26 February 2008

"Think Grey's Anatomy, but with horses."

This is the first time a Best Blog EVAH has preceded a Business Lexington column. The American Association of Equine Practitioners is not a huge trade association, but they're using some of the same innovative communications tools that the big guys like the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers are.

But here's the thing: I actually like AAEP's blog, Out of the Starting Gate, a little better than the others because it personalizes the profession. And I think the leadership at AAEP, particularly director of marketing & PR Sally Baker, have been really smart about this. They identified a strategic communications need FIRST - attracting young people to the field of equine veterinary medicine - and saw a blog as a tool to help them meet that need. Then they found a smart young voice for the blog that again filled their strategic need. They're starting simple and then they plan to build more multimedia into the blog as they grow more comfortable with the medium.

I first met Sally Baker when she invited me to speak at the local PRSA chapter. She told me about their blog and asked me to take a look at it. It doesn't offer much in terms of bells & whistles and it doesn't update often, but the content is very strong. That's the most important thing.

Sally was gracious enough to answer a few questions as I put together the column. Here's the complete Q&A.

I. First, please tell me about AAEP – who you are, what you do, your mission.

The AAEP is the world’s largest professional association for equine veterinarians. Our most important mission is protecting the health and welfare of the horse, and we accomplish this through helping our members stay current on the latest advances in equine medicine and educating horse owners about the important role they play in keeping their horse healthy and happy.

The AAEP also works within the equine industry to promote policies that are in the best interest of the horse, and we have served as a catalyst on diverse issues ranging from medication in the racehorse to the plight of the unwanted horse.

II. Many Lexingtonians know a bit about who you are, and that you’re in town, but little else. What do you want your neighbors to know about you?

First, when I tell someone that we have a membership of over 9,000 veterinarians and veterinary students, they are surprised to learn that there are so many veterinarians who do equine work. Many people also assume that most of our members are based in Kentucky, especially since Lexington is the Horse Capital of the World. And while the AAEP does have nearly 350 members in Kentucky, our membership is international, with representation in 64 countries and in such distant places as Iceland, United Arab Emirates and Malaysia. (Horses are everywhere!)

III. What was the strategic thinking behind starting a blog? When did social media begin to look like a good communications option for AAEP?

A significant percentage of our membership is under 30 years of age - 28 percent of our DVM members have been in practice five years or less and we have over 2,000 veterinary students as members. We know from the general cultural shift in communication as well as our own surveys that these groups are heavy users of our Web site and e-communication.

A strategic issue for the profession right now is how to attract more students to a career as an equine veterinarian. We then took what we knew about our members’ communication habits and applied it to how we could encourage more veterinary students to practice equine medicine. Reaching this group through a blog seemed like a natural fit.

IV. What do you hope to accomplish with the blog?

We ultimately want those considering a career as an equine veterinarian to view the profession in a positive way. I think Dr. Selvig’s accounts keep readers hooked to her experiences and are a great vehicle for attracting potential horse doctors. The first year of practice for a new veterinarian requires a lot of hard work and includes many wonderful experiences and a few bumps along the way (think Grey’s Anatomy but with horses), and we thought this would be a fascinating time of life to capture through a first-person experience. We wanted potential equine vets to hear from someone who is living the life.

V. America’s Horse, the official magazine of the American Quarter Horse Association, featured a post from your blog. What kind of feedback have you gotten from people who cover the equine industry? How about people in the industry?

The interest in the blog beyond the veterinary community was not anticipated but is a very welcome surprise. Many horse owners are extremely devoted to their animals and want to get as much information as possible. Because Dr. Selvig’s entries really give an insider’s perspective on horse health, we’re hearing from horse owners that they appreciate her candid accounts and her compassion for the horses she helps. Dr. Selvig is very compassionate, and that trait is resonating with horse owners.

VI. How did you choose Dr. Selvig as the “voice” of the blog? How do you think she’s done with it?

Once the purpose of the blog was defined, I turned to our student chapter advisors at the many colleges of veterinary medicine for their recommendations on new grads who were dynamic, enthusiastic and, based on their personal knowledge of the new grad, knew the new grad would click with this type of project. Dr. Selvig was suggested by our chapter advisor at the University of Minnesota, and it was apparent from my first communication with Dr. Selvig that she was the perfect fit for the blog. Dr. Selvig is a rising star in the profession. She was the AAEP student chapter president at Minnesota, she attended every AAEP annual convention when she was in school and was in constant pursuit of ways to become an outstanding veterinarian. It really was just a bonus that she has such strong writing skills. Her ability to weave a story is key to the blog’s success.

VII. The bog seems like a great tool to introduce “lay people” to the industry. Is this a consideration?

As I mentioned earlier, the bog’s appeal to the lay public was not expected. But we’re finding that in addition to the horse owners who read it, the bog is prompting high school students to contact Dr. Selvig and ask for advice on how to become an equine veterinarian. She is definitely inspiring the type of action that we hoped would occur with potential vets, but we initially thought this would take place primarily with current vet students.

VIII. What’s next? Will we be seeing other features for the blog, such as pictures or video, or maybe bookmarking? Will there be other contributors?

Now that the AAEP has dipped its toe in the water of social media, I am realizing how much more we can do with Dr. Selvig’s blog. We now have the ability for her to add photos to her entries, and one of our goals is to post a few short video clips of Dr. Selvig “in action” as she cares for her clients. She has really become an ambassador for the profession, and we can promote that aspect by bringing her physical presence to the blog as well.

Since we are now comfortable hosting a blog, I believe it is something that we will continue if it makes sense to do so. Our initial goal was to support our need to attract more veterinarians to the profession, and if another blog makes sense strategically, we’ll definitely pursue it. Hopefully we can keep Dr. Selvig hooked and she’ll continue to share her experiences as her career evolves.
Sally was also kind enough to ask Dr. Jennifer Selvig, the voice of Out of the Starting Gate, to answer a few questions from me as well. I'll post those tomorrow.

1 comment:

Rolf said...

Hey, there's so much useful material above!
medical id | 18k gold chains | used car dealerships in mn