URGENT NEED FOR UP-TO-DATE INFORMATION IN REAL-TIME
Eighteen African elephants living on a private reserve in Swaziland were slated to be killed as a conservation measure due to lack of space and because they competed for food and resources with critically endangered black rhinos.
Three accredited U.S. zoos – the Dallas Zoo, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, and Sedgwick County Zoo – partnered to save the elephants by bringing them to the United States. This effort, while hailed by some as conservation, was condemned by animal rights groups that sued to stop the importation.
The zoos recognized the urgent need to own their story and ensure that falsehoods about the move were not disseminated as truth among key audiences. That’s why they tapped PCI for communications strategy and message development that would authentically and persuasively communicate the critical message: zoos were doing the ethical and moral right thing by saving the elephants from slaughter.
To bring this message to life, PCI developed a compelling microsite – RoomforRhinos.org – that allowed the three zoos and their partners in Swaziland to share regular updates about the efforts to save these elephants.
KEY PROGRAM ACTIVITIES
Developed key messages to explain why the elephants needed to be relocated and how the zoos were qualified to provide optimal care, as validated by elephant welfare research on zoo-housed elephants
Developed FAQs, media alerts, standby statements and news releases around timely aspects of the project, including the initial import announcement, permit approval, response to the lawsuit and the arrival of the elephants
Consulted with the zoos’ legal representation to ensure public communications and legal communications were aligned and coordinated
Engaged the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to keep fellow zoos informed and publicly supportive
Built the structure of the site, including mapping out necessary pages to share recent news articles, why the relocation was necessary and details of the elephant care/habitats at the zoos
Collected photos of the elephants, the Big Game Parks wildlife reserve and the habitats at the three zoos
Produced videos of Ted Reilly, who manages the Big Game Parks reserve in Swaziland, validating the need to move the elephants
Shared the website in external media materials to ensure media and the public had a place to go to learn more about the project
Drafted social media content for the zoos to use when communicating the project with online users
Collected news reports and photos of the harrowing drought in Swaziland and the surrounding region
Posted recent articles about poaching incidents in reserves surrounding Swaziland
Regularly monitored conversations and interviews with activists and legal opposition
15,607 individual website sessions generated
50% of sessions came from independent website referrals
Top traffic generated from the zoos’ respective markets
The microsite allowed transparency for a critical project without dominating the zoos’ day-to-day digital platforms
The site became a hub for reporters, who directed readers of their articles to the site and quoted large portions of text written by PCI
The site and its regularly updated content helped the zoos maintain a share of voice in the conversation, which otherwise would have been dominated by detractors
Instead of concern or anger, the zoos were met with celebration and admiration for their dedication to conservation. Any risks to the brands of the three zoos were mitigated, and instead, the zoos had an opportunity to strengthen relationships with their local communities. The effort won in a court of law and in the court of public opinion. Seventeen elephants found good homes, leaving endangered black rhinos the space and food they need to thrive.
Top industry award recognition from the Public Relations Society of America Chicago and the Publicity Club of Chicago