Getting closer to customers is not a problem for Tony Samuel, the new director of marketing and fundraising at The Blue Cross. With more than 20 years' experience in product marketing and evaluating media effectiveness, he is confident he can identify customers' needs and spot new opportunities.
After just a month at the helm of the animal welfare charity, Samuel, a former RNID director, is already beginning to put this into practice in the charity's new eight-year strategic review.
The review is heavily influenced around the charity's bid to help shape animal welfare legislation, which is set to be updated for the first time since 1911. The charity is calling for a licensing system to raise welfare standards across local animal sanctuaries and aims to ensure that owners have a sufficient understanding of the needs of their pet.
A central part of the charity's review is to develop tie-ups with other parties as part of its plan to promote "responsible animal ownership".
"We want to change behavioural patterns through legislation and education, along with third-party partnerships. We need to make sure animal welfare is best served in the thousands of animal sanctuaries that exist in this country," he says.
Samuel, who oversees more than 30 staff across communications, fundraising, direct marketing and trading, is looking at ways in which the charity can deliver these key objectives. He said: "What's nice about this job is it brackets the marketing and fundraising role, whereas fundraising on its own is a narrow field that's focused on ways of making money," he says. "It doesn't look at the strategic marketing objectives or how to maximise media opportunities."
Samuel is making a small but significant structural change to his beat by moving two staff out of trading into the communications division in order to promote responsible animal ownership through information delivery at events such as Crufts.
Partnerships are also a major part of Samuel's vision. The Blue Cross published a survey that showed 86 per cent of homeless people said they had been refused a chance to get off the street and into accommodation simply because they owned a pet. In response to the survey's findings, the Blue Cross teamed up with the West London Mission, a charity that provides support to homeless people, to pilot a clinic service catering for homeless people's pets.
More recently the charity has partnered with the Society for Companion Animal Studies, a charity dedicated to increasing the knowledge and understanding of the relationship between people and companion animals. The initiative delivers a bereavement phoneline service to support owners, including children, who have lost a pet.
As part of the strategy, Samuel's team is investigating ways in which the charity can implement a residential care service to support older people who are moving into a care home or help them to overcome the loss of an animal by visiting them at home.
Samuel is also studying the level of service the charity provides to cat owners, as recent research predicts that more households in the UK will own cats than dogs. "We're looking at the changing patterns of animal ownership," says Samuel. "It's about starting with the market and understanding the sector. Cat and animal welfare is central, but the link to the human relationship is also important as we're trying to influence the owners about the welfare of their animals."
The Blue Cross will focus more on its animal behaviour work, with the appointment of more advisers in the pipeline, as part of its rehabilitation programme.
Samuel is no stranger to the workings of charities after spending five years in the sector. His first job was at Oxfam as donor recruitment manager where he worked for two years.
He then joined the RNID as head of individual fundraising and went on to become deputy director of fundraising where management responsibility was spread between two deputy director posts.
At the Blue Cross, Samuel has the task of managing an investment programme to improve the facilities at its 11 adoption centres, two equine hospitals and three other animal hospitals. Samuel is clear about the charity's game plan for the next eight years - to promote responsible animal welfare.
To pay for this, fundraising income, including money from trusts and corporate partners, will be raised at a "stepped increase" each year from the existing £15.6 million. A return to TV is also planned with a DRTV campaign due next year. And a telemarketing programme to encourage dialogue with supporters is in the pipeline. "The review is about service delivery, not fundraising," says Samuel. "We're fleshing out our services all round to make a difference at a wider and deeper level."
This includes taking internal communications to a new depth, to ultimately deliver the same message to pet owners on state benefits. He wants front-line staff to be able to tackle particular issues including animal bereavement, rehousing and rejecting unsuitable homes for animals as part of a consistent procedure across the charity.
Samuel is already revelling in his new role and the prospect of getting closer to the customer - even when they are the four-legged kind.