Episode 175: Marketing a Zoo in Music City, with Jim Bartoo

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By Nicole Mahoney. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Jim Bartoo has been the director of marketing and public relations at Nashville Zoo since 1999. During that time, he has seen the Zoo grow from local awareness to national and international recognition with more than 1.2 million guests visiting in 2019. Before coming to Nashville, Jim spent seven years marketing the Columbus Zoo in Columbus, OH. He is accomplished in all aspects of marketing and communications initiatives across the Zoos owned, earned and paid platforms. Jim lives in the Bellevue area (southwest Nashville) with his wife Carole and two daughters, Emma and Grace.

In this episode of Destination on the Left, Jim Bartoo, the Marketing and Public Relations Manager of the Nashville Zoo, joins us to share his story. He discusses the challenges of marketing a zoo when the destination brand experience is Music City, and he shares the creative solutions his organization has developed to fit into Nashville’s brand.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:
  • How Nashville Zoo’s Expedition Peru exhibit received top honors in exhibit design by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums
  • Why the women’s bathroom at the Expedition Peru exhibit as well as the men’s room in the Zoo’s Entry Village were named America’s Best Bathrooms by Cintas in 2019
  • Jim Bartoo’s journey to becoming the Marketing and Public Relations Manager of the Nashville Zoo
  • How Jim’s role has changed over twenty years with Nashville Zoo
  • What Jim and his team have done to help the Nashville Zoo stand out from the crowd
  • Why Nashville Zoo shifted its focus from the local market to the visitor market a couple of years ago
  • Why construction can create a negative effect on your visitor audience
  • How the Nashville Zoo went from a work-in-progress to a full-fledged destination
  • How Jim’s team responds to actionable visitor reviews
Nashville Zoo

Jim Bartoo is the Marketing and Public Relations Manager of the Nashville Zoo. He is a lighthearted and enlightening individual who brings so much value to the table. Amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, a light-hearted conversation that doesn’t harp on the widespread panic is a much-needed change of pace. Jim discusses the challenges of marketing a zoo when the destination brand experience is Music City, and he shares the creative solutions his organization has developed to fit into Nashville’s brand. His perspective on partnerships and collaborations are invaluable, and he has helped bring more than 1.2 million visitors through the gates in the last year.

Adaptive Marketing

Nashville has a large tourism market and visitors have a certain expectation when they travel there. Being a zoo in the market has been very challenging, but Jim has learned a lot in his twenty years there. At first, it was about letting people know they were there in the first place. The marketing efforts were initially designed to get the local populace over to the zoo to sample what was going on. Discounted or free admission, promotional events, and fundraisers were just some of the ways they managed to draw traffic. But as things progressed, Jim and his team were able to focus on promoting specific exhibits and events at the zoo itself. People became more familiar with it over time, but that does not detract from the challenge Jim faced in separating the zoo from the city.

Becoming a Destination

When you talk about destination marketing, everything is very brand-centric. DMOs are responsible for fulfilling the brand experience they create and ensuring that the experience a visitor has circles back to the brand itself. But that is difficult to achieve when your experience is not complete. Nashville Zoo struggled to wow visitors while major exhibits were being built because the guests felt as though they were missing out on something. When the Expedition Peru exhibit was completed, however, visitors could finally navigate a continuous circuit of attractions. Jim shifted the marketing focus from building anticipation and began to construct the identity of the zoo as a destination. The zoo is not a place for live music or drinking, so they are not the poster child of the Music City brand. But their hard work and creative marketing have put them on the map anyway.

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