#SeriouslySocial The Podcast
with Simone Douglas and special guest Elaine Bensted
Today’s guest on this episode of Seriously Social is Elaine Bensted, CEO of Zoos SA. She chats with Simone about animal welfare, social media, and the intersection between charity and the corporate world.
Connect with Elaine here:
Facebook: @AdelaideZoo, @MonartoSafari
Check out our page for updates and teasers about upcoming episodes, links, and details about Simone’s best-selling books.
Hosted by Simone Douglas
Videography by Marie Carbone & Shivam Wadhawan
Audio by Chris Irving
Music used in this episode is “Alte Herren” by KieLoKaz, used with permission under a Creative Commons Licence
This production is protected by a creative commons CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 licence.
Chris Irving 0:00
Welcome to the seriously social podcast with your host, Simone Douglas. Today’s guest is Elaine Bensted, CEO of Zoos SA. She chats with Simone about animal welfare, social media, and the intersection between charity and the corporate world.
Simone Douglas 0:16
Okay, so today joining me on the seriously social podcast is Elaine Bensted, CEO of Zoos SA. Elaine maybe we can start just with the cliff notes version of how we find you here today. And what zoos SA is up to and answer, big topic. But let’s see if we can get the first 10 seconds of it
Australia is a conservation charity, we run two zoos in South Australia, Adelaide Zoo second oldest zoo in Australia, and one of the smallest. And then Monarto Safari Park, which is fairly new, and by far and away the largest. So two totally different experiences. But at our heart, we’re a conservation organization.
Simone Douglas 0:55
Yeah. And you’ve created some amazing experiences. Out of Monarto, one of the things that I’m really fascinated by is you really have reinvented, you know, what zoos are all about to a degree with a lot of the initiatives that you’ve put in place, what has really driven that change for you guys?
Look, I mean, I started the zoo in 2012. And I wasn’t from a suit background, I was the chief executive of TAFE, which is vocational education, so and zoos, conservation, and education is really what our focus is about connecting people. So we developed what we call a master plan. And it was really how do we deliver our mission, which is connecting people with nature and saving species from extinction? And we ask the question, what changes do we need to make to be better at our mission? So how do we connect more people? And therefore How can we save our species, and that’s really dictated the changes that we’ve put in place. So Monarto one example that everyone loves is lions 360, which sort of reverses the zoo. context in that the people are in the cage and the lions are in 11 Hectares and they can choose, do they want to interact, and they usually do, because you know, they smell good to them. And they’ll be around and they’ll be on top. And it’s always trying to design things that are really good from an animal welfare point of view. So it’s always the animal’s choices, they want to interact. And it’s about connecting people and creating a wow. And then at the same time raising more money for conservation. So everyone who does that live 360 experience is helping contribute money that we send to Africa, to the Zambian Carnival program. So we’re helping our lions wild. So that’s the sort of philosophy we’ve tried to apply to everything that we do. Is it good for animals, good for people and good for conservation? And unless it meets the sweet spot, does all of those? and keep tweaking until it does.
Simone Douglas 2:50
that make sense. So I think, you know, 2020 was an interesting year for business, every business. But you know, you have a team of amazing volunteers, and you have paid staff, obviously, and overheads, and I’m guessing that you had all of your revenue disappear overnight during lockdown as well.
Yeah, it was. Certainly I’ve been working for about 40 years in the last 12 months has been the hardest 12 months I’ve ever done. Yeah, because literally revenues stopped. The bulk of our revenue comes from our visitors or our members, events, weddings, all of those things, that stopped, but most of our expenditure keeps going. So it’s not like you close a restaurant, and yes, your revenue stops. we had to keep buying food and we had to keep paying half of our staff. Because even though we were getting visitors, the animal care had to continue. So we were closed for three months, which was not easy. We stood down half our staff on no pay. Luckily in Australia, the government introduced job care and a good while it might not have been perfect, I’ll tell you what, no one was complaining to God. So that became a bit of a lifeline. And then there was some extra government funding that helps support animal feed and veterinary costs. So we always knew that, at least at animal care was going to continue and I know I sit on a number of global committees and that wasn’t the case with zoos around the world so yet while it was incredibly challenging, and still if at least we knew that the animal care was going to be able to continue
Simone Douglas 4:27
Yeah, as a leader holding a team of people together that actual human beings What was your biggest challenge you know going through that entire process because I know for me it was an emotional roller coaster of like you said, standing people down, standing the back up and these are people that you work with every day. What was the biggest challenge for you?
