In the weeks leading up to the Fourth of July, when most people were eagerly anticipating burger benders, the people at Happy Tails Dog Spa were busy planning their own celebration of America - dog washing.
When CEO Amy Nichols read about the overseas military dogs used for bomb-sniffing and security, facing oppressive heat and a lack of toys and equipment, she immediately wanted the company to help.
Working with Jaffe Communications, the team came up with a fundraiser classic that simply made sense - the dog wash. "We felt it was the most patriotic thing we could do as a dog business - help other dogs serve our country," says Nichols.
Taking the nature of the campaign to heart, Happy Tails' main concern was getting people to feel as if they were involved, so it started its efforts with an e-mail to customers, listing possible donation items and giving encouragement to come out to the July wash. Through correspondence with officers in Iraq, Happy Tails knew that the most needed items - things like hi-tech cooling beds and dog goggles - were also the most costly, so it set the price of a dog wash at $10 per dog, with a goal of $1,000 for the day.
Jaffe Communications knew the grassroots aspect of the campaign would offer the most appealing media angle and began planning for aggressive outreach to locally based national print and broadcast outlets.
"We knew this was a news story that would capture the hearts of both people in the community and nationwide, so we capitalized on Happy Tails' proximity to the Beltway media," says Laura Knutelsky, an associate at Jaffe.
Weeks before the wash, Jaffe began sending notices to every possible local outlet, from weekly event calendars to The Washington Post. Though its pitches initially went unanswered, when the phone started ringing days before the event, it knew the story was in. As the article hit newspapers the morning of the 11am event, the volunteers from Happy Tails Dog Spa began to feel a buzz.
"A man walked in at 10:45am and handed us a check for $1,500," recalls Nichols. "We realized we'd really touched a nerve, and we thought, 'How can we do more?'"
Following the wash, it became apparent that there was still an overwhelming desire to help.
As media requests and donations continued to pour in, Nichols and Jaffe decided to extend the campaign. In the interest of prolonging awareness, Nichols wrote an Op-Ed piece regarding military dogs, which Jaffe shopped around to various newspapers, eventually selling exclusive rights to The Washington Times.
The website for Happy Tails Dog Spa received 13% more traffic by the end of the campaign, and thanks to the largess of both their customers and complete strangers, it was able to raise more than $15,000 ($8,500 from the dog wash).
The story was picked up by newspapers and television, resulting in the unlikely meeting of CNN's Pentagon correspondent and a bunch of wet dogs. "When Barbara Starr [the correspondent] walked in, I think even the dogs got quiet," says Knutelsky. "Everyone was so excited."
Happy Tails Dog Spa has turned its efforts to help military dogs into a charitable arm of the corporation, and with Jaffe on board, it hopes to receive nonprofit status within a year.
After seeing tales of the dog wash on the Pentagon channel, several overseas units have since contacted the company to ask for help, and the spa has been happy to oblige. And it eventually hopes to spread its reach to other working dogs on the US home front.
PR team: Happy Tails Dog Spa (Tysons Corner, VA) and Jaffe Communications (Cranford, NJ)
Campaign: Lapping up Support
Time frame: July to September 2005