Branding becomes WWPIA's pet project

Industry organization uses various forums to show that its value goes beyond trade shows

At the most recent SuperZoo trade show in Las Vegas in September, the World Wide Pet Industry Association (WWPIA) crowned a border collie named Splash the winner of its “Canine Runway” contest. The campaign, handled in conjunction with AOR Formula PR, brought together pet-industry retailers and consumers and is just one way the organization balances its outreach to its three target audiences: consumers, pet industry insiders, and the media.

While many industry groups focus on b-to-b efforts, the WWPIA also has a robust consumer outreach component. This is due, in part, to the changing image of the industry as pets become more a part of the family, says WWPIA president Doug Poindexter.

With the “humanization of pets,” he says consumers became more involved in the products and foods for their new family members. The WWPIA, which was founded in 1951, introduced a standalone consumer show, America's Family Pet Expo, in 1990. In 2007, the organization launched an online resource for consumers, petsource.org.

“Our main PR activity used to be around our two events: SuperZoo and America's
Family Pet Expo,” Poindexter says. “We decided a few years back that we really ought to do more to put the corporate brand of WWPIA out in the marketplace, so people understand what... we do and why we do it.”

The WWPIA's message is all about responsible pet care, he says. Positioning the group as an expert in this field has been a key objective since Formula became the association's AOR in January 2007. Run from its LA office, the firm's efforts include setting up media interviews with trade and consumer titles and getting the group in front of issues during emergencies, such as offering pet-care tips during hurricane season.

“What we're always trying to do is make sure [the WWPIA is] the voice of the marketplace,” says Michael Olguin, president of Formula. “When there was that dog food recall [in 2007], Doug spoke to all the national press [about] what consumers should look for when they go into the pet stores, what they should buy, and what they shouldn't buy.”

On the more light-hearted side, the agency and organization also pitch fun news from the shows, like exhibitors' creative pooper-scooper products or bizarre pet tricks, Olguin says. A recent episode of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno visited SuperZoo to allow several exhibitors to pitch their products for its “Pitch to America” segment.

Other events, like Canine Runway, are simply ways to bring consumers and retailers together at a time other than the Expo. Contest winner Splash, owned by San Diego dog trainer Emily Larlham, won the opportunity to appear on the cover of Dog Fancy and be a dog model for Bamboo pet products.

The next America's Family Pet Expo is set for April 2009 at the Orange County Fairgrounds in California. The WWPIA and Formula are already working to get celebrity pet experts to attend. Cesar Millan of Discovery Channel's The Dog Whisperer was a past performer.
 
The WWPIA is also looking to interact with consumers online by reaching out to pet-focused Web sites like Dogster and Catster, as well as through petsource.org. Originally both a consumer- and b-to-b-facing Web site, Poindexter says the current plan is to transition it to a strictly consumer-facing site.

He adds that the WWPIA is currently re-designing the homepage, focusing it more on consumers and educating the general public. Poindexter says he expects the changes to be evident in the next six months and hopes the consumer focus won't scare away the retail audience, who can still use the site as a way to encourage their customers to get information.

Along with responsible pet care, education of retailers is a key message of the WWPIA's activities. For example, SuperZoo features SuperZoo University, where retailers can come and learn how to conduct business better, train their employees, and use PR.

“If retailers [do] a better job,” Poindexter says, “they'll get the message out to the consumer as well.”

At a glance

Organization: World Wide Pet Industry Association

President:
Doug Poindexter

Headquarters: Monrovia, CA

Marcomms budget: Undisclosed

Key industry titles: Pet Product News, Pet Age, Pet Business

Marcomms team: Jessica Guzman, marketing manager

PR agency:
Formula

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