Oh, dude, you’re, we actually just recently celebrated celebrated but we did we had a barbecue to mount the 12 months since that day, closed I was sort of recounting some of the emotional rollercoaster because it was, you end up doing it all on very little sleep. Sort of probably months, I was averaging two or three hours a night, because he just tried to break up the numbers in a way that works. Because there’s no matter how many times you do it. And it’s the people who are passionate. And to give some credit, here, we stood down half our staff on no pay, wouldn’t let them access they’d leave entitlements, because it was for us about preserving cash so that we could make sure the animal care was going to continue. That was before with the government funding. And then a lot of other staff, we reduce the hours, managers reduce their pay for we work more hours. Yeah. And there wasn’t one complaint. Yeah. You know, they they knew that medical care had to come first. Yeah. And so they just got on. And yeah, so you do feel the weight of responsibility. When you negotiating with governments to try and get the funding. I know exactly how important it is. Yeah. And luckily, we were able to do that, and then then eventually bring staff back. And we’ve always said there was four things that we wanted to achieve. One was making sure there’s a survive long term. One was taking everybody’s jobs. One was making sure animal welfare and conservation didn’t suffer. And the fourth was making sure that our key master plan development annatto, which was just on the cusp of going in, we wanted to make sure that that continued, so 12 months on, we can say we’ve achieved those four, that’s fantastic, because they’re looking for the next 12 months. Yeah, we’re still under a lot of restrictions. Those four, I’m still continue.
Simone Douglas 6:38
Yeah, that makes sense. If you were a also, more importantly, if you’re talking to business owners, or people who are passionate about animal conservation, and supporting some of the fantastic initiatives that are happening, what are the best ways that we can help you to achieve those goals ongoing around, you know, maintaining employment and development and all those things?
Yeah, look, I think, if it’s about businesses wanting to help ccfa was that there’s a whole range of ways. We have a lot of corporate partners, and they range from little small corporate partners who provide what we call contracts. So it might be providing mushrooms to, to the animals saves. I was buying mushrooms in sales, and we in return, give benefits to that company, they might hold their Christmas party at the zoo, we waive the higher fee cetera, or they can be cash, or they can just be bring your staff and host your Christmas event at our venue. We have people do corporate volunteering. So we can do some team building and yeah, shovel runner pay for do something.
Simone Douglas 7:50
Actually one of the really good initiatives I saw you guys do, you could purchase food or purchase a card, whatever it was,
I was at Brown first.
Simone Douglas 8:00
That’s it. Yeah,
I mean, I’ve got to say my team is fabulous, and has been just about drive as much as possible. And obviously, we haven’t been able to drive that in all the normal ways when you were closed. But even when we were open, we were on 20% capacity. 50%. And so it was driving, and everyone has Black Friday. And we were trying to joke or what do we have lots of lots always had lots of posts. So we did a brown Thursday, and we always knew it actually probably would raise a lot of money here. But it would get some media breakthrough. And then we could promote our actual Black Friday, which was membership sales and pander experiences and things like that. And that’s exactly what happened because you could buy gift cards of either the family friendly version. Yeah. And it was just I give a crap about content. Yeah, yeah. It was a bit of fun bit of light hearted. Yeah. But it was getting a serious message.
Simone Douglas 8:53
Absolutely. I think there was a business that started not here in Australia, but he launched a business where you could order an envelope of glitter sent to your enemies, like so it cost you $10 or something, he manually packed an envelope full of glitter so that when they opened it, glitter went everywhere. And I remember when I saw the brown Thursday stuff, I’m like, those are very close to like, Who is it that’s upset you this week. So
we did have running in parallel with Aaron Brown face gift cards, the opportunity that you could nominate someone to show that people had to give them a reason. Yeah. For and we did ask people keep it light hearted and really wanted to be, but it was quite funny.
Simone Douglas 9:33
Yeah, absolutely. What? More importantly, your team of creative people that get to come up with all of these ideas. It’s not a massive team, isn’t it? Because I think sometimes people look at a zoo or something and have a perception that you have, you know, teams of 15 and 20 people doing all this stuff.
No, we don’t. And I think because we’re a conservation charity, for profit, so no, I think just Every time we’ve gotten I sometimes joke and sort of saying how I’m doing public presentations to the board. And I say thanks to our finance team, and everybody thinks it’s this massive team who’ve now done, I think, version 33 of the budget here. And it’s literally Darren and Ian, and me. And the marketing team is the same. And it says, it’s usually one or two. But they’re creative. And they’re all individually passionate about conservation and what we do. And because we’re not government, we do have a little bit more license to be creative and can push the boundary perhaps a little bit more than some government. And we can, let’s see, not just marketing, but also in things like sponsorships, yeah, I can just sit with business owners and try and work out a deal. Yeah, it’s going to work for them and work for me. And I’ve got a fair amount of flexibility in how we do that. So we can drive a really good bag, and we’re always on the hunt to get things for free, whether it’s old lift cable, which we’ve just got up and down so many times that needs to be repurposed. Yeah, that’s really good Rhino fencing. Yeah, we get old steel with a rip at railroad tracks. Yeah, so we’re always on the lookout for anything that we can do and opportunities and we can be pretty creative.
