Election Day is Just the Beginning
Pet specialty retailers should make the effort to talk with their elected representatives as early as possible.
This month, voters across the country are choosing their elected officials at the local, state and federal levels. While Election Day may mark the end of the campaign season for candidates, for those of us in the pet care community, it’s really just the beginning. As soon as we know who our representatives are, it’s time to start helping them get to know us.
Throughout this year’s primary season, we have seen indications that there will be more new faces in Congress, state legislatures and city councils than ever before. Retirements have created numerous vacancies, and there have even been several high-profile upsets in which candidates from their own parties defeated long-serving incumbents. Couple these with the general election defeats that are being predicted for endangered members on both sides of the aisle, and we will be welcoming quite a few freshman legislators at all levels of government.
In some cases, this will be a good thing—an opportunity to start over with a clean slate where the previous office-holder’s mind had been made up long ago. This is where early engagement is key. Reach out and introduce yourself and your business. Invite your elected officials to take a tour and meet your staff. Look for opportunities to demonstrate value by participating in economic roundtables and advisory boards, offering to host events at your facility or simply sharing information.
In other cases, unfortunately, long-time allies and supporters will also be replaced by someone new. These transitions can be easy or difficult, depending on the nature of the change.
Was this the result of a retirement? If so, it’s possible that there will be a relatively smooth change from one elected official to the next. Look for opportunities to continue your existing relationship with the office during the transition period. Determine if current staffers will be staying on; if they are not, seek an opportunity for a “hand-off” meeting or a direct introduction to their successors.
If not—especially in situations where a lawmaker is replaced by someone from the opposing party—prepare to go back to square one. Take the time to review the positions that the newly-elected legislator highlighted during the campaign. Find areas of common interest. Don’t assume that your positive working relationship with the previous office-holder will either continue unchanged or work against you with your new representative.
Start the Conversation
Pets are non-partisan, and we in the pet care community have so many positive things to talk about when first meeting elected officials. We can point to the health benefits of the human-animal bond, using research supported and compiled by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute. We can discuss ways in which companion animals in learning environments improve educational outcomes and socialization for students, one of the fundamental principles of the Pets in the Classroom program. And we in the professional pet care community can also point to the significant, positive impact that we have on the communities in which we live and work, citing evidence from the economic impact study commissioned by the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) and the Pet Leadership Council and using state-by-state infographics available on PIJAC’s website.
Roughly two-thirds of American households own pets. That’s a statistic that lawmakers can’t afford to ignore. Couple it with the fact that many animal care issues also affect non-pet owners, and you’re going to get attention when you reach out to meet with your representatives.
But they’re unlikely to come to you first. The first weeks and months after an election are a whirlwind of activity for new officeholders. Think about the last time you started a new job, and then imagine it with the public watching and commenting on your every move. By the time your legislator has a chance to reach out to you—assuming it crosses their mind to do so in the first place—it may be too late to make a first impression on your terms. Issues that affect you may already be under consideration, and others with competing agendas may have already defined issues on their terms.
Back in September, we hosted pet care community members from across the country for our first annual industry-wide fly-in. We arranged meetings with more than 100 Congressional offices so that breeders, distributors, retailers, food and product manufacturers, and service providers could sit down with staffers and elected officials to tell their individual stories and the story of the broader pet care community. The most common feedback we got from attendees was that they were surprised to learn just how easy those meetings were. It turns out your elected representatives want to hear from you, and they appreciate it when subject matter experts, like you, share their experience and expertise.
As you watch the election results this month, think about reaching out to all the people who will represent you and requesting meetings. And remember: we at PIJAC can help. Contact us to learn more about everything from making those initial meeting requests to following up and truly getting involved with your elected officials. PB
Mike Bober is president and CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC).