Without a care in the world - Veterinary Practice
Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now



Without a care in the world

THE MERCURY COLUMN in which a guest columnist takes the temperature of the profession – and the world around.

FORTUNATELY for him, James Herriot never had to deal with an elephant in the room and,in a perfect world,today’s veterinary profession would find itself basking in all the James Herriotness of public affection without any of the unfortunate tackiness of the terrible twins of, largely unspoken, public suspicion of overcharging and over treatment.

For the most part, the majority of pet owners are perfectly happy with their vet but there seems to be a vociferous element in 21st century journalism that is keen to change that. Alternatively, perhaps I’ve been as naïve as the rest of us and maybe there is a real problem to deal with here.

In some ways it really doesn’t matter because, unless we do something positive about it, the strident, nagging voice of investigative media will continue to do its work until, in ovine fashion, the public at large comes to believe the apple in the barrel theory.

I, for one, want to avoid that because I believe it to be untrue and because it denigrates the excellent work done by so many in the name of the animals under the profession’s care.

However, and isn’t there always a “however” in such circumstances, by just sitting still and hoping the nasty thing will go away we have zero hope of averting what will surely be a disaster for the profession.

Neat and orderly

Inside the profession, all is neat and orderly. We know how large animal practice differs from small animal work. We understand that equine vets do it differently from feline-only practices and that size doesn’t matter unless you want a bigger settlement discount from your wholesaler.

Unfortunately, the consumer knows little or nothing of that. For Joe Public, all vets walk on water when the chips are down – so to speak – and all vets will be tarred with the same brush if the activities of a few are allowed to tarnish the reputation of the many.

This is not a time to suggest a little spying on neighbours in one’s free time but it is, surely, time for the profession to grasp the nettle and proactively to manage the public’s understanding and expectation of what this profession continuously does well, day in and day out.

In every other walk of life, positive and encouraging PR is a well used tool to ensure that “Vetgate” remains a weak and unconvincing story for lazy journalists looking for an easy by-line.

Not for the first time, I find myself exhorting the profession to unite, to employ a serious and talented agency to ensure that the public gets to know how we do things well and to mange consumer expectation rather than leaving it to the fickle digestive spasms of a dyspeptic media.


Deep down, I know that it won’t happen, that the profession is too self-absorbed, perhaps too complacent and certainly too commercially naïve to seize the opportunity before it is forced upon such an action out of brutal necessity but I can, at least, dream of a proactive rather than a reactive solution to the problem.

One of the factors which keeps the consumer world fresh and vibrant is the need to continually re-invent itself and, if we look down our collective nose to pooh-pooh such a thought, we hand our competitors the tools with which to overtake us.

Many of us are sick to death of the idea that Facebook has 400,000,000 users and many of us deride the very concept of social networking, preferring to change a vowel in Twitter rather than to join in but, like it or not, this is the world we live in. It is also the world in which our client base lives and operates.

While we may not go home after a bad experience in a shop and tell 300
plus “friends” all about it, millions do just that. I haven’t even got 300 plus “friends” and, in the stark light of day, nor have most of us but it is the concept of instant communication with “friends” that acts as the pivot for social media and, until something bigger and better comes along,it isn’t going away.


So why do we not use it for our own messaging? The world uses strong brands as its commercial and communication currency so why do we not create a strong brand out of our profession and deliver a series of strong, positive messages?

If we did so, some things would be utterly obvious: we’d need to follow a sensible and planned communication strategy and, below,I’ve listed five key points which we would need to manage properly:

  1. We’d need to be sincere about how we portrayed our profession. Nothing drives resentment more than falsehoods – just look at the generic reputation of estate agents or MPs for that matter. However, it would be easy to ensure that we were sincere and only promised what we could deliver. For the vast majority of vets in any kind of practice, there are dozens of positive stories for every unfortunate one.
  2. We shouldn’t be shy, even though our profession is conservative and naturally retiring.
  3. Ours is no longer the profession of tweed jackets and living above the shop so let’s describe it as it really is. Let’s paint a dozen pictures of different types of practice, and let’s take our audience by surprise because they won’t expect that.
  4. Let’s – just for once – forget about what we want and let’s describe what we do in terms of what our many faceted client base wants to hear about. Let’s talk about what’s important for them and not what’s important for us.
  5. Finally, let’s try to understand the world outside practice. Let’s imagine what it’s like to believe that everything which has been written down must be true.

Let’s try to put ourselves in the shoes of those clients who have found a disease on the internet and are convinced that Trixibelle is on her way out and, while we’re there, let’s try to imagine what it’s like to actually believe that “veterinary strength” means the same as POM-V or to believe that all vets walk on water.

Consistent and honest

If we are to do this, we’d need to be sure that we were consistent and honest. We might have to admit to some intellectual fallibility or even that there are some things we still don’t know but, in the process, we’d be making sure that those who read our messaging, in print or on-line or heard it on the radio or even saw it on the TV, were aware that it’s the animals under our care that matter first and the income derived which matters least.

That’s how they used to think about this profession and, actually, that’s mostly how it still is in the real world. It’s just that we never tell them that and, as all scientists know, nature abhors a vacuum.

Have you heard about our
IVP Membership?

A wide range of veterinary CPD and resources by leading veterinary professionals.

Stress-free CPD tracking and certification, you’ll wonder how you coped without it.

Discover more