Hedgehog Hall of Fame: The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland - Panda Breeding
15th August 2013
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland
Panda Breeding Season at Edinburgh Zoo
Media Relations Campaign of the Year - North - Shortlisted
Low Budget Campaign of the Year - North - Shortlisted
Not for Profit Campaign of the Year - North - Shortlisted
- To generate 100 pieces of 'on message' press coverage
- Maintain and increase visitors to Edinburgh Zoo
Strategy & Target Audience
- Communicate conservational and scientific messaging
Scotland’s first giant pandas arrived in December 2011. The pair quickly settled into their new state of the art enclosures at Edinburgh Zoo and by early March 2012 over 100,000 people had visited. Their arrival represented the culmination of five years’ of political and diplomatic negotiations at the highest level, spearheaded by RZSS.
Female Tian Tian (Sweetie) and male Yang Guang (Sunshine) were the first breeding pair of pandas to ever leave China, and in spring 2012 the first short annual breeding window of only three days approached.
There were a number of considerations:
• With only a PR Manager and PR Assistant and little budget to play with, time had to be utilised as effectively as possible.
• Key individuals of media interest - such as panda keepers and veterinarians – had to make the pandas their priority, making their availability limited.
• Sensitivity to the pandas was crucial and non-invasive PR a must.
The first breeding season was going to be a journey for Edinburgh Zoo and there were lots of unknowns, so it was vital to get media to engage with the giant pandas and this journey.
The tactic was to build anticipation, and as developments took place, drip feed information to the media. It was also key to communicate the hurdles to achieving successful panda mating and ultimately a Scottish panda cub, and that whatever the outcome, we as animal conservationists and scientists would learn a huge amount in a short space of time.
Key panda breeding, conservational and visitor messaging was identified and an intensive media relations campaign was implemented. The target audience were potential visitors to Edinburgh Zoo, both in Scotland, the UK and internationally.
Media releases, with picture opportunities & expert comment
News hooks were identified and issued over a three month period to extend the life of coverage:
• Valentine’s Day – messaging that the panda breeding season was approaching. Picture opportunity- Sunshine trying to lick a five tier panda themed cake through a window.
• Testing Testing - panda breeding season news launch as Sweetie’s urine samples are sent for hormone testing. Picture opportunity- CitySprint medical courier wearing a panda motorcycle helmet.
• Sweetie Sizzles for Sunshine – a sudden media hook was utilised as a heat wave coincides with the first rise in Sweetie’s progesterone levels.
• Tian Tian Feels the Heat – the female giant panda took to her pool, an important sign that breeding season was here and an iconic image.
• Close, But No Cigar – the finale, the pandas hit it off, but no babies this year.
To keep budget down to a minimum and media relationships at a high, photographers were given access to ‘drop in’ to the panda enclosure. This meant a steady supply of ‘cute’ panda images that captured all key developments.
Regular 1:1 interviews were arranged with key individuals including – conservationists, veterinarians, animal experts and panda keepers. The PR team were also abreast of daily, if not hourly, developments to give comment to media.
A number of exclusive features were used to make announcements at various stages. These included: Scotland on Sunday and The Times. A daily column, complete with ‘Panda Watch’ logo, ran from 30th March to 5th April in the Edinburgh Evening News with new and exclusive content each day.
Lynx became the exclusive sponsor of the panda breeding season for £20k, providing a new and unusual PR hook. The link up allowed language to become flirtier and introduced the concept of attraction.
A poster promotion with The Scotsman gave Edinburgh Zoo access to in-paper and television advertising at no cost to RZSS. Sales increased by 3,000 copies on the day at no cost to Edinburgh Zoo.
To control the tone of coverage and for animal welfare reasons, no access was given to media each time the pandas met. Instead, two subtle film clips were shot in-house and issued during the breeding season. The footage was used extensively and had the "aaaahhh" factor.
• Scotland on Sunday exclusive two page feature in The Week, with cover picture.
• Around the world: 10 minute features ran on ABC Radio Adelaide; CBC Radio Canada; and BBC World Service.
• The Times exclusive on training for the breeding season.
• Daybreak film Tian Tian splashing in her pool pre-breeding season.
• Extensive conservation focused, panda breeding interviews with ‘panda guru’ Iain Valentine in The Times; Sunday Post; Sunday Herald; The Sunday Times; Scottish Daily Mail; The Daily Telegraph.
• Various April fool stories involving pandas – through media’s own initiative (e.g. Scotland on Sunday: keepers play bagpipes to get pandas in the mood).
• Journalists with comment columns incorporate giant pandas; the page 3 girl in The Sun mentioned pandas; several panda cartoons appeared; more than one newspaper featured panda tweets of the day; celebrities like Katie Price and Lorraine Kelly wrote about the pandas in their regular columns.
• Various radio stations play love songs to ‘get the pandas in the mood’, with Real Radio rebranding their Power Ballad segment as Panda Ballad
• The Daily Record brings a Rabbie Burns look-a-like along to inspire the pandas.
• The Scotsman ran a diary feature from Tian Tian’s point of view. BBC Newsround feature on scientists analysing hormone samples.
• 1,359 pieces of ‘on message’ media coverage (target 100 pieces), with only 4 per cent containing some negative messaging. Results were 1359% over target.
• 930,096,054 people had the opportunity to see, hear or read about the panda breeding season
• Coverage appeared in 18 countries
• Visitor numbers were at maximum capacity during the breeding season and have now (8 months later) settled to a steady 50% increase (when compared with 2011 – pre pandas).
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