QHow did you come to join Paignton Zoo Environmental Park?
A After a varied marketing career in the IT, office equipment and retail industries, I saw the position of marketing manager at Paignton Zoo advertised, applied, made the trip down to Devon from the Midlands for the interview and here I am 13 and a half years later!
QWhat was the charity like then?
A Back in 2000 when I joined, it was a very different organisation. The charity consisted of Paignton Zoo and its parent charity the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust. The development plans for Living Coasts were in the very early stages and the decision to go ahead with construction wouldn't be made for another 12 months.
Paignton Zoo was flying on the back of the £6million re-development and the hugely successful Zookeepers programme on BBC One. The redevelopment meant we were the first zoo in the country to get rid of the bars in the animal enclosures and give the animals and the visitors exhibits which mimic natural habitats.
In 2003 Living Coasts was finished and opened to the public and just as we all breathed a sigh of relief hoping life would be less stressful, the opportunity arose to buy Newquay Zoo, which we did the same year. Despite the expansion of the organisation, the ethos, values and strategic aims remain the same as when Herbert Whitley established the zoo 90 years ago –– conservation advocacy, education and engagement, and in-situ and ex-situ conservation.
Q What has been your greatest achievement?
A Without a doubt — the recent Great Gorillas Project. It's certainly the biggest project I have worked on in my career and I am very proud of what it achieved. This two-year project really tested my existing skills and I learnt a few others along the way.
When I presented the proposal to the senior management team and trustees there was a level of scepticism despite similar events being run successfully elsewhere in the country.
It was a brave step to try something like this in South Devon and carried a real element of risk. But, through determination, hard work, fantastic teamwork and many a sleepless night, the project was hugely successfully, and truly captured the imagination of hundreds of thousands of people across the region who engaged with our public art project.
The culmination of the project was the auction which raised a staggering £100,000.
And now, of course, the question everyone is now asking me is "When are you doing it again?" All I will say is, watch this space…
Q What major challenges have you faced?
A The recession has to be one the greatest challenges to date. Over the last two years we have faced a tough time at all of the zoos. Although leisure spend is the last thing to be cut in most household budgets, it eventually goes, and we saw the effects of this a year into the recession.
Our marketing budget was the last to be reduced, as fortunately its importance is recognised here, but it inevitably was.
However, smaller budgets mean greater creativity and that is exactly what I saw here. The marketing and fundraising team rose to the challenge and we really focused our minds and rode the storm by being more innovative in our marketing and promotions.
The weather always is a challenge for us, and the recent storms have shown that; but the greatest challenge here is to get the message out there that despite the problems it has caused, we are open for business.
QHow do you keep enthused and keep things fresh?
AMarketing a zoo has to be any marketer's dream. The constant stream of babies, new arrivals and new or refreshed enclosures means we always have something new to work with and, in the case of babies, inevitably something very cute. That said, it's not just about promoting our new arrivals, we are constantly striving to ensure the customers' experience exceeds expectations and one of the ways we do this is through events.
Each year, the marketing team along with other departments has a brainstorming session which allows staff of every level to input their ideas. This is the Year of the Invertebrate at Paignton Zoo and the year of Fantastic Fish at Living Coasts. It really does involve many departments to deliver the packed programme of events; this can only be achieved successfully by involving everyone from the beginning.
Q What awards have you won?
A All of our zoos have won countless awards for our conservation work, breeding programmes, animal husbandry, education, horticulture, marketing and tourism — we have even won Loo of the Year awards!
But most recently Paignton Zoo was proud to win not only the award for Sales and Marketing at last year's Herald Express Business Awards but also the Business of the Year Award. And later last year all our hard work on The Great Gorillas Project was recognised when we won the award for Event of the Year at the South Devon Tourism and Hospitality Awards. We really do value each award that we win as it shows we are committed to delivering quality in whatever we do.
QWhat other organisations are you involved with?
A I have recently just finished my term as a non-executive director of the English Riviera Tourism Company, having been involved with the company from its inception and prior to that on the steering group which set it up. I am proud I have been able to contribute to the success of such an effective company.
In my 13 years in the Bay, this destination management organisation has been the most successful in uniting the industry and arresting the decline in visitor numbers. The company faces challenging times ahead with the significant reduction in funding, but I am confident if the proposed TBID goes ahead they will have a secure future and be able to continue the good work.
I am also deputy chairman of the English Riviera Attractions Partnership, a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing Devon and Cornwall branch committee, and vice-chairman of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the professional body representing the best zoos and aquariums in Britain and Ireland.
We are part of the wider zoo and aquarium community who pride themselves on excellent animal welfare, education and conservation work.