University of Kentucky public relations recently had a chat with Chad Yelton, vice president of communications and marketing at the Cincinnati Zoo. He discussed his job and also memories of his alma mater.
UK: What is the typical day like in your position?
Chad Yelton (CH): My favorite part about my job is there are no typical days. The Cincinnati Zoo is the number one year-round family attraction in the region. Over 1.6 million people visit the zoo each year. It’s exciting for me that so many people travel from Lexington. Each year, we do media tours where we bring animals to Lexington TV and radio stations to promote the zoo.
UK: How did you go from being a UK graduate to your current position?
CH: My courses in marketing, advertising and integrated strategic communication set a great foundation for my career. I also was fortunate to get an internship with Host Communications where I sold advertising, compiled stats and interviewed players for the basketball and football game day programs. After my internship, I returned home to Northern Kentucky and became the media specialist for the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. After 19 years, I am now the vice president of marketing and communications at the zoo.
UK: What is the best part of your job?
CH: I truly love my job. How many people can really say that? I have the privilege of working with some of the best and most passionate people. I’m around some of the rarest and endangered animals in the world. I’ve had the privilege of traveling to exotic places, meeting celebrities and athletes, and witnessing the births of so many animals just to name a few of my highlights.
UK: What is the most challenging aspect of your position?
CH: Not having enough time to tell every story.
UK: You sometimes have to deal with international media events as VP of marketing and communications. How do you draw up on your education experience during those times?
CH: The University of Kentucky did a great job preparing me for life. I’ve certainly put my education experience to the test during my long career at the zoo. From the creative writing classes to communication courses to advertising projects, I’m living my college days on a daily basis.
UK: What is the most fulfilling part of your job?
CH: Making a difference at one of the oldest nonprofits in Cincinnati. I get to witness so much joy on the faces of the hundreds of thousands of children that visit the zoo every year. Last week, a hospice patient said her dying wish was getting to see some of the animals up close. We were able to bring her and a few of her friends to the zoo and give her a special experience.
UK: Do you have kids? If so, what do they think about their dad working at the zoo?
CH: Yes, I have three kids — Abby (15), Maggie (12) and Jack (10). They love it. I used to visit their elementary school for career day with a penguin and my kids were like rock stars. They also looked forward to the annual “take your child to work day.” While their friends were spending the day in some boring office cubicle, my kids were feeding animals, riding the train, setting up for concerts and going to radio and TV studios.
UK: What zoo animal is most interesting to you and why?
CH: I would say giraffes. My office is approximately 100 feet from the Giraffe Ridge exhibit. I’ve also been fortunate to witness these amazing animals in Kenya and Tanzania. Recently, I have seen several births. In 2013, we won an American Marketing Association Marketer of the Year Award for live tweeting a giraffe birth.
UK: What advice you would give to current UK students?
CH: In 2014, I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. The best piece of advice I was given before I went was “enjoy the journey, not just the top of the mountain.” So, I will pass that advice on to current UK students. Enjoy the entire college experience. Don’t just focus on graduation day and getting a job. Enjoy all the little moments like learning to live on your own, learning how to cook, pay bills, getting to class on time, etc. Enjoy everything that is UK.