Flow Communications

The South African Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) champions the protection and sustainable use of South Africa’s biodiversity, making the nation’s rich heritage of flora and fauna accessible in 11 national botanical gardens.

In spring 2022, the Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden (near Worcester in the Western Cape) opened its Braille Trail, a 154m meander that makes the beauty of the Karoo’s biodiversity accessible to persons with disabilities. Flow was tasked with telling South Africa about the Braille Trail.

The campaign reached more than 55-million people via editorial media – exceeding the target by 40-million or 268% – within four weeks.

Karoo National Botanical Garden’s Braille Trail

Opportunity statement

At best, South Africa’s biodiversity is taken for granted. At worst, it’s exploited, looted and devalued to such an extent that species face certain extinction, livelihoods are threatened, food security is imperilled and, in the ever-expanding absence of natural ecological buffer zones, the vulnerability of people to climate change grows season by season.

The best remedy, SANBI says, is to educate South Africans on the priceless value of biodiversity and the intricate web of biological co-dependency that keeps plants, animals and people in perfect, life-sustaining balance.

Persons with disabilities should not be excluded from this learning, and neither should they be denied access to national botanical gardens and the life-affirming experience of visiting them.

So it was important for publicity work around the opening of the Braille Trail at Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden to be impactful.

Not only was this an opportunity to communicate critical and key SANBI messaging (biodiversity is life … literally), but it was also an opportunity to give evidence of inclusivity in SANBI’s operations and product offering, and that the institute invests richly in making the treasure of South Africa’s biodiversity accessible to all citizens.

Wlcome sign at the Karoo National Botanical Garden’s Braille Trail

Research conducted

Until a few years ago, South Africa’s national botanical gardens received a government subsidy. Over time, though, the subsidy was reduced, and now the national botanical gardens must pay their own way: raising money through events and at the turnstiles to keep heads above water and to ensure these treasures of biodiversity are viable and thriving.

So SANBI and Flow as its communications and marketing partner do what it takes to encourage South Africans to visit the gardens. Every person through the garden gates makes it that much easier for SANBI to pay wages and cover other hefty running costs.

Flow’s research strategy for this consumer-focused campaign was first to understand the competition national botanical gardens face: how they vie for a share of consumer disposable income. This research was region-specific: the Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden does not contend with the same competition as, for example, the Kirstenbosch or Walter Sisulu national botanical gardens.

Consumer campaigns must be clear on the culture, tourism and lifestyle preferences of communities close to the garden. It makes little sense to offer an experience that does not resonate with the very people that experience is offered to.

Understanding the dynamics of community media is also important. We sought to understand the people who live close to the garden so that we could tailor communications to them and encourage them to visit.

While it’s fabulous to secure national coverage, if that coverage does not result in feet through garden gates, the effort in securing the coverage is largely wasted. Yet community media are often influenced by the national news agenda, so community media will jump on to a story if a national title deems it newsworthy enough to cover. Media research for the campaign took this into account.

The following was all duly considered: community insights; media serving the Worcester and Hex River Valley regions; lifestyle and consumer competitor offerings in the area; and national media titles where coverage would stimulate follow-on coverage and editorial endorsement in the community media.

Planning and executing the campaign

Campaign planning for publicising the launch of the Braille Trail at Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden took place alongside the research, for the one impacted and influenced the other.

The campaign’s objective was:

  • To reach at least 15-million people through traditional media with news of the Braille Trail within four weeks

The primary communication commodity of the campaign was a template media release that was repurposed for the various target media. Flow is averse to “spraying and praying” and was especially determined not to deliver cookie-cutter communications for SANBI.

The primary release (inclusive of all key messaging) was altered for:

  • News media (investment in diversity and inclusivity in the Hex River Valley)

  • Travel and tourism media (a lovely day trip from Cape Town, one of the world’s favourite destination cities)

  • Lifestyle media (the beauty of a Karoo succulent garden, now accessible to all: wide open spaces, sunshine on your face, textured and fragrant plants, delightful Karoo fauna)

  • The community media (on your doorstep, the treasures of Karoo biodiversity now accessible to all, including persons with disabilities

PR about the Karoo National Botanical Garden’s Braille Trail


The team had set SMART (specific, measurable, appropriate, realistic and time-bound) objectives at commencement. We aimed to reach at least 15-million people with news of the Braille Trail.

This needed to be achieved within four weeks of the campaign hitting market (i.e., before the end of October 2022). It was our ambition to attract at least two lots of television coverage of the Braille Trail.

The final results were as follows: 55.3-million people reached (editorial media alone, and 40-million more people than set in the target), including a feature on the Braille Trail on both the 50/50 and Expresso television shows. This was all delivered within the four-week deadline that was set.

We thus exceeded our target by 40-million, or 268%!

The work returned an AVE of 15:1 on SANBI’s monthly investment in Flow’s services (at straight advertising rates).