Pet Industry Seeks to Establish a Stronger, United Voice
Two key industry organizations marshal forces to broadcast the message to the masses about the benefits of live animal ownership and responsible breeding.
Steve King of the Pet Industry Distributors Association, left, and Ed Sayres of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), announced a new partnership between PIJAC and the Pet Leadership Council.
The pet industry always has been a chorus of different lobbies—reptiles, aquatics, dog, cat, independent and mass retailers, distributors and manufacturers—but they have mostly been off key—vocal but not together.
The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) and the Pet Leadership Council (PLC) have entered into a relationship in the hopes of getting everybody singing the same tune.
Edwin J. Sayres, president and CEO of Washington, D.C.-based PIJAC, and Steve King, president of Abingdon, Md.-based Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA), shared the news of the partnership at PIJAC’s Top2Top Conference, held April 28-30 in Carlsbad, Calif.
The idea is that the PLC will become the unified voice the pet industry needs to distill its story—one that often is distorted by the animal welfare lobby.
“It allows us to tell our story as an industry, not as individual organizations or associations, and that’s very important, especially when you’re talking about how people are going to vote one way or another,” said Marcie Whichard, vice president, industry and public affairs for San Diego-based Petco and a PLC member, who joined Sayres and King at the press conference.
Essentially, the PLC will broadcast the message while PIJAC continues, as it has for years, with “government relations work … in the live animal space,” Sayres said.
“The PLC has been a work in progress for the last couple of years, and recently, the organization was formally incorporated,” said King.
The PLC is a broad-based coalition of organizations within the pet industry, including trade organizations, corporate members and associations such as the American Veterinary Medical Association and PIDA.
“We’ve been talking the last few months about combining the work of PIJAC on the government relations side with the Pet Leadership Council … and [PLC] is bringing in lots of the leadership of the pet industry and has a much stronger communications and marketing side to combine with the government relations message that we’re doing,” Sayres said.
An Unsustainable Rescue-Only Model
The animal welfare lobby has done such a bang-up job spreading the message that the number of animals entering shelters has dropped from about 10 to 6 percent annually, said Sayres, who spent decades as an animal welfare advocate before joining PIJAC in 2014.
Sayres noted, however, that the “acquisition demand” for new pets is 7 to 8 million a year—a number shelters simply can’t sustain long term.
Thus, reputable breeders of live animals, especially dog breeders, are critical if supply is going to keep pace with demand. Unfortunately, animal welfare interests that paint all breeders with one “puppy-mill” brush often malign many of the responsible breeders.
“The homeless-dog idea—it’s certainly great to adopt—but it’s not going to meet the demand,” Sayres said.
While the pet industry has given rise to the popularity of pet ownership, it has let animal welfare groups tell its story.
“We have such a good story; we need to be able to tell it and not have someone else tell it for us,” Whichard said.
“Two-thirds of American households have a pet, so there is clearly a love affair with pets in this country, and the pet industry is amazingly good at providing the products and services to keep those animals healthy,” King said. “What we’ve not done as good of a job with is telling our story and letting people know we’re very much a part of why [they] have such a love affair with pets.”
Cue unifying the pet industry’s voice through the PLC-PIJAC partnership to turn the conversation, change public perception and change breed-banning legislation.
Tear Down That Wall
Sayres, King and others are excited about the new alignment, coming as it did on the heels of a unanimous April 28 vote by the PIJAC board to contract with the PLC, but others chimed in about the reluctance of the industry’s rank and file to fund things unless they’re “at their doorstep.”
Relaying a message to the masses costs money.
But Sayres sees a “much broader base of funding” opportunities opening up for both organizations.
“PIJAC [will have a] funding mechanism that will be much greater than the membership model created 40 years ago,” Sayres said.
“The exciting thing … is the industry leaders through the PLC see the need to speak with one voice,” King said, “and they have a world-class government affairs organization representing the interests of the consumer for responsible pet ownership.”
Asked if he’ll work to break down barriers between the animal welfare lobby he came from and the pet industry he is now a part of, Sayres responded, “There’s animal welfare, which in theory are pro-pet ownership … and there are those that are not in favor of pet ownership. I can have the dialogue with the animal welfare side that has the same … responsible pet ownership goals that the industry has.”
The first step to engaging animal welfare groups, Sayres said, is to get the broader pet industry on board with the PLC and then take the message of responsible live animal ownership to the public.
|Already Hard at Work|
In the 18 months leading up to its rollout at the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council’s (PIJAC) April 28-30 Top2Top Conference in Carlsbad, Calif., the Pet Leadership Council (PLC) has been getting its house in order.
For starters, the PLC has hired the Philadelphia-based public relations firm of Allen and Gerritsen to help polish its message and extend its reach. In that regard, the PLC will have a new educational website up and running this summer.
“We got more than 60 communities that have adopted these pet-sell bans,” said Steve Aaron, PR strategist with Allen and Gerritsen. “One of the things we’ve tried to do is to start engaging reporters at newspapers and TV stations across the country that cover this issue on a regular basis to make sure they know that there is another side to the story.”
In addition, the PLC commissioned Mark Cushing, who owns a private consulting business in the pet industry and spent many years in animal health, to do a dog and cat census that looks at how many animals there are in the U.S. and their sources.
“You would think that that information exists out there, but it really doesn’t; it’s very fragmented and it’s very unreliable,” said Steve King, president of the Pet Industry Distributors Association in Abingdon, Md.
King believes factual information such as Cushing’s will give Washington, D.C.-based PIJAC a stronger leg to stand on as it fights for the pet industry in front of legislators.
“That’s just the first tangible thing that we’ve started to work on,” King said, “and we think … many more things like it will result from this coalition.”
This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Pet Product News