My Interview with Glee’s Mary Clarke: ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’

(Taken from this week’s Glee e-newsletter)

In the past year, a national institution that has remained largely unchanged for over a century experienced a rapid transformation.

The catchphrase for Crufts this year was “happy, healthy dogs”; a motto the show’s organiser the Kennel Club has been working hard to live up to since the BBC documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed shone a rather unflattering spotlight on its pedigree breeding practices.

The Kennel Club maintains that the documentary was one-sided and biased. Whether or not that’s the case is beside the point; it has forced the club to speedily revise breed standards and backtrack on close-family breeding, by creating a surge of public pressure.

This experience is one that many retailers are themselves starting to come across as consumers become more vocal, and the Kennel Club’s reaction is one they can learn much from.

The customer is always right

The Kennel Club is the victim of a new breed of informed, active and powerful consumer that has reinvented that old retail adage “the customer is always right” for a new generation.

Last week, the club delivered a show that, despite being the most controversial in its history, passed largely without incident; a feat that the Kennel Club’s veterinary representative Marc Abraham, who was brought on board to help the club re-brand in the wake of the controversy, says was achieved by listening and responding to criticism.

“It was an incredibly biased documentary.” Abraham claims. “[The Kennel Club] has been working for years to change all the breeds; that has now been speeded up because of public pressure. I think it’s happening in every industry, public pressure. I mean you see it with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and the chicken farming. Things are changing now because people are so much more aware and there’s so much more information available to them.”

Creating better businesses

This shouldn’t be seen as a threat, Abraham says, but as an aid to development. “It’s certainly a step in the right direction, you know, things are changing. The whole attitude has changed with the Kennel Club and I think it had to,” he explains.

Abraham knows a thing or two about the power of consumer feedback. As co-founder of, he’s been encouraging pet owners to rate and discuss the successes and failures of all pet service providers, from retailers and groomers to restaurants and hotels.

He sees the forum as a way to help businesses improve and to drive custom to the businesses “that put pets before profit.”

The idea of actively inviting the public to comment on products and services is something that will make many marketing executives come out in a cold sweat.

However, Abraham feels that honesty is the best policy for both businesses and consumers; especially where the health and happiness of pets is at stake. met with some anxiety when its launch was first announced last year, which Abraham saw as a misinterpretation of his intentions.

“I think the first thing people think is, ‘oh my God people are going to get slagged off’, but we can rout them out,” he says reassuringly.

“What we want it to be used for is this search for the best for your pet, this sharing knowledge, sharing experiences; and it’s working.”

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