Relationships, relationships, relationships.
Whether they are with the local media, state officials, government policy makers in Washington D.C. or the next generation of consumers, it’s the most important thing the pet industry can do to make a positive impact and ensure the future health, and growth, of the industry.
“You have to build those relationships now,” Rep. Dennis Cardoza from California told a crowd of more than 200 at the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council’s Top2Top conferenceWednesday. “Because it is absolutely impossible to do when you are in the middle of a crisis.”
Cardoza was one of about a half dozen experts who spoke to pet industry leader during the first full day of PIJAC’s annual c
onference that provides attendees with the opportunity to set the course for the future of the industry, gain powerful insights that will make a difference in their business today, and create valuable relationships with other leaders.
With proposed pet legislation popping up not only on the national, but also state and local levels, government relations was a large focus during the day’s programming, with insiders like Cardoza giving leaders tips and ideas on how the pet industry can make sure their interests are being represented.
One of those ways, which was a recurring theme throughout the day, was the importance of something the pet industry does not currently have — a political action committees, or a PAC.
“For a $60 billion industry, you are not investing enough in this,” Cardoza said. “It’s like trying to do your work with your hands tied. When you have a crisis, you will have little, or no, relationships built up.”
Cardoza explained that while a lot of people may have a negative opinion of PACs, what it really comes down to is building relationships and making connections when something is not being asked for in return, so that when a crisis does happen, such as a pet food recall that sparks calls for more regulations, the industry will already have established connections.
“You are investing in that relationship by having them spend time with you and get to know you, and that is so critical to successful advocacy for your industry,” he explained. “In every part of your advertising, talk about the good practices that you do.”
Similar advice was given by Mike Bober, vice president of government affairs at PIJAC, who also stressed the importance of building those types of relationships on all levels of government.
“‘Thank you’ will open so many more doors than ‘please,’” he said, suggesting pet industry professionals get to know their government representatives.
Sam Geduldig, former senior advisor to Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, warned that with an industry as large as the pet industry, the government will start to take notice, and look for ways to get involved, especially when something goes wrong.
“You guys have some issues … any scandal or any kind of recall could impact your industry and spin way out of control in a way you can’t fully see,” he said. “And politicians and congressman generally like to side with the emotional side of the issue. When you are proactive in Washington, you can make the system work for you. Make sure you make a friend before you need the friend.”
Even if someone is not directly involved in lobbying efforts on a national level, there are many ways pet industry professionals can get involved.
“Trouble starts at home,” Lisa Camooso Miller, partner at Blueprint Communications, said.
Before reading the Washington Post, Politico or other national publication, politicians tend to look at what their local media is reporting on, first. Taking the time to create a positive relationship with the local media will not only help should a crisis, or controversial issue come up, but it will also make politicians aware of the positive things that are happening when it comes to the pet industry.
For example, a retail store hosting an adoption event could invite the media to cover it. They could also invite their local congressional representative to hold a press conference at their store, even if it doesn’t specially have to do with the pet industry, such as an announcement about commerce, jobs or the economy, Miller suggested.
The conference continues Thursday with additional sessions, including a keynote address by former U.S. Secretary of Commerce and Transportation Norman Mineta.