Zoo New England

Getting Close Enough to Really Connect


marlo marketing began working with Zoo New England (ZNE), the private, non-profit corporation that operates Franklin Park Zoo (FPZ) and Stone Zoo (SZ), in March 2006. We quickly learned that many New Englanders had never been to either Zoo, and an alarming number of residents didn’t even know we had one! Further, as we began outreach to local papers, response to most events at either Zoo was often, “If it’s not in my town, I don’t care.” As such, our ongoing goal as the agency-of-record for ZNE is to increase awareness and drive attendance at both Zoos, as well as position its flagship Franklin Park Zoo as a top New England family destination.

In September 2006, three years after the highly publicized escape of one its adolescent male gorillas, FPZ began a major renovation of its 25 year-old gorilla exhibit. The goal: transform it into the most innovative exhibit of its kind in the world. Unfortunately, rather than opening just in time for the 2007 summer season, the exhibit was slated to open in February. We knew media would want to cover the exhibit when it opened but, for obvious reasons, the Zoo sees the majority of its visitors during summer months. We feared that the new exhibit wouldn’t attract its full potential of visitors during the winter and that, by the time summer came, the media would be “over” the gorilla story.

With tight marketing budgets, we crafted a plan designed to maximize media coverage, minimize advertising and create a reason for visitors to return frequently over an extended time period.


We began by developing a 12-month integrated marketing program incorporating PR, advertising, on-site events and an interactive digital program. By thinking strategically about when earned media was most likely, we mapped out a nearly year-long program designed to best allocate our client’s limited resources, relying on earned media exclusively during the off-season February exhibit launch. In addition to paid elements that came into play once summer season arrived, we also wanted to continue to secure additional earned media, even though it had already been covered significantly at launch. Nonetheless, we remained confident we could continue taking bites out of the same apple—as long as we came up with the right twist.

One element of the new exhibit was the addition of a trainer’s door.  For the first time ever, trainers were now able to interact with the gorillas in front of the public.  Up until now, all training exercises designed to stimulate the gorillas’ mental facilities as well as health care needs, had been done off exhibit.  Two of the gorillas, Okie and Little Joe, had been taught to paint by their trainer as a way to keep their minds stimulated.  This was the twist we knew would give us the foundation for our program, and we based our summer season on the Zoo and art.

We created a summer-long finger painting contest, designed to attract kids to the Zoo as well as allow them to participate at home—further extending the Zoo’s reach.  We kicked off the contest with the opening of an exhibit entitled “Okie & Little Joe: A Retrospective.”  This exhibit of paintings by Okie and Little Joe hung throughout the Tropical Forest during the summer to inspire visitors and, more importantly, teach them about the innovative training work that occurs regularly with all of the animals at FPZ. In August, a panel of the city’s art leaders were invited to select the winning submission. The winner received an original Okie painting, as well as a coveted Behind-the-Scenes Tour of FPZ.

This program enabled us to stretch out the newsworthiness of the new gorilla exhibit to ten full months, communicate the Zoo’s animal training programs, as well as encourage families to visit FPZ multiple times over the course of the summer by offering parents another activity (finger painting) for their kids to do.

To further support the summer season and the Zoo’s bigger conservation and education efforts, our overarching message was based on the concept of “getting close enough to really connect.”  We designed an interactive gorilla family microsite where kids could learn more about the gorillas as well as the Zoo’s conservation efforts. Our print and online ad campaign visually demonstrated how the new exhibit allowed visitors to literally stand inches away from the gorillas. The invite and program book we designed for Zootopia!, the Zoo’s annual fundraising gala, further supported the theme. And in-Zoo collateral ensured that we maximized awareness among every single visitor.


Our work around the new gorilla exhibit garnered substantial media coverage in both traditional and new media, achieving more than 11 million impressions and more than $800,000 in advertising value.

Most importantly, our work continued to have a substantial impact on our client’s bottom line.

  • For FY07 (through June 30), attendance increased by 15% with over half a million visitors — the highest recorded at the zoo since the mid 1990’s. For the remaining months of this campaign that fell into during FY08 (July, August, September 2007), FPZ maintained this increased level of attendance.
  • Membership reached an all-time high with over 12,000 member households.
  • Microsite traffic resulted in an average of 10,985 visits with an average of 1:41 minutes spent on the site.
  • Over 600 entries were submitted for the Finger Painting Contest.
  • Won Boston magazine’s Best of Boston award for “Best Family Hangout, Fair-Weather” for first time in years.
  • Media Coverage