell and his wife, sold PowerBar to world-wide food giant Nestle, for a reported, $375 million. Sadly and tragically, by then a father of six, Maxwell died of a massive heart-attack, in 2004 while out for a short run!

After my phone-call and ad deal with Brian Maxwell, I met him the following year at the annual Interbike trade-show. We talked about sports. We talked about our shared Canadian roots, and we talked about sports nutrition. Of course, ever the promoter and salesman, he would not let me out of the PowerBar booth without, putting another box of PowerBars in my hands!

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Tying It All Together for Endurance Sports Events


 Working the Mic at the recent Monster Dash run in Toronto*. Picture - MyNextRace.com

I just finished reading digital marketing guru, Mitch Joel's new book Ctrl-Alt-Delete. It's a highly recommended read. Three big take-aways:

1. Social media, and marketing through social media is big!

2. The current buzz with brands, is wanting to speak directly to end-user customers.

3. Everything is going mobile!

Endurance sports events be they, running, cycling, triathlons, MOB's or themed runs, sit at the intersection of the above. By their very nature, these events are social - with lots of social interaction going on. I mentioned this briefly in a previous blog. However, this week I came across an info-graphic that spelled this out in more detail with some interesting data and stats.

These events are also the meeting up point for brands(sponsors), and the large amounts of numbers and data that these events are starting to generate and put together - to say nothing of the gathering of hundreds, if not thousands of people in one spot, at one time. Remarkably, few events seem to be taking full advantage of this. Some are, but more could and should do more. 

It goes without saying that the demographic attracted to most endurance sports events are plugged in to a high degree via mobile devices.

At the Running USA conference last winter, a marketing executive who works in the endurance sports space, said to me, "Consider you are at an NHL or NBA game, with 10,000 or more spectators. Think about how much marketing and promotion you have been exposed to from the time you buy your ticket, to the time you leave that game. Now compare that with the promotion and marketing that goes on an endurance sports event with similar numbers from the time you register, to the time you are finished and heading home". Many events, are not taking full advantage of the opportunities here.

It's a great opportunity to leverage the social nature of these events, the social interaction that is organic to them, the high adoption of social media of the participants, and the want for brands to talk directly to end-user customers.

An example of linking that up with mobile follows:

With my frequent work as a Race and Event Announcer*, I often see the collision of the old and the new at the events that I am working at and where the above opportunities go wanting. Often the number one question that I get asked when I am on the mic at an event is, "Hey - where are the results being posted up?". Many smaller to mid sized events still post up printed hard-copy, for participants to check their times/results - if the event is a timed event, with results. In the online, digital age, this now is passe. I'll often announce, where on the race site, that hard copy of the results are posted up, and you'll see that huddle of people surrounding the posted sheets of paper checking their results. However, if a company such as Ottawa, ON based Sportstats is timing the race and producing the results, those results now go almost instantly on-line when a person crosses the finish-line (or timing mat out on the course), to that events page on the Sportstats web site. If people, have a mobile phone with internet access, they can go right there, and see their own results on their own mobile device in the palm of their hand! Even more, Sportstats has a App that ties all of a persons results together that can be customized for that person. People can even "follow" a friend doing an event that Sportstats is timing around a race course. I make the announcement over the PA about this new way of accessing results to. I think it's catching on! 

See the linkage and possibilities with all of the above?

If you are an endurance sports event organizer:

- Are you taking full advantage of the social media opportunities for your event?

- Are you allowing your event sponsors to speak directly to your event participants?

- Are you tying this all together for mobile?

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Race More?

 Recharge with Milk Wasaga Beach Triathlon Finish-line - Photo http://www.mysportsshooter.com

I was about to embark on writing a blog straight-up, about the benefits of racing more, for triathletes. I was and still am of the belief that many problems and challenges that the modern triathlete encounters, in races, particularly longer distance triathlon races, could be over-come in part, by racing more.

Then, two things happened:

1. I attended a local social event in my area where over 30 triathletes, many of whom I knew personally, were in attendance. As some know, I work as a Race/Event Announcer almost every weekend at triathlons, running and cycling races. As I stood there in the room filled with triathletes, I realized that I had not seen any of these athletes, with the exception of one, at a race all year!

2. The following day, I asked the question, "Why doesn't the modern triathlete race more?" on my Facebook page. There were an enormous number of responses - some very detailed and informative. You can see the thread of responses here. It's a good read.

Both of these previous points, caused me to re-think things a bit.

From reading the Facebook thread, it's clear that these days, time and costs are the key things that limit the number of races that triathletes do each year. There is no question that races are getting more expensive - for obvious reasons: The costs to put these races on have gone up substantially. As for the time issue, if you look at the largest age-groups in the sport, most active, modern triathletes are right in the middle of their key child-rearing years with 1, 2, 3 or more young kids at home, and also at a time in their careers, when time-on for work, is at it's highest. Add all that up and, and it makes sense why, the modern triathlete races less now, than a previous wave of triathletes did 10+ years ago.

I still believe that many triathletes, particularly newer athletes, in the sport for four years or less, would benefit greatly from more frequent racing. I am backed up on that point by some of the leading local coaches, who also feel the same way, but are pushed back on this, by the athletes they coach. Knowing this, and reading the responses on my Facebook posting, one wonders where the cart and horse are with this. Many athletes want to get better. They want to go faster. A proven way of doing this is to race more frequently (within reason, of course).

Which leads me to what is the definition of a race? My sense is that for many modern triathletes , their definition of a  "race" is a big production + long distance triathlon = expensive.  However, not all races have such big production, and there are certainly many shorter race options (and are hopefully less expensive). Despite what athletes think, these outings can be very helpful and valuable experiences in their overall development.

Also there are "other" racing options - standalone, running, cycling, and swimming events, that again, can be if you look around, not terribly expensive and time efficient. As an example, many local cycling clubs, offer weekly time-trial races, that for club members cost from nothing to a few dollars (with club membership). While not a triathlon race, these standalone races in individual sports can provide great feedback, and serve as outstanding training efforts for the triathlete. Some of these are mid-week, and because of their short and brief nature, can take up less time, than a "normal" triathlon training session.

What do you think? What is your definition of a "race"? Knowing that racing more, will make you better/faster, is that something that you would commit to?

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