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Edinburgh Marathon PR: When Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

There are a lot of things-you-remember-about-the-1970s quizzes going round on Facebook at the moment, and I’m sure the title of this post was the answer to one of them.

It is of course not only a 1976 song by Elton John but also a problem faced by many organisations which find themselves in the middle of a media furore/PR disaster.

So, as a PR experienced in advising clients how to put their best foot forward in the midst of a crisis, and a runner who took part in the Edinburgh Marathon both this year and last, I have watched with interest the storm-in-a-teacup surrounding Sunday 25 May’s event.

Edinburgh Marathon PR was challenging in 2014.

Ian Sawyer (left) and David Sawyer after the Edinburgh Marathon 2013.

Fact: the event organisers decided NOT to publish the full results of the Edinburgh Marathon, anywhere. Fact: participants could find out their finishing (and split) times by logging on to the My Details section of the website, but only THEIR times; no-one else’s. Fact: this was not a new thing. Last year, the organisers followed the same policy, albeit (strangely) you could find out the top-10 finishers per age category. Fact: this is unusual. Every other race I can think of publishes full results. I remember observing in 2013 that this was a little strange. However, I was new to running then and assumed it was because the organisers did not want to reveal how many people took part in the showpiece marathon, as opposed to the four or so events that make up the two-day Edinburgh Marathon Festival. Their advertising centred on the claim that 30,000 took part in the festival. All the more strange this year, I thought, when I logged on to the My Details section on the night of the race and found I’d placed 115 out of 8620. My race report is here http://bit.ly/1l18BgR incidentally.

Whatever the reason for this policy (data protection was cited in media reports), the organisers clearly regret it now http://bit.ly/1hRZCdA

In a statement issued to media, posted on their website and emailed to all participants, they state, in summary: “We’ve listened, and we got it wrong.” They apologise unreservedly, a whole-hearted mea culpa. And it comes from the head honcho, race director Neil Kilgour, who I happen to know is a top bloke who puts 100 per cent effort and commitment into organising his events (a real shame that this has taken the shine off an excellent day out).

Now, I know from experience that apologising is a difficult thing to do. After all, no undue suffering has been caused here. Granted, I would like to have had the ability to go on to the event website to see how well (or badly) running friends of mine had done…that’s all part of the fun of racing. But it’s not a matter of life and death. These are First World problems and, having decided to try and weather the media storm, I can see how a chain of events has occurred so it’s eight days after the race proper before a u-turn and apology have been forthcoming.

However, offending the running community, venting their spleen on social media once traditional media had printed the original story, is not a good idea. And while it’s great an apology and policy change has been forthcoming, I can bet my bottom dollar that the event organisers now wish they’d done it sooner.

It just goes to show that even in storms in a teacup like this one, admitting you’re wrong is a slow process. Sorry really is the hardest word. And while in the Edinburgh Marathon’s case it’s better late than never, early would have been better still.

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