Everybody talked about animals on October 4, World animal day. The Scientific and Educational Cynology center of the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences invited dog lovers to the very first conference in Lithuania about dog welfare. Academics, cynology specialists, breeders, animal welfare specialists and trainers from all over the country gathered to the event.
The event idea author, Rūta Kudelytė from NGO Vibrise, knew that I have a decade long experience in theoretical and practical communication, so she invited me to tell about the importance of communication in dog welfare promotion.
What did I speak about?
Communication consultants are motivated by power
To illustrate the importance of communication in dog welfare, I asked the audience: what motivates you to do the job you do? Why didn’t you choose to be a chimney sweep, a locksmith, a sommelier, or a barber?
Communication specialists – whether they are owners of newspaper, journalists or PR consultants – are usually motivated by power. They asses their success by the results reached. Did the sales of the product increase? Did we planted the idea to doubt this proposed legislation? How much did we increase the flow of consumers to this shopping center?
So communication is important. If it wouldn’t be so, there would be no good specialists in this market. They would choose other professions, because job in communication industry is really very, very stressful.
We forget to set goals
The beginners of communication often forgets raise a question of “why?”. Why do I communicate? The answer certainly shouldn’t be “to inform the society about our activities”. Communication is a tool to reach the goals of your organization. Communication is not independent. It is part of organization’s disciplines, and you cannot have a full cycle of management without communication. Communication should echo the goals of organization itself.
You can have two types of communication goals: to change the perception of your target group, or to change the behavior of your target group (e.g., to participate in an event, to sign a petition etc.). If you represent a shelter, the goal of your communication could be to pay attention of dog owners to-be about the responsibilities arising from dog ownership, to make sure new dogs will not end up in shelters. This goal includes the definition of target group (dog owners to-be), the action we want them to take (pay attention), and the goal of organization itself (less dogs in shelters). Try it. When you precisely know what you want to do it’s mush easier to implement your ideas.
Why do you need this press release?
I cannot count how many times I have seen ads about vacancies saying “shelter needs a person who can write press releases”. If you really need it – seek for help in Communication Faculty of Vilnius University or Vytautas Magnus University. Part of their studying programs is trainings in organizations, so students just have to choose a place for practice, and it could be a shelter, if your invitation is attractive. Students will get practical experience and you will get help – it’s a win-win scenario. You can say that students are not reliable and under-educated. However, a real pro in PR won’t do it either, because he has “grown-up” the phase of writing press releases. Ant it’s not a bad thing, because at the end, you don’t need this press release in any case. While you write sporadic press releases, you waist your time by not having a strategy first. So what you need is a strategic plan for communication. It’s a pity NGOs rarely ask for that.
The bicycle has already been invented
Lithuanian animal lovers are in a good market – we don’t need to “invent a bicycle” again. There is a number of examples of good practices and huge amounts of information online. You just need to find it, take what’s relevant for your market, and adapt it.
Why there is no puppy socialization programs for breeders in Lithuania, intended to grow more socialized and – as a consequence – more expensive dogs? Why there is no competition for school children, to make dog toys in crafts lessons? Or national exam on good behavior with dogs? These and many other ideas can be found online and waits to be implemented here.
Let’s create heroes
We live in the era of consumerism. And I have a feeling that shelter staff knows well about human irrationality. They know that people tend to take care of sweet looking babies, cats and dogs. Thus they “sell” dogs with big sad eyes and stories, that make people cry.
However, sometimes it leads to an impulsive adoption. Like an impulsive buying of puppy, it can also have bad consequences. At the end we find out that the new owner does not want the dog that bad, or that he just have no skills to live with a fearful dog without making his life a never ending horror.
So why don’t we change these pity-worth creatures into heroes? We know that dog’s behavior on a large extent depends on the expectations projected on him by his owner.
Let’s expect our animals to be celebrities, sports experts, loyal friends, fun jogging companions, and “sell” these qualities to new owners. Maybe then we’ll see how society’s opinion about shelter dogs changes, too.
Shelters’ communication can create a need for a new “product” – a best friend – and then offer this “product” to people. We can already see how the opinion of society changes in Facebook, where two celebrity dogs Morka and Nova is posting. Neither of them is a pity-worth dog, both are magnificent dogs from shelters.
Concentrate your powers
There are 4 people who contact with new dog owner. An owner of a new dog usually meets: 1 a breeder or shelter staff; 2 a personnel of pet shop; 3 a dog trainer; 4 a veterinarian.
2 of them are exceptional: veterinarians and breeders as well as shelter staff, because practically all dog owners visit them. Not everybody comes to specialized pet shops or dog trainers, so these people not always have a possibility to inform new dog owner about how to ensure dog welfare.
Besides, we know that information is perceived as more reliable if it is get from several sources. We can also add academics and media to these 4 people. So we have 6 experts, which have a huge power to influence opinions, if they act together. Maybe we do not agree on all things, but we have something in common – we all love animals and we all want them to be healthy and happy. So we can at least recommend each other as experts worth trusting. If you sell a dog, give contacts of veterinarian, who you trust. Are you vaccinating a dog? Advise an owner to go to training classes, at least one. Are you are dog trainer? Suggest reliable breeder, whose dogs are socialized well, and live long. Suggest where to buy good food. Talk about the importance of having at least one chew toy.
All specialists of these occupations face huge responsibility of educating society about animal welfare. In PR we have one simple rule – if you do not shape public opinion, somebody else will do it. People’s minds are never empty, because they like when somebody suggests what to think. If you don’t tell them about the philosophy of your veterinary clinic, somebody else will do it. Maybe your competitors will tell something bad to a breeder, maybe somebody didn’t like the services and he will tell about it online. If you don’t put a thought into people’s minds, the information they have is sporadic.
Not to communicate is irresponsible
So communication is for your own interest. But not only for it. It is a “diploma” of your organization’s social responsibility. Why is that?
Because when you do nothing, your competitors are being interviewed by journalists who want professional opinion about infections in dogs. Your competitors are actively answering questions of dog owners on Facebook and keep close relationships with breeders thus ensuring their recommendations. Your competitors are TV stars and educate society about how to control uncontrollable dogs.
They suggest how to behave if a dog is not willing to surrender his bone. They say that dogs have to do it, otherwise it means that your dog is dominating. Then they advise you to lay your dog on his back and show who’s the boss. And if it doesn’t work, you need a shock collar…
Be socially responsible. Communicate. If you don’t form public’s perception on animals, somebody else might do it. And the communication in the hands of the wrong man is as powerful as in the hands of a decent specialist.