Hancock retires after helping broaden reach of AVMA

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A Smithsonian exhibition showcasing veterinary medicine. More materials from the AVMA to meet the needs of a range of audiences. Materials in new formats and new media.

These are just a few of the highlights of the work of the AVMA Communications Division during the past decade as the division grew under director J.B. Hancock, who retired at the end of September.

“Our ability and capability to reach out to our audiences in a wide variety of formats have changed dramatically,” Hancock said. “Today, within moments, we can get up information that’s factual, that’s science-based, and that people turn to. ... I think that our effectiveness and our value as a resource has gone up tremendously.”

J.B. Hancock, director of the AVMA Communications Division from late 2004 to late 2014, accepts the President’s Award during the 2010 AVMA Annual Convention in Atlanta. (Photo by Michael San Filippo)

Born in Meriden, Connecticut, Hancock started out in the field of education. She earned a bachelor’s degree from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and taught special education for a year before earning her master’s degree from the University of Virginia-Charlottesville. She took a position with the Council for Exceptional Children in Arlington, Virginia.

Producing a film for the council led to her communications career in the Washington, D.C., area. In 1972, she established JBH Productions. Also in the 1970s, she helped establish the National Association of Women Business Owners. Later positions included AARP broadcasting director and communications director for a lobbying firm.

When Hancock arrived at the AVMA in late 2004, the Communications Division consisted of only a few people. She planned to stay three years to build the division. She ended up staying for a decade, leading a division that now consists of departments for marketing, media relations, professional and public affairs, electronic media, and state legislative and regulatory affairs.

“The first thing that kept me here was, after we put the division together, ... we got involved in building on that and doing more and more new and exciting projects,” Hancock said.

Hancock said the Communications Division has increased the amount of informational materials available from the AVMA for members, veterinary organizations, and legislators as well as the public.

The division provides materials in many print and electronic formats, including Spanish-language materials. Among the electronic newsletters for members are AVMA@Work, which covers AVMA activities. Anyone can sign up for Animal Health SmartBrief, an electronic newsletter.

The division led the redesign of the AVMA website, which was launched in August 2012, to improve accessibility of materials. The division also has moved into social media such as Facebook, Twitter, podcasts, and YouTube.

Hancock also highlighted outreach to the press and establishment of the AVMA State Legislative and Regulatory Affairs Department.

The second thing that kept Hancock at the AVMA was the Smithsonian exhibition. She spent years collaborating with others on the project, dealing with the ups and downs in picking a theme and finding funding.

The result is a traveling exhibition on the theme of the human-animal bond. The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service launched “Animal Connections: Our Journey Together” in 2013 to mark the 150th anniversary of the AVMA.

Hancock said the exhibition “meets our members’ requests to get to the general public and explain to them what veterinary medicine is and how broad and wide and deep it is and how important it is to society.”

Hancock said the third thing that kept her at the AVMA is that she never had a job where she laughed so much. The division works hard but has fun.

“Today we’ve got five departments with a very strong team of highly creative people who work with each other almost without any help from me,” Hancock said. She has tried to be a mentor to help her communicators be successful.

On retirement, Hancock returned to Washington, D.C. She hopes to do consulting, conduct research at the Smithsonian, volunteer at an animal shelter, and travel.