Telling Our Story
The pet industry must get better at communicating the many ways it works to improve the lives of companion animals, or risk letting activists cast our business in a negative light.
Last month, pet industry leaders from across the country gathered in Carlsbad, Calif., for the fourth annual Top2Top conference. Attendees certainly enjoyed the beautiful views, the championship-quality golf course and the valuable networking opportunities, but it was the program of speakers that truly made the event worthwhile.
This year’s theme was “Lead the Pack,” and that phrase was as much a challenge to attendees as it was a promise of what they would hear. It takes more than just a successful business strategy or a popular product to be a real leader in an industry that faces frequent and diverse legislative and regulatory issues. Recognizing that we are all competitors and colleagues, the agenda included presentations on how to gain a business edge, as well as ways to work together when faced with outside threats.
Almost without exception, speakers touched on the need for greater communication. Petco CEO Jim Myers kicked things off with a keynote address that stressed “the power of together” and urged those in attendance to actively reach out to their vendors and customers to amplify the industry’s voice. On the business front, Brian Donahue, a partner at CRAFT—a political consulting and public affairs firm—discussed the dos and don’ts of digital brand management, and Nathan Richter of Wakefield Research book-ended his popular presentation on marketing to Millennial pet owners with a presentation on older pet owners.
This year, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) sought to encourage greater communication among segments serving the various species of companion animals within the pet industry, as well, reminding everyone that leading the pack isn’t just about dogs and cats. Robyn Markland and Chad Brown, of the Reptile Report, gave an update on reptile politics, and Dr. Susan Clubb, of the Rainforest Clinic for Birds & Exotics, spoke about current avian issues. The PIJAC Aquatic Defense Fund brought attendees up to speed on its recent activity in support of everyone who collects, breeds, sells and keeps fish and aquatic plants.
Most important, the audience also heard about the industry’s need to better tell its story. Kevin Pedrotti, our California lobbyist, spoke about the past, present and future of efforts to legalize the keeping of ferrets as pets in California—an issue in which communication efforts have been both an asset and a liability. The president of the California Retailers Association, Bill Dombrowski, discussed the role of a retail association in lending its voice to the representation of its members’ interests. And TargetPoint Consulting president Michael Meyers unveiled the results of a public survey conducted for PIJAC and funded by the World Pet Association.
While the survey examined public opinion on a variety of issues, one of its most telling results emerged almost right away. More than 57 percent of the 1,030 people surveyed—most of whom were pet owners—had no opinion of the pet industry. No opinion—not positive, not negative.
Despite the fact that 69 percent of respondents currently own a pet, and 93 percent of people surveyed said that they had owned a pet at some point in their lives, more than half of them simply did not have an opinion of our industry as a whole. While this can be attributed, in part, to activists’ efforts to paint us in a negative light, it is also a direct result of our failure as an industry to tell the public who we are and what we do for animals.
We can’t afford to let this continue if we hope to persuade the undecided public that we play a positive role in the lives of pets and pet owners. We need to do a better job of communicating—with the public, with elected officials and with each other. If we fail to do so, we’re pretty much leaving it to the other side to tell our story for us. And you can guess how that works out.
While industry groups like PIJAC and the Pet Leadership Council are working to improve the visibility of the industry as a whole, every company within the pet trade needs to take a look at its own communications efforts. Who are you talking to? What are you saying to your customers? And what are your customers saying about you within their networks?
By working together, we can all play a part in converting those undecided individuals to pet industry proponents.
For more information on how to tell your story—especially to your elected officials—please contact PIJAC. We’ll be happy to work with you on what to say, how to say it, and how to take those first steps toward engaging the public on your behalf and that of the entire pet trade.
Mike Bober is vice president of government affairs for the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council. For more information on how to get involved, visit pijac.org/governmentaffairs.