CAMPAIGN: Fur Ball secures a grand opening for SPCA's new facility

PR Team: Richmond SPCA and Slay PR (Richmond, VA) Campaign: Celebrating the Fur Ball Time Frame: September-October 2002 Budget: $35,000

PR Team: Richmond SPCA and Slay PR (Richmond, VA) Campaign: Celebrating the Fur Ball Time Frame: September-October 2002 Budget: $35,000

The Richmond SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) has long been a champion of rescuing homeless animals. Widely recognized as a national leader in humane care and education, the nonprofit group saves nearly 5,000 homeless animals each year. While the SPCA continues those efforts, its ultimate goal has been to create a no-kill community - a shelter where animals aren't euthanized simply due to a lack of space. To advance that lofty effort, the SPCA visited the US' top animal shelters to learn what's worked for similar groups. After three years of diligent research and planning, the SPCA opened the 64,000-square-foot Robins-Starr Humane Center on October 19, 2002. With canine living rooms, individual walk-in adoption rooms, a jogging track, a top-notch spay/neuter clinic, and an advanced air-exchange system that generates fresh air throughout the center every six minutes, Robins-Starr has quickly earned a reputation as the most innovative, state-of-the-art facility of its kind. Strategy Such an operation, particularly for a nonprofit group, requires serious financial support, both locally and nationally. As impressive as the new facility is, the SPCA needed to get the word out about its mission. "Our biggest challenge in pitching this," says Leslie Griles, senior counselor at Slay, "was to fully illustrate everything the center had to offer without most people being able to see it." Tactics In a push to expand both awareness and fundraising sources, Slay sought media attention in at least 25 markets outside of Virginia. At the center of the effort was the "Fur Ball," a gala dinner/auction fundraiser, held in conjunction with the opening, where guests brought their furry friends dressed in their black-tie best. Slay created and distributed a b-roll VNR that featured images of the animals dressed in tuxedos and dresses to whet the media's appetite. The VNR then went on to highlight the $7 million facility's various unique offerings in an effort to augment the "adorable" angle with impressive innovation. "Nothing can replace actually seeing the facility," Griles admits. "Conveying the size, magnitude, functionality, and aesthetics of the humane center couldn't do it justice." As such, great effort went into inviting as many media members as possible to tour Robins-Starr, with specific focus placed on targeting nearby, nationally prominent outlets like The Washington Post and USA Today. Results The VNR was used more than 80 times over a five-day period and in more than 40 markets nationwide, including seven of the top 20. Outlets covering the opening included CNN Headline News, CBS' The Early Show, Fox News Channel, and KTTV-LA. In addition, Slay's efforts to entice USA Today and The Washington Post to tour the center resulted in both running features. Southern Living is also planning an extensive piece on the facility in the near future. Donations to the Richmond SPCA increased markedly. In the immediate weeks following the VNR broadcasts, the organization collected in excess of $390,000 in donations, compared to $245,000 pulled in the previous year. Perhaps the highest compliment was paid by Ed Sayres, president of the San Francisco SPCA, whose shelter Robins-Starr is most closely modeled after. After visiting the facility, Sayres gushed at how the Richmond SPCA was an unrivaled world-class humane center. Sayres' sentiments were echoed locally and nationally. In fact, while some initially questioned the appropriateness of such lavish care for animals, Slay's efforts quelled nearly all of the skepticism. Moreover, Griles foresees many cities following Richmond's lead in creating similar centers. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has already expressed serious interest in mirroring Robins-Starr, notes Griles. Future The Richmond SPCA will continue to use the VNR, video clips, and the media coverage it has gained thus far to promote the facility and its fundraising goals. Moreover, Griles is confident that the SPCA's goal of transforming Richmond into a no-kill community by 2008 is well within reach.

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