Episode 104 – Julia Grosz

104 Julia Grosz_FB

104 Julia Grosz_FB


Julia Grosz founded Cat Hustler as a means to teach cat volunteers everywhere how to write more compelling copy and improve their adoptions through social media. Since its founding in 2016, she’s worked with shelters and rescues from DC to Anchorage, AK on developing more effective techniques for marketing adoptable cats. She currently hosts free webinars on these techniques and speaks at conferences. She also visits shelters around the Mid­Atlantic to troubleshoot cats that can’t seem to catch an adopter’s eye.

Welcome to the Professionals in Animal Rescue podcast, where our goal is to introduce you to amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved with animal rescue.  This podcast is proudly sponsored by Doobert.com. Doobert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters, and the only site that automates rescue relay transport.  Now, on with our show! 

Julia Grosz, bringing the nickname Cat Hustler, through her intrinsic ability to pair adoptable cats to their humans, through strategic copywriting and social media. She’s developed her skills into a teachable set of practices, providing them to shelters, rescues and the public, across the country as Cat Hustler, a nonprofit organization. Her methods have impacted thousands of rescuers’ approaches to marketing cats, resulting in incalculable lives being saved and soul mates being brought together. As Cat Hustler, she also hosts community-building events and symposiums that empower rescuers to expand their value to the homeless cat population.

 Hey, Julia, welcome to the program. Hello. Thank you for having me. So start us off. Give us a little bit of your background. You are not somebody that, like traditionally has always worked in an animal shelter. I mean, what’s your background? I’m actually a geologist by day. Okay, so what does that mean? Like, what do you do? What’s a day job for you look like? Well, it means I’m terrible at parties. I actually think you’d be rather interesting at parties. For a short time. So what do you do? Like help me, just kind of conceptualize what you study. Uh, basically plasters of giant bodies of sand is plaster, and we go out, we put down holes we look at, uh, stratigraphy and mineral composition quantity. Um, and we report it back to the company that hired us. And we, uh, basically let them know if the area is right for raping and pillaging. Okay. Sorry, industrially viable. You got to get the politically correct words, so that’s your day job. You’re studying sand, but tell us about your nights and weekends. Nights, weekends, every spare second of the day, I am Cat Hustler. You are the Cat Hustler. So what is the Cat Hustler? I mean, what does that mean? Let me give you the elevator speech. Cat Hustler is a nonprofit, that teaches rescues and shelters how to expedite adoptions, through social media. Basically, I teach people how to write, copy and generate content that gets cats adopted faster. That’s amazing. So now how did you get into this? Well, I could bore you with that story, but it’s ah, it was basically how everyone gets involved in animal welfare. It was not some compulsion that you wake up with where you’re, like, I have to save all the cat’s, because that just doesn’t happen. It was one cat. Yeah, just like it was for all of us. Like it was Doobert for you. For me, it was Lucky. Every cat out there, every adoptable cat is somebody’s Doobert or monkey. The power of bringing people and their very soul mates together is just, I couldn’t live without it. The first time I ever got a cat adopted. It was one of my fosters, and it changed my life. And I think a lot of people have the same story and I’ve been looking for ways to do more with it and do better. And that’s, uh, where Cat Hustler came from. I was working for a shelter. Sorry, volunteering for a shelter and got great results with the photos and copy that I was generating for them. Decided to start into a teachable format. Something so simple. So you were volunteering at a shelter, just trying to help them with their social media. Yep, their adoption for seeing the light in people’s eyes when they saw the cat that was going to go home with him for the first time. It was the most powerful thing I’ve ever experienced. And I want that for everyone who’s experienced loss because it’s so healing. It’s just unspeakably healing.

