Not too long ago I listened to Caroline Sanger-Davis, Director of Marketing at Chester Zoo, explain on a webinar the precautions they had been putting in place to allow for reopening under new social distancing guidelines. Shortly after, the news broke that The Zoo was told it would need to remain shut indefinitely, in an ongoing bid to tackle the outbreak of Covid-19.
This was news that came around the same time that non-essential retail stores prepared for reopening, and hotels, restaurants and pubs awaited an expected return date on the 4th July.
Unsurprisingly, the order that Chester Zoo, along with other popular conservation sites in the UK, must remain closed just didn’t sit right.
Where It Started: “Closed Indefinitely”…
It came as a shock to most when Chester Zoo recently announced that they had been instructed to remain closed, without a date for reopening in the near future. I, along with many others, had simply presumed they would be included in the “hospitality and leisure” functions that are being allowed to reopen, if all goes to plan, next month.
Fortunate to have acres of outdoors space, and big enough to allow for adequate social distancing, looking back was it ignorant to assume that Chester Zoo would be included in this group?
I guess this is why it came as a shock to so many when The Zoo was told it was not.
A Communications Case Study For The Ages: Chester Zoo Fights Back
Today, however, there’s a different story to be told.
It is expected that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will later address the nation in one of his scheduled Covid-19 briefings. It is also expected he will announce that zoos and safari parks can reopen from the 15th June.
A complete U-Turn from what was suggested only a few weeks ago.
Why? Because Chester Zoo put up a fight, and a really good one at that.
Showing that PR isn’t all whimsical stunts and lighthearted campaigns, the efforts of the Chester Zoo marketing team have been nothing short of extraordinary. I’ve long been a champion of their work, most recently for keeping homeschooled kids entertained by introducing the ‘virtual zoo day’, it comes as no surprise to me that Chester Zoo channelled all their efforts into saving their organisation.
From the candid sharing of what must have been absolutely crushing news – that The Zoo was at risk of closure, to the ‘never giving up’ mantra that was adopted thereafter, this has been a communications campaign I think we can all look up to.
They encouraged us to donate, and donate we did – raising over £2m on JustGiving to date which will go towards the conservation of the animals at The Zoo.
They also encouraged us to campaign, which we did too. Many people, including myself, wrote to our local MPs, asking the Government to reconsider. Even on the same day that the news of suspected indefinite closure was announced, a question was later asked at the daily Covid-19 briefings about when zoos and safari parks might be allowed to reopen.
Public support has been unprecedented, and to anybody who believes campaigning doesn’t work: just take a look at this revolutionary turnaround for an example.
Why Did The Communications Strategy Work So Well?
There’s a few reasons why I think the ‘#SaveOurZoo’ campaign worked so well. Firstly, it was open and honest. The Zoo told us how much it costs to feed their animals every month, the debt they were in and how much they needed to keep going. They were also very transparent with their plans to reopen, and how hope was dashed from them since they were told they had to remain closed. The tone in which they spoke is one that was on a level that so many of us could understand, allowing for more public empathy which in no doubt contributed to the success of this campaign.
Further to this, the social media team at The Zoo made a conscious effort to keep their customers updated and broke news to us in real-time. This kind of consumer psychology is so important, as if you feel invested and involved with a brand – you’re much more likely to support them in the long run. They even shared the news that they could reopen on Twitter as soon as they’d heard (note the use of the word ‘just’), this may seem like something simple, but it makes the world of difference.
But it wasn’t just the immediate campaign that resulted in the popularity of this story.
The Chester Zoo brand is built on a strong foundation, one that’s gone from strength to strength over time. Thanks to their Channel 4 series ‘The Secret Life Of The Zoo’, many of us associate ‘The Zoo’ with Chester Zoo, which is an incredibly strong parallel to draw. All tied in with beautiful, consistent branding and a quirky and relatable brand tone of voice, Chester Zoo is an organisation you can really get behind.
Held dear in the hearts of so many people both in the UK and overseas, is it any surprise that when they needed our help – all they had to do was ask?
Zoos To Reopen Imminently – A Result Worth Sticking Around For
From being a top trend on Twitter, to dominating the headlines and popping up in Government announcements, this is truly a marketing case study for the ages. Proof that flawless communications can and will rescue your brand.
The team at Chester Zoo didn’t give up, and we didn’t either.
The Zoo will be allowed to reopen so much sooner than anticipated. That’s thanks in no small part to the prolific and consistent efforts of their marketing team.
I’ve followed this story the whole time it’s been unfolding, and I couldn’t be happier with the result… We must all remain diligent during this pandemic, but a world without Chester Zoo would be a very sad place indeed.
Let me know what you think in the comments below or on Twitter. And, if you enjoyed this blog post, why not say thanks by donating a pound or two to the #SaveOurZoo campaign, Chester Zoo may be allowed to reopen, but our work is far from done. In debt by over £24m, this fantastic place still needs our help. I don’t know about you, but I want to be able to take my kids to The Zoo, my grandkids even. How wonderful to tell them one day that we were a part of keeping it running in tough and torrid times?