New CEO at Lake Superior Zoo Approaches the Future with Hope
Amid all the uncertainty in 2020 with the COVID-19 outbreak, the new CEO of the Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth, Minnesota, remains unwaveringly upbeat. Haley Cope chooses only to approach the future with hope.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat things and say surviving is going to be easy. But I believe approaching the situation from a viewpoint of optimism and positivity will yield better results than focusing on the negatives,” says Cope, who became the attraction’s new CEO on Aug. 5, 2020.
Cope is at home at the Lake Superior Zoo, after first visiting at age 5 during a field trip. Her love for zoos and aquariums was born during that trip and instilled values for a journey that has led her to take leadership of the zoo during a difficult time.
“We’ve seen the hardship firsthand, just like our counterparts across the attractions industry,” she says.
During the closure, Cope—who previously served the zoo as director of marketing and development—led the zoo’s social media efforts to stay in contact with guests. Her certifications from Hootsuite and HubSpot, along with training in Google Analytics, helped the zoo double its Instagram following and spurred a 40% increase in Facebook engagement.
“During [the closure], we created and implemented a content strategy for our social channels that would help keep us top of mind with our audience, members, donors, and other benefactors,” she explains. “Our zookeeper staff was still providing the absolute best care to our animal family. The animal care team was instrumental in creating content such as educational videos that followed them throughout their day caring for different animals.”
That was just the beginning. Cope’s optimism led fundraising campaigns to keep the zoo afloat. The Lake Superior Zoo participated in a campaign by GiveMN called #GiveAtHomeMN beginning May 1 that raised $17,000 in just eight days.
How did Cope do it? She engaged in fundraising efforts by harnessing Facebook’s charitable giving tools.
“During the shutdown, we lost revenue totaling over $500,000, and we told that story through the lens of how much it costs to take care of and feed our animals even while being closed. Unlike other organizations, zoos and aquariums can’t shut off the lights and walk away to reduce costs.”
To keep the zoo’s staff engaged and positive during the closure, Cope implemented a biweekly update in which she sent emails to the entire staff. The honest messages included recent news, progress on fundraising, and positive reviews of the zoo from Google and social media. “It’s my responsibility to respond to these reviews, so I see them all of the time, but that might not be the case for some members,” she says. “By sharing the positive feedback from our guests, I’m able to provide encouragement that all of the hard work we do on a daily basis is paying off. This has been very helpful in keeping everyone positive during recent months.”
When the zoo reopened June 11, guests discovered a new one-way traffic pattern branded as a “Walk on the Wild Side.”
“Our messaging was transparent to visitors that this was a different zoo experience than they’d had before,” Cope says. “We created a landing page on our website that described the experience and what animals they would see. We focused on the positive and safe experience guests could have, and we saw the return on that messaging through the best reviews and recommendations we’ve seen in years.”
To carry this optimism into a forward momentum for the future, the zoo is promoting its work on a new centerpiece exhibit called “Bear Country” that should open this coming winter. The Lake Superior Zoo is also working on a campaign to build a new main building.
Always keeping optimism alive, Cope says, “While that’s been put on hold due to the pandemic, I know we can begin those discussion again with renewed enthusiasm and creative ideas for indoor play, as well as expanded education spaces.”