How we make sure our Great North Run coverage is a real winner

Thousands of runners with thousands of stories to tell. The UK’s largest half-marathon the Great North Run saw a record-breaking 43,600 people cross the finish line — but what goes into making sure the event is comprehensively covered in the local media?BehindLocalNews spoke to the senior editorial team at ChronicleLive in Newcastle to see how they prepare for such an event, how they keep thinking of fresh ideas each year, and why the event is such a huge hit with their readers, in print, online and on social media.

What an amazing sight as runners stream through the city

The Great North Run is huge and we know how important it is to be at forefront of its coverage, both in terms of informational content such as where to park, timings, where to eat/drink alongside compelling live updates on the day as reporters and photographers on the ground feed back interviews, pictures and video for a live blog.

There are so many fantastic reasons people love the Great North Run and that is why we love covering it. It is always our aim to give people the very best information so that if they are taking part their day can go smoothly and for those not taking part, they can spot friends, family or feel part of the occasion through our live updates. The hundreds of thousands of page views we receive to Great North Run stories and the extra newspaper sales created by including runners results and picture-led supplements every year prove we must be doing something right.

This year, ChronicleLive learned from successful coverage of a three-day weekend of Ed Sheeran dates at St James’ Park in June, and chose to run a single live blog throughout Great North Run weekend.

Previously we’d run separate Saturday and Sunday blogs focusing on the events specific to those days, but with Sheeran we had a single blog that housed all our advance content as well as the responsive socially sourced/trending stories which emerged as the gigs took place. This worked very well for recirculation.

Having a single blog improved our year-on-year performance, achieving 45,000 page views compared to last year’s 25,000. It worked very well for recirculation, peaking on the day at around 35%.

Below is the timeline we follow when preparing for the Great North Run plus some learnings from the day of the 2018 race.

Two months to race day:

  • Planning meeting
  • Look back at successes of last year — do we do the same? Or freshen it up? This year instead of covering individual charity runners, which have struggled to drive audience previously, we did a list of inspirational stories to go out on social after the run aiming at achieving high impact status
  • Review top-performing content from search to decide priorities for advance content and republishing
  • Review Google rank of hero article and other content targeting key search terms e.g. road closures; start regular republishing plan
  • Attention to detail of the topic page — are the dates correct, is it up-to-date for the current year?
  • Discuss and commission new content ideas for this year
  • Brief commercial team in case of local sponsorship opportunities
  • Assess what new tools are available to us — Facebook Lives, Instagram Stories, 360 images/lives, Shorthand tool

One month to race day:

  • Flesh out detailed SEO plan and start active republishing of key content; seek advice from SEO team centrally to see if there’s anything missing
  • Set up a spreadsheet of content headlines, URLs, when to republish, when to tweet/Facebook, which stories will be pushed to app users and when
  • Ensure explainer videos are updated for current year in captions etc
  • Ensure grid is updated with key pieces targeting search terms
  • Arrange media accreditation
  • Shifts on the day — who will be where and when

Two weeks to race day:

  • Ensure the republishing strategy is working — check Google trends and also check to see how stories are ranking in Google

One week to race day:

  • Daily republishing of key content
  • Active linking strategy for hero article and topic page in news lines
  • Check news lines are appearing in Google News URL
  • Check (and recheck!) all accreditations are in place
  • Set up live blog with intro linking to all key breakout SEO content

24 hours until…

  • Republish key SEO content morning and again late evening
  • Check key pieces are all correct and up-to-date in terms of links, grids etc
  • Desk key content on homepage and queue up early social


  • Republish key SEO content first thing, two hours before the main spike in on-day GNR traffic (this meant a 6am start!) with particular focus on the informational content runners need before the race, e.g. assembly zones, start time
  • Social and push to app users key pieces during important 7–9am spike
  • Ensure blog is performing well for recirculation — aim to keep above 10%
  • Ensure blog headline is regularly changed to tap into search trends, e.g. we headlined early doors around road closures and Metros but then changed to include ‘Mo Farah leads’ once elite men’s race started
  • Focus on social posts which engage, e.g. we used emojis and a celebratory sell around Mo Farah winning and achieved a post that performed 30 times better than our average, according to Crowdtangle
  • Be video-led with breakouts — it’s the key moments which engage, such as the footage from the Red Arrows cockpit which had our best conversion rate
  • Think shareable for the evening — wrap-ups saying “Thousands of runners turn out to support the Great North Run” are dated and dull. Instead we capitalised on talking points and the killer pictures by creating Five unforgettable moments from the Great North Run which this year led off, at the suggestion of the reporter who wrote it, on the Great North rainbow that appeared in the sky at the start of the race
  • Pictures are a high impact opportunity: we put a lot of work into a bumper 130+ picture gallery sold ‘can you spot yourself running’ as we knew this would perform well. It achieved 13,000 page views and three minutes of average engaged time and was shared on Facebook at 6pm to target tired, exhilarated runners getting home

A few other tips from the day itself from Senior Editor Helen Dalby, who oversaw ChronicleLive’s coverage from the office on Sunday.

ChronicleLive editor Helen Dalby

“Check Google Trends throughout — it’s so useful. If you search it for your key phrase e.g. “great north run” it will give you suggested related terms people are searching for. We got Scarlett Moffatt and other celeb lines from this which became some of our best-performing breakouts.

“Also, it sounds obvious, but watch the live TV broadcast in the office — this can be a fertile source of SEO opportunities and talking points, just like with a football game.

“For example, when the broadcast touched on Alice Ruggles’ parents running the race in her memory, there was an immediate spike in search for her name. Soon after, our hero article on the murder trial peaked at 350 concurrents — we were quickly able to check its SEO and linking strategy to capitalise.

“We time publication of our ‘when is the Great North Run 2019’ piece to come before the date is said on the TV broadcast — this always creates a search spike.

“We got a new idea from monitoring Chartbeat: as the winner of the women’s elite race was confirmed, we noticed a story spiking from 2017 which was a review of the Great North Run in numbers, but had a reference to prize money in the headline, with all the traffic coming from search.

“Instinct kicked in as to why, and we quickly turned around a piece answering the question of how much the winning athletes are paid. It did 11,000 page views, much of that from search but it also worked on Facebook as it was a question people were asking and so was shareable.

“Finally, when you’re leading your website all day with the same blog, it’s SO important to keep it looking fresh and images are vital here.

“The Great North Run is an unforgiving event if you’re using file pics — if it was bright blue sky in 2017 but is cloudy this year, your site immediately looks dated.

“We started early Sunday with stock pictures from last year, obviously, but we’d briefed our photographers to get fresh pics back via WhatsApp asap so we could swap these out for 2018 imagery as soon as possible.

“We then used Canva to create montage pics using images of what the best trend was as the day progressed — so Mo Farah winning through to the Red Arrows through to happy finish line photos.”

The Red Arrows overhead

Covering the Great North Run as well as we do is a big source of pride in our newsroom — there’s a definite buzz and sense of ‘it’s that day again’ as well as a desire to better our previous efforts.

It’s also worth saying that we’ve built a great relationship over the years with the Great Run Company, who are fantastic in terms of giving us access and key information such as the 2019 date in advance.

Part of our cultivation of this relationship is to have an annual review meeting in winter and this is always a helpful starting point to look ahead — and focuses our mind on getting our content organised. You really can’t start too early!



The stories behind the stories, from the regional press in the UK

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