Tag Archives: Elephant Parade

The ark as a channel in PR?

In my last post, I celebrated one of my favourite PR campaign’s, the Elephant Parade.  While I warned against the dangers of over exposing a new idea, I was particularly drawn recently to what had been done in a similar way with painted donkeys.

What I had not quite been prepared was was quite how much of an industry there now was in ‘painted animals’ as a channel of communication in PR.  Towns and cities using art in the template form of the painting of a sculpted animal by celebrities, artists, designers and local opinion leaders, to do something for their profile and reputation.  In the process, they also do something for the profile (and fundraising) of a charity, usually related to the animal involved.

For Southampton, try rhinos, supporting three charities.

A painted rhino in Southampton

A painted rhino in Southampton

For Norwich, try gorillas, raising money for the Born Free Foundation, and Break.

One of Norwich's gorilla's with local celebrity Jake Humphrey.

One of Norwich’s gorilla’s with local celebrity Jake Humphrey.

For Bristol, try local canine celebrity, Gromit.  Here, the idea brought 1.8 million people out to see the sculptures, is estimate to have brought  £75 million to the city, and raised £2.3 million for the Bristol Children’s Hospital – as reported by the BBC.

One of Bristol's many popular Gromits.

One of Bristol’s many popular Gromits.

Berlin has its bears, promoting peace and tolerance on its behalf around the world, and children’s charities at home.

Berlin's painted bears celebrate the city around the world.

Berlin’s painted bears celebrate the city around the world.

And cities around the world compete for the right to host the annual ‘Cow Parade’ – this year stopping off in both Valenciennes in France, and in Hong Kong.

One of the cows in the Cow Parade

One of the cows in the Cow Parade

The technique has become such a phenomenon that there are now even dedicated specialist animal casting companies, offering animals including goats, buffalo and horses too, ready to be painted.

A great example of PR increasing our involvement with an issue by promoting the public’s following of a city’s animal trail, initiatives such as painting workshops for children, and ultimately, the auction.

A great example of engaging opinion leaders and celebrities in designing their own versions of the particular animal.

A great example of linking the cause to the tactic involved – and embedding the technique in, and benefiting from sense of ‘place’, or local pride.

I’m looking forward to the animals continuing to stream on board the PR ark!

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Elephants and Donkeys form the frontline in PR tactical offensive – what is next?

One of my favourite campaigns of recent years was the Elephant Parade in London in 2010.  It sought to raise the profile of the plight of the Asian elephant, and the destruction of their environment.

London's Elephant Parade in 2010 (Telegraph)

London’s Elephant Parade in 2010 (Telegraph)

It was innovative, not just in the way it harnessed art as tactic in the PR practitioner’s reportoire, but it was thoughtful in how it correctly recognised that if it had any chance of success, it must increase the audience’s level of involvement with the campaign, rather than just ‘turning up the volume’.

It did this in two particular ways.  The first was by exploiting the interest of children, laying on painting workshops for them and their parents.  By getting their hands dirty with paint, and creating their own ‘collateral’, this guaranteed that when the issue was next raised, these ‘fans’ would be more likely to be supporters (and have a greater level of understanding of the issues).

The second was to engage artists and celebrities to design their own elephants, which, after appearing in random locations around the capital, would be auctioned off at a VIP auction to raise funds for the cause.  In this way, an army of active opinion-formers were recruited to the cause, loyal because of their level of engagement too, in which they could take some level of pride.

Elephant Parade (2010) outside City Hall

Elephant Parade (2010) outside City Hall

Without such an approach, ‘involvement’ would have been less, and levels of support for a far-off cause less enduring.

The campaign was also endearing in how it sought to capture the attention of the public, and the media at large.  Rather than going for the more traditional ‘stunt’, or a lavish press conference featuring a ‘star’ from ‘Made in Chelsea’ or equivalent, organisers let the public find the painted elephants for themselves.

More of the elephants in the Parade (2010)

More of the elephants in the Parade (2010)

One morning, listeners to phone-in shows started to call in, reporting their appearance, as if by magic.  Through ‘word-of-mouth’ speculation was under starter’s orders.  By the following day, the media was full of photos and reports, and hordes of families and tourists in particular were ticking off lists of elephants that they wanted to find for themselves on the trail.

If I’m honest with myself, although strategy has to come first in public relations, I will always be a tactics girl.  I get a personal thrill and apply academic conceptual relish in discovering new, and ever more effective PR tactics.  I do not mean inauthentic, ‘shouty’ stunts of old, but anything that really works – whatever that can be shown to mean.  Usually, when it comes to that search, there is nothing more soul destroying that upturning a pale-imitation that betrays a lack of imagination.

Painted Donkeys at St Paul's

Painted Donkeys at St Paul’s

At first sight, that is what I thought I had discovered last week when I heard the story of the painted donkeys – “what have they done to my elephants?”, I thought.  But on closer examination, I realised that this was another example of a similar use of the techniques deployed, arguably with greater authenticity and depth, if not exposure.

The CARAVAN Exhibition seeks to communicate the message of tolerance between Christianity and Islam, and similarly commissioned a range of artists to paint an animal.  It is sponsored by the Embassy of Switzerland and supported by the British Council, and arrived at St Paul’s after transferring from the streets of Cairo!  A fabulous campaign.  The organisers may not describe it as PR, but it is, and I salute them.

The search continues for the next innovation in PR tactics.  Anything might have its uses.  We’ve seen media, photography, events, sponsorship – I could go on for some time.  More recently, we’ve had a wide range of arts, even baking.

Citizen Science - camera in hand

Citizen Science – camera in hand

My top tip came as a eureka moment listening to a BBC radio documentary in the last week on Citizen Science.

Citizen Science - another meaningful method to garner involvement

Citizen Science – another meaningful method to garner involvement

The feature was highlighting the story of a project engaging locals on Montserrat to fly kites with cameras tied on to them over the crater of a volcano to make important readings.  A great example of story-telling, and captivating for media relations, but it was also a gateway to other recent examples, such as the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, and a project looking to save trees from disease in Norfolk.

While such projects might not yet have the glamour of art, they have that vital ingredient of offering a genuine way for someone to get involved, and feel they can make a real difference.  If a PR campaign could offer that, it is well on the way to success.  With social media offering more ways of the public to report data finds, and their smart-phones offering a ready made data recorder of so many varieties, my money is on a lab coat, rather than another painted animal as the next big thing in PR.