Let’s Work Together: Collaborating with AKC Dog Clubs

five dog paws like hands in a circle

This is a summary of the webinar  presented by AKC Club Development which talked about clubs collaborating, not only with other AKC clubs, but other types of dog and community events and attractions.

Guy Fisher, Manager of AKC Club Development was the lead presenter for this webinar.  Guy started off with some administrative best practices, and then gave examples of the types of events and collaborations that have been used successfully by clubs around the country.  He also shared some innovative ideas for funding, promoting and staffing these events.

Best Practices: Get It In Writing!

AKC memo

Guy started by sharing links to a number of documents (pdf) that clubs will find helpful in navigating their relationships with one another in a multi-club collaboration. AKC has rules about clubs’ priority rights to show locations and event dates, so there needs to be a written understanding of which clubs are doing what, when, and for how long so there’s no confusion.   A group of clubs collaborating is referred to as a cluster, and there are requirements for common event planning and paperwork submission for these events. Each club also has individual responsibility for its own event(s).

Moving Back Home with Multi-Events

Many clubs have moved out of their original territories when venues have changed hands, closed, or significantly increased rental fees. I was affected by this when my club, the Progressive Dog Club of Wayne County was forced to do this when our venue decided to violate our contract and give our reserved dates to a different sporting event.  Performance events occupy less space than an all breed conformation dog show. This means holding a performance only event may allow a club to move back into a smaller venue in their own territory, making it easier to engage with the population they were chartered to serve.

Michigan has at least four dog show weekends that include multiple AKC and non-AKC events, they are all held in large venues and include large all breed dog shows.  At one of these large show clusters, I noticed a flyer for a performance only event hosted by the St Clair Kennel Club.  This “Spring Fling” event which will launch in May, 2019 includes four rally and four obedience trials and a collaboration with the Barn Hunt licensed Scamper Detectives club, which is holding two barn hunt trials.  The event also includes several sanctioned matches and a number of dog sport demonstrations open to all.   They are using the same site as the kennel club uses for its all breed shows, which is in its assigned territory.

Guy emphasized that the AKC is supportive of multi-events. As long as clubs follow AKC guidelines regarding special attractions (pdf), they will do as much as they can to help clubs plan and execute a successful event.

Your Community Can Help

Guy fielded a number of  questions after the presentation.  He shared a number of suggestions, including several ways that clubs can reach out to their local community for help.  This absolutely makes the most sense when you can also hold your event in the area that bears your club’s name. Clubs can also reach out to the communities you’ve adopted because they have hosted your existing events. Some suggestions from the Q&A are listed below:

  • Encourage members to participate in the AKC Mentor program to encourage new people in the sport of purebred dogs.
  • Reach out to your local Chamber of Commerce, they can help both with publicity and connecting your club with community organizations that can assist you
  • Offer family-friendly admission packages and promote them to local parents’ organizations as a family-friendly outings, have someone assigned to greet and guide families who attend the show
  • Personally contact local businesses to suggest ways they can support and promote your show.  Sell space on banners that can be hung around the show site. Approach other clubs about cross-promoting events.
  • The AKC Public Education department has a Girl Scout Patch program that can be marketed to local Girl Scouts, allows members to get badges for participating in a program at the show which encourages safe behavior around dogs as well as learning about dog shows.
  • If you need more manual labor than your club can provide, consider reaching out to your community to see if they can offer your event as an option for people required to perform community service.

Learning by Example

I’ve been looking for examples of multi-events and am reaching out to people  involved with them.  I you belong to a club are interested in hosting one such an event, AKC Club Development is a great  place to start.

The number of performance event options is growing, and hosting these events offers conformation clubs an opportunity to grow an event that can help fund other activities. Since these events are open to all dogs, regardless of background, they offer a common ground for dog lovers of many backgrounds to come together.  Performance can be a gateway to conformation and a way to get people exposed to purebred dog fanciers and conformation events like 4-6 month puppy and sanctioned matches that may be more accessible to newbies than a licensed all breed show.

If you are involved with an AKC dog club that is involved with a multi-sport event, I’d love to talk to you about it!

 

Cleo  Parker

Cleo has been showing Bull Terriers in AKC events and working with dogs and dog clubs since she was a teenager. Her professional career has been spent working in marketing insights and analytics in a variety of industries, including automotive, advertising, and pet specialty retail.

