RAM Racing Turns to Blogger Relations to Improve Reputation After “Epic Fail” in D.C.

Crisis communication plans are important. A simple, obvious statement, but one that companies tend to overlook until they find themselves in the middle of a crisis. With how quickly information travels online, small issues can rapidly snowball generating negative press and reviews that can severely damage reputations (and search results).

Ram Racing, an events company most known for its Hot Chocolate 15/5K series, suffered such an event last December when its inaugural Hot Chocolate race in Washington, D.C. proved to be, well, an epic failure. I had the unfortunate experience of running this race and can confirm that the bad reviews are accurate. I won’t rehash all that went wrong here as there were numerous issues that day. The bottom line is that when people pay good money to participate in a race they expect certain things: a timely start, an accurately measured course, fully-stocked aid stations, and ensured safety. While some races, like all events, have glitches, RAM Racing failed to provide any of these back in December.

Because of this, many bloggers posted negative reviews of the race. Runners took to Yelp, Facebook, Runners World, and Twitter to express their distaste in the event.

How did RAM racing respond? Not so well. Here’s a rundown of what the company did after the race:

  • Deleted negative comments from its Facebook page
  • Did not address the user-created Facebook page “Epic Fail – Hot Chocolate 5k/15K” that gained more than 1,500 fans in less than 24 hours
  • Failed to respond to users on Twitter
  • Issued an apology 36-hours after the race that placed blame on quite a few other organizations, people, and circumstances
  • Did not follow-up with dissatisfied customers with any sort of compensation (which didn’t have to be monetary, in my opinion)

Yikes. As a public relations professional, I remember watching all of this unfold and being completely shocked at how the company handled this crisis, especially since the race is part of a national series with upcoming events in other cities. Knowing that many runners look for race reviews before forking over registrations fees, I wondered how RAM Racing planned to rebuild its reputation after such an onslaught of negative press.

Curious, I sent a note to RAM Racing suggesting the company donate the majority of registration fees to the charity partner. Since only a small portion of each runner’s registration fee went to charity, I thought RAM Racing could redeem itself by making a more significant charitable contribution and taking a smaller profit.

I received a casual “thanks-for-your-suggestion” email, but never heard anything else. It’s been two months since the race and so far I haven’t heard of RAM Racing trying to alleviate the disgruntled D.C. runners.

So, why am I writing about this now?

Over the last week, I’ve noticed a few blog posts pop up mentioning RAM Racing. From what I’ve read, it looks like the company put together a pretty nice dinner for influential running bloggers to build awareness for the Hot Chocolate 15/5K race in San Diego, CA.

I commend the company for proactively trying to generate positive buzz around its future races. Engaging these bloggers is a smart move as they are all widely-read with highly active communities with an interest in running and races.  A couple of the bloggers noted that the president of RAM Racing addressed concerns about the D.C. race fairly and genuinely. This is certainly a good step in the right direction as the company tries to repair its damaged reputation.

But, what about those who still have bad tastes left from the D.C. race? Why hasn’t RAM Racing hosted a dinner with influential D.C.-based running bloggers or Twitter users? This has the potential to be a great forum to address concerns, solicit feedback, and – possibly – redeem RAM Racing and its races in the eyes of the very large running community here in the mid-Atlantic.

How else do you think RAM Racing could improve its reputation with those who participated in the D.C. race? Looking back at what RAM Racing did in the days following the event, do you think a communications plan would have helped them preserve their reputation?


11 thoughts on “RAM Racing Turns to Blogger Relations to Improve Reputation After “Epic Fail” in D.C.

  1. I thought it was very interesting to see posts popping up about RAM meeting with CA based bloggers. I was actually really surprised to see that most of the bloggers felt that RAM did a good job of explaining the DC race situation to them – I wondered why they didn’t try to do the same with the bloggers in DC. It would be much easier to give an organization like RAM a second chance if they reached out to the appropriate people.

    • My thoughts exactly – if RAM could honestly and fairly discuss the D.C. event with other bloggers, the company could have done the same with those in the area. As Sarah points out, it might be because RAM is not hosting another event in D.C. Still, alienating the thousands of people who registered for the D.C. race could potentially be advocates or future customers just seems like a poor business decision, especially from a communications standpoint.

