How Runner’s World is Connecting with Audiences Like Never Before
Inside the 50-year-old brand's latest initiatives to reach all runners—wherever they may be.
For magazine brands, especially those that are enthusiast- or interest-driven in nature, the age-old, linear content distribution model has long been relegated to the past. Today, publishers must not only produce compelling content across more channels than ever before, but also foster a community of readers that promotes an interactive, two-way relationship.
Now more than three months into its 50th anniversary year, Runner's World is taking that mission to heart.
As part of a year-long initiative to commemorate the milestone, Runner's World, which reaches over 650,000 runners in print each month and millions more online, has announced a series of new launches aimed at immersing its audience with top-notch content, wherever they may be.
First, coinciding with today's Boston Marathon, two new podcasts have been launched. "The Runner's World Show," hosted by editor-in-chief David Willey, is a fast-moving, weekly show with features like a roundup of the biggest news in the running world and an interview with various figures in the community.
"I’ve wanted to start branded regular podcasts for awhile now, to be honest. I’m very excited that we’re finally doing it," Willey tells Folio:. "It’s not our first foray into the format, but these are definitely our first regular shows that will have a consistent cadence and lineup."
The second podcast, "Human Race," borrows its name from a regular section in the print magazine and will consist of a single, in-depth, long-form story, often spotlighting individuals and the compelling ways in which running has impacted their lives.
"Our first episode is about a guy who became a runner as he was in the process of getting an artificial heart," Willey continues. "We had never done that story in any form, in the magazine or on the website. I think over time, we will have an opportunity with certain stories to either re-report them in an audio format or produce some audio content in parallel with what we’re doing in the magazine."
Willey concedes that the simultaneous launch of two podcasts is an ambitious move, but one that the Runner's World audience will welcome with open arms. There's been a tipping point over the last few years, he says, and the idea of listening to something while running—music, audiobooks, podcasts—is becoming more widespread than ever before.
"Obviously, with technology and devices like iPhones, everyone is turning to mobile," adds Runner's World VP and publisher, Molly O'Keefe. "That’s important to our audience. They are mobile. They’re out there. They are taking podcasts on runs with them. It’s really a great fit and a touchpoint for us to reach our audience."
For Runner's World, the goal of being present wherever its readers are means more than just being in their earbuds and on their iPhones, it means being on the ground, running alongside them.
"The running space is really booming with live events," says Willey. "It’s an opportunity to be in person with our readers and strengthen the connection we have with them. It’s a chance to bring Runner's World to life in a really meaningful way and go through an experience with somebody, which is so powerful."
While live events, both branded and otherwise—from the largest marathons in New York and Boston to the smallest road races—have long made up a core component of Runner's World's coverage, the 50th anniversary celebration was an opportunity to launch something new: the Runner's World Classic, which will make its debut July 15–17 in Andover, MA.
"We were very careful to just not come out with something like, 'Here’s another half marathon.' We had no interest in doing that," Willey continues. "What we wanted to create was a weekend-long experience with multiple events. The idea is to have our event echo our brand mission, which is to be for all runners."
Far more than just a single race, the Runner's World Classic, produced in partnership with sports event management firm DMSE Sports, includes 5K and 10K races, a half-marathon, a kids race, a dog race, and a packed slate of other programming.
"In between all the actual racing there are seminars, editors are giving talks, we’re doing on-stage interviews with running celebrities. We have keynote speakers. There’s a huge dinner with the editors," Willey adds. "There’s all of this programming, which to me is content. One of the keys to the current media age that we’re all living in is that we all really need to have the broadest definition of content possible. We were very careful to create something that was unique, and really something that only Runner’s World could do."
Across every new launch planned by the 50-year-old Rodale Inc. brand, a common theme is maintaining consistent contact with the consumer, looking not only outside of Rodale's Emmuas, Pennsylvania offices, but outside of the traditional ways of doing things. Part of the celebration involves looking back at 50 years of Runner's World, highlighting some of the most compellingly told stories from the past and then showcasing them in a new, forward-looking way.
To accomplish it, Runner's World repurposed an entire office to combing through the brand's 50-year archive and pulling out a selection of the most impactful, well-written stories.
"We started with at least 75 or 80 stories and just read them all again, thought about the mix of profiles, inspirational stories of unknown runners, stories that were a little more heavily-reported, some that were just fantastically written," explains Willey.
Throughout the year, Runner's World is unveiling one story from the archive every Thursday on a dedicated channel, RW Selects, on the brand's website. Rodale developed a template in-house that's designed to provide a truly immersive experience, with rich, high-impact photography and a new, unobtrusive ad presentation.
"We’re not putting run of site ads on these stories," says O'Keefe. "So it’s a departure from what we’re doing with our website, but we really believe that the quality of our storytelling and the reputation of the brand would provide a premium and exclusive opportunity for a single sponsor to come in."
That single sponsor is Brooks Sports, a running shoes and apparel manufacturer which itself recently celebrated its own 100th anniversary.
"It’s not a typical ad unit," O'Keefe continues. "When you scroll over it, it opens in a unique way, it’s not at all intrusive and really complements the experience of the user. We’re excited about that because it’ll build out an exciting and unique ad format for us."
In the never-ending effort to find consumers wherever they may be, publishers large and small must be willing to both experiment with new tactics and reinvest in those that are tried and true. With more Americans taking up running than ever before—the number of female runners aged 35–44, for example, has jumped 83 percent in the last five years according to the National Sporting Goods Association—Runner's World's ability to remain nimble, with a constant ear to the ground, will only continue to benefit the brand as it looks to maintain an authoritative voice in an engaged and growing community.