AKC Helps Dog Clubs Find Their Social Media Voice

illustration using social media terminology

I recently viewed the AKC’s webinar on “Finding Your Social Media Voice” which featured Brandi Hunter, the AKC’s Vice President of Public Relations and Communications. Ms. Hunter is clearly fluent in and enthusiastic about social media and covered a large amount of information in the hour scheduled.  I think I’ve got a fairly good grasp of the topic, and still felt like I was drinking from a fire hose of information. I am going to provide a broad overview of the webinar in this post, and plan to come back to it to cover more of the tactical details. I hope AKC Education will bring Brandi back to share more of her knowledge of this topic in future webinars.

SOCIAL IS BIG

Brandi shared that over 3.3 billion people use social media and the average person has almost 6 social media accounts. More than 4 out of 5 of small to medium size businesses use social media. She feels all dog clubs can benefit from using social media to reach out to their members, potential members, exhibitors, and the dog-loving public.

SEVEN SOCIAL TIPS FOR DOG CLUBS

  1. Start with one social media platform that best fits your content and abilities, but please create a social presence!  Social media is an important outreach tool, especially for younger audiences.
  2. Assign no more than one or two people to be the primary voice of the club so you have a consistent voice and tone
  3. Always be on the outlook for things your club can share with other dog lovers
  4. Social media is all about engagement, more important than the number of people who see or like your pages are the number of people who post and share your content.  Give them a reason to comment on your posts and encourage their interaction by asking for shares, comments, pictures, and videos.
  5. Post consistently, this can be one of the most difficult things for dog clubs who have one big event a year.  Share what your club and members are involved with throughout the year, not just leading up to or on your event weekend.
  6. Share relevant content from other places, the AKC has multiple social media accounts and plenty of content worth sharing.
  7. Make sure multiple people have admin access to the club’s social media, using a club email address as one of the admin accounts, for example, “social@myAKCclub.org” is a good idea to make sure someone from the club can always get access to the account.

THE SOCIAL BIG THREE

Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are the three most popular social platforms.  Each can be used to promote clubs and their events, and each has strengths aligned better with some uses than others.

Facebook LogoFACEBOOK

Sixty-eight percent of all adults in the USA have Facebook accounts, and it is the second most popular place to watch videos (after YouTube). Half of all Americans who don’t have Facebook accounts live with someone who does.

Facebook is the most versatile of the three platforms. It allows the use of videos, images and longer content than either Twitter or Instagram. You can create event pages, public and private groups and can live stream events through Facebook. Each of these tools can serve clubs to help build community and share news about their club and its activities. Creating a page for a specific event makes it easy to promote and also share content unique to that event.    Facebook is second only to YouTube in video views.   Clubs are encouraged to live stream events on Facebook as long as they are not duplicating a live stream that AKC is already doing.

Some of AKC’s Facebook Pages:  American Kennel Club, AKC Gazette, Canine Good Citizen, Family Dog, AKC Reunite, AKC Club Development, AKC Scentwork, AKC Sports

instagram logoINSTAGRAM

There are roughly 1 Billion monthly users on Instagram. Instagram is very visual, it is a great medium for promoting events and sharing short videos, but not links or long text. Instagram is owned by Facebook and has the youngest audience of the three social platforms discussed in the webinar. Brandi emphasized that Instagram users LOVE dogs and dog-related content.

The heaviest Instagram users are susceptible to Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO.) Sharing photos and videos of dogs and interesting events might trigger enough FOMO to get Instagrammers to check out your club and events. Brandi suggested that behind the scenes videos, for example, dogs being groomed, vendor spotlights, and juniors profiles were all great Instagram features.

Key to using Instagram is adding hashtags, which are keywords preceded by a # symbol.  Using 9-12 hashtags on your post is a good strategy, take some time to identify hashtags that are relevant to your club and events.  For starters, #dogsofinstagram, #dogs, and #puppies are relevant hashtags many people are following.

Some AKC Instagram accounts:  American Kennel Club, Museum of the DogAKC Sports, AKC.TV

twitter logoTWITTER

Twitter has 1.3 Billion accounts, but only 326 Million users, it has the lowest proportion of active users of all 3 platforms.  To use it effectively, you need to be one of those engaged accounts, a recommended posting frequency is 5 times a day; the volume of tweets moving through any given users feed is so high you need high frequency to get noticed.

This platform moves very fast and presents everything in chronological order, which can make it difficult to track and find tweets. It limits the length of messages to 280 characters and is not as easy to use for photos and video as Facebook and Instagram.   Twitter can be used effectively for customer service or event updates, where real-time information is important.

Some AKC Twitter accounts:  American Kennel Club, AKC Club Development, AKC Museum of the Dog, K9 Health Foundation

READY, SET, SHARE!

