– Progress to a Better Future —
New York, NY – Coming originally from the Bronx and being an ardent baseball fan, I always admired New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra. He is not only famous for being a gifted player, but also for his gifted ability for a memorable turn of phrase – like “when you come to a fork in the road, take it” and “always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.”
While Yogi employed malapropisms to make his point memorable, his intent was always abundantly clear. One Yogism stands out as being especially appropriate to the American Kennel Club at this time – “the future ain’t what it used to be.”
I believe our future is very different today than it was just a short time ago. On every front there are clear opportunities out there that can make the AKC stronger. Through our commitment to relentless positive action we are seizing those opportunities and creating significant positive progress.
All progress has a starting point and today I will share some of those starting points with the understanding that progress is experimental; progress is impossible without change; and, most importantly, progress is made through implementing ideas and learning from them.
We are making significant progress in the never-ending journey to get the true story of the AKC, purebred dogs, and responsible breeders out to the American public. In partnership with Edelman, we are making progress in changing the conversation and reaching the right people – including young families and empty nesters. The positive story we have is more engaging than it was just a year ago. Media outlets of all types and all geography are more interested in positive stories about who we are and what we do for dogs than ever before. Last year, we earned 22.5 billion media impressions with a value of almost $100 million – a 10% increase over 2012.
In addition to our traditional stories, we are now getting stories telling the truth about purebred dogs and responsible breeders. We are communicating focused messages of the value of purebred predictability and the importance of breeder expertise. We have developed and included allied voices within our PR opportunities, including breeders and veterinarians, all adding to the credibility of the AKC. A special thanks goes to Patti Strand for her commitment and assistance in helping us with a story clarifying the misconceptions about purebred dogs and breeders.
What impact is this progress in media outreach having on our public perception? Here’s one simple measurement: The slings and arrows sent our way on social media have dropped by over 40%. Plus we are growing our social media supporters every day via every venue available.
Our success in connecting with the public has not gone unnoticed. Advertisers are more interested than ever in utilizing AKC.org and the Wall Street Journal has taken notice of our positive progress.
Certainly, our AKC/Eukanuba National Championship is an important element in reaching the public. Last year, the show was live-streamed to over 3 million people. While we had more people watching more of the show than ever before, I believe there is opportunity for even more engagement with the public by getting the show back on TV. With the Board’s enthusiastic agreement and Eukanuba’s approval, I have assembled a team of Staff, Edelman, and a group within Edelman specializing in opportunities like this to immediately pursue every possible option that would bring this unique celebration of dogs to television for the enjoyment of the 99 million people who love dogs as much as we do. I will keep you informed as we progress on this quest.
We continue to make progress in events. There are numerous ideas being vetted across all sports and many have been implemented already:
The CGC title was launched last year and already we have applications for 17,000 dogs. The new Advanced CGC is gaining traction with over 1000 dogs titled.
Two clubs have applied for the pilot program allowing two conformation shows in one day. One club is a perfect example of how we thought this option would work to benefit clubs and exhibitors. The club is currently allowed four shows per year, averaging less than 300 dogs per show in a remote geography. Their plan is to have four shows in three days and we believe it will be very successful.
We have analyzed the impact of the National Owner-Handled Series (NOHS). The data demonstrates that the NOHS is a desirable and motivating offering for exhibitors. On average, those clubs that offered NOHS at their all-breed conformation shows saw a significant increase in entries versus similar shows that didn’t. No other special attraction, including Best Puppy and Best Bred-by-Exhibitor, had an impact on entries. Research with NOHS participants around the country revealed that the availability of the NOHS competition at an event directly impacts their decision to enter. In the inaugural NOHS Finals held in conjunction with AENC last year, more than 520 competitors entered, representing 160 breeds and varieties from 43 states and Canada.
In our quest to bring new exhibitors into Conformation, we created the 4-6 Beginner Puppy Competition. Research yields that about 50% of the exhibitors are new to the sport and 68% of those that participate go on to enter the regular puppy class when their dog is eligible.
The AKC Agility staff is in the process of developing a new pre-novice class in order to help attract new exhibitors and keep this event growing.
The AKC Performance Events Staff is considering a way to acknowledge a dog’s lifetime of achievement and promote continuing involvement in the sport for the many dogs that run out of new titles before they run out of ability and desire.
Innovation drives growth in events. Agility is the perfect example of this thinking. Staff is working on new events that are fun for dog and exhibitor, instinct based, and open to all dogs.
We are making progress in dog and litter registrations, also. While we are still declining, the rate of decline has dropped significantly. We believe there are three key reasons for this. The first is that we are doing a much better job of telling our story, particularly about our Good Works program and its connection to registration for sustainability. In addition, two initiatives have had positive impact.
Late last year, AKC introduced Breeder EZReg, an online tool that gives breeders an easy way to ensure all of their puppies are registered. Breeders that use it enjoy significant discounts on fees, complete naming control, plus other advantages. More and more breeders are using this new tool to register all of their puppies.
We are currently working on a new breeder support program that rewards breeders who perform the health testing recommended by their breed’s Parent Club. This program, along with AKC Breeder of Merit, allows us to help the public find a responsible breeder. And allows the AKC to not just defend breeding, but to improve it.
Helping breeders find good homes for their puppies and prospective owners find good breeders as a source for their puppies is an important part of growing registration and sport participation. To help accomplish those goals, the AKC Breeder Classifieds is getting a major overhaul that will deliver a much more consumer-friendly experience and therefore, a better showcase for AKC breeders. Look for the introduction of this great new tool very soon.
Our progress to a better future for the AKC is real. We recognize progress does not move in a straight line all the time. There will be highs and lows, beginnings and pauses, successes and failures. Through it all, we will remain optimistic, confident, and innovative – knowing that we can succeed when we have the courage, initiative, and vision to try.
And that’s where you can help. Ideas will drive our progress and I just know there are some good ones out there. We have established two easy ways for you to share your brainstorms as they happen. There is a new email address – AKCideas@akc.org – and a new voicemail line – (212) 696-8226. Both are open and we welcome your thoughts around anything that can help the AKC.
I believe we are catching a contagion of success. As Yogi said, “It ain’t over until it’s over.”