Chicago press sees circus' animal care

CHICAGO: The Ringling Bros. circus was able to capture major Chicago media attention recently for something a bit more serious than its three rings of entertainment.

CHICAGO: The Ringling Bros. circus was able to capture major Chicago media attention recently for something a bit more serious than its three rings of entertainment.

On November 5, the Chicago Sun-Times covered the circus' efforts to combat anti-circus PR from PETA. Ringling parent company Feld Entertainment invited 200 media professionals in Chicago for a behind-the-scenes look at the circus to show how it cares for its animals. The circus also discussed efforts it makes to distribute literature to circus-goers about its animal-handling techniques.

While Feld has mounted the PETA-response campaign for some time, the Chicago coverage marked the first time it gained media attention for it, said Mark Riddell, national director of public relations at Feld in Vienna, VA. Bringing reporters behind the scenes may have been a factor, Riddell said.

"We want to get out there. We have a great story to tell," he said. "We are trying to actively make media aware that [PETA's charge] is old information being hawked."

PETA maintains a website, www.circuses.com, where it accuses circus operators of cruelty toward their animals. PETA reps often show up at performances and distribute literature to attendees, Riddell said.

Feld decided to answer such charges with its own PR efforts. "Clearly, we want to educate people," said Riddell. "The campaign that's out there against us would paint a very different picture from reality."

Riddell said the circus will invite media representatives behind the scenes in other cities it visits. The circus routinely sends out information to local media on its animal-handling practices about a month to six weeks before it visits a new locale, he said.

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