I’ve said this before, but I strongly encourage dog clubs to use social media to connect with their members, potential members, and the dog-loving public. The tools AKC mentioned in the webinar are all free to set up. Identify someone with the time and computer skills to set the accounts up, then work to find and collect content to share.  There is no doubt in my mind club members have lots of cute dog photos, pictures of club gatherings and other dog-related events stored on their phones and home computers, they just need to share the image files.

One way to make photo and video sharing easy would be to set up an account at an online photo sharing site like Google Photos. From there, members can share photos from their phones and computers so that your social media team can access and share them in club accounts.

I would love to see some club social links in the comments!

Cleo  Parker

Cleo has been showing Bull Terriers in AKC events and working with dogs and dog clubs since she was a teenager. Her professional career has been spent working in marketing insights and analytics in a variety of industries, including automotive, advertising, and pet specialty retail.

What do you mean by artificial?

100% Natural LogoDid You Run That Copy By Legal?

I used to verify claims in automotive ads and ran them through a strict legal process. I often look at pet food advertising in disbelief. Flimsy and misleading claims abound in the pet marketing space. Yet, these claims seem to elude the kind of competitor challenges and scrutiny common in automotive.  To be clear, pet food is highly regulated, and there are rules about what needs to be in the package as well as on the package.

Is Newer Really Better?

New dog foods are being launched at a dizzying rate, with a clear relationship to trends in human foodsIt’s not clear that trendy new ingredients and formulations are better for dogs than the older foods that have sustained them for decades.  This is a highly controversial area and I’ve chosen not to cover it in my blog up until now.  Some recent coverage of Petco’s change to their product assortment has inspired this post looking at pet retail advertising claims.

Petco logo backwardsReBranding Big Pet(co) With a Bold Claim

Big Box Pet, i.e. Petco and Petsmart, have been struggling a bit recently. Like many big box retailers, they are fighting the onslaught of online retail on their business.  They are both working on strategies to fight back. Petco, the smaller company, has been making bold moves, including experimental stores, focused on all-inclusive pet in-store services. Petco hired a new CEO in June 2018, who in turn hired a new CMO in September.  In November, the company announced it was dropping all products with artificial colors and flavors.  This move was praised for its boldness, with coverage based on their press release appearing in the business and general press, including Forbes, Fortune, and the Associated Press. 

Does This Claim Pass the Sniff Test?

Recently, a blog post at Pet Food Industry by Ryan Yamka caught my eye. Ryan is highly credentialled in pet nutrition with professional experience in petfood manufacturing. He calls Petco out for not being 100% true to their pledge, using his knowledge of the ingredients on, and missing from their “banned list”.   Some of the dropped foods do not contain artificial ingredients, but they do happen to have lower margins than some of the foods that are retained.  He also notes that there are a few foods with artificial ingredients still to be found on their shelves – in private label foods manufactured exclusively for Petco. Other artificial ingredients that are not on the banned list are included in high-margin treats.   The ingredient analysis is a bit too technical for me to verify, but I trust Ryan’s explanation. As a former pet specialty retail marketer, I absolutely recognize the difference between high and low margin brands and categories and agree with his analysis.

Don’t Trust, Verify!

Ryan’s article is the only one I’ve seen that fact-checked Petco’s announcement.  Press coverage of the Petco “no artificial” announcement took the company at their word. If other retailers mentioned it at all, it was generally seen as positive.  Dog food buyers tend to trust their emotions and believe dog food marketing claims that often contain a fair bit of puffery.  I often see dog food and dog treat brands launched with an origin story that involves one person and one pet’s nutrition challenges. Dog owners need to be skeptical of these brands and more accepting of claims made by companies with years of experience based on feeding trials involving many dogs.

Ask Experts and Read the Fine Print

An experienced marketer’s eye can see when a product is being described in boastful rather than verifiable language. Learning petfood labeling jargon is a nerdy task that involves searching industry association sites for definitions but for me, it’s worth the effort.  If you want to become a nutrition and labeling nerd, great!  If you don’t, talk to breeders, kennel and rescue operators, and veterinarians who have practical experience caring for dogs for food recommendations.  Marketing is all about building desire so the retailer can sell what’s in inventory, if you can’t read between the lines, don’t trust it!

Cleo  Parker

Cleo has been showing Bull Terriers in AKC events and working with dogs and dog clubs since she was a teenager. Her professional career has been spent working in marketing insights and analytics in a variety of industries, including automotive, advertising, and pet specialty retail.

