Covid-19 zoos’ survival and recovery campaign wins national award

A PR and marketing campaign which supported the successful survival and recovery of charity The Zoological Society of East Anglia (ZSEA) during the pandemic has won a Gold Award in the British Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ (BIAZA) annual recognition of successful zoo management.

By May 2020, ZSEA had lost £1.5 million of income due to closures forced by the Covid-19 national lockdown and the charity trustees made tough but necessary decisions to carry out a major restructure and redundancy programme.

PLMR Genesis was appointed by ZSEA on 13 May with the brief to create a PR strategy to help the charity survive the crisis, achieve financial stability and create a new future. The agency dedicated a high proportion of pro bono time.

The strategy created by the PLMR Genesis team had two stages. Stage 1 protected and managed the charity’s brand reputation during a major restructure/redundancy programme by using clear messaging to position the necessary changes and reinforce the charity’s heritage and values. A ‘Wild About Survival’ fundraising appeal was launched to engage communities around Africa Alive in Suffolk and Banham Zoological Gardens in Norfolk.

Stage 2 supported the re-opening of both parks in July 2020 after the first major lockdown. ‘Me and Zoo – we’re good for each other’ was created, which brought to life ZSEA’s aim of connecting people with nature for wellbeing. During Autumn 2020 a Community Champions Awards thanked people for helping those in need during the pandemic.

In 2021 partnerships with East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH) and Norfolk & Waveney Mind promoted the connections between nature and wellbeing, while £5 days, promoted through PR and digital marketing, widened accessibility to both parks. PR included promotion of ZSEA’s appointment of acclaimed autistic wildlife photographer Alfie Bowen as brand ambassador.

The results included:

  • 23,801 new social media followers and 1 million audience engagements
  • 639 TV, radio and press items reached over 120 million
  • Record financial result in June and July 2020 despite reduced ticket capacity
  • Year on year increases in visitor numbers in 2020 and 2021 despite the national lockdown closures

Commenting on the award of Gold by BIAZA, the judges said: “This was a fantastic approach to an impossible situation and amazing results were achieved through many channels. The partnership between ZSEA and PLMR Genesis has had a huge impact on the awareness of Banham Zoological Gardens, Africa Alive Zoological Reserve and the wider BIAZA community. It was also a fantastic achievement for ZSEA to have received such significant pro bono support from a PR and digital marketing agency.”

Claudia Roberts, CEO of The Zoological Society of East Anglia says: “The partnership with PLMR Genesis helped ZSEA survive a financial crisis and protect our reputation during a major restructure enforced by the pandemic. The successful PR strategy galvanised the community to support fundraising, has grown our awareness nationally and has increased the charity’s income through higher ticket sales. The PR and digital marketing team have worked effectively with us over the past two years to produce amazing results.”

Penny Arbuthnot, Senior Advisor, PLMR Genesis, says: “The planned and proactive approach to managing the media, the production of engaging content which massively increased the social media following and the PR and digital marketing which inspired audiences to connect with nature, support the fundraising and buy tickets, helped ZSEA through a critical time, from financial crisis to the positive new future it has today.”

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PLMR’s crisis communications experience is second to none, and includes pre-emptive and reactive work across traditional and social media channels. We work with a range of organisations to offer critical communication support when they are faced with difficult and challenging scenarios.