Can we be frank?

What I learned from the Frank 1.0 workshop for veterinarians that applies to marketing—and everyday life

Posted by Lisa Fritts from Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide — North America on July 10, 2017. 

Veterinarians love animals. They want to fix animals. But it may come as a surprise to many that they’d love their jobs more if they didn’t have to deal with pet owners: “I can be sympathetic, but not empathetic.”; “I wish I didn’t have to talk to people, and then my job would be great.” Pet owners are emotionally invested and can be overbearing at times, which makes things challenging for veterinarians—individuals who clearly chose a profession where conversation plays a minimal role.

Through the generous support of my client, I had the opportunity to attend a continuing education workshop at Colorado State University that specifically addresses this issue with veterinarians. All of my client’s veterinarian field reps are required to attend it, and it’s open to veterinarians across the country. This two-day communications workshop, called Frank (as in, “Can we please be frank?”), included only a few short hours of “lab work,” arming veterinarians (and me) with dialogue skills. The bulk of our time was spent practicing our skills with simulated pet owner scenarios of all sorts—dogs, cats, a horse, and even a new owner of a hedgehog (who was one of my two owner cases). What I learned was life-changing both personally and professionally, even for an agency person. Here are three lessons learned.

The power of the pause

Veterinarians (like people doctors) tend to want to get right to solving the problem at hand; and studies have shown, on average, that they tend to interrupt the owner 12 to 14 seconds into the conversation. I saw this time and again in the simulated dialogues in our lab work. As a marketer whose job it is to show value, it’s also easy to plow right to a solution and not pause to truly hear a client’s or a colleague’s full story, their full needs. It’s important not to just serve up an answer, but pause to see what the client (or your spouse, or your child) thinks, get their feedback and make sure you’re both tracking together.

Reflect and summarize

Pet owners generally have 3 to 4 of their own agenda items they wish to cover during a visit. But veterinarians don’t always encourage them to talk. Using reflective listening and repeating back what you just heard (eg, “So I’ve heard you say…”) shows that you care, and/or can allow an owner to clarify and restate if they feel their point hasn’t been made clear. Summarizing everything you’ve covered at the end of the conversation, almost like a checklist, is essential to ensuring everyone leaves the dialogue on the same page. In marketing, this means not just being a messenger or yes-ing, but also having a deep understanding of what the client or your colleague wants. Outside of a professional setting, it also shows your family, friends, spouse, or child that what they just said to you matters. Which leads me to…


During the course of this workshop, I learned that I have a greater sense of empathy than I ever realized—“Please, tell me more about your home situation, your family!”—but I also came to understand this doesn’t come easily to everyone. In the program, we learned that it’s 90% about the owner and only 10% about you in a conversation. So to apply this to agency life, have empathy for the 90% a client or a colleague brings to a meeting. And show empathy in your body language, nonverbals, and in expressing appreciation for what the other person shares: “Thank you so much, I really appreciate your honesty…” You’ll demonstrate that you care and earn points from others, eg, clients, colleagues, your own personal circles outside of work.

The Frank workshop calls an ideal dialogue a Frisbee game (a back and forth, smooth exchange) versus a shotput (too much at once, all one way). I’m certainly bringing my “Frisbee” with me now, everywhere I go, and I’m encouraging all my marketing colleagues to do the same! But please…don’t ask me about your new hedgehog.