CAMPAIGNS: AKC welcomes the responsibilities of boosting its cause

PR Team: American Kennel Club (New York) Campaign: American Kennel Club Responsible Dog Ownership Day Time Frame: June-Sept. 2003 Budget: $46,000

PR Team: American Kennel Club (New York) Campaign: American Kennel Club Responsible Dog Ownership Day Time Frame: June-Sept. 2003 Budget: $46,000

The American Kennel Club (AKC) is widely known as the world's largest registry of purebred dogs and the premier governing body of canine sporting events and shows. However, the 119-year-old nonprofit's image has been tarnished somewhat by the press' propensity for linking it with problems such as canine overpopulation, animal abuse, and puppy mills. The group has long championed the importance of responsible dog ownership and how it combats such issues. However, few know of the myriad AKC programs that benefit dogs and their owners, including training programs, health research, and lost-pet recovery. "We felt a signature event like Responsible Dog Ownership Day (RDOD) would further the specific cause and put the AKC on the radar of a broader audience," says AKC PR director Lainie Cantrell. In addition to the 4,500 purebred-dog clubs that make up its membership, veterinarians, animal shelters, pet stores, and the general public - current and would-be dog owners - were all targeted. Strategy Creating a truly nationwide initiative on a limited budget was a challenge that required local involvement. "The general public is a huge demographic," notes Cantrell. "As such, we sought to supply each of our clubs with the tools necessary to reach out to their communities - giveaway items, PR kits, and the like. It was a grassroots initiative to build nationwide support." The date chosen for RDOD, September 17, was historically significant - the AKC was founded on that day in 1884. A flagship event in Central Park was scheduled for the day, and would prove to be the focal point for media outreach. Being a Wednesday, however, the program would be extended to the preceding and following weekends in order to build momentum and ensure maximum attendance. Tactics Finding a high-profile spokesperson with credibility as a dog expert and a visceral conviction for the cause was essential. After thorough research, Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis was the obvious choice. "Greg has enormous name recognition from his Olympic successes," says Cantrell. "What is not as well-known is that he has spent the past 10 years working with dogs. He brought tremendous credibility from that standpoint." An avid dog lover since his childhood, Louganis has participated in many agility, obedience, and conformation competitions. He has also authored For the Life of Your Dog. His participation in the Central Park event, as well as the accompanying three-hour SMT, provided an extra angle of interest. To further draw participants, an RDOD section was developed on the AKC website for clubs to sign up and for the public to learn more. The events themselves also exhibited many of the AKC's ongoing activities that foster responsible dog ownership, including Canine Good Citizen tests, microchip clinics, and breed rescue information. RDOD was designed to showcase the AKC's role as a preeminent resource on all canine matters. Results In all, 224 AKC-affiliated clubs participated in RDOD. At an average of about 500 per site, more than 100,000 people attended events nationwide. In addition, four clubs used AKC materials to obtain governor/ mayoral proclamations to help publicize their events. Inasmuch as this was the nonprofit's first endeavor into conducting simultaneous events, the AKC's work with member clubs gave the latter a crash course in PR that will prove valuable to all future endeavors, both local and national. Outreach efforts produced more than 15 million media impressions as well, including the New York Post, the LA Times, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and AP. The SMT alone drew nearly 1 million viewers. Future Eighty percent of participating clubs have already confirmed for next year's event. In fact, notes Cantrell, many have requested the event be expanded to encompass all of September. Event-coordination plans will begin this month, and sponsorship is being sought for the 2004 event.

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