Marketing Dog Club Events with Facebook Advertising

Facebook Logo

Instagram Logo

Social Media Training

In the spring of 2018, I attended a social media marketing workshop sponsored by Facebook at Ann Arbor SPARK. The course, which covered Facebook and its subsidiary, Instagram promotions was underwritten by Facebook. The course covered the material and work necessary to receive a social media micro-credential. In Michigan,  sessions have been held in the greater Detroit/Ann Arbor area as well as in Grand Rapids. Each student needed to represent a local organization or business and we had quite a variety represented in our group, mostly non-profits, but also a few small businesses and a marketing consultant.  I represented The Bull Terrier Club of Metro Detroit, an AKC breed club that operates primarily in southeastern Michigan.  We also collaborate with the Midwest Miniature Bull Terrier Fanciers and the Miniature Bull Terrier Club of America during our fall specialty weekend.

Setting Up Facebook Pages and Instagram Accounts

The class was open to all, whether their organization had a Facebook or Instagram account or not.  Everyone in my class already had a Facebook page, but a number of us did not have an Instagram account. Our instructor, Lindsay Thomas walked everyone through setting up Facebook pages and organization Instagram accounts. She explained the difference between Facebook Pages and Groups and why Pages are better for promoting organizations.

Basics of Social Media Marketing

We learned how to create different types of posts and got tips for making them engaging.  Lindsay emphasized the importance of content that asks visitors to DO something, such as sharing pictures or commenting on a topic. Photos, videos, and links to your website are valuable to show people what your group does and can serve as an invitation to page fans to engage with your site.

Creating Facebook Ads

Every organization in the class received a Facebook advertising credit to help them get started.  We learned you can promote an existing post or event without creating anything new, or you can create an ad using Facebook ad center tools.     Once we decided which post we were going to boost, we had to select a target audience.   For my promotions which were for a local Bull Terrier specialty club, I decided to target men and women over 18 years of age, who were located in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, or Southwest Ontario (defined around cities in that region.)  I was able to browse to see what interests Facebook had identified that might be relevant.  I found I could target people interested in Bull Terriers, Bull Terrier rescue, and Miniature Bull Terriers, which was absolutely perfect for my club. Then you set duration and a budget (which you can pay through PayPal) and you are ready to go.

Instagram Advertising

We covered using Instagram advertising in the class, but to be honest I have not dedicated too much time to use it for our club.  The greatest hurdle to my adoption of Instagram for the Bull Terrier Club of Metro Detroit is that as an active exhibitor and club secretary, it’s difficult for me to both take a stream of photos documenting an event as well as participate in the event.  I can usually take some photos during setup and maybe awards, but the rest of the day I’m too busy to keep it up.

Does Facebook Marketing Work?

I do feel that Facebook marketing worked for our club.  I boosted our first post on May 2, 2018.  At that time we had 511 likes, up 110 from 401 likes the previous May.  As I am writing this in late February 2019, we have 653 likes, up 142 in just 10 months.  People who Like your Facebook page will be notified anytime you post an activity or create an event on your page, keeping your club top of mind. Boosting or advertising our page and events expanded our reach from the few hundreds that like our page to thousands of local people with an interest in Bull Terriers.  Facebook has an Insights section where you can view statistics about your page.    I can clearly see increases in both organic and paid traffic to our Facebook page around the time of each of our promoted events, our summer Bullyolympics, fall Specialty, and Winter Bull Terrier Fest.   I made a point of asking new people at our fun events how they had heard about the event, and each time I had at least one couple that said they or a friend had seen it promoted on Facebook.  We have had at least two couples join the club who found out about an event on Facebook, and overall our membership is up by 6 households (20%) compared to last year.

Is Facebook Advertising Cost Effective?

For our club, I think Facebook advertising is well worth the cost.  We are spending on average $25-$30 to promote each event for the month leading up to it, in a 4-state geographic area to people with a defined interest in breeds that rank 60th and 115th in popularity.  Other clubs with larger targets may spend more, but you also have a larger potential for return on your investment.

My Advice to Dog Clubs – Go For It!

I would highly encourage dog clubs to follow our example and try Facebook marketing.  Just starting with a page where you can show photos of your activities, answer questions, and promote your events will expand your reach to the dog-curious public.  Boosting posts is very easy, creating ads is not much harder.   For less than you’d spend on one dog show entry, you can reach a lot of people who may not even know there is such a thing as a dog club.  You can introduce the joy of doing things with your dogs to a lot of new people, gain members, and sow the seeds that will lead to more dog show engagement in the future.   Facebook-funded workshops are being held in many locations, search for the term “Facebook Microcredentials” with your location to see when there will be one near you.  Facebook also offers  free online marketing courses.  Feel free to reach out to me if you’d like help getting started. If your club has a Facebook or Instagram presence, I’d love to see it, please share a link in the comments section.

