Roger Williams Park Zoo
In 2006, the Roger Williams Park Zoo embarked on a comprehensive $35 million master plan to upgrade the facility. An $11-million bond, to be put before the R.I. voters, represented roughly one-third of the $35 million plan. Of the $35 million, R.I. Zoological Society was raising two-thirds; the $11 million would close the funding gap. The Zoo is a significant contributor to Rhode Island’s $2 billion tourism economy, generating $13 million per year and attracting New England visitors to further increase the success of Rhode Island restaurants and retail establishments.
In August, prior to the capital campaign announcement, polling revealedvoter support for Question 6 with 49 percent favoring the issue and 37 percent opposing it. 13 percent remained undecided. Undecided voters indicated that they would be swayed to support the question following further explanation regarding how the money would be used, as well as proof of the bond's importance in preserving the Zoo as an economic contributor. With the knowledge that taxes would increase in order to pay for the $11 million, some argued that the Zoo was already well supported by its own fundraisers and membership fees. The Zoo struggled, not only with these perceptions, but with low placement on the ballot, the daunting number of undecideds, and the competition for visibility in the press against extremely high profile political races, including the casino referendum, U.S. senatorial race, and gubernatorial race, as well as nine other referendums. It became clear that a smart outreach campaign was imperative in order to obtain the last third of their funding and complete the master plan.
The Zoo partnered with us to plan and execute a strategic public relations campaign that established broad public support by promotinga better understanding of the plan's positive economic and social implications for the state. Due to limited funds, we could not solely rely on a paid mass media campaign for “Yes on 6.” Rather, we developed a mix of public relations, grass roots outreach, special events, advertising and interactive to achieve the desired result.
The goal was achieved with Rhode Islanders approving Question 6 by a vote of 68 percent. PR efforts resulted in 90+ news stories, nine of which were editorial endorsements by the newspapers. A total of 482,200 website hits were achieved during the seven-week campaign.