3 minute read

In March, Dennis Woerner, Director of Marketing with the Indianapolis Zoo and Joel Zawacki, Assistant General Manager with the Indianapolis Indians were ready for the spring season, fully prepared to welcome visitors and fans back with new and exciting experiences. But they soon realized they would have to shift gears dramatically and prepare for a different kind of season with the arrival of COVID-19.

In a recent Shoff Chat, Woerner and Zawacki shared how the Zoo and Indians dealt with the pandemic and stayed connected to fans, sharing information and updates about the situation while also keeping the bond with their brands strong for the long haul.

Here are their key takeaways:

Writing a new playbook

There’s no playbook for how to operate in a pandemic, so remaining flexible and creative are key. The two organizations focused first on safety and equipping employees to work remotely, then moved on to ensuring consistent communications with their audiences and the community. Once it became clear that they wouldn’t be “going back to normal” any time soon, both organizations got creative in how they stayed connected to fans and kept their brands top of mind.

The Indians leveraged special events, put in place in previous years, to give fans an opportunity to experience the ballpark beyond traditional games. Once it was confirmed that baseball season would be cancelled, they created even more opportunities – from movie nights to blood drives, an auto show and even an opportunity to play golf at Victory Field, smaller events with strong safety protocols allowed the team to give fans the experiences they craved.

“Some of the unique events we created during this time will become annual traditions, and we will try more new and creative ideas because we saw that it widened our net to reach new fans,” Zawacki said.

Digital rules

Digital channels and social media became even more critical to staying connected to fans and members.

Even before the pandemic, both organizations knew 2020 would be a challenging year for traditional advertising due to the proliferation of political ads leading up to the election, so digital campaigns were already a priority. As the situation evolved with COVID-19, digital channels made it easier to update and change messaging rapidly.

Digital tools were also critical for employees to work effectively from home. The Zoo staff made great use of Microsoft Teams and Zoom in a way they never had before. “It was awkward at first because we weren’t the kind of staff that worked from home, but it’s worked very well and we could not have gotten through without the technology,” Woerner said.

Teamwork is everything

Another key learning for both organizations was the importance of teamwork – both inside the staff and with outside partners and peers.

Zawacki said partnership with Visit Indy and ongoing discussions with Major League Baseball helped the Indians understand mask mandates, capacity restrictions and how other organizations locally and in other markets were handling the situation.

Woerner said the communications, fundraising and membership arms of the Zoo came together once a month for a joint call to talk through new developments and ensure alignment, but also to have some fun and lift staff spirits.

Looking to the future

Woerner and Zawacki agreed that if any good has come from the pandemic, it is that both organizations now know they can operate with safety and capacity restrictions.

“We learned a lot and we figured out how to adapt with social distance protocols,” Zawacki said. “We feel good that there will be baseball and that we will return next year. There’s a pent-up demand for what we offer, and we are a gathering place for the community.”

Want to learn more about Shoff Chats? Check out other episodes here. And if you’d like a marketing communications partner to help your organization get creative in these unusual times, contact Justin Wojtowicz to learn more about Borshoff’s capabilities.