The courage to show up authentically

Magic Johnson’s keynote speech highlighted this year’s AVMA (American Veterinary Medicine Association) convention in Austin, TX was. His engaging delivery lit up the packed auditorium, while his message focused on the power of hard work and authenticity: “The important part is loving and believing in yourself, and then picking yourself up and not giving up … Don’t let somebody change who you are and don’t let somebody define who you can become.”

I won’t lie: his words brought tears to my eyes twice in the first ten minutes, mostly due to his unguarded humanity. He was real, relaxed, and full of compassion. When he stopped his talk to give a veterinarian’s son an autographed basketball and take a selfie, it didn’t feel staged, it felt kind. I wasn’t surprised to notice fellow attendees moved to tears as well. Magic’s words hit home to a lot of veterinarians struggling to balance workload and burnout.

The show itself provided a solid showing for the veterinary industry.

You couldn’t miss the big booths: Zoetis took a lot of floorspace to celebrate their Librella launch and Purina Pro Plan also invested at scale. Petco and PetSMART both greeted visitors from their large corporate booths.

But the one big name I couldn’t find was Chewy. And I actively looked for them. I recalled their large rather empty booth at VMX 2022 and their large, much fuller booth at VMX 2023, so I figured they had to make a presence at this show.

Eventually, I found their modest 10’ x 10’ booth down an out of the way aisle. I had a lovely conversation with their team about their sponsorship of veterinary mental wellness,  a cause near to my heart due to my involvement and launching of Veterinary Hope Foundation.

Still, why come to this conference at all if you’re only going to have a modest 10 by 10 booth? It seemed like a missed opportunity.

Later that day, I asked that question of someone more in the know and he said he thought it was purposeful. He reminded me that almost a year ago, Chewy announced they were moving beyond tele-medicine and opening brick and mortar veterinary clinics. Apparently, they had hired some good veterinarians as part of that process, and learned that the profession tends to distrust splash and corporate. As a result, the buzz at the show was that Chewy was purposefully pulling back their presence, and instead by creating a small space for more real and authentic conversations.

And it hit me that Chewy’s real, authentic approach mirrored the advice of Magic Johnson, “Don’t let somebody change who you are and don’t let somebody define who you can become.”

In that context, their 10’ x 10’ booth truly stood out.

That’s smart marketing.

About the Author

Blair McConnel brings extensive experience to the Bader Rutter Pet Care practice. She is a veterinarian who worked in the industry for 10 years and led Zoetis’ marketing team. She has led several startups, including two businesses that provided people management and business consulting services to veterinarians. Her passion is growing businesses, and her belief is that good strategy is the foundation to growth.