PIJAC’s Mike Bober invites all members of the pet industry to share in the organization’s government affairs strategy, which was presented recently at the PILC.
In January, the first annual Pet Industry Leadership Conference (PILC) was held in Tucson, Ariz. Attendees enjoyed a lineup of speakers including astronaut Capt. Mark Kelly and engaging economist Brian Beaulieu along with breakout sessions addressing specific challenges facing the pet industry. They also heard about a vision for the industry’s government affairs agenda. This is a vision that builds on our traditional response-oriented approach and adds proactive elements to reinforce our commitment to responsible pet ownership.
But it isn’t just a strategy for those who attended the PILC. It requires the active participation of everyone in all sectors of the pet industry. In the interest of sharing it with the greatest possible audience and getting your feedback and support, here it is:
A Matter of Trust
We have the hands-on expertise in animal care that many activists lack, but we have allowed ourselves to be painted as heartless and profit-driven, caring less about animal well-being than our bottom line. Our opponents’ lack of experience and their misstatements are often excused by their passion and the perception that they don’t profit directly from their positions on issues. Conversely, our expertise is often discounted, and our refutation of misrepresentations with facts is dismissed.
Our stated mission at the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) is to promote responsible pet ownership and animal welfare, foster environmental stewardship and ensure the availability of pets. These are values shared throughout the responsible pet industry. So how can we correct this trust deficit?
Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. Trust isn’t just earned; it’s granted. You can do everything right, operating with complete transparency, and still not be trusted.
This can’t be an excuse for bad behavior. If anything, it’s a challenge to tell people who we are and what we believe and then continue to hold ourselves to higher standards than they do. And to do that, we need to be smarter about how we approach legislation and regulation.
Mission, Vision, Strategy & Tactics
There’s a quote that is attributed to Sun Tzu which says that a strategy without tactics is the slowest path to victory, but tactics without a strategy are the quickest path to defeat. Because we have historically tracked and addressed legislation as it arises, our strategy has been to play defense, bill by bill. This strategy requires significant resources to succeed and is complicated by an increasingly organized and motivated activist community. While we can’t just stop playing defense, as evidenced by the hundreds of bills we are currently tracking, we need to incorporate our defensive efforts into a broader strategy.
Using our mission as a starting point, we envision a legislative and regulatory environment in which industry expertise is recognized and our commitment to animal well-being and pet owner support is accepted as a given. To accomplish this, we need to get off our heels and start telling our story. And we need to take steps to show that we are serious. We need to proactively engage the minds and the hearts of the public and lawmakers.
That’s a strategy we can work with—broad enough in scope to provide us with plenty to do, but focused enough to ensure that we’re not simply chasing shiny objects in search of a silver bullet. We envision our tactical efforts falling into four specific categories:
• Promotion of real animal well-being: Everything we do should be a reflection of our commitment to improving animal health and promoting responsible pet ownership. The best way to do this is to “show our work” when it comes to scientific research and statistical data, making sure that we promote the most recent findings from academic sources such as those supported by HABRI and others.
• Self-regulation: We need to demonstrate that we hold ourselves to high standards, based on sound scientific principles and best practices derived from real world experience. And we need to be willing to acknowledge those who fail to meet those standards, though we must do so in a way that helps them improve rather than simply throwing them under the bus.
• Education and activation: Before we expend resources convincing the greater public of what we’re all about, we need to make sure that our own people and those with whom we already work are convinced and then activated to tell our story to others. Given the structure of the industry, the best way to accomplish this is by starting at the state level and then building from the middle out.
• Cultivation of relationships with elected officials: We can’t expect lawmakers to accept our arguments just because we say so if they don’t already know us to be reliable sources of information and support. Time spent getting to know candidates and elected officials—and helping them get to know our industry and all the positive things we do to protect pets and pet owners—is a necessity to avoid starting from scratch each time an issue arises.
By pursuing a government affairs strategy built on these principles, we can begin to erase the trust deficit and achieve our vision. To learn more about how we plan to accomplish these goals—with the help of the entire responsible pet industry—please visit our booth 2412 just inside the main entrance to the show floor or online at www.pijac.org.
Mike Bober is the president and CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council.