Campaigns: Panda-monium in San Diego

Client: San Diego Zoo (San Diego, CA)

PR Team: In-house (San Diego, CA) and Nuffer Smith Tucker PR (San Diego, CA)

Campaign: Happy Birthday Hua Mei

Time Frame: Aug. 1-21, 2000

Budget: less than dollars 5,000 (external PR).

As the first birthday of baby panda Hua Mei approached, the San Diego Zoo's internal PR staff decided to exploit media interest and deliver a broader message. 'Hua Mei was only going to be a baby for a short time,' says Ted Molter, the zoo's associate PR director. 'So we used the panda to garner a lot of attention for all the conservation efforts done by zoos around the world.'


The August 21 birthday event was the culmination of a year-long effort to keep both the media and the public involved in Hua Mei's survival.

Since her birth, the zoo's five-person PR team had issued daily Hua Mei bulletins to 100 media outlets.

The zoo also set up 'panda-cam,' a live streaming video on its Web site ( As interest in Hua Mei mounted, traffic grew from 800,000 page views a month to six million by January.

Pacific Bell helped by donating dollars 2 million for the zoo's Giant Panda Research Facility. The zoo arranged for the panda to be presented with bamboo cake and worked with the San Diego City Council to have August 21 declared Hua Mei Day. Local residents were encouraged to wear black and white and honk their horns at noon, the approximate time of the panda's birth.

Finally the zoo turned to local PR firm Nuffer, Smith Tucker, to craft a campaign for the area's huge Spanish-speaking population.


The in-house team alerted the media several weeks before the celebration by sending out both paper and electronic press kits, which contained background on the panda and the zoo's conservation effort. The releases stressed that surviving the first year is an important - and fairly rare - milestone for any panda born in captivity. The hook for TV news outlets was that this was the first time outside cameras were being allowed into the panda exhibit.

Nuffer, Smith Tucker's Arie Ellstein began pitching Latin media. Ellstein said that while most Hispanic journalists in the area are bilingual, 'Many members of the Latin press are more comfortable speaking Spanish,' a fact that made the story easier to sell.

In order to avoid overwhelming the Hispanic media, a separate, invitation-only event was set up four days before the birthday. Ellstein also gave the official August 21 event a Latin flavor by working with the Mexican consulate to recruit school children to serenade Hua Mei in Spanish.


Television coverage of Hua Mei's birthday was extensive both on a local level, where the six English language TV stations were joined by TV Azteca and other Spanish stations, and nationally with Today and Good Morning America, which covered the event live. The San Diego Union-Tribune contributed a special section devoted to Hua Mei, as well as a front-page story that was combined with an Associated Press piece and sent to papers across the country. The Los Angeles Times ran a story, while The New York Times did a follow-up feature in early September. Hispanic print coverage included El Informador, El Sol de San Diego, Frontera (Tijiuana) and El Heraldo de Baja California.


The zoo is phasing out updates to journalists but will continue the panda-cam. Ellstein says the event triggered renewed interest from the Spanish-speaking media, and Frontera is working on a profile of Hispanics who work at the zoo.

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