Jon Scott of Maxwell Medals and Awards delivers great insight about how events can keep their medal offerings fresh year after year, and how the medal game has changed in the company’s four decades
The race medal has become symbolic of the effort runners put into training and competing in any road race. Runner surveys indicate that many participants are motivated by the medal they’ll receive after crossing the finish line – according to the Running USA National Runner Survey (2017), 49 percent of race participants say that the medal or memento they’ll receive is a factor in determining which events they enter.
With that in mind, the bar is high for race directors and decision makers to keep medal designs fresh and fun. We recently caught up with Jon Scott, Sales Manager for Maxwell Medals & Awards, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Providing medals for major marathons like New York City, LA, Houston and many more, Maxwell has a strong reputation in the industry.
We learned a lot from Scott – including how the medal business has transformed in the last 20 years and how Cap’n Crunch cereal can inspire your next round of medal planning – and suspect you will too. But what you won’t hear much about is how Maxwell is celebrating four decades in business.
“In typical Maxwell fashion, we will celebrate internally without much flash or fanfare,” says Scott, who has been with Maxwell since 1995. “Our humble roots keep us focused on our clients, and not spending much time tooting our horns or loudly announcing milestones.”
Luckily he’s more outspoken about what’s trending in the medal world. Read on for a deep dive into the word of race medals with Jon Scott:
You’re celebrating 40 years in business this year – congratulations! What qualities do you think have made Maxwell Medals successful over the last 40 years?
Scott: Well, quality, service, and price are the pat answers you’re going to get from anybody you ask. While those are all true of Maxwell, what I believe really makes the difference at Maxwell is our corporate culture. Forty years later, Maxwell is still owned by the original founder, Sharon Janis-Rochford, so we are truly still guided by our founding principles of honesty, integrity, and treating our customers, vendors, and employees with care and respect.
We believe the biggest benefit we can pass along to our customers is to make sure that we maintain a culture within our company that attracts and retains the type of quality people that will in turn exemplify and execute our core values when dealing with our customers. Two thirds of our employees have been with Maxwell for more than a decade, with a couple of those beyond the 30 years of service mark and a few others who retired within the last few years after 30+ year careers.
This type of stability means that our people are happy with their jobs, experienced and knowledgeable, and know their customers like old friends. This all makes the experience of ordering a custom product, which could otherwise be a painful, laborious process, is instead easy, pleasant, and stress free.
People in the endurance market have grown accustomed to seeing Michael Foster and me at the RUSA Conference, RRM Conference, and various events since Michael joined the company in 2004, after having already established himself as a trusted figure within the industry. In 2016, Jennifer Hazard, after having spent the better part of a decade earning a reputation in the endurance industry for her commitment to her customers and relationship building, joined the Maxwell team in no small part because of our reputation for honesty, integrity, and trustworthiness.
While there has been so much changeover within the industry recently, people value the stability of Maxwell and the quality which that experience breeds. The fact that we have such high-quality people throughout our company teaming with vendors we have partnered with for more than 20 years is why we are the trusted medal supplier of so many large, prestigious running events in the U.S. like the New York City Marathon, LA Marathon, Twin Cities Marathon, Houston Marathon, Pittsburgh Marathon, Gasparilla Distance Classic, and many others.
What are some of the most unique medal types you’ve created recently?
Scott: The current trend in the running industry is challenges and series events. Race Directors want medals that will interlock or group together with magnets to create a single scene or congruent medal design. We just did a five-piece combination medal for a New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day event fastened together with magnets to replicate a New Year’s clock. The medal received rave reviews from the runners and was a big hit when we displayed it at the Running USA Conference in Austin this year.
I’ve been with Maxwell since 1995 and have witnessed firsthand how medals have evolved over time. They transitioned from something once considered a bit of a necessary commodity to handout as finisher medals, usually at just the marathon distance, to an integral part of the marketing and draw to grow any event, whether it is a 5K, 10K, Marathon, or a dog walk.
Maxwell has been the leader in that evolution and a pioneer in why medals look the way they do today. From our breakthrough design of the now iconic Flying Pig Marathon medal in 1999, to the introduction of multiple colors in a medal, to the sublimated ribbon at the Chicago Marathon in 2007, to translucent fill in the 2009 Austin Marathon medal, Maxwell has driven the trends in medal design that have been copied throughout the industry.
Today, we are making complex medals that have multiple moving parts, hinges and spinners, but my favorite style is still a classic medal with extra thickness and bevels and sculpting with a classy finish.
How often do you think events need to change up their medal design to stay fresh?
Scott: It really depends on your marketing and branding — and frankly, how good your current medal is. Some events have icons associated with them that just shouldn’t ever be changed, and runners will run that race because they want that medal hanging from their rack. The Flying Pig Marathon needs to always have that big fat pig on it with the big fat pig butt on the back. The Mercedes Marathon medal should always feature the Mercedes symbol.
Sometimes we help a race come up with a great design/medal that everyone just loves, and the Race Director will say to me, “Jon that medal was the best we’ve ever had…how are we going to top it next year?” Well, that can be a tough task. Maybe we don’t top it, we just tweak it. For instance, that was pretty much the case when we redesigned the Detroit Marathon medal in 2009. It had all the icons of the motor city, including a classic car. So, for the next few years, we kept the same design but featured a different car, which helped the race land a sponsorship deal with the Detroit area Chevy dealers association.
My best piece of advice to race directors is to stay away from focusing on corporate looking logos in their medal designs, whenever possible. I understand how necessary corporate sponsorships are, but that is not what runners want on their medal. A better place for that might be the ribbon. If you don’t have a fun element like a pig or a pirate in your branding, feature a local flavor to your medal like the city skyline if you are a big city race or a singular iconic structure in the town or a cool old windmill that runners will pass on the course. And if you want to change things from year to year, do a series of medals featuring different points of interest along the course or in the area. And if you promote it as a series, it will help with runner retention as runners come back to your race each year to collect the whole set…kind of like how they lured you in with the prizes in the Cap’n Crunch box when you were a kid. Actually, I still love Cap’n Crunch!
For clients who are trying to keep costs down, what do you suggest as ways to be savvy and save when it comes to awards?
Scott: The key here is time. This isn’t college, so do your homework early instead of procrastinating until the last minute. You’ve got the syllabus a year ahead of time, so you know what day the test (your event) is going to be far in advance. It’s no secret that many finisher medals are produced in China, so start working on your design six months in advance of your race.
Order a reasonable, safe number of medals 16 weeks in advance so that they can be imported on the proverbial slow boat from China because it is much cheaper than if you must fly them in and that way you have left plenty of time to overcome any type of customs or shipping delays. Then, if your numbers are surging and you feel like you need to add more medals about four weeks out from your event, you still have the option to fly them in. This will cost more, but at least you are then only flying in a smaller quantity of medals rather than the whole shipment.
Anything else you would like to add?
Scott: We would like to congratulate all the running events this year, whether you are celebrating a landmark anniversary, or this is your first year hosting your event. Because of your dedication to this sport and hard work, I believe we are making a difference in people’s lives. To the runners it is more than a race and a medal, for many it is a true celebration of living life to the fullest.
Looking forward, Maxwell Medals & Awards is committed to build upon our success of the past 40 years by continuing to provide race directors and their participants with the very best medals and awards in the Endurance market.