The Elements of Effective Outreach
The ability to communicate with animal activists, government officials and the general public is vital to the continued success of everyone in the pet industry.
As any business knows, a positive image is critical to surviving and thriving. For the responsible pet industry, this is especially true as regulations, bills and ordinances crop up in jurisdictions across the country.
In May, this column addressed how to educate lawmakers, the public and others without whom success in our industry is more difficult. This month, we will explore communication with several audiences key to your success.
Animal Activists & Advocates
Whether national or local, animal welfare advocates can be terrific allies. They can also make things difficult for the small businesses that make up most of the pet industry.
To some reading this, it may seem impossible to work with advocates because of issues like pet sale bans or pet ownership laws. With that in mind, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) encourages two tactics for engagement.
First, remember that they are people, too. Just as you don’t want them lumping your business in with bad actors, many of your area’s activists may be open to discussion and persuasion. Engaging with, instead of against, these activists may create unexpected alliances. If you are able to do so, show them how you treat animals. Offer to co-host events or tables at events. If a public policy issue comes up where you agree, take the lead on outreach to the press or to lawmakers.
Second, and related, local issues often outweigh national advocacy efforts. For example, PIJAC and Humane Society of the United States often disagree on pet sale bans—a major issue for both groups—but PIJAC board chair Laura “Peach” Reid testified with a representative of the Humane Society’s Connecticut chapter in favor of a shelter oversight law.
Likewise, activists and industry alike oppose breed-specific restrictions like those recently proposed in Springfield, Mo. This sort of pet discrimination is low-hanging fruit for common ground, as are pet care and zoonosis prevention.
Of course, working together isn’t always possible. PIJAC and stores in Cambridge, Mass., were frustrated when activists refused discussion and negotiation on the new city ban on all pet sales except for fish. But, again, alliances will never happen if the industry does not attempt to change hearts and minds.
Lawmakers & Regulators
While they are different audiences, lawmakers and regulators may often be reached through the same methods. First and foremost, you must proactively contact them and, if possible, offer to be a resource. Let them know that when companion animal, business and regulatory issues arise, you are available and eager to help. Offer to be on relevant boards and committees in your community.
The second step is to show officials that you are a responsible potential partner. Invite them to tour your business. Introduce them to your employees and to your pets. Show them industry awards and how your practices are in line with scientific and data-based standards. Make sure to tie your business to what the larger industry is doing—to our economic power in your state (PIJAC can provide that information to you), industry self-regulation vis-à-vis Canine Care Standards and Small Animal Care Standards, and what we do to ensure companion animal wellbeing.
Lastly, make sure to keep in touch. Officials meet too many people to keep track; regular communication keeps you at the forefront of their minds.
All of this is important to helping those who make pet policies trust you. Otherwise, they will look to you last—if at all—and with a critical eye instead of a welcoming one when issues arise.
The general public may be the most important audience. This includes your customers and those influenced to vote for or against politicians and ballot measures.
For those who rely on you for pets, products and/or services, the outreach is simple: Keep doing a great job. Ask them to refer you to friends and family, write Yelp and Angie’s List reviews and promote your business on Facebook. If an issue arises, ask for their public and private support.
One of the best ways to get your local community on your side is to be seen, and seen well. Hosting events, participating in popular goings-on like markets or parades and having “open houses” at your headquarters helps you become an important part of your community. Add some education on animal health and welfare and you’ll be well on your way to effecting positive change while inoculating yourself against unfair and false accusations.
The media is an effective ally when it comes to getting the public on your side. Not everyone can come to an event or see you in a parade. Getting on television or radio, and getting coverage in area newspapers and online news sites, helps everyone know the work that you do for animals and people alike. PB
Dustin Siggins is the director of communications for the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), the national legislative and advocacy voice of the responsible pet trade. He stands ready and willing to do what he can to help your business improve its public image. Contact him at Dustin@pijac.org.