Until a few years ago, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, established in 1877, was a one-day event cherished by an older audience of purebred enthusiasts who admired the parade of perfectly bred canines from the comfort of their own homes.
Today, it’s expanded into Westminster Week, held annually at New York’s Madison Square Garden, with contests including the Masters Agility Championship and Masters Obedience Championship that lead up to the main and final Best in Show event that aired this year on Tuesday night. Further social media-based efforts, like the Road to Westminster series, allow the handlers to post content throughout the year as their dogs train and enter other championships, giving audiences the opportunity to follow their favorites year round.
Thanks to this expanded coverage, the dogs themselves have garnered celebrity status. When a wire fox terrier named King won Best in Show, social media nearly exploded with outrage on behalf of fan favorite Bean, a Sussex spaniel. Feminist blog Jezebel went so far as to run an op-ed titled “It Should Have Been Bean.”
On Wednesday, the furry Best in Show winners were put on an all-day press tour, making stops at Good Morning America, Rockefeller Center, One World Trade and more.
What it takes to turn Westminster into a national phenomenon
This explosion did not happen overnight, and it would not have been possible without digital and social media agency Glow, which has been running the Westminster Kennel Club’s social media efforts for the past six years.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” Glow’s Sarah Pine, lead strategist on the account, told Adweek as she ran around backstage at MSG on Tuesday before the main event began promptly at 7:30 p.m., simultaneously posting social content, keeping track of her team, snapping pictures of the dogs through the horde of attendees trying to do the same before being ushered to their seats and explaining to this reporter exactly what she was doing as she was doing it.
Pine, alongside 10 colleagues on the ground at MSG, created and posted gifs, posts and polls to Westminster’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat channels before and during the events, amounting to about 300 pieces of social content each day. Before the contests, Pine would post content she both scheduled and created in real time of moments such as the dogs getting primped before their MSG floor debut.
When the events began, Pine and her team were on the sidelines, mainly posting about the dogs and facts about their respective breeds as they came on the screen. She enlisted the help of Susan Szeremy, consultant to Glow and a dog expert, who sat beside her to ensure that her tweets were factually correct, as she does every year. (Szeremy actually ran the Westminster social media accounts by herself before Glow was hired, at which time the agency decided to keep her employed for the events.)
Peter Kondratowicz, Glow’s senior production designer, sat on the opposite side of Pine, creating the gifs and other art that accompany the posts in “five to 10 minutes'” time, he said.
In a new feature, some of this year’s social content appeared on the “jumbotron” digital display in the middle of the arena— including selfies taken by attendees who used the hashtag #ImAtWestminster.
An additional four Glow employees stayed in an offsite location, primarily live-tweeting contest results because the internet connection in MSG isn’t reliable enough. Pine would occasionally pop from her seat to snap photos of the dogs as they ran off the floor.
Thanks to Glow’s efforts, the Westminster Twitter account had gained 17,619 new followers from the previous year as of noon on Wednesday. Total engagements around the show reached 813,800 (up 67 percent from the previous year), total video views grew 176 percent from 2018 to 1.3 million and total owned impressions increased 23 percent year over year to 7.5 million, according to the agency.
On Monday night, before even the main Best in Show event happened, Westminster was trending third in the U.S. on Twitter for its #BestAtHomeContest, an activation Glow created in 2013 that amplifies at-home fan participation. The #WKCDogShow hashtag was trending fourth in the U.S. on Monday and first on Tuesday night.
How the agency livened up a staid event
As the dogs came on stage, Pine could call them by name—and knew which ones would draw the most applause before the crowd even reacted. As a golden retriever readied to take his turn on the stand, Pine leaned over to whisper, “People are going to go crazy for him.” Sure enough, the crowd roared as he started prancing forward.
“Part of our strategy is we purposely capture content of dogs that are the most popular breeds in the U.S. and that people have at home, or are really unique because they perform [on social media] so well,” Pine explained. “That’s why the first slide on our Instagram stories was of a golden retriever. People love golden retrievers.”
In the six years of Glow partnering with Westminster, Pine said the agency has come to know the ins and outs of not only the organization itself but the larger world of dog enthusiasts.
“The first year, we were really just doing live tweeting and the results, trying to learn about all the dogs and the event,” Pine said. Soon afterward, the agency realized the need to expand Westminster from a once-a-year event to a year-round cultural sensation.
A desire to draw younger audiences into the mix led the agency to create Instagram and Snapchat accounts while adding the Junior Showmanship category, which was broadcast live for the first time this year.
“We have to be mindful of what may have worked last year might not work this year,” she explained. “Or if it worked, how can we make it better? We don’t want it to be stale. We’re constantly trying to push the boundaries.”
Pine added that two years ago, Glow had to change all its assets around the event from static to motion, noting that “static assets don’t perform as well anymore.”
Now the dogs have fans, the stands are packed and companies outside of the typical animal space, like Home Depot, are increasingly seeking sponsorships with Westminster. Most important, people across the age spectrum are engaging with the Westminster brand all year.
“The feeds get so crazy, it’s hard to keep up,” Pine said.
As for the dogs, it’s unclear if they have any idea what the hell is going on.