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 So now walk me through a little bit of your process. I mean, so obviously, cats are your passion or your focus area. So what’s different about cats and shelters trying to get them adopted? Well, shelter cats have a lot of disadvantages, not only that their furry asses are stuck in the shelter, but that those rooms are usually badly designed. And I don’t think any shelter volunteers here could argue with that. It’s, it’s a crime how some of those rooms are designed. They’ve got thin walls that separate them from the dog areas. They’re stressed out. They’re facing each other. They’re actually design firms that specialize in shelter layouts. None of them worked on these, so I’m really glad to see if the industry is turning an eye toward it. Now I’m being more mindful of design. But this bad design also carries over to the volunteers, and the volunteers experience the same problems that the cats do. There are limited opportunities for socialization. Bad design stresses them out. They don’t get to go out like the dog people do. They don’t have the same opportunities. They can’t slap an Adopt Me Vest on a cat and take it for a walk. In most cases, I’ve done it a few times. There’s a few that will let you do it, but not a lot. So with limited socialization opportunities, limited visibility that impacts both the cats and the volunteers. They’re not really any solutions that shelter management listens to. And it makes cat people seem like a huge pain in the ass, because they’re unhappy, just like the cats are. Big part of Cat Hustlers mission is to enlighten people about the opportunities that are there and help people innovate new ways to get cats seen, get cats adopted and create more camaraderie, honestly among the cat volunteers. Because it’s absolutely necessary. That limited visibility means that we’re not getting the atta girl or the validation that is so important to volunteerism. It’s critical. It’s a motivating force. So you’re gonna see higher turnover in cat volunteers. You’re gonna see all kinds of negative social impact on both the group and your organization. Because your volunteers aren’t getting what they need, and they’re being treated like a pain in the ass, because solutions are hard to come by. So now what’s interesting to me is I mean, you didn’t have a background or a degree in marketing. Did you? No, my degree is actually in business kinds of administration. 

Okay. So you have a little bit of background, I guess, right, in business and marketing. And then you just started doing this. I mean, what kind of things did you start doing that you started to notice were really having a positive effect? When it’s not about you, when it’s about other people and the cause and when you’re lifting other people up and giving them a voice, especially in the cat community. Because usually, our voice sounds kind of crazed, because we’re so desperate to be heard, anything that we can get onto a platform sounds frantic. So giving people more opportunities, well the community more opportunities to be heard has kind of mellowed out that voice, in this region at least. So it’s louder, and it’s more mellow, which makes it more accessible to the larger animal, with a welfare scene. 

So now what’s your platform of choice these days? I like Facebook. My demographic is largely on Facebook. I use Instagram to connect with businesses. Okay, so Facebook and Instagram. So now, what is it that you’re teaching people to do now? Like, what are they gonna gain from following your method? I post a lot of case studies, whether it be one of mine that went well or didn’t go well, I’ll explain why in the breakdown post, or I’ll share another post from another group and explain why this did so well. I’ll call the shelter and interview them about it, and I’ll try to get in touch with the person who actually composed that content. So, who was the volunteer? I want to talk to that volunteer. If it was their PR person, I’ll talk to them. But recognition is a big, big deal. And giving it to people, really helps move things along. Because it makes the volunteers who are working for other organizations feel like this is a worthwhile cause. They’re not gonna get lost in the frame. Yes. So you’re kind of giving them the best practices, the things that you’re noticing and you’re helping them too, it’s like you’re deconstructing it, right? Helping them understand why is this good and how they can replicate that? Exactly. Thank you. I also teach them how to work with nuances, like how to talk about medical conditions in a way that’s not off-putting. I emphasized the importance of marketing versus adoption counseling, because they’re not the same thing, and they get confused quite a bit. And that’s when crappy content happens. You turn everything into a dossier or an informative article or a white paper, that’s not necessary. The objective of cat marketing is to help people fall in love, and you can deal with the rest of it later. The analogy that I make in my presentations is that it’s the difference between seeing a picture menu. These menus that have all the calorie counts and nutritional information on them that make you turn and walk away, because it’s just too much. Right, right, overflow of information. Yes, so it seems like it’s about trying to help them to bring out the spirit, the personality of that animal. Yes, and I think that is something that cat people are inherently good at because we are, more often than not, an impasse and that empathy is critical to being able to tell the cat story. The adjunctive of being a buyer/ writer is to tell the story, tell the cat story, through your words, they superimpose their feelings onto the cats. So while they’re empathizing, they’re also projecting. And that’s when very confusing stuff comes out, like baby talk and words that don’t quite fit. You know when you see it, it’s like, you know, bad content, you know it when you see it. 

Give us maybe give us an example or two of some good content. Like, what would you do if you found an organization or person that’s posting some of that bad content, where do you begin? How do you give them, like here’s kind what you’re aspiring to, now let your creative juices flow and head in that direction? The RSPCA of New South Wales in Australia is the favorite. They had a great cat named Jaws, who was missing a lower jaw and this cat, the photograph was incredible. It really, you almost couldn’t tell how, what this cat was. With no lower jaw. And they gave it a list, that they wrote it in the first person, which I usually recommend against. These people are usually awful at it. It sounds like a 3rd grader wrote it, sure, but they gave it a list and wrote in the first person and it was just magical, because not only was it entertaining, it minimized what a lot of rescues would consider a special need, that actually wasn’t. And by the way, special needs is an overused term. And I wish people would stop, or be more specific about it. It just made for great content. It went viral and it was covered by a couple of, not news outlets, but media sources. And that gave it extra visibility because it made people smile while minimizing something that wasn’t even a big deal.

