We’ve all heard of the book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” Well, I want to write a sequel. It’s called “All I Really Need to Know About PR I Learned From Puppies and Kittens.”
Here’s the deal:
I have an awesome bichon frise puppy. His name is Boomer. I also have an awesome girlfriend. Her name is Elizabeth. I love them both very much. Elizabeth has two kitties, Gracie and Zippo. And as you might expect, she loves them very much.
There’s a really good chance that some day all of these furry friends will live together under one roof. In anticipation of that event, Elizabeth and I are in the midst of “Operation Puppy Love,” our mission to create the Animal Planet equivalent of the Brady Bunch.
We’re in the early stages, but from what I’ve seen so far, it turns out you can learn a lot about how to effectively build relationships with key audiences from cats and dogs.
So to all you strategic communicators and/or animal lovers out there, I offer the following tutorial in relationship development.
Take some time to get to know the players before making the first move. Get a clear picture of their personalities, interests, pet peeves, past experiences, habits, etc. The Bad Pitch Blog is filled with stories of what happens when you don’t take the time to do this. I suspect my vet’s office is, too.
In our scenario, Boomer is the baby of the group – less than two years old. He is very social, playful, and excitable. I’m pretty sure he thinks he’s a person. He’s very timid around animals he doesn’t know. But once he figures out that the other animal isn’t a threat, he switches gears, and reverts to his normal social state.
Gracie is a big, lovable girl (she weighs about the same as Boomer). When she wants a scratch, she’ll let you know. She’s a sweet cat and not mean spirited, but will correct you when she feels compelled to do so. She has been known to throw the occasional punch when particularly agitated.
Zippo is the shy and sweet elder statesman of our pack. He’s old, a bit arthritic, has a thyroid disorder that makes him paranoid when not properly medicated, and endured some dog-related trauma when he was a kitten. Despite all of this, he is the older sibling, and feels the need to protect Gracie.
Making the Introduction
Knowing this, we decided to cultivate the Boomer-Gracie relationship before introducing Zippo to the mix.
We started by bringing over some Boomer paraphernalia for the cats to sniff. Next, Boomer made his grand entrance, with the apartment partitioned in two halves: one for puppy, one for kitties. Once all parties had adjusted to the reality of the situation, we brought Gracie in the room, and put her in a place Boomer couldn’t reach.
She sat in her perch for a few hours, carefully contemplating the situation and giving Boomer a cautious stare. Eventually, she climbed down and sat with us. Boomer kept his distance.
It was the perfect introduction. Sure, there was a little bit of nervous energy. No, they didn’t magically become best friends. But everything was cool. We broke the ice, and laid the groundwork for future efforts.
If we hadn’t done our research and thought about how best to approach the scenario, we would have experienced a very different outcome…and perhaps caused damage so bad, there would never be a chance for a good relationship.
Build Trust and Earn Respect
Our pack is still in the early stages of this phase. So far things are going well, but we know it’s a slow and steady process.
Gracie has decided Boomer is not a threat (at least not yet). She spends part of her time keeping an eye on him from her lookout perch. The rest of the time she ignores him. Boomer is still scared of Gracie. He keeps his distance, but every now and then, he musters the courage to get a little closer.
It will be interesting to see what happens when he finally decides they are friends, and tries to play with her. I see a few left hooks from Gracie in his future.
Zippo keeps his distance, but he doesn’t hide as much as he did before. Once Gracie and Boomer achieve détente, Zippo will hopefully follow his sister’s lead. We’ll see.
We don’t know the final result yet, but we know the only way we’ll succeed is through a slow and steady process of building trust and earning respect.
So What Does This Have to do With PR?
Relationships take time, whether you walk on two legs or four. When you’re trying to build relationships with reporters, customers, community members, or any other key audience, follow these steps. Do your homework. Understand your audience. Respect their attitudes, values, beliefs and experiences. Be thoughtful about how to make your introduction. And once you’re in the door, take the time to build trust and earn respect.
It takes a lot longer, and requires more work. But it will lead to a stronger relationship that can stand the test of time.
I hope it does for me.