5 Marketing Lessons I Learned While Working for Puppies

The first thing anyone says when you tell them you’re doing a video shoot with roughly a dozen dogs (and a few kittens) from the local SPCA is how lucky you are—and they’re definitely right about that. We got to celebrate the holidays by raising money for the SPCA with a full weekend of adorable content dubbed the “Pace Puppython.” But it wasn’t all puppy kisses and walks in the park. Over the course of a few weeks, countless hours of hard work—from myself and my co-workers—and one of the biggest snowstorms in recent memory, I discovered a lot about the highs and lows of creating content that makes a difference—whether it’s for a rescued beagle named Trixie or a Fortune 500 company.

  1. 1. Clients need your help (and you need theirs).

    Our industry can feel like a tug-of-war, with projects getting pulled back and forth by client and agency as each fights for what they think will be the most successful idea. Of course, the most impactful marketing is a partnership between the two—where the client most clearly understands their business, and the agency understands the best way to create and distribute a message. When it comes to dogs, their business is being cute, and no one knows it better than they do. On the other hand, they don’t contribute many good ideas in a brainstorm session and are terrible at video production. But when we put our talents together, some great work can be made.

    The same goes for non-canine projects. Consider the strengths of everyone involved. Your gut reaction to an idea may be to dismiss it, so just remember what are—and what aren’t—your areas of expertise. We tried our hardest to coax the dogs into doing what we thought would be cutest, but at the end of the day, the best stuff came when we let the dogs do their thing, and they let us do ours.

  2. 2. Creating something worthwhile is hard work.

    When the Pace PuppyThon kicked off, the idea almost seemed too easy. I mean, you just point a camera at a dog and let the cuteness roll. Of course, things are never that simple. There are sets to design, lighting to tweak and dogs that play when you want them to sleep and sleep when you want them to play. What started as a simple point-and-shoot project turned into exhausted nights and weekends. But despite the long hours, it never became a burden. The PuppyThon was an idea worth working on, and the same goes for that great idea you’re working on with a client. When people believe that an idea is worth fighting for, they’ll gladly pick up the banner and strive to make it a success.

  3. 3. New challenges appear where you least expect them.

    A bed of clean white snow (Well, fake snow. This is marketing, after all.). Twinkling lights. Charming holiday décor. Five unbelievably adorable boxer puppies. You couldn’t dream up a more prefect shot. That is, until you remember one fundamental truth about 6-week-old puppies—they haven’t yet mastered the whole potty-training thing.

    Sometimes when you feel like you’re on the cusp of something special, things will hit the fan (or the snow). Even if your projects are not as messy as puppies with no self-control, they can get turned on their heads midstream, whether from a client changing direction or from a shoot simply not coming together the way it did in your mind. But don’t lose heart! After a quick cleanup and an impromptu puppy bath in the sink, we got some of the best footage of our two weeks of shooting. Stick it out with your project, and something great will usually emerge on the other side.

  4. 4. Be ready to change on the fly—but trust your vision.

    Impossibly tight deadlines are one of the fundamental truths of marketing. So when more than a foot of snow hits right in the middle of your shoot, shutting down a Southern city not accustomed to more than a couple inches of slush, our vision of an all-day PuppyThon felt very much in jeopardy. It simply wasn’t possible to make the drive out to the SPCA to pick up our stars to film more content. No puppies, no PuppyThon.

    We discussed ways to cut things down or change the concept, but it just felt like we wouldn’t get nearly the same impact for the SPCA. So we improvised. Pace employees brought in their adopted dogs to fill in, allowing us to stay on track and deliver on the vision we believed could make the biggest difference. When you run into surprises, be nimble enough to adapt, but don’t compromise effectiveness for the sake of ease. Stick to your vision, and you’ll never regret it.

  5. 5. A little fun goes a long way toward your client’s success.

    After two weeks, so many dogs, a few kittens, late nights and weekends spent in the production studio and more surprises than I can count, the PuppyThon went live. Over the weekend before Christmas, more than 1,000 people tuned in to watch naps by the yule log, GoPro walks in the park, treat catches and more. We raised thousands for the SPCA; saw 11 dogs find new homes and received calls and emails from friends, clients and family sharing their excitement about the event.

    What started as a company holiday card became something our whole community could get excited about. The success of the PuppyThon reminded me of something that’s easy to forget in today’s marketing game of S.M.A.R.T. goals and advanced analytics—if you really want to make an impact in the marketplace, create something enjoyable. It can be funny, moving or inspiring, but any message you want to really make a difference should be something the audience wants to be a part of, not just your telling them what you want them to hear. Understand your audience first and then craft your message, not the other way around. To put it simply—no one wants another holiday card from a marketing agency. But everyone loves helping adorable puppies.

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