New Leadership, Same Mission
Mike Bober, the new president and CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, discusses how the organization will continue to address the legislative and regulatory challenges facing the pet industry.
Pet Business: What will set your tenure as president and CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) apart from past administrations?
Mike Bober: Specifically, the difference that you will see in my approach to PIJAC is one that is very much steeped in the core mission of the organization, which is government affairs. It’s no secret that I started out as an outsider to the industry. I was brought on as vice president of government affairs not because I understood the industry, but because I understood campaigns and legislation. At our core, that is what PIJAC is all about.
In the coming year—and hopefully for years to come—I think you’re going to see PIJAC be an organization that is much more clearly focused on the industry’s government affairs needs, on both the offensive and defensive side. That will be reflected in pretty much everything we do.
We have a team that, for all intents and purposes, is a government affairs team. We don’t have staff that deal with extraneous subject matter. We don’t have a department that focuses on admin. We don’t have a department that focuses on trade shows. Our job is to fight and to win, and everyone on staff here understands that and is on board with that mission. I’m excited to work alongside all of them.
PB: What is the overall legislative and regulatory climate facing the pet industry right now?
Bober: Unfortunately, the single greatest vulnerability that the industry has right now is the available supply of responsibly raised and well-cared-for companion animals. Without healthy companion animals, there is no pet industry. That’s just a fact.
Misguided legislation out there is going to have the unintended consequence of making it harder and harder for the average consumer to make the responsible choice about what animal is right for their individual circumstances. Whether it is a retail sales ban that prevents them from obtaining a dog or a cat from someone that can help them find the right animal, restrictions on access to international or domestic waters for the collection of aquatic species, or restrictions on the ownership of certain reptile species based on nothing more than their potential length, all of these things are legislation that sounds really good when it’s written on paper or when testimony about it is delivered by an emotional activist who feels very strongly. Unfortunately, they all have the same effect of making it harder for people to connect with responsible breeders, collectors and distributors that can best provide them with their perfect companion animal.
In this regard, I think we as an industry are in a worse place than we were a decade ago, because the campaigns to limit access to responsibly raised, bred and collected animals have become increasingly sophisticated—for example, they take excellent advantage of the power of social media. The implications of their success echo throughout the industry.
On other issues, the industry is much better off. We’ve done a really good job of investing in and gathering sound scientific information that makes the case for why some of the things that we are on the lookout for are really good for the consumer or really bad for the consumer. But until we can address the issue of access to companion animals, we are going to continue to be in a somewhat perilous situation.
PB: For years, the PIJAC has faced significant financial challenges. How is the organization doing today in this regard?
Bober: We’re actually in a better place now than we have been in quite some time, and I think a lot of the credit for that goes to [former president and CEO] Ed Sayres. The PIJAC board of directors brought him on primarily because of his track record and his organizational experience, and he spent the better part of a year helping us get on a much firmer footing.
The biggest element of that—and the one we’re most excited about—is a new relationship with the Pet Leadership Council (PLC). Through this relationship, PLC will be our single largest member and will provide us with enough funding to serve as a very stable base of support upon which we can build our legislative program for the year. That’s not to say that we will be able to function exclusively on what we are getting from the council, but having that stable base of support really does enable us to move forward in a more thoughtful and intentional way, rather than constantly having to wonder where funding will come from.
A problem that we, as an industry, need to talk about is the fact that government affairs work—legislative and regulatory representation—is a necessary element of doing business in this country. And PIJAC, as a legislative and regulatory trade association, is tasked with defending the industry as a whole, regardless of who steps up to the plate to provide funding to do so. We don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing which elements of the industry to defend. We have to make sure that we are supporting the industry as a whole.
Unfortunately, I think this creates a situation where a lot of people in the industry are content to sit back and allow others to foot the bill. It’s the concept of free-ridership, and because we are a member organization, there is no easy way around that. We cannot bill people for our services; that’s not an option. So, we need to be better at telling the story of what we are doing on a daily basis and why it is absolutely necessary for the industry to provide the funds to do it right.
We don’t have the luxury of losing these fights, because if something goes the wrong way, it becomes 10 times more difficult and 10 times more expensive to fix it after the fact than it ever would have been to prevent it in the first place.
I think that’s going to be my greatest challenge coming into my new role: finding a way to more effectively communicate that need and show people that their willingness to let others step up in their place could ultimately have very real and significant implications for their ability to do business.
PB: Is there any particular segment of the industry that you need to target for increased support?
Bober: To be honest, I think we need more help from all sectors. When you get right down to it, the support we get from organizations like the American Pet Products Association, the Pet Industry Distributors Association and the World Pet Association is absolutely crucial to PIJAC. The fact that those three organizations and others have come together through the Pet Leadership Council to provide a unified base of support is something that allows us to even contemplate success.
However, if we’re being completely honest here, when you look at the funding that we get from those organizations and break it down across their entire membership, the individual manufacturers and distributors are not really paying what we need them to pay in order to effectively represent them simply based on their membership in those trade associations. In some ways, it is actually harder for us to communicate the need to companies that are members of those trade associations, because they feel like they’re giving through that group.
With retailers, we can make a much more direct pitch that they don’t have somebody who is funding PIJAC on their behalf. That’s why we feel very fortunate to have the support of some of the larger retail chains, and even smaller, independent retailers across the country. We are able to communicate to them directly what we’re doing for them on a daily basis in a way that is often harder to communicate to manufacturers and distributors who might see our pitch as almost a form of double dipping.
PB: The industry has seen some of its trade associations evolve to broaden their roles over the past decade. From your perspective, have the various associations—including PIJAC—gotten a handle on how they can all operate together for the common good?
Bober: Over the past three years, as my role at PIJAC has evolved, I’ve been very gratified to see the various bodies in the industry—and I’m not just talking about the trade associations, but also groups like NAIA [National Animal Interest Alliance], AKC [American Kennel Club] and some of the other registry groups out there—demonstrate an evolving understanding that we all need to be aware of each other. We cannot operate in a vacuum, as though we are the only ones out there that can address the issues that the industry faces, and there really seems to be an appetite for collaboration and increased communication. As a result, we’re seeing a lot of organizations starting to work smarter and avoid the kind of the duplication and stepping on toes that plagued some of our efforts for years.
We are recognizing that on some of the issues our industry faces, we’re actually the David facing a Goliath in the form of activist organizations that have hundreds of millions of dollars in funding. So, it’s incumbent on us to avoid spending what resources we have on duplicating each other’s efforts, and make sure we’re using those resources in ways that complement one another.