Cleo  Parker

Cleo has been showing Bull Terriers in AKC events and working with dogs and dog clubs since she was a teenager. Her professional career has been spent working in marketing insights and analytics in a variety of industries, including automotive, advertising, and pet specialty retail.

Dog Rescue at the Detroit Auto Show

A Novel Exhibit at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show

I try to visit the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) aka the Detroit Auto Show every year, and this year I made it down on Tuesday of the public week.  As usual, my focus was on vehicles with dog hauling potential, whether they were small, like the Honda Fit, medium size like the Buick Regal TourX, minivans like the Chrysler Pacifica or big vans like the Ram Promaster.  I’m looking for flat load floor, no liftover at the rear hatch/door, and easy conversion from passenger to cargo modes.  A wide interior package without intrusions from wheel wheels or custom item holders is also a plus.  In other words, maxium carrying capacity with minimum effort to get stuff in and out of that space.  The Honda Odyssey has a vacuum which is a really nice touch, especially if you sometimes transport straw for barn hunts!

Sign explaining Subaru adoption event hoursSubaru’s White Picket Fence

I noticed when I got to the Subaru display that there was a area with green carpet surrounded by a picket fence.  There were multiple banners proclaiming Subaru Loves Pets and a sign sporting the Michigan Humane Society Logo.  A small sign taped to the gate to the area said that there would be adoptions for animals through the Michigan Humane Society on the weekends.

Subaru Dealer Partnerships With Local RescuesSubaru Loves Dogs Banner

On the Subaru website there is a section around Subaru Loves Pets, which is one of the five pillars of the Subaru Love Promise. I saw references to local dealers working with local rescue agencies to  support adoption events, and this event fits that description. I learned Subaru also held an adoption event at the LA Auto show last fall using the same display partnering with Best Friends. Best Friends is a national organization, but one with a regional office and a large coalition of partner shelters in the LA area. There is also some pet merchandise on the brand website, but the focus is more about doing good for pets than pushing branded pet stuff.

Volvo is Also Getting Into the Auto Show Rescue Act

I discovered that Volvo has been doing something similar. The brand started promoting safe pet travel in 2018 and drew attention to this initiative with their adoption events in 2018 at both the Chicago and New York auto shows, both times partnering with local rescues.  Most of the Volvo dog accessories focus on safe containment of dogs within the car with custom-fit barriers and car harnesses.  Volvo mentions that it makes a donation to the Petfinder Foundation for every dog accessory sold.  Volvo is promoting safe pet travel as a support to its longstanding corporate safety promise.

Make Your Dog Marketing Consistent With Your Corporate Brand

I’ve been observing vehicle manufacturers promote their products with dogs for years.  What I like about what I see in these rescue-OEM pairings is that the message is tied into a brand promise that runs through all the brand’s marketing. In other words:

  • Subaru Loves = Subaru Loves Dogs
  • Volvos are Safe = Volvo wants your dog to be just as safe as your family

Love has a more obvious tie-in with rehoming dogs than safety does, but both are caring messages and I think an appropriate match to an adoption event. If you’re going to play the dog card, it should be obvious you mean it, and that the dog-centric part of your message isn’t just about selling branded collars and leads.

Cleo Parker

 

 

The #1 Dog Club Website in Michigan

Grand Rapids Kennel Club website header

Reviewing Michigan All Breed Dog Club Websites

I looked at all the websites I could find for Michigan all breed dog clubs while reviewing the AKC Webinar on website best practices.  These dog cub websites vary widely in quality and some clubs have opted to have a Facebook page in lieu of a website.   In my opinion, the Grand Rapids Kennel Club is the best club website, so I reached out to the club to get some insight on why.

Grand Rapids Kennel Club’s Site is Engaging and Responsive

The site homepage features a carousel of three beautiful photos of purebred dogs, and at the time I first visited, a promotional button for a special event.  Membership, event, and breeder referral links are all “above the fold” and visible on the screen when viewed on a PC.  The club’s community service activities, mission, and upcoming events are featured farther down the page along with more photos of purebred dogs in action. The site is optimized for mobile devices so that the experience is similar on all device types.

Developing the Site

I reached out to the club via their “contact us” link and quickly heard back from Carol Lynn Johnson, the club AKC delegate and driving force behind the current website, which launched in October 2018, replacing a site with a dated look.   Carol and fellow club member Pat Cromeyer designed the website with inspiration from the Labrador Retriever Club’s site. The current site was created in WordPress by Woodchuck Arts, a digital marketing firm with a variety of clients.  This did indeed cost money, but they believed the return on investment to present the club as a modern organization which cared about both dogs and community, was worth it.

