🐶 Why You Should Start Planning Your Howl-i-day Pet Show Now
11 Tips and Tricks for a Successful Program
While 2020 was officially the year of the rat in the Lunar New Year, it was unofficially the year of the dog as they made their debut on our work video calls…
Once upon a time when we worked from home pre-2020, we kept our pets off-camera and apologized if they made an appearance. But, when the pandemic hit, something changed: dogs were introduced and cats pranced across desks.
At the same time, many of us began sharing even more photos of our dogs and cats' lives behind the scenes in Slack channels or groups named in their honor. These photos made us laugh, smile and occasionally tear up. Even people without pets, like myself, enjoy these brief and happy distractions in a work day.
So when a colleague reached out to me with an idea for a virtual dog show in the fall of 2020, I listened intently and with excitement. When our call ended, I messaged a few of my peers to ask what they thought about a pet show (to broaden our reach and be more inclusive). With the blessing of the pet people, I began planning for what would become my favorite event of 2020 – the Howl-i-day Pet Show because it coincided with the December holidays.
As I look back at the Howl-i-day Pet Show, I’m sharing this guide so that you too can create a similarly spectacular experience for your colleagues in December for the howl-i-days or if you prefer to fast track this concept, Howl-a-ween is around the corner at the end of October.
1. Check in with the Pet People
Before moving forward with a program, all great planners know it’s a best practice to ask a few peers their perspective. Reach out to team members who represent your target audience. Select people at various levels and from different departments. Consider who would attend and ask: what would make you want to join? It’s also important to think about others who might not be your event regulars. Find out what you could do differently to include them. Once you have a consensus – hopefully a positive one – it’s time to start planning.
2. Plan with Peers
For programs, it’s always better to plan with peers to ensure multiple perspectives are incorporated and to reach your event’s full creative potential. While a volunteer leadership opportunity in the workplace can be inspiring for some, it can be overwhelming for others. Be clear with estimated expectations and responsibilities when extending an invitation to participate.
Earlier in the year, I had the good fortune of recruiting a group of employee ambassadors who were already committed and interested in building community in creative ways. While having partners is helpful, it can also slow down planning.
Ultimately, I gathered a group with unique skillsets to complement each other, who understood the need to move fast and have fun along the way. When thinking about the roles each team member would play, consider this list that helped me with planning:
Community Manager: Cultivate meaningful connections during the program
Designer: Create inspiring graphics and publicity materials
Project Manager: Keep everyone on track with the timeline and reminders
Publicity Champion: Share the opportunity with others and tap into their network
Writer: Weave the idea into words to draw participation
DEI Leader: Review materials, event flow and publicity to ensure an inclusive, diverse and equitable program
3. Create a Contest
Our committee came up with fun and broad categories for team members to enter their pets for consideration. The submission process was simple via a form:
Human’s Name (we preferred that rather than owner from a DEI perspective)
Category (multiple entries were cool, but decide on the rules as a committee)
Submit a photo or video (no more than 1 minute)
I encourage you to get creative and tap into your organization’s culture for the categories. Here’s the list of what we selected:
Most Company Spirit
Best Kid and Pet Duo (Past or Present – this offered people like me the chance to submit a childhood pet memory into the program)
Most Home-ly (a creative take on working from home with your pet)
Animals Got Talent
Most Likely to become a Meme
The voting for the winners took place live during the event, which was an incentive for people to attend. I share more of that process in #8.
4. Brand the Program
I have a deep admiration for design and designers. They take an idea and bring it to life. I was fortunate to have an incredible design partner for this program and many other internal projects, plus an illustrator. Our creative chemistry is one of those professional rarities that I treasure.
For this project, our visual designer created a brand concept. It incorporated our company colors, personality and pets. The design was used for our invitation, publicity posts and slide deck for the event. If you don’t have a design partner, there are great templates in Canva, a freemium design tool, to help you develop a branded vision.
