The RFVS Conference 2018, What a Phenomenal Weekend…
A few months back the Raw Feeding Veterinary Society took me in as a non-vet consultant. I was really proud about that. All the people I would consider peers are in there, from Billinghurst to Becker to Thompson, and a few others including Lyn Tompson (a vet from NZ who owns the “Raw Essentials” brand) and vet scientists conducting invaluable research including Anna Hielm-Bjorkma from Helsinki and Mark Roberts from Massey, NZ, who are all doing great work in the field. All people I refer and defer to, almost daily.
The thought of presenting to them can be quite unnerving initially. You spend the first few weeks panicking thinking you have nothing to add to the conversation. But then you get to know them, ideally over a bit of dinner, and realise we are all learning, all the time. It takes the pressure off when you find you can actually contribute to much of the debate. In fact, it seems some of them were actually familiar with my rantings online, which is most flattering!
The weekend began with the AGM. We get to hear the continued growth of the RFVS, what’s happening, what is planned to do. It’s interesting being in from the start as the “to do” pile is as exciting and a touch foreboding. One thing is for sure, as more and more vets join up, it’s only going one way for the RFVS.
I’m not going to ruin anyone else’s talk. The RFVS will be making them available shortly for the paltry sum of £3, so we can support them by checking out your preferred speakers then.
My talk (once it worked, horror start, despite everyone else using Macs too it seemed mine were acting up majorly. You psyche yourself up only to be bumped back a few hours, and then the editing was wrong on some, which really bothers me, I spend a lot of time on my slides!) was entitled “Why all the Confusion?”. It was divided into four parts. The first was taking a look at the absolute state of the science in the human food and drug world, an industry that is “tightly regulated”. The reason for the disarray is, of course, the influx of corporate tentacles and cash. The worlds top scientists are flagging that at least half of the peer-reviewed stuff coming out is misleading garbage. That’s worrying. I then brought them through some worrying trends of corporate ownership of the vet sector, from vet universities and regulatory bodies all the way down to vet practices themselves (Mars Inc. is the biggest owners of vets in the world, tens of thousands, a trend that is blossoming in the UK, with at least 25% of vet practices now corporate owned, in just three years since changes were made to permit non-vets to own practices). The third section was a trip through some of the more stand-out nonsense going on in Pet Food land. It was hard to just pick a few examples. And then I ran out of time. These three sections will be available shortly as soon as the video man has the editing completed. I’ll let you know when it’s ready.
As I didn’t have time to do the fourth section, here’s where I was going with the whole talk (I have previously written this and sent it to the RFVS private FB page so folk could get the end of it), concluding with a line that I seem to be saying more and more often these days (borrowed from Jim Morrison of the Doors):
Just to highlight my last few slides though, as I had hoped to open a discussion concerning “what is our goal?”.
While the answer may well be different for the individual vet / nutritionist and the society itself, I wanted to make the following point – with the science hijacked in the regulated human sector, and with the notable exception of legends like Anna, Ian, Mark and Honeys are doing any meaningful research whatsoever, a result of the corporate infiltration of our vet universities, how reliant should we be on academia to drive the whole thing forward?
I fear it might become something like the global warming debate, only we find ourselves in the unfortunate position of being the 3% of scientists who don’t agree! That’s quite a hill to climb before we can force real change.
I think, if the goal is to get as many pets as possible eating fresh, species-appropriate food, and a sub-goal for you guys being a busier practice, we need to start thinking of better ways of promoting the raw message to the folk that matter – the market.
The fact is, all industry reports clearly show dry food sales are plummeting, raw and “natural” sales exploding, and it’s no thanks to our vet governing bodies, or vets as a whole (present company obviously excluded). It is almost entirely market-driven, a result of online education, which is good and bad in equal measure. Studies show trust in vets is falling. As people learn the truth, applying the ancient scientific arts of logic, reason and observation, and try it for themselves, when their pet gets better, when their vet bills plummet and when they begin to questions all the other goings on (chemical parasite control, kennel cough, annual boosters for animals already adequately vaccinated for viruses etc etc), when that curtain is pulled back and you see little Oz peddling the machine furiously, the result is a lot of disenchanted clients looking for a vet that at least does not make them feel bad for making what are clearly the correct decisions.
I was going to highlight that the market is not really motivated by the literature. They are motivated by logic, reason and observation. Nobody combines these scientific principles better than Rodney Habib. A non-academic, graphic designer, his simple, pretty posts are shared by 20mil pages A DAY on Facebook. This took time for me to accept as we both began at the same time only I been a slave to the literature and accrued 20k followers in 7 years. He uses pretty, often silly but always easy to comprehend and very shareable images and short videos, and has 2mil followers. These are incredible figures. Arguably, the guy has done more for getting pets fresh fed than most of us combined. We must pay attention to this trend.
I was going to conclude with a slide about Morkel’s practice, 20 vets, 8 chest freezers, filled multiple times during the week. Sucking in clients from 100 miles away. I can’t forget his response to my question – what about the fact that “they” all think you’re crazy, that you lack “evidence”? Morkel answered “I don’t care, I’m too busy….the fact is, we take them off dry, they get better”.
As a non-vet, a dog owner, that’s a phenomenal statement and one the market is very clearly yearning for, a market that is now bucking against the corporate-lead trend of increased treatments. Morkel makes money by keeping pets healthy, which was originally what you paid the medicine man to do. Why keep going back to a crap mechanic?
But it’s not just Morkel’s message. Or Habibs. You’re all fabulous vets promoting and doing the same thing and vets remain the most trusted, most valuable source of information to a pet owner. I was going to highlight that we all need to focus a bit more energy to our online activities, citing a few examples. A successful, mini “case study” from your Facebook page is enormously powerful. Not only is the client delighted their dog was the focus, and will share it (locally) with her friends but people like me eat that info up and share it from bigger pages – look what this vet is doing! This is what the market responds to. This dog came to us with the following Nasa-esque blood reports, on this medication and in this state. One month later, now look at him.
There are a hundred different ways to get your message out there but whatever way you plan to do it, like it or not, the war today is won online. Short, sharp, useful messages posted online (Facebook best for this) about fresh feeding, tips and tricks, your avoidance of chemical parasite control and annual boosters, if that’s your bag, titre testing, faecal egg counts, cash savings, your lines of raw, the occasional interesting study with 3-4 lines of prose, your own thoughts and feelings. Share daily if you can and promote the good ones (put €10 behind the post, targetting your area only). Put longer posts (one a week) on your site (in the right way). If you can’t do it yourself, have your vet nurse do it. If you have a little spare budget, direct all available advertising revenue towards a small digital marketing person, paid by the hour, to set your posts up weekly. There is a skill to it and you will find a good digital marketeer only makes you money. Their monthly reports are evidence of their effectiveness. I spend a few hundred per month on mine, she does all the donkey work, and she is now someone I could never be without.
There are hundreds of clients in your vicinity looking for you and they are looking online. Present yourself to them and we can all be Morkel in five years. This is how we will win this war quickest.
Perhaps the RFVS could have a think-in and put their best ideas in place to help young and transitioning vets best take advantage of this new approach, increasing revenue and independence and speeding up the revolution as a whole.
They’ve got the guns, but we’ve got the numbers.