The Forest Preserve District’s “Don’t Be A Jerk” campaign has won a first-place award from the National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials.
The award was given for “outstanding achievement” in the marketing category. The bold and humorous 2019 campaign used catchy messages to educate and encourage positive behavior for the benefit of all who spend time in the preserves.
"We’re honored to have received this award for our series regarding those nagging behaviors that organizations like ours deal with on a regular basis," said Chief Operating Officer Ralph Schultz. "We hoped the addition of a bit of humor would help get across the impact of those negative actions and let our visitors know that we get just as frustrated as they do."
The multimedia campaign grew out of complaints by members of the public who were tired of encountering “jerks” in the preserves. The effort also highlighted wildlife that can be harmed by improperly disposed of cigarette butts, fishing line and other refuse.
The “Don’t Be A Jerk” campaign featured four videos on: reining in your dog, how to use a garbage can, how to use a trail, and how to dispose of fishing line and hooks etc. so wildlife aren't harmed.
Eye-catching signs, which were placed in the preserves and remain there today, feature pictures of cute animals with these messages: don’t be a litter bug; don't be a trail hog; don't be a butthead, discarded cigarettes butts kill wildlife; don't be a wiener, keep your dog on a leash and pick up its poop; and don't be trashy, fishing line kills wildlife.
“When you’re trying to call out bad behavior and change some of that behavior, the standard polite reminders just don’t cut it,” said Chad Merda, the Forest Preserve’s digital communications manager. “We decided it was time to go all in with a unique over-the-top summer campaign. Because let’s face it, if you’re littering in the preserve, letting your unrestrained dog run wild or completely blocking a trail with no regard for anyone else, you’re being a jerk. There’s no reason to sugarcoat it.”
The campaign featured videos with Forest Preserve police Sgt. Dean Klier showing what not to do in the preserves. Forest Preserve police dog, Jullo, co-starred for some of the footage.
“Forest Preserve police wanted to participate in this campaign because promoting safety and etiquette in the preserves is a team effort within the District," said police Chief Tracy Chapman. "Working together on common goals helps maintain amazing preserves and positive experiences for visitors. These videos educate preserve users on etiquette and create awareness of what it means to be a 'jerk' in the forest preserves."
Reaction to the marketing effort was "huge and positive," Merda said.
“And the campaign clearly struck a chord with people who just want to enjoy the preserves for the recreational and wildlife viewing opportunities they offer," he added. "Visitors don’t want to have negative experiences due to those people who can’t follow commonsense rules when out in public.”
Most preserve visitors do the right thing and the “Don’t Be A Jerk” campaign reinforced their positive behavior, added Laura Kiran, the Forest Preserve’s director of marketing and communications.
“For those who aren't behaving as they should, we hope this campaign served as a bold reminder," she said. "Everyone needs to pitch in to ensure the preserves remain places where wildlife can thrive and where people will want to continue to visit."
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