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Communicator of the Week: Cincinnati Zoo for telling the story of Fiona the baby hippopotamus

Risk versus reward isn’t a concept many modern communicators bother with much. Good communication plans will, naturally in their drafting, reduce risk while pursuing maximum reward (whatever your metrics might be). If your job is to protect and enhance the reputation of your employer or your client why would you take a risk anyway? 

Coming from a background in political communications I understand this sentiment very well. However, some of the best pieces of communication, whether winning campaigns or tactical bits of implementation, have often taken a risk or two. By doing so it has given a certain swagger to what we were doing and, i’d argue, injected energy and interest in a way that a sanitised, heavily choreographed campaign frequently never manages to. 

This week’s winner took a risk and it has paid off handsomely. In January a hippopotamus named Fiona was born prematurely weighing only 29lbs when hippos of less than 55lbs are not expected to survive. In these instances zoos and wildlife parks the world over are careful not to share details with the world in case it might undermine their reputations. Cincinnati Zoo however took a different approach and went all in with daily updates highlighting what a battle Fiona the hippo was fighting to survive. 

Social media was their friend making thousands instant brand ambassadors for the zoo to such a degree that Fiona is now internationally known and the subject of at least two children’s books in time for Christmas. The Cincinnati Zoo is also cashing in with sacks of Fiona branded gifts. 

Reputation wise it helped to highlight the conservation work the zoo undertakes and has been a strong resource in fundraising. The alternative might have been very different. Fiona may not have survived beyond a few days and the risk taken could have drawn negative attention on to the zoo. 

The vice-president of marketing at the zoo says that he feels like he “represents Beyonce” which epitomises the positive approach the communications team at Cincinnati Zoo has taken in chronicling the life of Fiona and is why they are my Communicator of the Week. 

Mis-Communicator of the Week is written by Edward Staite.

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