Show AND Tell
Transparency and communication are more important than ever.
There’s a paradox when it comes to Americans and business. We encourage entrepreneurship and celebrate success, but that success makes us skeptical—even distrustful—of businesses, their employees and their motivations. For those of us in the pet care community, this distrust is a huge problem that needs to be confronted head on.
No matter the issue we’re facing, one of the most common charges brought against pet businesses is that they “put profits before pets.” This accusation has been used to criticize everyone from breeders of live animals, food and product manufacturers, retailers, and even service providers. When levied, it’s meant to paint a picture of pet care professionals as heartless and money-hungry; people for whom companion animals are, at best, an afterthought.
And it works. We’ve all heard stories of corporate greed and profit-driven behavior, both big and small, across a wide range of industries, so the public is pre-conditioned to assume the worst. Because we work with living creatures, accusations of corner-cutting and outright mistreatment are especially resonant and hard to dismiss.
As pet care professionals, this is a frustrating situation. Many of us go into the pet business because we love working with pets and pet owners and we’re thrilled to be able to make a living doing what we love. We bring passion, a desire to help and a commitment of lifelong learning to the process of connecting people with pets and helping them care for them. But then we’re dismissed or demonized when we offer our experience and expertise because we are paid for it.
So how can you overcome that predisposition to believe that you’re “just in it for the money?”
As with so many other aspects of business today, the keys are transparency and communication. Social media amplifies and accelerates word-of-mouth reviews, and today’s pet owners are more inclined than ever to engage as partners, rather than mere consumers. Together, these factors can make or break your reputation with potential customers and your elected officials.
For these things to work in your favor, you need to be actively working on how you interact with the public. No matter what your business is, no matter how directly you interact with the public, what you say and how you say it will affect your reputation. This can be especially challenging for smaller, independent businesses; building your brand takes time and energy that could otherwise be spent building your business itself.
With two-thirds of American households owning pets, the media knows that stories about our animal companions are a reliable draw. And stories that “confirm” people’s predisposition to distrust corporate interests are always going to resonate with audiences. When these stories are published, we at the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) work to correct misrepresentations and to clarify misunderstandings that portray the entire pet care community in a negative light. But your individual reputation can take a hit as well, and you need to be ready.
That’s where transparency comes in. To the extent possible, share what you do and how you do it. Walk customers through your processes and help them understand what you’re offering. Provide multiple channels for engagement and do your best to respond.
When it comes to interacting with elected officials, consider going a step further. Invite them to visit your facility and see things for themselves if you’re able. Meet with them and share information that helps to show a more complete picture of your business—beyond first impressions and possible misperceptions.
And above all else, authenticity is a must. When you talk about your commitment to animal care, you need to be able to back it up. If you’ve invited someone for a tour, don’t expect to simply provide a packaged presentation and have it accepted at face value; be prepared to answer their questions and go into additional detail as needed.
If your business permits enough transparency for a “peek behind the curtain,” then people can see how your words translate to your actions. If it doesn’t, your engaged communications efforts can give context and color to what you say. Marketing and communications that feel “packaged” or overly produced are quickly rejected by today’s pet owners and can actually work against a brand.
As you head into a new year, please reach out to PIJAC to learn more about how we can all work to build our reputations and that of the responsible pet care community together. Our ability to do what we love depends on it. PB
Mike Bober is president and CEO of PIJAC.