I’ve known Dr. Andy Roark (University of Florida CVM, 2008) from the very beginning of his work in veterinary medicine. It’s no surprise to me that he has become as well-known as he is now, both in the veterinary community and on Facebook, where he has a following of more than 130,000, including tens of thousands of pet-owners. He is an associate veterinarian at the Cleveland Park Animal Hospital in Greenville, S.C., and he is a sought-after speaker.
Dr. Roark is serious about humor, and I wanted to ask him how he came to be known for dressing up in costumes and educating pet-owners with laughter.
Q. You’re known as a pretty savvy businessman, a past national president of the VBMA. And yet here you are putting on dog suits or in costume as “Super Vet, ” tweeting “punny” pictures and posting whimsy to your Facebook wall. You communicate important pet-care concepts with your own style, that’s for sure! Have you always been funny or did you have to work at it? Did I hear correctly that you do improv?
A. I was one of the first National VBMA presidents, and I am a certifiable business nerd. I love thinking and talking about how we can build better experiences for pets and pet-owners, and that’s how I’m spending an increasing amount of my time.
I don’t think I’ve ever been much funnier than anyone else, although I see great value in humor and love to make people laugh. If I have a natural talent, it’s the ability to tell a good story. Stories are powerful tools, and most of us utilize them far too infrequently. Stories grab peoples’ attention, they are easily digestible and they carry messages effectively. I put on dog suits and spandex to tell stories, and I hope and pray they are stories people will listen to. If I (or anyone else) can tell a great story, then the message within that story will earn consideration with its intended audience.
The desire to tell better, more effective stories is why I started doing improv a few years ago. Sure, being funny is a big part of improv, but creating a compelling story is a bigger part. I love the challenge of walking onto a stage with a few friends and then creating an engaging story out of thin air. It’s difficult and sometimes scary, but it has made me a better messenger, communicator and veterinarian.
Q. You seem to have broken some new ground with the way you communicate basic veterinary-care information so often with humor, and you’ve found an audience both in the profession and among pet-owners. Did you have a hunch humor would work, at least enough to give it a try? What did the folks at DVM360 and Vetstreet say when you first suggested it?
A. I never doubted that humor would work to reach pet-owners and veterinary professionals. My confidence comes from a question that I ask myself all the time: “What would I want if I weren’t me?” I see a great need for pet health education, but the audience that seems to want it is very small. Why? Why don’t more people want to know about how to keep their pets as healthy as possible for as long as possible?
I think part of the answer must be that much of the information is not being delivered in a way that is engaging for pet-owners. When I thought about what would make me want to consume educational content on a regular basis if I weren’t in the veterinary field, the first answer that popped into my head was “humor.”
The first person to buy into this crazy humorous video concept was a fellow speaker named Dr. Dave Nicol. He’s a marketing genius and a fantastic guy. He and I came up with the concept together, and I think I would have chickened out if he hadn’t been so excited about the whole thing. Together, we took the concept to DVM360 by way of their faithful cameraman/director, Troy Van Horn. Troy was so ready to do something totally new and different that he was as excited as we were. The three of us started off with a video for veterinary practices on the “Top 10 Ways for Veterinary Clinics To Blow It on Social Media,” and it went from there.
A few months later, I took the video idea to Vetstreet. I showed them the videos I had done for DVM360 that were aimed at veterinarians and technicians and said, “I can do this for pet owners … I think.” They looked at the videos and said. “Listen … we’ve tried humor before. It’s really hard, and it’s easy to offend people. Still, we think your heart’s in the right place and you’ve managed not to offend anyone too badly so far, so we’ll give you a chance.” Both DVM360 and Vetstreet have been hugely supportive ever since. I’ve been blessed to work with both groups.
Q. Have you seen an expansion in the use of humor in veterinary communications to pet-owners since you started your work? Do you think it’s something most of your colleagues can do, or is there too much risk for a joke to fall flat? Will you be putting the dog suit away any time soon?
A. I think some veterinary practices are starting to relax and humanize themselves more than they have in the past. I think social media is driving this a bit, and I hope my videos have some role in it. Balancing humor and professionalism can be a little tricky, but the rewards are enormous.
The thing I hope veterinary practices see in my videos and embrace is this: We do a huge amount of good in the world, and we have big hearts. We love pets, and we recognize and celebrate the joy they bring into our lives. If we create honest messaging that tells this story and connects in a meaningful way with pet-owners, then they will listen to what we have to say and take better care of their pets. That’s what makes the dog suit totally worth it.