10th Jun 2019
Cape Town Carnival
7th Jun 2019


The Sanlam Cape Town Marathon (SCTM) is Africa’s only IAAF Gold Label marathon. Since its relaunch under a new rights agreement with Western Province Athletics five years ago, it has cemented itself as the continent’s must-run city marathon. The ambition is for it to become a member of the illustrious World Marathon Majors, the largest and most renowned marathons in the world.

Transform was approached to handle its PR in 2014 on the eve of its relaunch. The PR mandate was to alert the market to and create excitement around the idea of a city marathon and its ‘must-run’ brand positioning, as well as have an impact on race entries, with the aim of becoming South Africa’s largest running event.

The mandate has remained largely the same over the years, albeit adapted to focus on the marathon’s international credibility (IAAF classification and elite athlete participation), its green credentials, and its massive social-upliftment capability.

Transform’s approach through this five-year relationship has been simple: solid strategy; nimble and effective client service, informed and topical content, and target-driven publicity solicitation.

The SCTM continues to use Transform as its retained PR agency.

Return and impact

With an unchanged PR budget, the SCTM’s publicity value has grown by 140% over five years, achieving an astonishing R39,7 million in print, broadcast and online exposure in 2018. This excludes its social-media exposure value of R15,7 million, to which the agency contributed. More importantly, marathon entries for the 2018 event numbered 22 897, a 90% increase on 2014.

The significance of these values comes into sharper focus considering that:

  • PR’s value (excluding social media) accounted for 93% of the total media exposure for the 2018 event.
  • Despite an annual shrinkage in print media and a reduction in broadcast value, our PR and social-media value has grown. The marathon’s social-media platforms have seen an increase in numbers, and influencers (informal and contracted) and traditional media are using our content on their social-media platforms too.

Challenges and opportunities

The challenges that remain unchanged, and which define our annual strategy, are:

  • The lack of public understanding of what a ‘city marathon’ is.
  • The lack of understanding of what IAAF classification means to runners and how it affects them.
  • That IAAF classification is reassessed each year on a number of criteria, including media exposure.
  • How to successfully establish and build a good degree of credibility in a new sports brand, and what’s needed to position it among ultra-marathons and other city marathons.
  • How to generate public interest in the marathon’s sustainability engine and why it matters.
  • How to impact yearly entries and yield interest beyond the Western Cape into other provinces like Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

Research and insights

For the first two years, we did an annual market analysis to pinpoint what we’d need to address and leverage to formulate our strategy. In the years following, we used our increasing on-the-ground knowledge coupled with post-event assessment to design the strategies.

We established that:

  • Road running in general is thriving in events from 10km to the marathon, and the SCTM offers both a 10km and the 42km.
  • There’s have no real event opposition in September.
  • We needed to educate South Africans on why running a city marathon is taken so seriously – because it’s part of a global tradition, it has a significant economic, social and charitable impact on the metro, it’s a qualifier for other great marathons/sporting events, etc.
  • We needed to create a level of aspiration to give Cape Town a chance to claim its spot on the international marathon stage, as well as give South Africans an opportunity to run in a truly-world class marathon.
  • We needed to leverage the marathon’s big-name sponsors and partners as a means of building credibility through association and broadening the reach of our content.
  • We needed to profile the elite athlete pool in order to engender further international credibility.
  • We needed to leverage the growing interest in marathons as effective fundraising machines for charity.
  • We needed to publicise the SCTM’s impressive environmental credentials.


Allowing for a degree of adaptability from one year to the next, objectives that have remained more or less consistent are:

  • To achieve a publicity target, not in value, but rather in content pieces/opportunities.
  • To create a good degree of excitement around, and educate on the role and value of, the elite athlete field.
  • To educate the public on the participant, volunteer and spectator experiences.
  • To showcase the beauty of the route (culture, biodiversity, landmarks and tourism).
  • To generate interest in the marathon’s sustainability engine (health and wellness, charity, peace and development).
  • To stress the Africa, must-run, city marathon and IAAF positioning.


Transform’s strategy each year would be rolled out over seven months in the build-up to the springtime event. The agency’s Cape Town office became the SCTM’s media office over the build-up period, handling day-to-day media and influencer queries.

We placed great emphasis on the quality of our writing, and at least one release a month would be pitched (not issued), with the PR team undertaking follow-ups if needed to reach a publicity target; pitching entailed a motivation for spokesperson interviews.

We organised four press conferences (three in Cape Town, one in Johannesburg) in the build-up to the marathon; all were exceptionally well attended. They triggered a good degree of coverage, and content that worked well included major announcements, thought-leadership on topical issues, tips and insight, sponsor endorsements, monthly countdowns and results announcements on the race weekend.

Over the race weekend we provided blanket PR support, covering accreditation, briefing, media management, news alerts and results announcements, management of a large SABC TV and radio broadcast crew including presenters and reporters, results verification, and social-media posting and conversation management over three days.

We provided post-campaign reporting, with insights and recommendations.