We are not advocating that you try and outdo the Nike Women's Half Marathon in San Francisco and give away Tiffany necklaces, but let's talk about some ways as a new or smaller event to get as much bang for your buck as possible.
We have addressed the fact you should try to come up with something unique, but there is also value in coming up with something that is useful as well. You will definitely score bonus points if you can come up with something that is unique AND useful. A great example is this multi tool keychain given out at RAGNAR. This is a solid piece of marketing as well. We are sure there are many of these attached to key chains all over as a daily reminder about how much fun they had at this event.
If you scour the Internet for feedback from runners about the race swag they have gotten over the years, a few complaints are universal. They do not need yet another cheap, low quality, tech shirt. If you are going to provide a race shirt, make sure it is of above-average quality. This will insure that it becomes a regular in the rotation of your participants and is a great form of local advertising. If you go into your local Salvation Army or Goodwill thrift shop and see your shirts on the $0.25 table, you might want to consider an upgrade.
There are a few ways you can improve the quality of your race shirt without breaking the bank. The best way is get sponsorships to offset the cost. Find a local business that will appreciate having the most prominent positioning and is willing to pay for that. Just be sure not to over- do it and put every little sponsor on your shirt. Maybe reserve the shirt for a title sponsor and a key sponsor of the shirt specifically. Make that sought after advertising real estate. Start with your local running store and then expand out to other community-based enterprises such as breweries or other prominent businesses that share your demographic.
Another school of thought to differentiate your shirt offering is to get away from a tech shirt altogether. Instead get a nice, soft cotton t-shirt that people will love to put on after getting showered up after their tough run. Think of it as the shirt they will want to grab when they put on their favorite pair of jeans that are broken in and fit just right. The folks at Farm Fresh make an amazing t-shirt from organic cotton that is entirely made in California. Tip for the guys out there: Ladies do not want to wear a generic men's shirt. Get a women's specific fit. A popular choice is a fitted v-neck with baby doll sleeves.
Let's move on to some practical items that could be well received by your participants. A fleece blanket or beach towel is always useful at the end of a race depending on if your event takes place during the heat of summer or a cool autumn afternoon. Either way, these are items you can get screen printed or embroidered and will have practical use down the road, while subtly reminding people about your annual event.
Beer pints, wine glasses, and coffee mugs are never a bad choice if done properly. For a beer pint or wine glass put your logo on one side and a sponsor on the other side to offset the cost, and create value for your sponsor at the same time. There are too many unique coffee mug ideas to list here. Get creative. Here are a few that we have around that get used all the time.
This is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to race swag, but at RaceDirector we thought it was important to cover some of the key factors. Spend some time thinking this through. Get feedback from a range of people in your race demographic ahead of time. Utilize local artisans to create a unique finisher's award that reflects the personality of your race and the community. Once you see race swag as an opportunity and not just an expense, then you can let your creativity run wild and give your runners something to remember.