How many pets have you seen in adverts lately? More than half, we bet, have featured a dog or cat to capture your attention, helping to frame a brand in a specific light (family friendly, caring, fun, trustworthy).
While dogs in advertising isn't a new concept - brands such as Chanel, Andrex, Dulux, Taco Bell and Budweiser have been utilising the power of the dog as the world's greatest salesman for decades - the pet modelling industry has become one of the fastest-growing industries in the UK, as more brands than ever look to capitalize on our love of animals by featuring a furry face in their latest advertising campaign.
“Believe it or not but some pets have now become the main bread earners in their household where they take care of the mortgage and household bills,” says Layla Flaherty, owner of Urban Paws UK, who explains that a typical dog model can earn from £650 a day for standard modelling roles and animal actors (pets trained to perform certain tricks) can earn upwards of £1000 per day.
Intrigued by the growing industry, we asked Layla to share more about what a typical day in her life as a pet talent agent involves.
Where do I begin? When I first set up Urban Paws UK with my trusty Yorkshire Terrier Buttons, I could never have imagined how well the business would take off.
I’ve always loved animals and having worked as a professional model myself, I certainly knew the tricks of the trade. The move from model to agent seems like a natural evolution, but I figured that managing people was far too dull. Managing dogs, cats, parrots, rabbits, and any other animal you can think of? Now we’re talking.
Layla and Buttons / Photo Credit: K9 Magazine
I begin the day with a scan of my inbox. We regularly receive applications from pet owners who think their Beagle or Bengal is the next Lassie or Puss in Boots.
A lot of the time these animals will be great looking but will only have basic, if any, obedience training. We need animals that will sit still and pose for the camera, sometimes for long periods on end, so obedience is key. If a pet model has been trick-trained that’s even better, as we can put them forward for roles as an ‘animal actor’.
Essentially, these are more complex gigs that require specific skills in addition to the always essential skill of not getting freaked out by large crowds on set! Working out whether an animal could be the next big thing really gets me excited, and the regular influx of new talent means that my job is always varied.
Buttons in the Urban Paws UK office / Photo Credit: Layla Flaherty
On an average day, I’ll take a handful of calls from clients in need of specific animals to star in their production. They could be film studios, television companies or PR agencies looking for that special animal, usually a dog or cat. I say usually but we’ve been tasked with sourcing some pretty crazy animals over the years, including tigers and ostriches!
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Most of my time is spent negotiating and ensuring that our talent and clients both get a fair deal and that we choose the correct animals for the job.
Recently, however, we’ve also started working with smaller businesses and have pioneered a new form of advertising: pet influencer marketing.
Pet influencers are just like their human counterparts. They are social media superstars who can leverage their influential position to become brand ambassadors, urging their followers to use products or services that they feel a particular affinity with.
Do you remember Spud?
My team’s job is to sign only the best pet influencers and feed them out to clients in need of a unique marketing strategy. I say the best and not the biggest because ‘petfluencers’ with smaller follower counts can be just as viable for smaller businesses looking to target a niche audience. Helping these businesses grow is often more rewarding than working on the more high-profile media campaigns.
On top of managing our social media pages and implementing our own marketing strategies, my team also help to facilitate PR events like meet and greets and photo opportunities, which are always super fun to get behind.
Being an animal talent agent is as rewarding as it is exciting and having a dog with a job is a great way to build a bond with your pet and a fun way to spend quality time together.
I’ve been able to work with some of the biggest brands out there, including Disney and Gucci. No two campaigns are ever the same. It’s always wonderful to hear the feedback our pet owners share about their time on set, especially when they say they had so much fun and the crew made such a fuss over their pet because it means they can’t wait to do it all again.
But you never forget your first campaign and the first booking we had was for a film. I couldn’t believe it. They asked for a Staffordshire Bull Terrier and I didn't have one on the agency books at that time. They wanted a senior dog that looked wise and showed the visible signs of ageing which totally went against what I had imagined a pet agency was all about.
I envisioned cute and fluffy dogs being booked for pet modelling roles, not a wise old Staffy for a huge Hollywood film. I was in utter shock and totally out of my depth and hadn’t a clue what to do but I thought, “I’ve got this. If my dream of having a pet agency is to become a reality, I’ve got to do this.”
I had to think out of the box. I approached a woman on Facebook as she had a dog that fitted the brief. I messaged her and her instant thought was that it was a scam.
As a new agency, she hadn’t heard of us and didn’t really believe that agencies like mine existed to source dogs for films. She really was in disbelief and very cautious of me.
I spent the next few days reassuring her and talking her round and eventually, she agreed to take part. Her dog played the role perfectly but it was a huge learning curve and it made me realise the challenges I had ahead of me while building a reputable name in the industry so that people trusted me and wanted to work with my agency.
Five years on and as the pet modelling industry grows at warp speed, people know Urban Paws UK. People are talking about us and we have built brand awareness in the industry.
Through all the feathers and the fur, being a pet talent agent is an amazing job that allows me to see regular people’s pets flourish and transform into animal stars, and really, that’s the greatest reward.