Remember the song in the early 70’s titled “SIGNS” and sung by Five Man Electric Band?

“Sign Sign everywhere a sign,

Blocking out the scenery breaking my mind

Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign!”

I used to think the more signs (operational and functional signs, not sponsor signs) at an event, the better. However, throughout the years, I’ve come to realize more is not necessarily better, and it's not simply the number of signs but many other factors that come into play. 

Here is what you need to know…

  • First, you need to walk the venue and determine what you think your sign needs are. Pretend there are no directional volunteers and participants in your event never read your instructional material (which is usually the case!). How will participants know where to go and how to get there?
  • Do the same with your course – you’ll need signs at all the turns, mile marker signs and perhaps other informational signs such as “water station ahead” or “careful of the speed bumps ahead.” Inspirational signs are sometimes placed on the side of the road using U-frame wire holders. Directional signs are very important to both the front runners and the back-of-the-pack runners who may not be able to see and thus follow the person ahead of them. These signs also give all the runners a degree of comfort knowing they are on the right course.
  • Create a spreadsheet of all the signs you think you will need. Include the quantity of each sign, the size of each sign and exactly what will be written on each sign.
  • Determine what materials your signs will be made of. Most races are now using coroplast material. Coroplast is a corrugated plastic, twinwall, ploypropylene sheet treated to allow for high-quality graphic adhesion and is extremely durable and waterproof.
  • Banners – you also need to determine which signage should be larger and in the form of banner material. Banners are more easily seen but certainly cost more and are more difficult to place.  Banners (usually 3’ x 10”) are hung on tents (on poles extending above the tent) and of course used at the start and finish (double-sided,  3’ x 15’ or 18’ with wind holes cut).
  • The overall look and aesthetics should be of prime importance, too. Signs should never be handwritten on cardboard or paper and just slapped into place. The visual impression you give does leave an impact.
  • Keep the number of words written on any sign to a minimum. The more words on a sign, the less likely it will be read.
  • You need to have a plan in advance as to what your signs will be affixed to. If using either wooden stakes, use drywall screws. If using metal stakes, use zip ties to affix the sign. If using A-frame sandwich boards, signs are usually 24” x 18” or 24” x 36” and are affixed to the board with velcro strips. If possible, avoid using duct tape, as that can look messy.
  • Appoint a team whose sole responsibility is to handle the overall sign program, including setting them up and taking them down. I’ve seen many cases where plenty of signs have been ordered, but then race management became too busy on race day to put them all out.
  • If you don’t have to put a date on the sign, then don’t, so you can save and re-use them again the following year.
  • Be sensitive to the weather conditions on event day. Not only can signs easily blow away but they can also become a safety hazard.
  • Factor in what you have available in your budget to spend on signs. This is a line-item in the budget that can increase exponentially if you don’t stay on top of it. Don’t order what you don’t need.
  • If you have numerous tents set up within your venue, you should identify each one as to its function or purpose with signs or banners so participants can identify each tent from a distance.
  • When and where possible, signs should be placed high for greater visibility and line of sight.
  • Don’t just depend on signs to control and inform participants or spectators. You still need volunteers and public address announcements to support this overall effort.
  • You have to decide for yourself how much signage is enough. You don’t want too little but you don’t want to overwhelm with too much. Once you get the initial arrivals going in the right direction, generally everyone else simply follows and rarely even notices your signs.

Lastly, be sensitive as to what you want to say on a sign and how you say it. From the '70s hit: "...and the sign said anyone caught trespassing will be shot on site”. Now, that's a little harsh, but I'm sure you get the point!