The following editorial appeared in the Los Angeles Times on December 22, 2013:
Let GLAZA Market the L.A. Zoo
The zoo's nonprofit fundraising arm might be able to bring magic back to the animal kingdom.
If you live in or near Los Angeles, you've probably seen television ads and billboards for the zoo. The San Diego Zoo, that is. While that zoo's marketing reach goes well beyond the borders of its city, the Los Angeles Zoo has a history of barely advertising itself at all, even within city limits. (For those who don't know, the zoo is in Griffith Park.)
Los Angeles officials and zoo boosters all agree that the zoo, which is owned by the city and answers to the City Council, needs to be more aggressively marketed. But who should take on the task? The zoo's nonprofit fundraising arm, the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Assn., known as GLAZA, is in negotiations with the city to do so. It has ambitious plans to raise the zoo's public profile, enhance the visitor experience and increase attendance (and admissions revenue). It also has the ability to put more than $2 million of its own privately raised funds into its efforts during the first year of a proposed three-year contract. The zoo's financing comes from admissions, private fundraising and a subsidy from the city that has dwindled from $10 million six years ago to $263,000 this fiscal year.
GLAZA has secured a $120,000 grant from Google's AdWords program to replace $8,000 per month that was being spent by the zoo to run advertisements on the Google search engine platform.
Officials of both the zoo and GLAZA want to raise zoo admission prices by $1 in each of the next several years. Currently, admission is $18 for adults and $13 for children, and family memberships are available. The zoo is still one of the more affordable attractions in the area, and raising the price of admission should be done cautiously. Even if GLAZA were to take over marketing, the City Council would still have to sign off on any increase.
The City Council must ratify a memorandum of understanding before GLAZA's role becomes official. The council wants to make sure that GLAZA reports back at regular intervals — and that it has defined performance goals and that the relationship can be terminated if the goals are not met. Once those reasonable conditions are agreed on, the City Council should give its approval.
Officials of the Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents the majority of employees at the zoo, have been critical of the plan, saying it's unclear that GLAZA is the best candidate for the job and taking city officials to task for not listening to zoo workers' suggestions for marketing.
But GLAZA has proved itself over the years, and besides, the city can fire the organization if this doesn't work out. GLAZA has been hugely successful at fundraising for zoo projects and has been deeply dedicated to protecting the zoo and its mission of animal conservation and education.
Nonetheless, GLAZA officials should be cautioned not to promote the zoo by turning it into an amusement park. This is not SeaWorld, where animals perform. And this is not Venice Beach — no ziplines. The experience of seeing giraffes and elephants up close and hearing the siamangs howling halfway across zoo grounds should be enchanting enough. That's what GLAZA should try hard to sell.
The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens is located in Griffith Park at the junction of the Ventura (134) and Golden State (5) freeways.
For general information, call (323) 644-4200.