Communication is Key
Pet businesses need to keep in touch with their constituents to ensure a lasting relationship.
The U.S. responsible pet trade supported over 1.3 million jobs in 2015, according to the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council’s (PIJAC) industry-wide economic impact study conducted last year. The hard work of small and large business executives and their employees earned $60 billion and provided over $221 billion in total economic activity.
We at PIJAC have used this study to show lawmakers that laws affecting pet care professionals at stores, ethical breeder operations, veterinary and groomer offices, and manufacturer plants have real impacts in their jurisdictions. Good laws can improve a community; bad ones can deny critical services and products to prospective pet owners—and even pets themselves.
Business leaders and executives have a great deal of influence as to how these arguments are received and interpreted. Most companies are ethically run, which gives us some credibility. But how often do lawmakers and the wider potential pet-owning public know about your great work?
The Importance of Active Communication
PIJAC has, for years, urged the responsible pet trade to be proactively engaged with the public. As we pointed out in the October 2017 issue of Pet Business, the form this proactivity will take depends upon the audience. But the reason for showcasing your business practices—and doing so consistently—are the same for everyone.
When bad news breaks, we’re all called upon to react. Sometimes, we’re even expected to answer for it.
Probably none of these stories are about your company. Yet just a few headlines can cause the public and lawmakers alike to look at you as a potential problem instead of a valued addition in your community.
Effectively using proactive communication will help lawmakers, relevant media outlets and your potential customers develop a positive view of your business before a potential disaster arises. To paraphrase How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, you are getting many “yes” reactions from important stakeholders before ever getting a critical eye or even a “no” in response to your practices.
One column isn’t enough space to outline an effective local communication strategy, of course. And even if it were, your strategy must be unique to your circumstances—your corporate history, your target audience, your elected officials. Even so, some proven tactics should be a consistent part of any strategy.
Generally speaking, transparency and openness are a great way to build a rapport. If your business model permits it, consider literally opening up your doors to lawmakers, community organizations, business groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the general public. Introduce them to your employees and to your pets. Show them industry recognitions you’ve earned and how your practices are informed by ongoing research and study. Help people understand your business, the work of the broader pet care community to improve animal well being, and the ways in which all of us are working to eliminate bad actors. PIJAC can help with all of these areas—just contact us or visit PIJAC.org to find relevant information.
But don’t just wait for them to come to you—participate in activities that celebrate the community in which you live and work. Parades and charity events are always popular, and they often generate positive media coverage, as well. Be sure to add your own unique angle to these events—perhaps tips on caring for pets or showcasing your newest product. Offering deals to those who attend an event may also bring more business down the road.
A final suggested tactic is to turn the media into an ally. If someone can’t make it to your store or to a community event, a local newspaper, radio station or television station could reach them. This not only reaches further into your community audiences; it also ensures that local media know how to get in touch with you when stories—both good and bad—break.
Communication’s Benefits Outweigh the Costs
Some sectors of the responsible pet care community are frequently—and understandably—hesitant to reach out, knowing that they are already viewed critically by the public. Unfortunately, this creates a catch-22: without building positive relationships based on active communication, we allow the silence to be filled by others who hold up bad actors as representative and who dismiss positive work as profit-driven posturing. This, in turn, reinforces that initial hesitancy.
But the benefits of outreach far outweigh the costs. Only by being pro-active can you give yourself a reasonable chance of protecting yourself, your employees, any animals under your care and your customers from misunderstandings and misrepresentations that can do deep and lasting harm.
They say when you’re explaining, you’re losing. The same is true when it comes to responding to criticisms or concerns about your practices; it is better to be proactively ahead than scrambling to catch up. PB
Mike Bober is president and CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC).