Reprinted with permission from Solution Set reports from The Lenfest Institute and The Solutions Journalism Network
On Tuesday, June 12, a raccoon got stranded on the side of an office building across the street from Minnesota Public Radio, the public radio station in the Twin Cities.
The station’s reporters quickly dubbed the critter #MPRraccoon, and as it climbed up the building to safety it attracted worldwide attention. But as the newsroom covered the viral phenom, others at MPR tried to meet listeners’ request for raccoon merchandise. This week in Solution Set, I spoke with some of MPR’s leadership to better understand how they responded to this unique moment.
June 12 was a fairly normal Tuesday afternoon at Minnesota Public Radio until staffers noticed something odd on the building across the street: A raccoon was climbing up the side of a building.
Journalists, as they’re wont to do, quickly began tweeting about the little critter, and MPR reporter Tim Nelson christened it the #MPRraccoon as he reported extensively on the animal’s progress.
Soon, people far beyond Minnesota began following the raccoon’s ascent. Social media posts spread rapidly around the Internet, #MPRRaccoon trended on Twitter, and news organizations from around the world began publishing stories about the raccoon.
People from all around the world also began producing art depicting the raccoon’s challenge. And as the drawings and depictions appeared on social media, users had another request: Can I get an #MPRraccoon tote bag or T-shirt? (This is public media after all.)
So as the raccoon continued its climb, MPR began thinking about how it could make the most out of the unexpected attention.
“The conversations were how do we, Minnesota Public Radio, respond to this? It was more about feeding what the audience wanted and being true to who we were than how can we make money so to speak,” said Jennifer Van Zandt, managing director of marketing & creative services.
#MPRraccoon took off on Tuedsay afternoon, June 12. The raccoon safely reached the top of the building in the early morning hours of the following day, Wednesday, June 13.
By that afternoon, MPR was already selling T-shirts and tote bags.