CAMPAIGNS: Zoo considers its nearby neighbors in expansion push

PR Team: Woodland Park Zoo (Seattle) Campaign: Zoo Evolution Time Frame: January 2003 - ongoing Budget: $125,000 annually

PR Team: Woodland Park Zoo (Seattle) Campaign: Zoo Evolution Time Frame: January 2003 - ongoing Budget: $125,000 annually

The mother of all modern zoos is the pride of Seattle. Other zoos had tried to provide more natural stimuli for animals in their enclosures, but the Woodland Park Zoo (WPZ), say its managers, was not only the first to take animals out of cages and put them into naturalistic habitats, it also immersed humans in the environment that the revolutionary concept created in 1976. What makes the WPZ different, says Mimi Haley, communications and marketing director, is that "it puts mixed species of animals within zones. So visitors to the tundra tiger zone, for example, will see mountain goats, elk, gray wolves, brown bears, and others, all at the same time, separated by moats. It's a microcosm of the real bioclimatic zone where those species live." With a $22 million operating budget, the WPZ attracts about 1 million annual visitors, and expects 1.3 million by 2020. Every year, it gets $8 million each from the city and visitors, and the rest from donations. It takes in more than $600,000 from parking fees. But the zoo has been facing many PR challenges to generate revenue, ensure consistent messages to enhance its reputation, build community relations, improve internal communications, and inspire conservation. A major problem involves the ongoing fears of residential communities surrounding Woodland Park that the zoo's ambitious expansion plans will increase traffic and noise in their neighborhoods. A city hearings examiner agreed that the zoo's report on the environmental impact of its long-range plan was inadequate. Strategy In an effort to keep the WPZ as a family attraction, broaden its educational programs, and expand its outreach to the surrounding community, the zoo recently hired a team of six communications and marketing pros. Headed by Haley, the team has begun implementing a plan that, says WPZ PR consultant Renee Klein, "capitalizes on all the great things the zoo is known for, and promises new things." The challenge is to raise visitor numbers and, thereby, gate revenue, and generate favorable publicity to help fundraising. Tactics To achieve its goals, WPZ has transformed itself from a city-managed institution to a nonprofit, and is responding to its immediate neighbors' concerns. "Zoos really don't fit within anything else a city provides to its citizenry," says Klein. "Under city management, the zoo could not grow or thrive effectively, and it could not provide as much focus on its core mission of conservation and education. "Now, under day-to-day management of the nonprofit Woodland Park Zoo Society, it is free to grow without having to compete for other essential services provided by a city," Klein adds. To help cover increasing operating costs, the zoo has introduced several new facilities, such as an event center and carousel, and has scheduled a series of activities to attract visitors. In July, there was a "Jungle Party," at which the city's "largest outdoor auction," according to the zoo, raised $1.1 million. One raffle buyer won a pair of Rolex watches donated by a local jeweler. That same week, an outdoor concert was held featuring Roseanne Cash and Iris Dement. A raft of similar events is in the works, notes Haley. Results Although it is too early to judge whether the improvements in the zoo's beauty and its efforts to assuage nearby residents will be successful, Haley is optimistic. "The hearing examiner asked us for a more robust alternative to our proposed plan," says Haley. "That required an entire reorientation of the document. We've just released it, and it's currently in the 30-day comment period ending August 15. We'll have a public hearing August 7." Future The drive will regularly add features to make the WPZ unique, while continuing to reach out to the surrounding community in ways to offset the incursions caused by its existence.

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