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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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Taylor Pond Farms raw dog food

Taylor Pond Farms logoTaylor Pond Farms is a raw food vendor with a booth at the Livonia Kennel Club and Oakland County Kennel Club dog show cluster in Novi Michigan in January. This was the second event the company had bought booth space and the second time they had been to the Rock Financial Showplace, the first time being for the Family Pet Expo in November, 2009.

The business didn’t start in pet food; owner Pete Moolhuizen got an idea to breed rabbits for meat for high-end restaurants on a trip to Europe. There he saw rabbit breeders doing well in that trade, so when he got back to the US, he started raising rabbits on their farm in Western Michigan. The business was doing well, and then one day he got a call from a dog owner asking what they did with the rabbit heads and feet, the parts that weren’t used by restaurants. At that time, they were just throwing them away. The dog owner offered to buy the leftover parts, word spread, and before long the business was offering a variety of meats strictly to pet owners. They had to stop raising their own rabbits because the demands of the business didn’t allow time to properly care for the animals.

Taylor Ponds sells through a network of distributors and their foods are strictly one-species per package, something that anyone who owns a dog with multiple allergies will appreciate.  They are not complete foods in and of themselves, but can be  fed as part of a raw diet along with other nutrients.  Except for these shows, the company relies on their distributors,  word of mouth and their website for promotion.

The Taylor Ponds website lists 10 different species of animal meat available, including rabbit, deer, duck, goat and fish. All meat is from US farms, except for some venison that is hunted. Their display at the dog show included a number of dehydrated treats including chicken and rabbit feet and beef trachea. The Moolhuizens found the serious dog people at the shows contained a higher proportion of raw feeders than the more pet-centric attendees at the Pet Expo.  Barb told me she was  surprised by requests for liver, which they  did not bring to the show. They plan to add more events to their marketing plan, next stop will be the Detroit Kennel Club show in March.

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Purina’s Rally to Rescue sponsors contest

Rescue to Rally truck
Rescue to Rally truck

MediaPost reports that Purina’s Pro Plan brand is sponsoring a contest where consumers can win pet food coupons while voting to select which rescued pet and its owner will win a trip to the National Dog Show as well as a food donation to the shelter that adopted out that pet.

The Rally to Rescue program launched in 2005 and actively supports rescue events throughout the year;  I’ve seen a number of pop-up tents with their logo donated to rescue groups at Pet Awareness events.  This support direct to groups doing the hands-on work of pet rescue and re-homing is the most effective way to actually benefit homeless pets and rescue workers.

Purina is one of a number of pet food and product companies that promotes its company through support of rescue organizations and events; MediaPost cites both Frontline and Pedigree. As previously noted in this blog, a German Pedigree rescue promotion benefited not only homeless pets, but Pedigree sales in that country.

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Primo Pads crate pads

Primo Pad crate pads
Primo Pad crate pads

Primo Pads was a vendor at the Ann Arbor Kennel Club shows July 4th weekend, so I stopped by to purchase a pad for one of my dogs and exchange one that had been chewed.  I decided to ask the business owner, Gary Berding, how he got into the business of making these durable, high density foam crate pads.  It was quite a tale! After being hit with a severe case of blood poisoning which landed him out of commission for nearly a year, he found himself virtually penniless. While visiting family, he went to a flea market and noticed the busiest booth in the place was selling foam padding. The sellers were the parents of the owner of a foam manufacturing plant who were helping him unload excess product. The material was waterproof,  non-toxic, and high density and was produced in large sheets. Within a couple weeks, Gary had a warehouse full of foam and needed to find customers. Initially he sold the foam for various athletic and household uses. Someone from a local kennel club happened to see his booth at a sports show suggested the foam would be great for dog beds and arranged to get Gary a booth at their show.  The  booth sold out twice the first day and he’s never looked back, focusing exclusively on the dog owner market since that time.

Primo Pads focuses on customer service, offers a money-back guarantee, and stays attentive to customer comments to keep  improving the products.  Upgrades include the addition of a heat sealed tough vinyl fabric covering and standardizing density so all mats are suitable for heavy dogs. Currently marketing efforts include booths at dog shows, a tri-fold b/w brochure, a website and word of mouth.  Pads are sized for all common crate sizes and custom sizes are available by special order.

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Canidae dog food marketing reaches out

I spent last weekend at the Midland Michigan Kennel Club dog shows. These are fairly small shows with a limited number of vendors, but it’s the second all breed show I’ve attended in the past month where Canidae had a booth. This is a brand I’ve been familiar with as a holistic, high quality dog food and cat food (Felidae), but not one widely used among dog show people. I saw it as almost a cult brand popular with people who were dog “foodies” who subscribe to Whole Dog Journal.   Canidae is making a deliberate effort to target show people this year, reaching out with fairly large displays, sampling, and coupons. The representative I talked to mentioned that the company recognized how influential breeders could be and decided to reach out to them.  Canidae offers a  breeder/multi pet discount program which allows people with multiple dogs who are also active in dog activities to get one bag of dog food free for every five purchased. I asked if they were going to get into sponsoring shows, as  Eukanuba and Purina have done and was told they are considering it.

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Facebook Fun with Purina

MediaPost reports that Purina and Oddcast have developed an application called Beggin Time which allows people to place themselves and a pet in a dance video which can in turn be emailed or “go viral” as we marketing folks like to say. The article refers to it as a Facebook app, but I could only request to be its friend from the Facebook side, I found it on the Beggin Strips website.  You pick your own human and pet face and then they dance to the Beggin Time “Can’t Top This” song sung to the tune  of  “You Can’t Touch This.”  It is indeed fun and I couldn’t resist sending it via the Facebook and email options  to several friends.

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