How It’s Working

The club’s goal was to create a website that would attract millennials and younger people to the club, and so far it seems to be working.  Carol cited that they recently welcomed a young member who said the website was a major factor attracting her to this club.  The club showcases not only its shows but also the multiple ways it gives back to the local community through donations, including donations to benefit working dogs in their county sheriff’s department.

Administrative Details

Carol said they have just recently implemented Google Analytics on the site, and are waiting to collect a full month of data, but are planning to examine sources of traffic and see which sections of the site are most popular.  There are three administrators, they update the content as appropriate, roughly once a month.  Woodchuck Arts also scans the site monthly to make sure links and code are up to date and that the site is optimized to reflect any changes in search algorithms. The Grand Rapids Kennel Club also maintains Facebook and Instagram accounts, which are managed by a separate team.

This site has a private login area for members.  The members-only area houses copies of club newsletters, updated members and breeders list, and a section where members can share brags about their dogs’ accomplishments.

What About My Dog Club Website?

There are a number of other Michigan dog club websites that are attractive and responsive, i.e. created so they are easy to read on not only a desktop but also on mobile devices.  If your club’s site is not one of them consider an upgrade.  Hiring a professional web design firm will cost money, but the return on investment can be huge. A modern website engages people and can bring in new, younger members, drive public attendance to your events, and position club members as experts on dog issues.

What I Recommend

I personally recommend WordPress, but there are other options as well. If you have no website or web address at all, there are WordPress.com options that are available for no cost. For as little as $48 a year you can upgrade to a version that lets you use your existing web address and eliminate advertising. One of the advantages of Content Management Systems (CMS) like WordPress is that that they can be updated by someone without web coding skills. Multiple people can be assigned roles to maintain the site without having the power to seriously muck it up.

 

Hopping on The Canine DNA Test Bandwagon

wisdom panel logoI tested my dog Iris using the Wisdom 4.0 DNA test, which is marketed to people who are curious about what breeds make up their dog’s heritage. I was not surprised to find out that she was 100% Bull Terrier, and I was pleased that she wasn’t carrying genes for either of the two genetic diseases included in the test, but this was also no surprise as neither is a known issue in her breed.  The only breed-specific disease in Bull Terriers with a DNA test is Lethal Acrodermatitis, which has a single-gene test available through PennGen at the University of Pennsylvania.  Using the Wisdom Panel piqued my interest in the in-home tests and the reasons they are growing in popularity.

I tested Iris at the request of Dayna Dreger, who is a canine research scientist at Purdue University. I met Dayna early in 2018 at a dog show in Indianapolis where she was collecting DNA for a project involving canine feet.  She’s currently working on a dog color genetics project. Iris is black brindle but is starting to get more and more brown mixed in areas that used to be pure black, and Dayna noticed a photo of her on Facebook and wanted to include her DNA in  her project.   Check out a report on Dayna’s work identifying the relationships between dog breeds around the world, including some cool visualizations.

Popularity of In-Home DNA Testing is on the Rise

People are buying more DNA tests for their dogs, once again following a human trend to find ancestry and relatives through in-home DNA tests as shown in these charts based on Google Trends search data. Both types of tests see searches spike in November, suggesting they are being purchased as gifts.  (NOTE: The spike in general DNA test search in April 2018 may be related to DNA Day on 4/25/18 – the canine DNA test companies seem to have missed this marketing opportunity!)

 

Health Reasons to Test Canine DNA

Dog breeders should do relevant DNA testing, for heritable diseases to avoid matings that could produce affected puppies. Purebred dog owners can find out if theirs dogs are at risk for an adult-onset disease.   Many of the breed-specific tests are offered individually through universities, like the LAD test for Bull Terriers and Miniature Bull Terriers, but some also come bundled in DNA panel tests like the more expensive Wisdom Panel Health Test.  The number of tests and laboratories offering these tests is exploding, and canine health advocates are trying to help people find and select tests by creating a harmonized database of available tests.   Dog owners should careful when interpreting DNA-linked disease gene findings in breeds or mixes which are not the same breeds studied to initially identify the disease-linked genes.  Similar diseases in different breeds can have different genetic profiles, and misinterpreting a DNA report can have disastrous consequences for individual dogs.

