This is going to be one of those “rant on a soapbox” blogs because, as a runner, this week’s topic is very close to my heart. A recent finish line fiasco at the Mississauga Marathon struck me as a really bad case of “not getting it” when it comes to brand and reputation management – or simply doing the right thing. In an earlier post on this topic, entitled “Corporate mea culpa at its best“, I commented that companies and brands that take accountability and apologize for mistakes publicly earn the greatest respect from their customers and are most likely to have the happiest and most loyal customers. In many ways, it’s also one of the basics in crisis management/communications, and there certainly is a crisis brewing around this based on what I’m hearing and seeing in the running community!
In a nutshell, what happened in the Mississauga Marathon is that the two lead runners – at least one of which was on track to break the course record – were led off-course by the lead cyclist (whose job is to know the course and guide the runners to stay on-course) and then subsequently disqualified, even though it wasn’t their fault. Some might argue that it’s the runner’s responsibility to know the course, but when you’re the lead runner(s) you’re focusing on the lead cyclist to guide you…correctly. Not only was “winning” at stake, but prize money associated with placing – and prize money for breaking the course record. (And of course the principle of the matter.) The easy fix?
- an admission of error and accountability on the part of the organizers (and the lead cyclist who led these runners astray)
- making things right by splitting the prize money pool amongst the “winners”, including those who were disqualified
The race organizers have been slow to react, if at all, which is even more surprising given all the controversy in Toronto over competing marathons which are cannibalizing each other and vying for participants (this year’s Mississauga Marathon saw its numbers down to 10,000 from 14,000 last year because it was run the same day as the GoodLife Fitness Toronto Marathon, which had moved from the Fall where it was competing with another Toronto marathon, the Scotiabank Waterfront Toronto Marathon). You’d think that given this scenario, the Mississauga Marathon organizers would be particularly keen to do the right thing and protect their brand – their reputation – and thereby attract participants (especially since it’s the newer of the two).
Interestingly, we’re not talking about huge sums of money because the prize pool was $1,750 for the top 3 finishers, with an additional $2,500 for breaking the record, totalling just over $4,000. The right thing to do, since it wasn’t the fault of the runners (but the race organizers), would be to take the total prize pool and divvy it up between the top 4 (or even 5) finishers so that everyone is happy – and many runners seem to agree. It’s the principle, if anything, and surely the race can afford it as there were over 10,000 racers. But the organizers just don’t seem to get it. Maybe they just have their principles wrong? But they also have a brand to protect…have they forgotten about that? Being very short-sighted (or stubborn), and focusing on the wrong principles could come back to haunt them. Where’s Mayor Hazel McCallion in all of this, as it’s her “Mississauga” brand we’re talking about?!?
Perhaps without a major named sponsor there was less pressure to protect the brand by doing the right thing? It will certainly be interesting to see if the running community – which is quite vocal – will vote with their feet next year, and choose a marathon other than the Mississauga Marathon, meaning participant numbers will drop even further. One thing’s for sure, elite runners may think twice about which marathon they run – or don’t run – next year!
What do you think? Did race organizers do the right thing – by the runners and the race (the brand)? Will the Mississauga Marathon – and its brand – suffer in the long run?