Q&A with Brenda, Director, Marketing, Purina Pet Acquisition
Why do you like working in the pet welfare sector?
I love it because I can see how my pets helped my own family. I have 5 pets and I grew up on a small farm. We had lots of animals and my dad and mom taught us early on how to be humane to an animal. They believed that we should help them be happy because when they’re happy, they’re healthy and that’s good for the farm. I’ve always had a sensitivity to nature in general.
My husband, Jim, also grew up on a small farm, but he had a richer relationship with his animals, specifically his dog Ringo. His family had a lot going on at home (his dad had a debilitating heart attack when Jim was still at home) and I think he grew a richer relationship with his pets as a way to manage through it. He is the one who taught me how to go from a “responsible” relationship to a “rich” relationship, letting pets in to let them help. In my family now, we all let our pet relationships help us with things that happen in everyday life. The pets especially do great things for my teenagers. They pull them out of their self-centeredness and focus them on healthier things and the whole world around them.
Tell me more about your pets.
I have 5 – 2 dogs and 3 cats, 2 girls and 3 boys. The dogs are boys. One is Monty, short for Bernard L. Montgomery, who was a British war general integral to D-Day in WWII. He’s a black lab mix, very majestic. We got him from the APA of Missouri and he’s an awesome dog. We got my other dog Chouteau, from the Humane Society of Missouri through an adoption event at Purina, which is on Chouteau Avenue, thus the name. My 3 cats are Phil, Lil and Liberty, who is a black cat. She’s very persistent, like the American spirit of Liberty. Phil and Lil are a brother and sister who we got from Dr. Ed, a veterinarian at Hillside Animal Hospital and part of the St. Louis PetLover Coalition. They couldn’t be separated so we got both.
Is having pets good for your kids?
Undoubtedly. Pets facilitating teenage relationships is a great thing. Sometimes my daughter would go into her room and slam her door and we’d let Chouteau in because he’s a licker and could provide her comfort. Pets help in so many ways. I always say my favorite thing about pets with kids is the pets take them outside of themselves.
My 16-year-old son is an athlete at 6’3” and 185 lbs., wanting to be 210. But when he sits his big body of muscles on the floor with my black lab, rubbing his soft ears, he’s so connected to that dog and so tender and caring. It’s the opposite of what you would expect from an intense, hard-charging teenager.
How did your career in this sector begin?
I’ve been lucky in my career. I began on a small pet welfare promotion 8 or 9 years ago. It was a small project that we didn’t even name. When I started on that project I began to get really curious about the pet welfare world. At the time, I thought it was a shame we didn’t have more direct connections to this phenomenal work.
Now we have wonderful programs through more direct connections. We have supported pet welfare for decades, but supporting through more direct connections was new and seems to be a better way. Honestly, I feel like this way of working is natural for Purina because so many of us are pet lovers wanting to be more involved.
How did your career at Purina transform into a pet welfare position?
Pet Welfare grew to be my job after one little project got kicked over to me when I was working on marketing for Puppy Chow. The project was writing a check to an agency for a program called the Homeless Homer Program. It didn’t have Purina branding or particularly empathize with our organization – it was just transactional for us. That sponsorship made me realize that there must be a better way. From that point on, Purina was going to build a direct relationship with these animal welfare organizations and become a working partner to help these organizations do their life-saving work not just with cash gifts, but with the unique marketing and organizational expertise that only Purina can provide. We were going to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the experts in pet welfare to help. We reshaped Pets for People, and the Pro Plan team started Rally to Rescue, which supports rescue efforts across the nation, and we were off and running.
I left the traditional brand track and am in a special area of work centered on pet welfare-related projects, like helping Purina connect to pet-related work and pet welfare communities. I call it community marketing. We’re in this to do helpful, meaningful work as a partner to the hard-working pet welfare organizations. One key project we’re working on is to help change the public’s perceptions of shelter pets, which is being led by our Purina ONE food brand.
What did you study in college?
I am a chemical engineer by training. I grew up on a farm, appreciating animals and after meeting my husband, loving them. I was an engineer for one year and didn’t like that I couldn’t work with people. P&G, where I was working, had a transfer program where you could transfer into marketing. I got lucky and and got placed, untrained, into P&G marketing. From there I came into Purina. Marketing is my thing – I like to learn about how to influence people and touch their minds and hearts to guide them to better things while making a win/win for companies, pets and people.
What keeps you up at night?
Thinking about how could we help end pet homelessness with the way that we partner with these world-class organizations. We could help in so many ways: