Charitable organizations and production companies have at least one thing in common: both are calling on every resource at their disposal in order to dig out new dollars. Memphis, Tennessee-based Ducks Unlimited is looking to broaden its reach and boost visibility via documentary production.
The international conservation organization, founded by waterfowl hunters in 1937 to protect and enhance wetland habitats, has raised over us$1 billion since its inception, and now receives more than us$100 million a year from its one-million-plus contributors.
du is just completing a one-hour, us$250,000 project called Snow Warning, the finale of a communications campaign geared to raise us$600 million for its 60th anniversary. The project, an exploration of snow goose over-population and the destruction of Arctic breeding grounds, is produced with St. Louis, Missouri-based Banyon Communications.
Snow Warning is the first in a series of one-hour specials; the organization expects to produce about four per year, all to be hosted by actor Jameson Parker (Simon & Simon). In terms of broadcast, Chris Dorsey, du’s group manager of publishing and communications, says the group is negotiating to form a ‘strategic alliance’ with an American cabler, perhaps to come on board as a coproduction partner as well: ‘We definitely want to get into a long-term relationship with a broadcaster.’
Proposals from producers are being accepted, and Dorsey says du is actively looking to expand its pool of partnerships. Of particular interest, of course, are producers who can bring some cash to the table. ‘We’re looking for people with a strong background in reality-based and nature production, and credibility is critical,’ says Dorsey. ‘It’s also critical that producers understand our mandate. We’re not getting into production for the sake of getting into production. We’re only interested in projects which can further our habitat conservation mission, but they need to be both entertaining and informative.’
Dorsey adds that he’s also soliciting proposals for a nature series aimed at children, a project he expects will become part of a larger educational campaign.
du will be targeting the corporate community, hoping to snare some new underwriters for the doc specials by offering an evergreen sponsorship opportunity – although Dorsey admits there aren’t many corporations du hasn’t already approached in its 61-year history.
Looking ahead, he also hopes to entice corporate support for a Ducks Unlimited imax film on the Florida Everglades. du has been consulting with Utah-based Destination Cinema, owner of numerous large-screen theaters at popular natural tourist attractions (Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, Yellowstone) and a distributor of large-screen product. Destination also produces product for its own theatres and distributes it to other venues.
When it comes to tv, du is no stranger to American cable. The organization’s half-hour series World of Ducks Unlimited – an outdoor lifestyle program with what Dorsey calls a ‘soft-sell, subtle message’ – will begin its second season on The Nashville Network in July. Dorsey says the new docs, budgeted at us$20,000-$30,00 per episode, will be ‘far different’ from the existing series produced by Barrett Productions in Missoula, Montana.
Beyond television, du’s cross-promotion reach includes its own magazine with a circulation of 600,000 and a three-minute weekday radio program aired on over 400 stations in North America. Says Dorsey: ‘We set out to build our brand and the payoff has been dramatic. Increasing our production is an expansion of that effort.