In November, Longleat hosted the annual BIAZA Communications Conference by bringing together like-minded marketing and PR professionals of the zoo and aquarium community. Orchestrated by Longleat’s PR & Media Manager Steve Mytton, BIAZA’s Communications & Membership Manager Zoe Williamson and Marwell Zoo’s Head of Marketing Paul Simmons –the conference took place over two days on the theme of ‘connecting people with nature’.
On the first day, guests were invited to take part in an icebreaker activity following a welcome from Longleat’s Darren Beasley, Head of Animal Operations, and a stroll through the Animal Discovery Zones. With the help of Mark Kingston-Jones and Chris Hales, founders of Team Building with Bite, the activity brought both enthusiasm and intrigue to the fray. Teams were set a task reminiscent of a Hell’s Kitchen assignment; look and inspect, now make. The Longhouse filled with a palpable energy (and a hint of competitive spirit) as delegates armed themselves with power tools, tape measures and safety goggles in an attempt to craft enrichment feeding boxes for a selection of Longleat’s smaller animal residents to enjoy.
Afterwards, guests then toured Longleat’s spectacular winter installation – The Festival of Light –with scenes which captured beloved fairy tales.
The second day lifted off with an inspirational keynote talk from TV presenter and naturalist Simon King. He told of his time in Africa and beyond, growing up alongside charismatic megafauna and the visceral connection he shares with the wild. He noted that “individuals are more inspiring than interpretation”, promising that passionate staff who are in touch with the ‘front line’ of the zoo experience are the storytellers of the industry.
Björn Perche, Design Director for Dan Pearlman similarly reflected this notion whilst speaking of his work on Chester Zoo’s Islands project – “[too much signage] lessens the adventure impact, we should create drama, so people don’t know what’s coming round every corner… an expedition feeling”.
Ben Harwood, Digital Marketing Manager of the National Trust and Lucy McRobert, Communications Manager of the Wildlife Trusts both spoke of the integral role individualism plays in the strive for a wild connection. They sought to champion the organisations’ ‘main characters’ as well as at home by taking ourselves out of our comfort zones and into the wild.
By the afternoon TV presenter and President of the RSPB Miranda Krestovnikoff provided a personal and insightful account to round off the session as she insisted that we should “…steer our children’s learning in a way that develops their wild and inquisitive nature”. This talk left a resounding sense of accountability in the room as Krestovnikoff actively encouraged the younger generation to part in more den-building, tree-climbing and mud-splashing.
Session three saw Fiona Deer of the Climate Coalition champion the green heart campaign. Hannah Crayk, Consultant of Morris Hargreaves McIntyre, also gave insights for the industry into how zoos, safari parks and aquariums are perceived by the public, while Jo Ashman shared some comical and thought-provoking anecdotes of her time as a TV producer, with insights from the BBC’s NHU.
Rounding off the conference Sarah Bruce, National Marketing Campaigns and Channels Manager of the Forestry Commission, gave guests a chance to meet the Gruffalo (in digital augmented reality format) as she demonstrated the power and reach of technology in achieving an added-value immersive experience.
It’s safe to say the Conference achieved the goal of driving and championing the link between people and nature with a reticent dignity, as the truth of the matter is – we are all part of nature ourselves, and sometimes we just need a gentle reminder.
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