I Was the Publicist for a Celebrity Manatee
Planning and promoting Snooty’s Birthday Bash
Year-round public and media relations outreach exponentially raises the profile for a beloved manatee mascot.
- More behind-the-scenes access to Snooty for selected media. With the permission, guidance, and cooperation of aquarium and veterinary staff, opening up Snooty’s physicals to journalists and photographers boosted both media coverage and public awareness of how manatees age and their care.
- Exponential increases in overall facility coverage drove increased attendance for the Birthday Bash. The Big 5-0 celebration in 1998 drew 5,000 partygoers, bracketed by 3,000 to 3,500 visitors in both 1997 and 1999.
- Snooty goes national — and worldwide. Local, Tampa Bay, regional, state, and national media covered Snooty and his Birthday Bashes. Plus, syndication via AP News, the U.S. big-four networks, and international cable news channels carried the initial newspaper and TV stories abroad to England, Germany, Australia, and more.
P.S. Snooty was the definition of awesome.
Manatee County’s official mascot — and much more
Snooty was the oldest manatee to be born and raised in captivity. He was also the first manatee to have a recorded and documented birthdate.
When those two notable attributes combined with a personality that loved people and attention, you had a celebrity “spokes-manatee” and wildlife ambassador unlike any other.
My first professional PR role was serving as the public relations officer for the South Florida Museum, Bishop Planetarium, and Parker Manatee Aquarium.
In addition to handling day-to-day public relations for the complex (and all its programs), I was “Snooty’s publicist.”
Initial priorities included increasing cooperation with county tourism officials and successfully opening Snooty’s regular physicals up to selected media observers.
Soon, I was also put in charge of planning and promoting his birthday party for three years (1997-1999).
A celebration fit for a manatee
Snooty’s Birthday Bash was the facility’s biggest public outreach event, drawing both people and attention to the South Florida Museum.
Attendance for the big guy’s 49th and 51st parties increased to between 3,000 and 3,500, thanks to now-regular, year-round media coverage.
But Snooty’s fans set a record for his golden 50th birthday celebration in 1998: 5,000 guests over the free, four-hour event.
Each birthday bash featured live entertainment, children’s games and art activities, and a wildlife awareness festival that showcased regional animal groups.
An expanded slate of museum, planetarium, and aquarium programming was also available for a reduced admission fee.
And of course, the festivities culminated with the singing of “Happy Birthday” to Snooty and the awarding of prizes to winners of the annual children’s birthday card contest.
The party planning checklist
As the event planner, I was responsible for:
- Recruiting sponsors (including radio sponsors);
- Lining up exhibitors and entertainment;
- Placing food and rental orders;
- Coordinating activities with the museum’s aquarium, education, and planetarium departments;
- Organizing the birthday card contest;
- Planning all event publicity, marketing, promotions, and printing;
- Serving as the day-of event manager; and
- Conducting pre-, during, and post-event media relations, as well as facilitating media sessions with aquarium personnel.
Earned media coverage: Tampa Bay, Florida, United States, and the world!
Snooty’s Birthday Bash received extensive, regional media coverage. Feature stories appeared in:
- the Bradenton Herald;
- the Manatee and Sarasota editions of the Herald-Tribune;
- the Tampa Tribune;
- the St. Petersburg Times;
- independent weeklies; and
- regional magazines; plus
- the Associated Press.
Regional television coverage was even more extensive, with almost every station in both the Tampa-St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida markets airing pre- and post-event stories and PSAs. These stations included:
- Bay News 9 (Time Warner / Tampa Bay);
- WWSB News 40 (ABC / Sarasota);
- WTVT-FOX 13 (Fox / Tampa-St. Pete);
- WTSP Channel 10 (CBS / Tampa-St. Pete);
- WFLA Newschannel 8 (NBC / Tampa-St. Pete); and
- SNN 6 (NY Times, Comcast / Sarasota).
Most of the broadcast organizations participated in the Florida News Network video wire service and were also CNN and network feeds.
As a result, Snooty stories and footage traveled throughout the United States and around the world. Museum guests from as far away as Washington state, California, England, Germany, and Australia discussed seeing these articles and news segments with the manatee caretakers (and me) in the months before, during, and after the birthday celebrations.