We chat with Corrie Ignagni, Manager of Digital Communications at Roger Williams Park Zoo, a family-fun destination that is “Always An Adventure!” Roger William’s Park Zoo is located in Providence, Rhode Island on 40 acres of beautiful woodlands. Home to more than 160 species of animals including a Komodo dragon, zebras, red pandas, African elephants, Masai giraffes, snow leopards, bears, anteaters, flamingoes, sloths, and more!
Thank you, I’m happy to be here.
I’ve been here just over four years and we ended up switching over to Issuu, I want to say, towards the end of my first year here. As a zoo we are very proactive in promoting conservation and sustainability, so we ended up switching our hard copy magazines and our membership cards to fully digital. This not only saved us financially on the budgeting side, but it also helped with our green initiatives towards sustainability that we could promote with our community.
In choosing Issuu, I know myself and, at the time, my director were brainstorming different platforms and ended up going with Issuu because it seemed the most accessible. And quite a few other zoos are hosting their magazines or publications on here as well.
It’s been a little crazy with our zoo and our department in general. We’ve been out a director since the summer, and it’s just been a team of two for a while now. We’re taking on a lot of different roles versus what we might usually be doing. My main focuses are digital communications: our website, publications like Issuu, email communications and then all of our social media. As well as marketing and public relations communications for all of our other departments.
Right now we are launching a zoo-wide three month event called Asian Lantern Spectacular, which will begin in mid April and go through July 4th, so that's our biggest upcoming project that we're all working on.
It’s actually our first on-grounds walkthrough event since Covid-19 hit last March, so it'll be open to the public at night. It will be open Wednesday through Sundays and we're doing time ticketing, and then just making sure that all of our safety protocols are put in place, so social distancing, mask requirements and then having staff on grounds just making sure that everyone's actually enforcing those.
Yes, we had two big events over the fall and winter, but both were drive through events.
It was our first year ever doing that, as a drive through, and it was great success so that was that was really remarkable seeing everyone pull together.
Our Jack O’Lantern Spectacular is usually one of our biggest fundraising events for the zoo. We have a lot of single night fundraisers that we do, but that's really our largest fundraising opportunity. It's a 32 night event which brings in such a substantial amount of sponsorship, and then funds from ticketing. Knowing that we had to quickly pivot for that event to ensure that we were able to keep up with our budgeting and all the different funding requirements that we needed to hit for the year plus having lost revenue of being closed for three months, that was a huge undertaking for us.
Right after that event we ended up receiving a grant from the state of Rhode Island to put on a holiday lights spectacular event, which only gave us maybe a three or four week notice that we were going to be putting that on. That was a very big undertaking, since we had never done that event before, and that was about a month long as well, it was nightly and a drive through.
Luckily having done jack o' lanterns we were able to use the same pathway, but it was just installing all of that, and trying to get communications out about the events. Usually we try to have communications and marketing for our events at least several months out. But only having everything approved perhaps two weeks ahead of time was definitely a little nerve wracking but there was the same sort of feel where everyone across all of our departments pulled together!
Those two events were probably the biggest successes that we had during the year, especially with Covid-19 and all the restrictions that were in place and all the changing you know protocols and everything. So it was definitely quite an eventful year.
Unfortunately we haven't done as much with Issuu as we'd like to this past year. And that was mostly because our department of four turned into a department of two. A lot of the things we would have normally done or would like to have, weren’t able to happen just due to lack of staffing and time.
But going forward, as you can see, we do our quarterly wild magazine on Issuu, and we have an annual report that my co-workers have been working on. And then we have a couple of different programs that will be starting up this spring, as far as conservation programs go, and we plan on utilizing this as another means of getting that messaging out there.
Being able to host this on your platform makes it very easy to share and very easy and accessible for folks to check out everything that we have going on. We host a lot of these on our website as well, but having Issuu as the platform is easier to maneuver versus the webpage which can sometimes get a little bit cumbersome. We've noticed that most folks read when they're on their phone and our web page isn't quite as mobile friendly as it could be. So having Issuu has definitely been a plus!
Something I’ve noticed that's been very successful is the fact that we can embed video, which is really great. That’s been a wonderful feature, and I think when it first launched we perhaps didn’t utilize it as much as we could have, but embedding videos has been successful for us since. We also love that we can have links. We've noticed on some Issuu’s we don't necessarily have too many areas where we can link to, but especially for one like with the jack o'lanterns that was very useful because, even if you're not necessarily on our list and getting all of our communications, customers from all over are able to read the magazine, see the video we did on the Jack o’lanterns and view all different aspects of Roger Williams Park Zoo.
Yeah! Zoo school in particular was actually something that we ended up creating because of Covid and not having our on-ground educational program like we used to. All year round we're jam packed with different programs and onsite events and then not having any of that readily available, we wanted to ensure that all the families that we usually work and communicate with had an open line of communication. We wanted to keep them involved and engaged so that once we were back to “normal” we were still front of mind. So our team here and the education department worked quickly together to put together this program.
We had to close in March 2020 (due to Covid-19 lockdowns) and this program was sort of built together within a few weeks and then launched in April. We ended up doing specific segments where children and their families could watch and learn about a different animal or different area of the zoo. We would give them a different challenge or activity that they could do at home, which was a great way that families were able to interact with us, and learn something new. We could also interact back with them because we encourage them sharing the challenges and sharing photos or images during the challenge. We even got some video submissions of children and families doing the challenges and that was very fun and engaging!
Once the holidays picked up we sort of hit pause on this because once the holidays were here, everyone's out and about or they're on vacation and we knew that engagement goes down a little bit too, so we started talking about Season 2 of Zoo School. This time around it's Zoo School where kids are in charge! We're encouraging families to record their child asking animal related questions specifically to one of our staff members or a keeper and we respond to their questions. Our staff gets to interact with them, keepers answer the question and also give a little bit more background about the animal. We showcase that animal and then that child or children are featured in that next episode of Zoo School. My nieces and nephew absolutely love YouTube and anytime they can be online, they feel like a star. So we are really excited about the idea of kids who submit questions being the stars, and hopefully that can encourage folks to sign up for our programs we are now starting to have available again as well.
It’s been really nice to see how much engagement we received from this. Especially in our first season and on Facebook, we ended up receiving a lot of communications from parents and guardians whenever we would post. We would put up the challenge and parents would just start emailing us or commenting with all the different photos and videos of their children actually interacting with the video and then doing the challenges themselves at home. So it was really nice to see that they were not only watching but also taking it to that next step by participating. This time around we launched our first segment and we only received a couple of submissions but now that we're actually in full swing we're receiving a lot more so it's nice to see that everyone's engaging with us again and excited for this program.
Personally I would have to say our last two, just considering the fact that usually we have a full team of folks helping out and contributing, and these last couple, myself and my coworker just sort of put together ourselves. The fact that we were able to actually do even more articles than we usually would do and still meet deadlines while adding a bit more conservation messaging, I take those as a win! As far as some of the other ones, I could probably flip through but I especially loved when our baby sloth was announced. That's probably one of my favorite article pieces.