Creating A Monster!

By Rich Neumann

Located halfway between Denver and Boulder, the city of Westminster, Colo., has garnered a national reputation for wildly creative programming and special events. For example, some of the more recent offerings have included the Zombie Apocalypse Golf Tournament, Ballerina Dodgeball, and the Adults-Only Egg Hunt hosted by the Deranged Easter Bunny.

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So, when faced with the challenge of introducing the public to a newly opened segment of a regional greenway trail that transverses the city’s largest public park—Standley Lake Regional Park—a cliché, one-and-done ribbon-cutting ceremony simply would not suffice. Park officials needed an innovative way to encourage visitors to explore the new trail on an ongoing basis.

They needed something very special. They needed rainbow poo.

Birthing A Legend
Drawing inspiration from Lincoln City, Oregon’s Finders Keepers Program, Westminster developed a participatory public-art project in which hikers along the Rocky Mountain Greenway Trail could hunt for one-of-a-kind “treasures”—in this case, hundreds of colorful, hand-blown glass eggs deposited by a mysterious creature known as the Standley Monster. Similar to Scotland’s famed Loch Ness Monster, this creature lives in and around the park’s namesake feature—the 3,000-acre Standley Lake. On occasion, the creature leaves behind a much rarer specimen—a swirled pile of rainbow “poo.”

The eggs and poo, which are commissioned from a local glass studio, are placed in plain sight along the new trail. While park rangers deposit about two dozen eggs per week between June and early December, the rainbow poo are much scarcer (about one per week). Finders of the elusive poo not only get to keep their discovery (as with the eggs), but also receive a T-shirt commemorating their find, imprinted with the slogan “I found the rainbow poo at Standley Lake!”

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Branding A Fictional Creature
With the foundation of the #StandleyMonster initiative in place, it was time to tackle the hardest challenge—how to creatively market a creature that doesn’t exist. In true Westminster fashion, this conundrum was solved by creating an anonymous, ersatz-tabloid publication—the Westminster Enquirer. Signage was posted to resemble a tabloid broadsheet around the lake, with headlines such as “Mysterious Eggs Wash Ashore at Standley Lake.”

To further engage the community, a Westminster Enquirer Facebook page was launched, with a tone following a conspiratorial slant (e.g., “What does the government know but won’t tell us?”). Community members quickly joined in the fun, posting silly photographs alleging to be sightings of the Standley Monster.

The guerilla-style launch of the campaign further benefited from a fortuitous celebrity endorsement, courtesy of the unaware governor, John Hickenlooper. During an unrelated ribbon-cutting ceremony in the community, a city councilor casually presented the governor with a sample glass egg. Staff members then surreptitiously snapped a picture of the governor closely examining the egg. The photo was uploaded to the Westminster Enquirer with the caption, “How long have state and local officials been aware?”

After weeks of humorous posts, the mystery of the #StandleyMonster reached a fever pitch when the city announced an official news conference to address allegations of an unidentified creature residing at Standley Lake. During the news conference, Jason Genck, Westminster’s Director of Parks, Recreation and Libraries, stood before every major news outlet in the Denver marketplace and confirmed, live on camera, that the allegations were in fact true—a monster was laying eggs (and poo) at Standley Lake. The recorded video statement by Director Genck received more than 21,000 views on Facebook in a matter of hours.

During the news conference, students from the summer-camp program were recruited to serve as “scientists” to help solve the mystery of the unidentified creature. Following a brief orientation in which they were shown potential clues that some animals leave behind (e.g., antlers, feathers, footprints), the students were led on a fact-finding expedition (with media in tow). Unsurprisingly, the students discovered a nest of glass eggs on their hike. The students then returned to their campsite and drew artist renditions of what they thought the creature looked like. These pictures appeared on the department’s official Facebook page (and were shared on the Westminster Enquirer page).

Results
The #StandleyMonster campaign has been wildly successful; in its first year, trail counters recorded a sustained surge of more than 1,000 additional visitors per month. The significant increase in trail usage continued through early winter when the Standley Monster began its hibernation.

As an additional measure of a successful campaign, the social media outreach associated with the initiative exceeds 2.8-million impressions each year (the project is now in its third year).

By attracting thousands of new, unique visitors to the park and encouraging them to hike miles of scenic trails, the #StandleyMonster initiative is helping the city’s parks department achieve its mission—connecting citizens to nature and wellness.

Keys To Success
Want to launch a similar campaign in your community?

1. Involve your audience. We didn’t tell residents who or what the #StandleyMonster was—their humorous photos and anecdotes helped shape the mythology behind the creature. This grassroots approach resulted in much greater community buy-in and engagement.

2. Capture the story. Unless you have an unlimited marketing budget, it is essential to rely upon participants to help promote the initiative. We encourage treasure hunters to share their discoveries in numerous ways. Each glass egg or poo comes with a tag asking the finder to report to the Standley Lake Nature Center to claim a certificate of authenticity and a free display stand (which allows us to capture a participant’s story). We also have a “selfie station” outside the nature center to assist with branding efforts (particularly outside of business hours). Lucky hunters are encouraged to post images of their discoveries on social media using the distinctive hashtag #StandleyMonster.

3. Keep things fresh—embrace change. After the successful first year of the initiative, we wanted to increase usage of neighboring trails in the park system. We did this by expanding the creature’s range and depositing eggs farther and farther away from the lake. Park users knew where to look thanks to “egg zone” signs that announced when they were entering the monster’s habitat. We announce the monster’s movements on social media, which keeps engagement extremely high throughout the season.

4. Leverage partnerships. If outside groups want to capitalize upon your success and amplify your message, let them! Shortly after launching the campaign, a group of unsolicited individuals, who referred to themselves as the Rocky Mountain Paranormal Society, stepped forward to help authenticate the existence of the Standley Monster. This group shot a video of the quest, which we agreed to share on our Facebook pages. In another instance, we agreed to commission a limited run of “golden poos” in support of a dog-park clean-up, sponsored by our Open Space division; the limited-edition poos are awarded to volunteers who collect the most dog waste from the property (based upon weight).

5. Seek sponsorships. As with all of our special events and marketing initiatives, we offer presenting sponsorship opportunities to public and private community-minded partner organizations. Association with a positive initiative has significant value!

The #StandleyMonster initiative is happy to serve as inspiration for any community. For more information on this campaign (or any of the city’s other joyfully unorthodox events), please reach out!

Despite spending the bulk of his career within the public sector, Rich Neumann is certainly the most “non-governmental” marketing and communications professional you’re likely to meet. Known for his unrelenting creativity and irreverent sense of humor, he is currently the Parks, Recreation and Libraries Marketing Supervisor for the city of Westminster, Colo., where, in addition to marketing and communications, his duties include planning and executing special events. Reach him at rneumann@cityofwestminster.us.