David Williams-Mitchell, Director of Communications and Membership at EAZA argues that zoos and aquariums must celebrate each other as a community.
The priority of communications staff at progressive zoos and aquariums is, of course, the presentation of their institution in the best possible light. Many institutions combine the roles of marketing and communications, usually choosing people with experience of marketing in a competitive environment. This works well institutionally, but zoos and aquariums don’t operate competitively in the same way that fast-moving consumer goods do – while our Members do compete to attract tourists, the majority of visitors for most zoos are based locally, and the majority of zoo communications goes to those locals.
Because of this, there is a common tendency for visitors to assume that their zoo is unique. I am sure many readers will have heard a visitor say something along the lines of: “I don’t agree with zoos, but [your institution’s name goes here] is different – you do amazing work for nature and are really good with your animals.” That’s a success for your institution, but it reveals a weakness and a missed opportunity for you and for the wider zoo community. First, the weakness: your sceptical visitor has already made a difference between you (the only good zoo) and all the others (uniformly terrible) – indeed the good impression you make might even make that attitude harden further, especially if your visitor is local and unlikely to travel further to see a zoo or aquarium. If zoos only communicate about their own brilliance, we create pockets of positive attitudes that are completely isolated from each other – which means however well you communicate to your audience, people from elsewhere are likely to think of your institution as being terrible. In the public perception, there is no unified community of zoos and aquariums, and our collective good works remain invisible; every zoo except this one is a “bad zoo”.
So to the opportunity: because the majority of your visitors are local, you don’t lose anything by showing them the wider context of progressive zoos and aquariums; that your institution is part of a network that pools its resources to increase its effectiveness. As the need for international cooperation to stop biodiversity loss becomes more visible, your visitors will notice your willingness to be part of that network. And with good, well-coordinated communications, we will be able to join up those pockets of admiration and create a more holistic view of zoos and the contribution they can make. The aim is to influence the public to change from saying: “my zoo is not like other zoos” to saying: “my zoo is a good zoo”.
EAZA is setting up a Communicators’ Network to help generate this kind of coordination, and we are also encouraging Members to dedicate a small portion of their resources to promoting the successes of other accredited zoos and aquariums as well their own. We’d like good zoos to be defined by the work that they do and the company they keep – so let’s shout about the good works of colleagues from Singapore to San Diego and all points in between: it’ll repay us very quickly.
David Williams-Mitchell, EAZA Director of Communications and Membership
If you’re interested in joining EAZA’s Communicators’ Network, contact [email protected]
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