Here is my extended Q&A with Bill von Bank (left), director of sales and marketing at the Minnesota Zoo. His insight into promoting large exhibits and informing the surrounding community is beneficial to attractions any size of offering.
FUNWORLD: When devising your marketing plan for “Russia’s Grizzly Coast,” how early did you begin and what were the primary messages you wanted to send consumers?
Bill von Bank: Construction alone on "Russia’s Grizzly Coast" took nearly two years to complete, which gave us a unique opportunity to engage the public in status updates on our web site via photos, construction time-lapse, and blog entries. Within one year of opening, 3-D animation of the exhibit was created and posted on our site as well as YouTube. Also, a year out, we began posting video updates with Zoo Director Lee Ehmke doing a walk & talk around the exhibit.
“Russia’s Grizzly Coast” is Minnesota Zoo’s largest exhibit initiative since the zoo’s opening in 1978, and we wanted to convey to the consumer how big and cool this exhibit would be. We wanted to create buzz prior to and post-opening of the exhibit; increase attendance and household memberships; and sustain year-long momentum and enthusiasm for the zoo.
FW: What was the most attention-grabbing aspect of the exhibit?
BVB: The construction process, the rare and beautiful animals, the landscaping, and the authenticity of a Russian built cabin all made for great press. And the arrival of the grizzly bears from Alaska was eagerly awaited.
FW: How did you distribute responsibility among staffers and communicate with other zoo staff to succeed?
BVB: Our PR manager meets weekly with the animal management team, so there was constant information sharing. We held weekly conference calls with our advertising agency on project status for the campaign. And internally, we developed an ad hoc steering committee for a global perspective on the entire project.
FW: What marketing or publicity efforts in the campaign are you most proud of?
BVB: We created some fun non-traditional approaches to spreading the word about “Russia’s Grizzly Coast,” such as a premier storefront window at the Minneapolis Macy’s department store as well as elevator advertising within the Macy’s store. We partnered with a local wine shop and developed some specially labeled wine featuring two of our signature animals from "Russia’s Grizzly Coast"—grizzly bears and sea otters. A portion of all wine sales was donated to the Minnesota Zoo Foundation. News of the exhibit hitting Times Square in New York was a significant highlight.
FW: What advice would you give other zoos tasked with promoting a large, upcoming exhibit?
BVB: Plan, plan, plan!
- Document the process with still imagery and video.
- Conduct hard-hat media tours for the press.
- Go online with your press room. That allows for immediate updates.
(The photo below shows the "Russia's Grizzly Coast" promotion on elevators in Macy's department store in Minneapolis, Minnesota—click all photos to enlarge)