— Creating a New Conversation —
New York, NY – Given that I spent nearly 45 years in the advertising agency business, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of my favorite TV programs is “Mad Men” – the quintessential show about the advertising business in the 1960s, a time I remember well. One episode involves the proposed demolition of Penn Station and the construction of Madison Square Garden, which at the time was a hotly contested action.
Don Draper, the creative director of the agency, gives a pep talk to the hesitant client from Madison Square Garden, who was battling protestors against the plans to tear down Penn Station and build the Madison Square Garden we all know.
Draper’s advice was simple, but powerful – “If you don’t like what they’re saying, change the conversation.”
That is certainly timely advice for the American Kennel Club. Today, I will share important steps we have taken to create that new conversation and, in turn, a new understanding of who we are, what we do, the dedication of responsible breeders, and the unique aspects of purebred dogs.
In March, I reported we were committed to strengthening our public outreach, starting with creating an engaging and effective social media platform. Christopher Walker joined us in March to spearhead that effort. His performance has been more like a battering-ram moving us forward with lightning speed. At that time, we had about 100,000 likes on Facebook and about 4,000 engaged participants – and engaged participants is the true measure of the health of a brand.
Now, just 90 days later, we have almost 370,000 likes and 80,000 engaged people. While HSUS has many more likes, they only have 28,000 engaged participants. What does all that mean? Those that are with us are really with us. Supporting the AKC, talking about us, and passing along items from our Facebook page. In addition, we now have a blog which the AKC team created in a couple of hours on Good Friday and the blog has currently received over 130,000 visitors. The last piece of that puzzle is the AKC website. Chris’ team is working to make it significantly more user-friendly and interesting, particularly for the general dog-loving public. As they say, “watch this space” for change you will like.
Concurrent with our expansion of AKC’s social media presence and outreach, we began an extensive review of public relations/public affairs agencies. The goal of that search was to determine a partner possessing the resources, expertise, and passion to create a new, exciting and engaging dialogue for the AKC. The team included me, Bob Amen, Dennis Sprung, Daryl Hendricks, Lisa Peterson, and was led by Chris Walker. We are very fortunate to have had Bob Amen’s guidance throughout the process. His experience, knowledge, and insightful observations were of invaluable help.
The 90-day review started with a field of 19 and included in-person visits, conference calls, interim presentations, and final presentations. The participants covered both large and mid-size companies with a common thread being their strong desire to work with us.
Throughout the process one company stood out at every step and we are pleased to announce that we have unanimously agreed – and have retained Edelman as our new public relations partner, effective immediately.
Edelman is the world’s largest public relations firm, with 4800 communication experts in 67 offices worldwide. Edelman combines the power of their size with the nimbleness and innovation we require.
They pioneered the first media tour; they were the first to apply public relations to building consumer brands; they conceived the first corporate citizenship program, and they were the first PR firm to establish a presence on the Web. Each achievement is directly linked to their entrepreneurial culture. Today they represent an impressive roster of global clients, including AstraZeneca, eBay, GE, HP, Microsoft, Shell, Starbucks, and Unilever.
They demonstrated a distinct understanding of our challenges and opportunities; unique capabilities in grassroots communication and mobilization; deep expertise in digital public affairs; effective legislator communication, and strong belief in the mission and work of the AKC. The team we will be working with consists of experts in a variety of disciplines, each with a purebred dog at home–one whose mother is a Breeder of Merit -and the leader of the team was formerly the spokesman for the NRA. The team works from the Edelman New York and Washington, DC offices.
Edelman will be assuming all the duties formerly performed by Rubenstein in addition to new responsibilities for public engagement to communicate our Good Works, promote purebred dogs, de-stigmatize responsible breeders, help achieve fair legislation, and promote AKC thought leadership.
In addition, Edelman has the experience and the expertise to anticipate, monitor, and respond to news attacks from the opposition or other threats to AKC’s reputation 24/7. The key here is “anticipate” – something we will become expert at in short order. We have some other plans, but I believe HSUS and ASPCA are some of the most avid readers of our reports, including this one. So, rather than reading about our plans, they can enjoy experiencing them instead.
One final point. I always admired the writings of Harvard philosopher William James on pragmatism and truth. I was particularly inspired by one thought he had – “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” That is good advice for all of us to take to heart. I know you and your clubs are doing interesting and exciting things in support of our Good Works and purebred dogs. We need to know about those efforts and make them part of our new conversation with the public and our legislators. Please, send that information to Stephanie Smith at SXS2@akc.org and be a part of helping shape the destiny of the AKC and purebred dogs.
Your comments and suggestions are most welcome email@example.com.