In my mind’s eye, I am an adventurer. I have this unmet desire to explore the world around me. How about you? I was the kid who as fourth-grader would read under the covers with a flashlight (until I would get caught by my mom) to travel to places far away and back in time. Perhaps we all have a bit of wanderlust.
I first fell in love with the craft of writing when my 11th grade English teacher, Mrs. Elmore, shared her fellowship experience of learning about Herman Melville and visiting the places he found his inspiration. There is something romantic (in the writer’s sense) of seeing how writers in different eras put pen to paper in a way that withstands the test of time.
Getting the word out when you are a communicator for a government agency can be a challenge, especially when advertising budgets are a fraction of your private-sector counterparts or perception issues on spending curb ad-buying. In this week’s Modern Retro PR, we’ll explore the challenges of communicating on behalf of the government.
Retro: The National Parks Portfolio
Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, the American people had heard of President Teddy Roosevelt’s travels preserve those special places found only in America. Roosevelt’s conservationism paved the way for an organization to manage these places. Since his signing of the American Antiquities Act of 1906, 153 sites have been preserved.
In the same year, Ivy Ledbetter Lee wrote The Declarations of Principles, in which he advocated that public relations practitioners have a responsibility for the work in which they do.
“This is not a secret press bureau. All of our work is done in the open. We aim to supply news. …. In brief, our plan is frankly, and openly, on behalf of business concerns and public institutions, to supply the press and public of the United States prompt and accurate information concerning subjects which it is of value and interest to the public to know about.”
The public relations industry was in a state of transition between models from press agentry to public information. This is notable because, in 1915, a former journalist-turned government official was tasked with setting up a National Park Service. The effort would be seen as monumental for Stephen Mather, Assistant Secretary of the Interior, who called on a former journalism colleague to help. Former journalist, editor, and publisher Robert Sterling Yard, a preservationist, signed on to the role.
Over the course of a year, Mather privately funded Yard’s travel that allowed him to author a series of articles about places such as Crater Lake, the Grand Canyon, and Yosemite, and published them in 1916 in The National Parks Portfolio.
Yard described Yosemite (1923), thusly, “The first view of most spots of unusual celebrity often falls short of expectations, but this is seldom, if ever, true of the Yosemite Valley” (p. 44).
El Capitan in 1923.
In the third edition of the publication, Mather wrote in the introduction: “The main object of this portfolio, therefore, is to
present to the people of this country a panorama of our national parks and our national monuments” (Yard, 1923, p.5).
Mather believed public support would be needed to build Congressional support for the effort, a fact noted by the Secretary of the Interior John Barton Payne who posited if Congress were to fund a National Park Service, the parks would become even more of a treasure (Yard, 1923, p.4).
Yard’s publication was distributed to all members of Congress and is attributed, in part, to the passage of the bill signed by President Woodrow Wilson to authorize the National Park Service in 1916.
Modern: #FYPx (Find Your Park Expedition/Encuentra Tu Parque)
In 2016, the National Park Service celebrated 100 years in existence. The need to raise awareness still exists, but tools have changed. These days, people may be more inclined to explore Pinterest rather than Pike’s Peak. How do you update the work of Yard to raise awareness of the treasure of America’s parks system?
Social media crowdsourcing, of course!
The Find Your Park Expedition (#FYPx) is an “education and awareness campaign connects media influencers nationwide with America’s national parks and allows their stories to be told.” It first began in 2015 and recently the second edition returned from its expedition.
Little had changed in the picturesque scenes from Yosemite from 100 years earlier, including the cost of travel. This time, there would be no private funding of the trip, but rather, corporate sponsorships to cover the cost.
As part of the centennial campaign, eight social media influencers were selected to travel to national parks, including Yosemite. While it may sound like a television show, each of the bloggers represented diverse audiences to be introduced to national parks.
The updated campaign had five areas of focus:
- Diversity, History, Relevancy, Heritage, and Education
- Working with the National Park Service
- Conservation and Environmental Stewardship
- Outdoor Recreation, Fitness, Nutrition, and Health
- Digital Engagement
Unlike Yard’s first edition of The National Parks Portfolio, the 2016 effort prominently featured photography from the great outdoors. (It should be noted that many of the bloggers selected in 2016 had backgrounds in either photography or design):
Even today, the need for government public relations is questioned in a downturned economy (Liu, & Levenshus, 2010, p.1). Limitations on advertising spending for government-agency communicators, whether real or perceived, provide opportunities for creative solutions to this age-old challenge. Since Yard’s original publication did not include photographs (those would come later), it was his writing which allowed the reader’s imagination to be captured.
Yosemite’s El Capitan still looks the same as when Yard first wrote about it; the only difference is that now the adventurer’s photos are in color. However, the objective of the original effort still exists: introducing Americans to its national parks.
The in-the-moment tweets from #FYPx campaign allow for the influencer’s followers to vicariously journey with them, but it will be their travel (b)logs which really paint a picture of the great outdoors to a new generation. In this way, the 21st-century adventurer is born, crossing what National Park Foundation calls the “digital frontier.” It may very well be that this latest chapter in American preservation lasts for the next 100 years, too.
That said, where will you find your next adventure? Drop me a comment and let me know!
Liu, B. F., & Levenshus, A. B. (2010). Public relations professionals’ perspectives on the communication challenges and opportunities they face in the public sector. PRism 7(1):
Yard, R.S. (1923). The national parks portfolio. (3rd ed.). Washington, D.C.: Government