in march 2006, mm/c was hired to increase awareness and drive traffic to zoo new england’s franklin park zoo and stone zoo. with a minimal budget, limited resources and less than three months time, mm/c succeeded in securing over 3.5 million gross impressions, more than $250,000 in editorial value and over $250,000 worth of pro bono marketing services.
mm/c began working with Zoo New England (ZNE), the private, non-profit corporation that operates Franklin Park Zoo (FPZ) and Stone Zoo (SZ), in March 2006. We quickly learned that many New Englanders had never been to either Zoo, and an alarming number of residents didn’t even know we had one! Further, as we began outreach to local papers, response to most events at either Zoo was often, “If it’s not in my town, I don’t care.” As such, our ongoing goal as the agency-of-record for ZNE is to increase awareness and drive attendance at both Zoos, as well as position its flagship Franklin Park Zoo as a top New England family destination.
When we were hired as agency-of-record, it was less than three months before the start of the summer season. At that time, FPZ had planned to make their big summer news the January arrival of two tiger cubs and their newly built exhibit. The Zoo’s limited marketing budget required that editorial coverage strongly complement the minimal ad buy in order to truly make an impact. Though tigers are beautiful and interesting animals, we did not feel a sole focus on the tigers would allow us to achieve this objective.
Faced with the prospect of promoting the Zoo’s key season less than three months out, yet still not convinced that tiger cubs would provide the path to success, we began by reevaluating the season’s focus. Reviewing the state of both zoos, we quickly realized that baby animals were everywhere. In addition to the tiger cubs at FPZ, we had a 1.5 year-old gorilla, a four-month giraffe, an ocelot cub, and a zebra and a kangaroo still in utero. In addition, at SZ, three jaguar cubs were about to be born. Once we helped our client step back and review the options, it became evident to all that this plethora of baby births was most newsworthy. We recommended a summer marketing campaign packaged around babies for more a more powerful, effective impact than one based solely on two tiger cubs. Further, this positioning would allow us to begin the long process of educating New Englanders about the relevance of zoos as places for population management, species preservation and conservation.
Our first step was scheduling a photo shoot. Our goal was to achieve images that anthropomorphize animal behavior, allowing humans to connect. The image we secured of a mother gorilla breastfeeding her baby said more than any copy ever could.
For the season’s advertising program, we oversaw the creation and placement of baby-themed ads for print and radio. We recommended a sidewalk art campaign featuring baby animals strategically placed throughout the city, and negotiated various complimentary ad relationships on behalf of our non-profit client.
But we knew our minimal ad dollars weren’t enough to achieve the market penetration we needed. And, although we were confident in our ability to secure editorial coverage for what we coined “The Baby Season,” we also knew it was most important to generate coverage at the beginning of the season, in order to drive attendance and create word-of-mouth buzz to maintain high visitorship throughout the summer months. To guarantee that the media worked around our schedule, we created an event called “The Baby Shower.” This approach gave our event — and, as a result, our season — a timeliness we wouldn’t have otherwise achieved. For the event, held in mid-June, we created a number of important elements:
A Human Connection: We researched and brought in the Massachusetts Children Trust Fund (MCTF), another Massachusetts charity, to serve as our partner. We offered discounted Zoo admission on the day of the event in exchange for the donation of baby essentials (diapers, pacifiers, wipes, etc.). All items were donated to the MCTF, who distributed them to needy families throughout the Commonwealth. Doing this as part of The Baby Shower not only provided tangible help for people in need, but also reinforced the connection between human and animal families.
Broad Outreach: By partnering with a charity whose outreach targets families and spans the entire state, we were able to spread the word and position FPZ as a reasonably priced regional family destination. In addition, it provided another reason for community newspapers, who normally refuse to cover events outside of their towns, to cover our event — as MCTF benefits their community, too. The charity tie assisted us in strengthening our message, allowing us to reach a huge potential audience.
Sponsors: By bringing on sponsors whose targeted demographic is the same as the Zoos’, we were able to create mutually beneficial relationships. For example, Babies ‘R Us donated five Pack ’n Plays, which we used to collect the donated baby items. In addition, they promoted the event in all of their Massachusetts stores.
Fun Activities: To differentiate the day from other FPZ events, we created an afternoon of kid-friendly activities designed to attract families and reinforce the baby theme. These included on-site ReadBoston Storymobile volunteers reading animal-themed stories, animal movies shown in the Hippo Theatre, a “Guess the Number of Jelly Beans” contest featuring jelly beans in an oversized baby bottle, face painting, games and music with Radio Disney, chalk drawing, baby gymnastics and complimentary cupcakes that we secured courtesy of Shaw’s.
As part of the Zoo’s summer ad buy with Mix 98.5, we negotiated for the station to help promote the event and send their Street Team, including morning-show personality Kelly Malone, to greet visitors.
Collateral Materials: An ongoing goal at both Zoos is to sell family memberships and increase the number of cross-visitors. Further, in order to create an emotional connection with visitors, it’s important to provide as much “humanizing” information about the animals as we can. As such, we designed a slim jim piece that achieved both of these needs.
Our strategic guidance and direction resulted in a complete 180 for our client, and created the overarching theme from which the Zoo’s entire seasonal marketing strategy followed. In addition to securing more than 3.5 million impressions and more than $250,000 in advertising value, we leveraged our relationships to secure an impressive amount of pro bono products and services:
Most importantly, our work substantially impacted our client’s bottom line: both on the day of The Baby Shower, where we increased day-of attendance by over 1,500 people, as well as throughout the summer season.
In addition to demonstrating strong insight into what’s considered newsworthy and how to package it, our ability to create strategic relationships and quickly develop events allowed us to successfully execute a completely integrated marketing effort. 2006 was the first season that both Zoos began experiencing increased visitorship and membership — a growth that continues on today.