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September 22, 2010
A Zoo Saved via Relationships
The essence of public relations is relationships and the zest with which they are formed and nurtured. There's no better place to go for a reminder of the vitality of good relationships than The Wall Street Journal's obituary remembrance of Bob Elgin, a public relations man who was hired in 1966 as director of the struggling Des Moines Children's Zoo. He died Sept. 8 at the age of 89.

Bob Elgin did it all. He created memorable relationships with both animals and people and saved his zoo in the process.

"He put on his best P.T. Barnum and brought people in," Mark Vukovich, CEO of the now-renamed Blank Park Zoo told The Wall Street Journal. "He kept it alive in Des Moines."

Elgin got bitten by cobras and raised lion and leopard cubs in his bathtub. He trained them not to claw or bite and would set the big cats loose to patrol the zoo grounds at night. He put up a sign on the gate that read, "Trespassers Will Be Eaten," but told the Associated Press that the animals wouldn't actually eat intruders, just "knock them down until help comes."

Elgin retired in 1983 after Des Moines passed a bond issue to fund a bigger zoo, and the Children's Zoo closed for renovations. He perhaps had an eccentric vision of his zoo, but it was based on relationships that obviously haven't been forgotten.

Get out there, folks, and relate well, imaginatively and with zest.

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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