Communications lessons from Wallace the Llama

We’re doing some (early) spring cleaning at the AHA office. As we go through files, media coverage binders and jump drives, we have the opportunity to reflect a little on campaigns and projects from the past. This week, we came across the files for one of our favourite creative campaigns. In the early days of AHA, we were fortunate enough to be asked to work on a documentary series called Healing with Animals, produced by Mystique Films. This was a fabulous series that focused on how animals help humans heal.

We wanted traditional media coverage for the launch of the series. (This was back before social media was as widely accepted as it is today… Seems like a million years ago, but in reality we’re only talking about seven years.) We also wanted ongoing coverage as well. We were fortunate that the filmmakers (Mary Bissell and Chris Bruyere) were out-of-the-box thinkers and “got” what we wanted to do, because we used a creative approach that took a bit of a leap of faith on their part. (Which is why we loved working with them!)

One of the segments focused on Wallace, a llama that would visit homes for the elderly. It turns out that Wallace loved people and that seeing a llama in their lobby created a positive reaction in some of the elderly, especially those suffering with dementia. Quite often, the surprise of seeing Wallace would pull the person into a period of reality. They were able to interact, converse and connect in a way that they normally struggled with due to their condition. Wallace loved the attention and the people he visited loved him.

We ended up generating a huge amount of national coverage for the series and Wallace was one of our “stars.” Our client was thrilled with the results.

The lessons we learned working with Wallace were many—below are the top three.

If you are pitching media, do your research.

We knew that (at that time) national talk show host Vicki Gabereau had a soft spot for animals. She ran a weekly spot showcasing pets that were up for adoption. She owned two labs. We saw an opportunity here to appeal to her personal interest in animals, as well as to pitch why it was good for the show as a whole.

We customized our pitch to reflect the key points we knew about Vicki and the show. It wasn’t a generic pitch; it reflected the show’s mandate and touched some personal interest points for the host. The producer loved the idea and Wallace and our client were invited to come on the show.

Get the most value for your efforts.

Wallace lived on Vancouver Island and The Vicki Gabereau Show taped in downtown Vancouver. There was a body of water between us. Wallace’s wranglers brought him over via ferry. (He loves the ride and had his own customized van for travel.) It took a lot of time and effort from everyone involved to bring Wallace to Vancouver to appear on the national talk show. In order to make the most of this opportunity we added an autograph session to Wallace’s visit. (I mean, really, how many times in a communicator’s career do you have a llama in the downtown core of Vancouver?) Prior to the taping of the talk show, we had Wallace at the corner of Burrard and Robson (one of Vancouver’s busiest corners) “signing” hoof autographs for fans. Wallace loves people, so he was in his glory with the tourists, the children and everyone coming to meet him and pet him. We sent out a photo opportunity notice to media across the country—explaining that Wallace was in town to be on The Vicki Gabereau Show to promote his segment in Healing with Animals.

There was huge national coverage on this. The coverage not only showed images of Wallace in downtown Vancouver, but also mentioned his upcoming appearance on The Vicki Gabereau Show (the show was live to tape so aired a day later) and mentioned Healing With Animals and when it aired. Everyone benefited.

We also had a shot taken of Wallace on the corner signing autographs and sent this out to community papers and other media that couldn’t make the photo opportunity. This also generated coverage and it was used in promotional materials for the show, providing additional value to the filmmakers and the broadcaster.

Do whatever it takes to get the job done.

People have an idea that the life of a communicator is filled with nice lunch meetings and business class trips to posh client organizations. Not my life, not that I would trade it for anything.

I learned a lot about llamas while working with Wallace. 1) They spit when they are mad. (I am grateful I never made Wallace mad at me.) 2) If Wallace really liked you, he would lean in for what seemed to be a kiss, and then he would expel air in your face. No spit, just stinky llama breath of affection. (He seemed to really love me!) 3) They won’t go to the bathroom unless there is already llama poop at the spot. Well, Wallace needed to do his business before we took him into the studio. His wranglers had thoughtfully brought a bag of llama poop with them. It was my job to put out the poop so Wallace would then do what he needed to… which he cheerfully did. Then it was my job to pick up all the poop.

There I was, in a small parking lot just off Burrard Street, picking up llama poop in my business clothes. Such a glam life I lead.

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  1. Chris

    whatever it takes! Love it….

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