Last column summarized some of the most important BRANDING pearls of wisdom gleaned from Doug Gleason and my webcast on Grass Roots Marketing and Brand Building.  Today’s column covers the basics of GRASS ROOTS MARKETING.  Since the pet industry is full of small businesses with small budgets, it’s important to know that you can build your brand on a shoestring budget.  It’s called a Grass Roots Effort.

Grass roots marketing is the opposite of mass marketing, which broadcasts a product message to the vast general population in hopes that it will resonate with a small portion of that group.  The idea of grass roots marketing is to directly connect with a product or service’s most logical potential customers at their place of work, commerce, and leisure.  Think about the companies giving out free samples at a dog park or after a 10k run.  They are connecting with you one-on-one at your place of leisure.

Grass roots marketing tries to get consumers genuinely excited about a product so that they will spread the word for you.  In other words, the ideal is to “go viral” whether it be word of mouth or online.  Here are some tips that Doug shared with us for launching your brand without breaking your budget:


PR is one of the best tactics for stretching your marketing dollar.  Not only is publicity much less expensive then advertising, it also carries more clout with the consumer.  Aren’t you much more likely to run out and buy a new product that was touted by a journalist then if you see an ad in that same publication?   When a product gets a favorable review by a journalist or is highlighted in a magazine, you understand that this cannot be bought.

The trade off?  You don’t have control over the message.  I’ll never forget the time I was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal about my former company, Avian Adventures.  When he sent me a draft of the article (which journalists normally don’t do), it was so full of errors and mistakes that I had to call the journalist immediately and ask to have them fixed.  When the article finally ran, it still contained many of the original mistakes.  So this is when you say “some publicity is better then no publicity.”

Consider hiring a PR firm to get coverage.  APPA has an arrangement with The Impetus Agency to provide discounted services to their members.  More information is available on APPA’s website.

A first hand example of how a PR campaign paid off is when I owned my distribution company, Avian Kingdom Supply.  I was bringing a famous bird behaviorist into town and wanted to get some publicity for the event, so I hired a local publicist.  She ended up securing a story by the Entrepreneurship columnist at The Dallas Morning News, Cheryl Hall.

Little did Cheryl and I know that a producer at The Oprah Winfrey Show was a huge fan of her column.  A few months after the column ran the producer called Cheryl to ask for the names of a few of her more interesting profiles.  I’ll never forget the day I got that call from the Oprah Winfrey producer.  I ended up appearing on her show and it was a life-changing experience.

If you can’t swing a PR firm’s retainers right now, consider a do-it-yourself campaign to target publications.  One of the best step-by-step manuals for this process is a book titled Free Publicity by Jeff Crilley.  Jeff is a former Fox TV reporter and has created a wonderful guide to getting your own publicity.


Being at an event that is a great way to get your message out to a lot of people in a very personal, impactful way.  Some good examples of events that can result in a good return of investment on your time:

  • A booth at your local Humane Society’s 5K
  • A booth at your local home and garden show
  • Staffing a pet store’s customer appreciation day.
  • Create your own event at a local dog park
  • Booth at your town’s local Memorial or Labor Day festival
  • And the ultimate event – The Global Pet Expo!


Many organizations have become highly successful because of sampling programs.  Doug referred to Burt’s Bees in the presentation as an example of a company that became wildly successful without ever spending money on media advertising.  Instead, their marketing effort was totally focused on sampling.  Another example that comes from personal experience is a San Francisco company, Zola.  Every year they would staff a booth at a Boulder Sports Fair and give out samples and coupons.  I got hooked after tasting their yummy acai juice and have been a loyal customer since 2006.  Just my purchases alone probably paid for that entire booth!

Charitable Tie-ins

The good news is that we are in an industry full of passionate people who are generous and caring.  It’s really a no-brainer to associate with your local humane society or shelter.  Not only does it benefit the animals, but also the tie-in creates a “halo” effect for your brand – giving the consumer one more reason to prefer your brand over a competitor.  Think about being the Tom’s Shoes of the pet world.

Finally, what article about marketing would be complete without a mention of Social Media. As you know by now, if you don’t have a Facebook Page, an active Twitter account, and a strong online presence, you are missing the boat.  Remember that your social media needs to be consistent with the rest of your branding.  When you post on Twitter or your Facebook page, make sure the “voice” of the post reflects the personality of your brand – whether that’s humorous, whimsical, or serious.

Carol Frank of Boulder, CO, is the founder of four companies in the pet industry and a Managing Director with BirdsEye Advisory Group, where she advises pet companies in M&A transactions and Exit Planning.  She is a former CPA, has an MBA, is a Certified Mergers and Acquisitions Advisory (CM&AA) and holds Series 79 and 63 licenses.  She highly values and incentivizes referrals and can be reached at