Testing to Determine Parentage

Purebred dog owners can also test DNA to determine parentage.  The American Kennel Club requires that sires whose semen is collected and shipped for fresh chilled or frozen breedings be DNA tested so if there is any question, parentage can be confirmed. DNA profiles also come in to play for litters with multiple sires or in cases where purebred puppies’ parentage is disputed or unknown.  Yes,  there are scenarios in the purebred dog world that would be right at home on  Jerry Springer!  The AKC tests are used to determine parentage, or specifically to rule parents in or out, not to identify the breed of the dog in question.  The AKC tests are most akin to DNA tests conducted on crime scene artifacts and for paternity tests to identify parentage with confidence. AKC does some direct marketing of these tests to new AKC titlists who can receive a colorful certificate displaying their dog’s DNA profile.

Should You DNA Test Your Dog?

People who are curious about the breeds in your dog’s family tree have a number of commercial DNA test options, but results will not necessarily be identical across all the DNA tests out there. The number and breeds of dogs used to establish the profiles are not identical across all the tests, so results should be considered directional rather than definitive.  The Wisdom Panel has a fun quiz that illustrates how difficult it can be to guess which breeds are behind a given dog based on appearance.

DNA testing for dogs can be used to improve dog health, inform breeding decisions,  identify parentage or likely breed makeup for a specific dog.  Caution needs to be used using DNA to learn about dogs’ genetic risks; within a breed, consulting with your breed parent club can help you understand which tests are relevant and how to interpret results.  If you have a mixed breed dog, more caution is needed before interpreting disease gene data, as what is known within a single breed may not apply to other breeds or combinations of breeds.

 

Black Brindle Bull Terrier
Iris – GCH Ch Nuance Night in Tunisia, ROM, CGC, TKN

DNA Test result graph 100% Bull Terrier

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing a Family Dog Event With Effective Publicity

Expanding on my theme of promoting AKC all breed clubs through websites,  I found a 2015 post in the Canine Chronicle written by then AKC Public Relations Director, Stephanie Smith.  In it, she talks to Dr. Alan Dorfman, a show chair associated with one of the Michigan dog show cluster websites I mentioned in my review of the AKC club website webinarThe Michigan Winter Dog Classic includes the Oakland County and  Livonia kennel clubs which hold four of the largest all-breed conformation shows in the state. Their January show weekend includes rally, agility and obedience trials and they share space with a changing cast of other dog events, including the AKC’s My Dog Can Do That program open to the general public, which the public loves, but which can be controversial among competitors.   Dr. Dorfman went into more detail about how they changed the positioning of the event from dog shows to a family event when they added the My Dog Can Do That activity in another Canine Chronicle article.

The cluster’s secrets to success include being open to new ideas and balancing the needs of both exhibitors and spectators to make it an enjoyable and memorable event for all. The event also has procured sponsorships with local media and a dog food manufacturer and engages in multiple advertising and public relations tactics to focus attention on the event in the month leading up to the shows.  Click here to download the AKC’s guide for promoting dog clubs, which provides public relations fundamentals and templates.  NOTE: The link to this document is broken in the Canine Chronicle article.

It is clear from my perspective as a potential exhibitor that the cluster website is targeted at the general public rather than the exhibitors or the event-giving clubs. There are at least 9 different clubs involved in the cluster, and none of them are mentioned by name on the cluster website, only links to outside sites that host information about entering.  The only service providers of interest to exhibitors that are mentioned by name are the veterinarians and clinics involved in the health clinics.  This is consistent with the cluster’s focus on presenting as a family event rather than a series of dog shows and trials, and looking at the gate vs entries figures presented in the Canine Chronicle articles, this strategy is paying off, as total attendance is more than a 3X multiple of  total entries quoted in the article.

Building Better Websites for AKC Dog Clubs

Pug dog with laptop

The American Kennel Club launched a series of educational webinars earlier this year aimed at dog fanciers and clubs and I have been watching them with great interest.  I understand much of this content has been shared with the AKC delegate body, but I can’t say I had heard about these educational programs through my AKC member club delegate.  The last webinar for 2018 covered best practices in club websites.   The webinar covered the fundamentals of good website design,  including

  • Set specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely, i.e. SMART goals
  • Identify the audiences that you are trying to reach
  • Identify actions you want people to take on your website
  • Design for mobile usage
  • Have a content strategy
  • Ask for visitor feedback via surveys, forms, or email
  • Use web analytics to track activity on your site, and also collect other relevant metrics, like event entries or membership applications to measure the site’s effectiveness
  • Integrate social media sharing tools so visitors can share your content

The presenter strongly recommended using a Content Management System (CMS) and mentioned WordPress by name, as one of the complaints that AKC hears from clubs is that their sites are difficult to update and CMS frameworks make this much easier.   He also recommended that as clubs analyze where they are vs where they want to be, that they focus on optimizing the impact of change vs the effort to implement it and focus on areas that should yield maximum impact for the least effort.