5. Incentivize with Prizes
Winners of the howl-i-day pet show were rewarded with gift certificates. In advance, I requested a modest budget of $250, which averaged to about $25 per winner. Rather than select the prizes for winners, we let them choose where they wanted a gift card to a pet-friendly place. I created a suggested list, which included a dog biscuit company, a pet portrait service, or a shelter.
6. Empower Employee Publicity Champions
As the program approached, we focused on individual outreach and company-wide publicity. For peer-to-peer outreach, I drafted sample text for our champions to send to 5 team members each. To create their contact list, I went through the pet Slack channel to identify who would be our target audience. For wider publicity, we posted our branded flyers in multiple locations online. Each publicity champion added their own unique touch, from showcasing their favorite dog on Instagram to introducing their favorite pet (past or present).
7. Draft a Plan with Talking Points
From my time in philanthropy, I learned the importance of a run of show – a minute-by-minute guide to all that’s happening live during the program. Talking points also help prepare different speakers. It’s important to encourage people to tap into their unique personalities when they speak. At this program, I remember laughing so much when one team member began ad-libbing spontaneously during her presenting category.
In order to plan, I put myself in the moment and try to anticipate everything that might happen during the program, as well as what might go wrong. Here are a few questions to prompt your planning process:
What will happen before the program officially begins?
Will there be ice breakers for online conversation to flow?
Will there be a spotlight to introduce team members?
Who are the host(s) of the program?
How much time will you spend per category?
How will you have employees vote on the winners?
How will you include employees without pets?
Can employees bring guests?
This is a high-level run of show. It was also timed out with a minute by minute for each part:
Pre-Program: A community-building opportunity - 10 minutes early
Introductions: Welcome and Explanation of Voting - 7 minutes
Thank you: Recognize the committee - 3 minutes
Category 1 (Repeat per Category) - 7 minutes
30 seconds per pet entered
1 minute for voting
1 minute to meet the winner
Wrap up and Thank you: 5 minutes
8. Feature Different Hosts
While the committee and I planned the event, not all of them wanted speaking roles in the program. With several categories, we were able to invite other team members to serve as hosts. It showcased diverse, talented employees from across the organization and gave them a chance to contribute, shine and have fun!
9. Have Fun!
This program has fun in its title — howl-i-day. There are so many puns that you could incorporate into the publicity or day of talking points. Consider dressing up along with your pet in a matching outfit. Or if you happen to have cat or dog ears around from a past costume, put those on your head. If you’re hosting this in Zoom, check out the video filters. I started the event with dog ears and a nose. Others followed with pigs, tigers and more fun filters. We introduced spotlights of our pets in attendance. People also brought their kids along. It truly was so much fun.
10. Vote Live
Similar to all the great talent shows, our howl-i-day pet show invited team members to vote on the winners in real-time! We used Zoom polls. It’s a really simple and helpful feature. You just need to pre-enter all the information before the event. I recommend having different polls so that you can manage voting for each category separately.
Beware, there’s a limit to how many options you can list so keep that in mind if you have many submissions. We wound up creating two categories. Then, we spotlighted them when they won. Our winners included a potbelly pig, adorable dogs, cute cats, and a quirky bird.
11. Incentive Attendance
I didn’t think about this until after, but you could offer everyone who attended the chance to get reimbursed for a drink or snack of their choice. This might lead to people showing up. It always helped when we were in person. If you have a big budget and are an expert planner in advance, mail out party kits for the live event. There are a lot of creative ideas for you to add here based on your culture or traditions.
This program lifted our spirits in an important way during a difficult time in December 2020. Beyond the pets, the people made it special. I want to recognize Steph Quan for her incredible design partnership.
I’m still in awe of the leaders who entered their pets into a contest and the willingness of team members to have fun. While I never met any of the pets or the people in person, it felt like they were all my “best friends” for that hour.
I hope you take this concept, build upon it and make it your own. You could recreate it for work, friends, or family, but mostly do it for your pets! I’m fairly certain they also had a fantastic time. Please let me know how it goes.