  2. I love when people can remove themselves from the runner side of an event and look at it objectively – esp as a PR professional yourself. Great post.

    I can’t verify that it’s true, but I had heard that the city (county?) won’t allow RAM to host another even in DC. Possibly this is why they haven’t put a strong push for recon there? (dumb, IMO, but maybe they have something else planned?) Anyway, they have a loyal base of fans in Chicago and it seems now in Dallas as well, hopefully with each event they’re able to gain back a little credibility, because I do think the event has a good chance to be a successful series. We’ll see, I guess 😉

    Thanks for the link!

    • Thanks for your comment, Sarah! I still stand by the blogger dinner in California as an excellent way to build awareness for upcoming events – a smart opportunity for RAM to foster relationships with the right crowd.

      That is interesting that RAM might not be able to host another event in D.C. – based on the reviews, it’s not entirely surprising. However, I still think reconciling with all the angry runners should be high on RAM’s priority list for a number of reasons – at least to help improve the search results for “Hot Chocolate 15K DC” – eek! I’ll be interested to see if anything comes from RAM Racing, but I’m not holding my breath since it’s been over two months.

      I hope you have a great time at the race in San Diego – I’m looking forward to reading how that event goes because it does have such potential (chocolate + running = amazing)!

  3. Meg, this is a great post. I agree that the issues in DC need to be addressed and an apology needs to be issued to you all. I am quite surprised that this has not happened!

    Would a communications plan post race have preserved their reputation? You betcha!

    Take for instance RNR Vegas. What a freaking nightmare. Too many runners, not enough space, safety issues, water issues, sick people, no emergency staff, etc etc etc.

    The running world put Competitor on blast. How did they handle it? An apology was issued before I could even blink my eyes. They acknowledged the problems, apologized, and then offered a deep discount on the next race plus a promised incentive to run in 2012. I was cool with that. Did Vegas suck? YES. But am I over it? Yes, because of how they handled it. If it didn’t go down that way I would be ticked. Any boycotting all future RNR races. No doubt!

    RAM may want to consider doing the same. It speaks volumes to admit what went wrong and correct it. The running community is a very forgiving group 🙂

    • I remember hearing lots of bad things about RNR Vegas, but then also saw the apology note and discount on future races. Those are good ways for Competitor to repair its relationship and try to prove, “Hey, we messed up but we promise our events are usually much better – come try again at this discounted rate!”

      Even though RAM Racing did issue an apology, it wasn’t until much later after the company went radio-silent in the hours following the race. As you said, the company made no move to compensate runners (a discount, donating more of the profits to charity, partnering with a sponsor to give free/discounted product, etc.). It just leaves such a bad impression of the company…

    • How this situation could have been handled better starts with before and during the race: the team could have better communicated the issues leading to the delayed start – traffic, congestion, parking, course interference. This should have been done across all social channels and on-site at the start line.

      After the race, the team should have immediately sent an email to all registrants apologizing for the severely delayed start and shared that a more detailed description and apology would be coming soon. Additionally, a post should have gone out on Twitter and Facebook. Negative comments should NOT have been deleted.

      The formal apology letter should have been finalized and sent within 2-3 hours rather than almost 24 hours later. A couple hours is enough time for what I’m sure were necessary legal approvals.

      Within a week, another correspondence should have been sent soliciting feedback from race participants. This feedback should have been taken into serious consideration and then the team should have shared which pieces of feedback it would be considering for the next event.

      Also, I would have liked to have seen a dinner with influential runners from the D.C. community (both those online and offline) where more information could have been shared.

      I’m sure there are a lot of other tactics I’m missing, but these are the ones that are top-of-mind.

      Thanks for your comment!

  4. See the current Hot Chocolate Facebook page. A similar disaster unfolding with packet pickup in Chicago. From a PR standpoint, what do you think?

  5. Wish I could get my registration fee back, and the only reason I registered for this run is because its charity is Ronald McDonald House. Very disappointed to learn that only a very small portion goes to the charity. Will do more research next time and be wary of RAM. Thanks for the info.

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