Venue Marketing Gone Wild!
JGL is always interested in speaking with event industry professionals who are finding new and inventive ways to market their venues. We recently interviewed Robert Severini, Director, Events & Catering for the Wildlife Conservation Society to learn more about his strategy for building private event business at the New York Zoos and Aquarium.
Q: When did you start at the WCS?
A: April 2017
Q: Do you oversee events for all WCS venues? Which venues are included in your portfolio?
A: Our team oversees events at Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Queens Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, and New York Aquarium. We are involved with nearly 500 events per fiscal year and growing!
Q: What are the biggest challenges you face when booking events at the Zoos and/or Aquarium?
A: (1) Many folks think “zoo = cheap,” so showing folks that we can do higher-end, as well as creating experiences worthy of the prices we charge. That starts with our branding, marketing, storytelling, etc…. (2) A lot of parameters to work within when planning any event, at any of our parks. We are pros at this point, but sometimes making sure that a client is fully aware of what they can, and cannot do, as well as reminding folks that we are a park, open to the public, and can have anywhere from 2,000 to 20,000 people on the properties at any given time. Setting proper expectations from the beginning is of the utmost importance.
Q: How many event staff members are on your team?
A: Our department has ten full-timers, a dozen part-timers and hundreds of agency staff to assist throughout the year.
Q: How did you develop your marketing strategy for events at the Zoo and Aquarium? Was there any marketing done before you started in the position? What have been the most effective campaigns?
A: The marketing prior to me was print and tradeshows, with some wedding digital. I took out all paid print, as well as tradeshows, and put that money into the digital that had PROVEN ROI, and then added in more corporate and mitzvah sites. Essentially, double-downed on what we could prove was working online. The next biggest impact was hosting larger events for event planners, at each of the parks. This has shown great value in building brand awareness, as well as getting word of mouth going around the industry. It was humorous, every time I heard industry folks say, “I never thought of hosting an event at the zoo/aquarium.” We also put a lot of effort into building a much stronger social media presence, including paid, monthly newsletters to share images and stories, and just being more engaging with folks on publicly viewed platforms (i.e. – tagging wedding couples and vendors, engaging more with our community).
Q: Do you have a marketing budget?
A: Of course! It was somewhere around $40k when I started, but I was able to stretch it upwards of $75k. If sales continue to grow at the scale they currently are, we may add an in a few more dollars, but right now our ROI is strong.
Q: Do you and your team manage the marketing for venue sales or is it collaborative with WCS?
A: For those who do not know, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is the organization that we all work for. Our group works globally on conservation, preservation, and education. However, we also manage the city zoos and aquarium. Our department is the only group that works on the advertising and marketing of our parks at “event spaces.” We do our own branding, marketing, and sales while following the branding guidelines, and mission and vision statements of WCS.
Q: Do you have your vendor partners contribute annually toward your marketing campaign?
A: Our partners’ contribution to our marketing efforts is by tagging us and sharing our events with their audiences. A true partnership is something that works for both parties. We just ask our partners to provide our clients with the best pricing and service they can.
Q: How do you select your vendor partners?
A: Some partners we have known for many years, and know their skillsets well; others have come via introductions from trusted professionals. We evaluate our lists every winter to see if any changes need to be made. Overall, we are very happy with our current partners, as they all contribute to the growth of our businesses. We prefer to work with folks who understand our business, as we aren’t a catering hall or loft space, we are parks with lots of nuances.
Q: Have you seen results since you began marketing the spaces? Please explain.
A: Of course! Sales jumped up 50% my first fiscal year, another 10% the year after, and this fiscal year is potentially another 20%-30% higher than last year.
Q: What advice do you have for other not-for-profit venue managers who others who are charged with selling spaces for events?
A: (1) Market as if no one knows about your space. You never know who may not know about your space. (2) Make a correlation to your mission statement. We put our mission and vision statements on all of our proposals, as we want our clients to know that spending money on an event with us, allows us to continue working towards our global mission. (3) Most folks have their venues on Facebook and LinkedIn; build brand awareness via LinkedIn, as well as paid!
For more information about events at the New York Zoos and Aquariums, check out: https://nyzoosandaquariumevents.com/