Two national breed club websites were held out as good examples, the Golden Retriever Club of America and the American Shetland Sheepdog Association.  Both are WordPress sites, the GRCA site has multiple call to action buttons on the home page to attract attention and provide measurable actions, and also has Google Analytics installed as well as social sharing on Instagram and Facebook.  I would have liked to see some good examples from all breed clubs and clusters as well as local specialty and training clubs, but this webinar was a good start with an emphasis on fundamentals.

Out of curiosity, I decided to take a tour of all-breed AKC dog club websites, and to keep the task manageable, focused on clubs based in Michigan.  The AKC lists 24 licensed all breed dog clubs in the state and of those, 7 have an active website and 9 are represented by a site covering a cluster (multiple show giving clubs holding events on the same weekend).  A couple of the clubs have both a club site and are included in a cluster site.  It looks like 6 Michigan AKC all-breed dog clubs have abandoned websites, and 5 have no dedicated club website, dead or alive, that I could find.  A number of clubs, including some with no other online presence, have a Facebook page.  I’ll go into more depth about the use of Facebook by dog clubs after the AKC webinar on that topic scheduled for March 13, 2019. I could find only one all breed club in Michigan that had no dedicated website presence at all, but it is listed as being part of a dog show weekend by the all breed club that shares its show weekend on that club’s website.

The websites vary greatly in quality and the technology used to create them.  There are several modern looking websites created in WordPress (both .com and .org), some created in low cost website building tools like yoursite.com and weebly.com and then a few created in vintage web building tools including FrontPage and Dreamweaver.  I found two sites created by companies that appear to specialize in the “dog club/dog breeder” space.

A difficult truth is that a significant proportion of active AKC dog club members and volunteers are Baby Boomers and dog clubs are struggling to staff and execute profitable events, which often means websites receive limited support and funding. The paradox is that younger generations, who love dogs and are interested in doing things with them, are looking for dogs, dog services, and dog activities online, but many clubs are not able to connect with this new audience through effective use of online tools.

To address this disconnect, the AKC will be offering webinars on social media strategy, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in 2019. I have had success using Instagram and Facebook to promote the Bull Terrier Club of Metro Detroit, attracting new people to our events who then decided to join the club.   Several of these new members mentioned they had no idea there was such a thing as a local breed club and they were excited to find like minded dog owners; an online presence can be a valuable tool for clubs looking to expand their reach.

You Gotta Love Dog Car Ads

25640649 – breed golden retriever river filed out of the car window.

The Dog Marketing Blog reflects where two of my worlds, marketing, and dogs, intersect, and I am especially fond of covering the moments when my marketing sub-specialty, automotive also gets into this picture.  Earlier this year MediaPost published an article describing how Land Rover marketed to dog owners at a horse event in Kentucky, and then went on to mention the Nissan Dogue concept which has been making the auto show rounds and the ongoing use of dogs in Subaru advertising.

This is one of those cyclical ideas in automotive advertising (I tried unsuccessfully to get my agency to sell the idea to Chrysler.) The brands and vehicles that try dog tie-ins tend to be those with an “outdoorsy”  persona.  The marketing team will point out how many people and especially their brand’s prospects own dogs, which makes it a natural association.  Association with a favorite animal, much like an association with a favorite celebrity, it thought to be an overall positive for the brand.

A commenter on the MediaPost article noted a previous instance where Land Rover partnered with a national animal rights association, they felt they were reaching a younger audience who showed a strong interest in acquiring their dogs through rescue organizations.  The issue with the Nissan Rogue Dogue, like most “custom” dog vehicles, is that the dog-specific features are usually things that are bolted on the vehicle as an afterthought rather than designed into the vehicle from the ground up, and one reviewer thought the add-ons detracted from vehicle performance.     Often the package of custom branded pet items are way more expensive than similar items purchased from a pet specialty retailer.

Subaru has stuck to this strategy a long time and is the automotive brand that I believe has the longest running and most consistent use of dogs in advertising, I described a partnership with ASPCA and Eddie Bauer back in the Dog Marketing Blog in 2009.  In 2010, AdAge described Subaru’s continuing partnership with ASPCA as well as dog-centric media buys on the Puppy Bowl and the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.   Starting with the Dog Tested, Family approved spots in 2009 and continuing on with the Barkleys family of retrievers. The purebred dog fancier in me notes that the Barkleys are a diverse blended family much like we see in ads for human products, with a yellow Labrador Retriever playing mom to a dad and kids that all appear to be purebred Golden Retrievers.