Blog written by Sydney Ayers, APR

Congratulations to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums!  Long maligned by animal activist groups for alleged mistreatment of animals, the AZA is undertaking a proactive public relations campaign to counter recently negative publicity according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.

When an escaped tiger killed a visitor at the San Francisco Zoo on Christmas day, it forced the hand of the AZA.  Even though most animal escapes don’t harm people, zoo officials had to talk about safety when they would much rather continue talking about all the positive things zoos do to educate the public and protect endangered species.

At the beginning of my career years ago, I was part of an agency team that worked with the Denver Zoo.  One morning, we were taken on a tour of the zoo before it opened to see some of the work being done to improve animal habitats by making them more naturalistic.  It was an amazing experience that allowed me to see the zoo in a totally different light.  Not that the Denver Zoo hasn’t had its share of problems.

Last May, it was determined that the cause of death for a capuchin monkey was bubonic plague.  Rather than sweep the story under the rug, Denver Zoo officials got out in front of the issue.  They held a news conference and issued a news release.  They involved the zoo’s veterinarian and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to help get the message across that the monkey contracted the plague by eating an infected squirrel and that humans are not at risk.

The effort was worth it.  The general public understood.  The story died on its own.  It was, in short, PR done right.  No half-truths.  No cover-ups.  No spin.  America’s corporations should take note.