Central Park uses its birthday to laud upkeep initiatives

PR team: Central Park Conservancy (New York) and Weber Shandwick

Campaign: Central Park's 150th anniversary

Time frame: April to December 2003

Budget: Less than $20,000, all expenses included

With a massive groundskeeping routine that includes a 24-hour graffiti watch and an even bigger ongoing restoration effort, taking care of Central Park's 843 acres is no mean task. It's not any easier keeping the effort - which is paid for by a combination of private and public dollars - on the radar screen of harried Manhattanites. But the park's 150th anniversary offered the chance to highlight the many things that go into making Central Park one of most cherished urban oases in the US.

With a PR campaign aimed at major local and national media outlets, the Central Park Conservancy, the private, nonprofit organization that manages the park, did just that. In the process, it was able to heighten awareness of just how the park raises money for upkeep.

Strategy

Planning for the campaign began in late 2002, with Weber Shandwick consulting on a pro bono basis. The focus was clear from the very beginning. "The theme was: This is a park for the people," says Linda Blumberg, VP of communications and marketing for the conservancy. "This is one of the most democratic places in the city. Everybody uses it."

To further emphasize that point, the anniversary story was to be pitched in as many ways as possible to grab the attention of as many people as possible, not just that of New Yorkers.

As a result, the media plan was designed to go beyond the Big Apple's daily newspapers and television newscasts to travel-oriented magazines and newspaper sections. In addition to celebrating the anniversary, the Conservancy wanted to hammer home how reliant it is on private funding to keep the park going.

"What people don't understand is that all of this takes money," Blumberg says. "They assume that their city tax dollars pay for it. However, they don't. Every single year we raise the money that it 0takes. And that was an important story for them because I don't think you can find a New Yorker who is going to be against Central Park."

Tactics

The campaign kicked off with an April 29 press conference and continued with an ongoing media relations program that included a celebrity outreach component. For that, the conservancy enlisted member actress Candice Bergen to do an interview with Today announcing the anniversary kickoff. Blumberg also organized before-and-after tours of the park in which she used old photographs of its formerly decrepit condition to display just how far it has come in its restoration.

"I can't say that this was the hardest sell I ever had. People like the park," Blumberg says. "They think we've done a great job. Getting them to focus on the less sexy parts of it was a challenge."

Results

In addition to every New York City newspaper, the conservancy's PR effort earned coverage in USA Today and on WNBC, which eventually became the conservancy's media partner. There were also articles by The Associated Press and Reuters that got the message to millions across the country.

The impact was clear: The conservancy originally expected about 90,000 guests for a party planned for July 19 - the park's 150th anniversary; 250,000 showed up.

Future

Blumberg and the conservancy staff are looking forward to the 25th anniversary of the conservancy in 2005, which, she says, will not be as big as the park's 150th birthday. However, she adds, it will likely coincide with the restoration of as much as 85% of the park.

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