Simone Douglas 11:19
So really, it’s no different to most businesses out there. Because whether it’s a startup business or a semi well established, forget the big global businesses that bottomless pits of money, but they can give you some of that they were like, okay,
right to Mark Zuckerberg and asked, yeah, donation. He hasn’t replied, because we were caught up to remember when there was the Oh, yeah, we got shut down. Yeah, we’re a conservation organization with nothing to do with media. We’re the only service in Australia that got something somehow
Simone Douglas 11:49
he was only one that got caught up in Yeah,
it took five or six days to get back online. And for us with this at any time, as social media is really critical, because we don’t have a big marketing budget. But during COVID, expenditures gone, really social media is important. So I did give a few suggestions of how he might be able to,
Simone Douglas 12:09
but you know, it’s funny, so it because in that news gate, shall we call it And likewise, we had some, so the Duke’s of brunswickers Facebook page got blacklisted, and shut down. It’s just a little part of life. It’s not that exciting. And but you know, the local bar literally, like 50 meters up straight Bay could still use Facebook. And then one of our clients pest control company got there was
some weird algorithm. We couldn’t work out what the algorithm was, but
Simone Douglas 12:38
yeah, it took what what I found most amazing is because we have direct conversations with Facebook reps, because social media, okay, we deal with it all day. So they’re like, Oh, it’s okay. You can still advertise? And like, that’s great. Yes. So you’d still like to take our money. So you want me to pay and create the things to go in front of the people, but I can’t talk to the people that actually want to talk to me. And it was just, it was a very interesting 48 hours, and the pump took a week and a half to come back online. And I was furious. Yes.
And then I think we just got back online. And then somebody created a fake Instagram site. Yeah. Very Pac site, and was trying to scam us, and took us days to try and get to get it.
Simone Douglas 13:26
Yeah, can be really like it’s such a maze, because he can’t just walk down the street to the Adelaide head office not have the conversation we were trying.
We were trying at all different times, thinking timezone differences. Were people at three in the morning trying to make content. Yeah,
Simone Douglas 13:40
but not really. And you know, the hacking things the big thing now, and getting bigger. Yeah, yeah, we have. So we, I’ve had the social media agency for eight years, it’s never been massive in terms of like, volume of calls from people going, I’ve been hacked and lost access to x, y, and Zed. But in the last probably six months, we would average two or three calls a week from people who aren’t clients. You know, going, someone’s hacked my Facebook and I’ve lost by Facebook page, I’ve lost my Instagram account. Um, you know, and it’s, it’s because they’ve got one. And so they kind of know how the platform works. But they don’t have two factor authentication enabled. They might not be using Facebook business manager to own everything. And yeah, there’s no guarantees that you get it, you know, so that I think one of the things that it drove was, what other marketing assets did we have? You know, like email newsletters and websites that we own,
and I think we pretty much and we did have that conversation we have it regularly about and share about owned me. Yeah. And we were very lucky that we’ve got a never ending type of engaging content. So we can we do own a lot of our own channels. And we do fortnightly emails is to all of our members. Yeah. And then we did live where the cross with all the TV stations. And I think even during COVID I think the media wanted our content even more. Yeah. Because people could only absorb so much doom and gloom said you had what was happening in the US. And then you had all the COVID stories. So, you know, if they wanted a story about how our keeping staff were trying to keep our animals engaged, or reached, why they weren’t having any visitors. Yeah, was a great way to ask around chasing for me cats to be entertained. Yeah, everyone loved that story. So we do have content that we can easily use.
Simone Douglas 15:40
Yeah, that’s awesome. I think it’s a really good point to finish on is, you know, about making the most of all of the opportunities that you have in business. And I think also comes down to what COVID taught me was, the more business friends you have, the more likely you are to weather the storm. So I would absolutely encourage any business owners in South Australia or business owners with a national footprint that want to be involved in Local Conservation, to reach out
and get engaged, and keep those relationships when it’s not in a crisis. Like, for me, I’ve been enrolled for over eight years, and I do have regular conversations. We’re not a government. So but I regularly feed information and talk to the premier and the Treasury, Department of Environment, etc, etc. So I had all of their contacts and they know me, they trust me. Yeah, trying to create those sorts of relationships in a time of crisis. It’s too late. Yeah. So you need to start and play the long game. Yeah, those relationships from a business point of view and get as many friends as possible. Yeah. Absolutely. And then draw on them.
Simone Douglas 16:47
Absolutely. Well, Elaine, thanks very much for joining me today. If you do want to find a way to support zoos, so it sounds like all you need to do is reach out and talk about what you have to offer. And that’s a conversation that everyone can have any donations for tax deductible.
Simone Douglas 17:03
Chris Irving 17:04
If you enjoyed this episode of seriously social. Check our website for the latest news show notes. And for details about Simone’s latest book, confident networker. You’ll find us at social media pay okay.com.au slash podcast
Transcribed by https://otter.ai