By Shilpa Gopinath Posted April 23, 2009, 9:00 AM EDT
LOS ANGELES As creative director of the Los Angeles Marathon, Peter Abraham is responsible for outreach, marketing, and conceiving the overall concept of the event—which is undergoing a complete overhaul ahead of the May 25 race. With the marathon under new ownership—LA Marathon LLC, formerly known as Going the Distance, now operates the race—it's Abraham's first go at overseeing the program.
This year's race will be run on Memorial Day, May 25, rather than President's Day, February 16. What was behind the date change?
We came in with new ownership, and we’ve really looked at every single aspect of the marathon. We’ve changed the course from last year: We went back to the loop route that starts in downtown, which was last run in 2006. It’s a very fast route, very popular with runners.
We’ve updated our whole communications strategy. We have a brand new Web site with embedded videos. We have a YouTube channel. We have a live radio broadcast, live TV broadcast, [and] social media outreach.
We are going to have on-course entertainment—bands throughout the course to keep the energy level high. We have brought back the challenge—which is for the elite runners. The women get a head start over the men, and there’s a $100,000 first prize for whoever crosses the line first, whether it’s a male or a female.
We’ve brought in a green strategy this year. We are handing out goodies, but we’re not putting them in 50,000 plastic bags with another million pieces of paper and coupons. All runners will receive a technical running shirt this year, as opposed to a cotton T-shirt.
In addition, we have 3,000 at-risk youth from all over L.A. training for six months who will be out there running. We have a program called Kids Marathon where we have elementary school kids who train over two months.
Some media reports suggested that the date change was due to inadequate funds. True?
That was not our decision; that was mandated by the City of Los Angeles as a condition of the license transfer to the new owner. [Funds] had nothing to do with it.
What logistical hoops did you have to go through to make such a drastic change?
The temperature is about 4.5 degrees hotter on average in the middle of the day in May than it is in March, so we needed a hot-weather contingency plan. The first weekend in March, which was normally the date of the L.A. Marathon, was 80 degrees. This year, we had 80-degree weather days in January. We moved the start of the event an hour earlier to take advantage of cooler weather earlier in the day. We’ll have some misting stations and things that reflect the potential for warmer weather.
How did you market the date change?
Most of it was online. We have a blog, a Web site, we have other social media outlet channels like Twitter and YouTube. Obviously there’s the traditional PR strategy with press. There’s television and radio as well.
What has been your result so far?
Actually, we’re ahead of schedule—we’re tracking ahead of last year. Some runners were initially concerned about the heat, but once they saw that we are very much on top of that, I think the response has been really positive.
Has it been more difficult to secure sponsors because of the recession?
You have to work very hard at it these days. You have to give sponsors a lot, and they expect a lot. We have been fairly successful in spite of the economic climate in securing sponsors including Honda, Gatorade, Clif Bar, Emerald Nuts, New Performance Nutrition, and others.
There has been buzz about the marathon moving back to March next year. Are you already considering that?
It’s possible. I know some runners were at the city council meeting [at which it was discussed], and it’s something the city council was looking at. I think overall, the runners like the March date because it was a tradition.