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Animal Magnetism

“Animal Magnetism”

How to make it work for you and your company.

It’s a dog’s world — and a cat’s, and a parrot’s and an iguana’s.

Whether a calming effect on your personal life, a stress reducer in the workplace or a promotional powerhouse, pets can help you — and your business.

Animalistic love affair

At least 61% of U.S. households own some kind of pet, up from 56% in 1988, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.

It’s no surprise that our love affair with the animal kingdom continues to escalate. Pets provides a wide variety of benefits, reports Robert Andrysco, a Chicago-based pet-behavior specialist:

  • Social interaction. Whether they’re furry, feathered or have fins, pets give you something to interact with.
  • Emotional balance. Pets can be a stabilizing force in your family.
  • Physical benefits. Studies show that pets have a calming effect on humans and can even lower blood pressure (though they’re no panacea for hypertension).

Warming up the workplace

Animals can also take an edge off stress in the workplace, one reason why some companies allow employees to bring pets to work. Pet-friendly employers say that animals spark a more productive workplace, help reduce absenteeism and boost employees’ interpersonal skills.

Rebecca Smith, president of A.D. Morgan, calls in the dogs to test for a sense of humor. Owner of two Golden Retrievers, Smith lets the pups join her and a job candidate in her office. If a candidate picks off fur from his or her suit, it’s not a good sign. After all, "we’re in construction, not fashion," says Smith, whose Tampa, Fla.-based general contracting company generates annual sales of $40 million.

Two cautionary notes about animals in the workplace:

  1. Is anyone allergic to animals?
  2. There’s a chance, albeit a small one, that your pet might scratch or bite someone. Are you willing to risk that liability?

Fish can be a good compromise. They’re low maintenance and still help reduce stress — one reason you see so many aquariums in doctors’ offices. In fact, fish are showing up in a lot of places. As part of a redesign program, Saturn dealers can install either an aquarium or fireplace in their customer waiting areas.

At Freshwater Software in Boulder, Colo., aquariums separate employee work stations instead of traditional cubicle paneling. Freshwater, which manages and monitors Web environments, needs a highly collaborative environment. "At the same time, employees need some sense of personal space," say Chris Anderson, Freshwater’s creative director. "The tanks help reduce noise levels, but still allow for lots of interaction. And since the tanks are clear, workers can see if their neighbor is on the phone."

The fish are also a recruiting tool, adds Anderson, explaining that the aquariums spark a fun, creative corporate culture. The fast-track company has grown from five employees in 1996 to 50 employees with virtually no attrition.

Marketing tools

Animals can also be a great way to craft an image for your firm or win more attention in promotional efforts:

  • The hip factor: Taco Bell‘s taco-loving Chihuahua made major inroads with teenagers.
  • Warmth: Land Rover won a huge response for its commercial that depicted a couple stopping their Land Rover in a rainstorm to rescue a stray dog. Consumers who identify with the couple also perceive the company positively.

Animal magnetism also helped a Chicago developer stand out of the crowd.

In a series of ads for Olympia Lofts, animals were used to highlight different amenities. For example, a giraffe illustrated the 12-foot ceilings and "maximum headroom," while a lion drove home the notion of "killer views."

Joseph Freed Homes, the developer of Olympia Lofts, had been marketing the project for six months with little consumer traffic. But when the animal ads began to run, the property sold out in three months.

"There’s something about animals that people relate to — first of all, animals make you smile," says Deborah Johnson, president of Taylor Johnson Associates, the Chicago agency that created the campaign. And because most real estate ads use building facades for illustrations, the animals were an unexpected departure from the norm. "They were provocative," adds Johnson. "They made your eye stop."

Writer: TJ Becker