J.B. Hancock, a recent arrival from Washington, D.C., joined the AVMA in November as the new communications director. Hers is no small task: aiding in the restructuring of the Communications Division.
The Association has to make some major decisions concerning its communications process, she said. Hancock believes a paradigm shift is needed in this area if the AVMA hopes to prevail among so many organizations that profess to speak on behalf of animals.
"As an association, we have to decide: are we going to be first or are we going to be perfect?" Hancock said. "The tendency has been not to communicate until you have it absolutely right. But in today's world of 24/7, instant communications, you can't afford to do that, because if you don't respond to the story now, tomorrow's too late."
Hancock didn't set out to become a communications guru. Born in Meriden, Conn., she wanted to teach. She earned a bachelor's degree from James Madison University, and then taught special education for a year before receiving her master's degree in education at the University of Virginia-Charlottesville.
Figuring she could better promote the educational interests of the handicapped at the national level, Hancock went to work for the Council for Exceptional Children. What began as a six-week job turned into 2-and-a-half-year tenure. In that time, she compiled a compendium of state certification requirements for special education teachers—the first of its kind in the nation.
As director of the CEC Right Education Project, Hancock also helped write and lobby successfully for passage of the law integrating handicapped children into regular classrooms. "It really was a groundbreaking national law," she commented.
Her interest in communications and the media was sparked when the Department of Education requested an instructional film explaining the new law. While pouring over film proposals, Hancock was dismayed by the lack of knowledge about the educational needs of the handicapped.
Taking matters into her own hands, Hancock signed on as a gofer with a friend's CBS television crew. Once she figured out the business, Hancock went on to write, direct, and produce "Those Other Kids," a 28-minute film shown to school superintendents and principals nationwide.
"I loved the experience so much that I started my own business, JBH Productions, in 1972," Hancock said.
For 26 years, the Washington-based communications and marketing firm served a wide cross-section of clients, most with educational and informational needs. More than 11 million visitors from across America saw Hancock's productions for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during a touring exhibit. Classified counterterrorism and security projects brought awards and recognition from the State Department, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the American Society of Industrial Security.
Another claim to fame came in the 1970s, when Hancock helped found the National Association of Women Business Owners, which has grown into an international association with a related foundation. Additionally, Hancock was named one of Washington's Women of the Year and is listed in the World's Who's Who of Women.
In 1995, Hancock took her dream job as broadcasting director for the AARP. She ran a $7 million facility complete with broadcast and radio studios and a staff of some 30 people, launching national campaigns on Medicaid, Social Security, and other key issues.
Hancock thought she would spend the remainder of her working years with the AARP. After two years on the job, Hancock quit to become a full-time caregiver to her parents.
Once her parents were settled in Washington with her, Hancock went back to work, this time for Alcalde & Fay, one of Washington's largest lobbying firms. In addition to being a partner in the firm and its director of communications, Hancock was also a principal and communications strategist with Capitoline Communications, a subsidiary of Alcalde & Fay. Recently, she decided it was time to explore other career possibilities.
"It was like the stars aligned," she said. "It was the right time, and the opening at the AVMA was the perfect job dealing with a subject matter I love: animals.
"I wanted to come back to the nonprofit world. I bring a lot of experience from the corporate world and the association world. Now that I'm more experienced, I feel confident that I'm at the right point in my career to mentor and share what I've learned."
For now, Hancock is busy familiarizing herself with the AVMA, and, while it is too soon for any bold initiatives, she does want to start reaching out to influential members of the press so they know to call the AVMA first with their animal and veterinary-related questions.
The AVMA must also expand its thinking about marketing, according to Hancock. "We have to understand that everyone who works for or belongs to this association is marketing this association and the profession, from the front desk to the student member," she said. "All of us need to be proud of showing our credentials and proud of the fact that we work for the AVMA or are a member of the AVMA."
Another aspect of her plans would be a concerted effort to support state associations and their needs, including the development of a cadre of media-savvy veterinarians among the voluntary leadership who can speak on behalf of the profession.
Hancock also wants to establish a better dialogue within the Association itself. "The Communications Division can and will provide critical support to enhancing the outcomes of every division within the AVMA," she said. "We're going to look for ways to ensure everyone's success, including our own."
Hancock is a firm believer in the importance of an organization's communications abilities. "Every single outcome—whether internal or external, personal or professional—is the direct result of either good or bad communication," she said. "If we are successful or not successful, nine times out of 10, it's because it has or has not been communicated effectively. Our goal will be the effective communications that result in successful outcomes for the Association."