 That’s interesting. So I mean any, if you said, there’s three tips, take Julia’s three tips for an effective camp post. Use interesting language. One of my most memorable descriptions was an amorous nut, memories. They really like the combination of syllables, the excessive ability of the language. It’s, there’s a lot of nuance and writing, and it almost all carries over to writing for animals. You have to keep people entertained. If you beat them over the head with pay pose and feeling bad and kittens with their eyeballs falling out, you’re not going to get the kind of response that you’re going for. Unless your desired response is people not following you. When you sneak up on people with crappy content like gore, sexuality, politics, religion, anything that makes the lizard brain give it a side-eye, you’re going to lose that person. You’re going to lose, for lack of a better word, that sale. You can’t piss off the lizard brain. And for listeners who are not aware of that, that is, it’s a little nugget right in the middle. And it controls your primal responses, like fight or flight, looking for a mate, all that all the very, very lizardy, very low on the food chain, kind of responses. And when you are marketing, you have to be talking to that lizard brain. It’s also in psychology. It’s known as System One thinking. System Two thinking is when you start thinking about whether or not, can I afford another cat, do I have room, do I have time for another cat? So when you’re marketing only System One, you have to make them fall in love. Have that, the food menu, the picture menu. No, that’s interesting. I mean, I do. I totally get what you’re saying, that you got to appeal to them almost like a core and primal level. And sometimes, like you say, people get too focused on the flowery voice and these other cutesy little things and it becomes unappealing. And it doesn’t particularly, it seems like when it comes to cats, it doesn’t really help. Nope and it distracts from the cats, and that’s your only mission. Your job is not to show how many design tools you can use in your photo editing app or flex your photoshop muscle or show how many words you know. It’s just about the cat. Let the cat shine. And when I see these over-processed collages with bright colors and overlays and just too damned much going on, it makes my gut itch, because it’s not about the cat. It’s about the person. And the person can best serve themselves and I know they’re just trying to help, but they can best serve themselves by getting the job done well and quickly. And to do that, you need to have some grip on brevity, which I do not! You know, I’m terrible with brevity. I will write you a Russian novel about any given cat. You have only a few seconds as a writer to grab attention. First, the most important thing is the picture. The picture has to grab the person. That’s what’s gonna make them stop strolling. Text does not make people stop strolling. And you have about a sentence and 1/2 after that. Once you have their attention, to hook them into the rest of the copy. And people squander that opportunity often, not every time, but pretty darn often. It’s a shame because you’re not getting the gratification that you’re out to get. 

So I’m curious. What’s, what’s in this for you? Why do you do all of this? You spend a lot of time in this and trying to help. What do you get out of this? Purpose. It’s a compulsion. I mean, like a lot of people, this is just where I found my group. This is where I belong. These are my people. But also, uh, this is how I can do the most good. And in the end, that’s what it’s about. It’s about validating your time on Earth. I’m not an oxygen thief, and for a very, very long time, I was just kind of existing, consuming, not contributing anything positive to the world. And I feel like this is, I forgot who quoted, “Service is the rent you pay for your time on Earth.” It’s a good one. I wish I knew who did it. I feel like I’m finally contributing. And not only that but creating a ripple effect. And anybody who’s been to one of my lectures or heard one online, knows that I preached the ripple effect and the importance, the impact that your stone has in the pond. And what good you can do not only for the people around you but exponentially as well. When you connect people and their soul mates, you don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know if that person’s, that a doctor is going to come home from just an absolute garbage day and find solace in the animal that you personally have paired them with, and you don’t know what that solace’s impact is going to be. If they’re going to make a different decision at work or in their relationships. The impact is infinite and it’s an absolutely beautiful thing that cat rescuers do, and they don’t get nearly enough appreciation for it. You know, sometimes it’s hard for us to step back and you know the analogy, right? Looking at the forest through the trees, right? Recognizing the role that you’re playing is it’s, you know, you’re focused on that one cat getting that one cat adopted. But you don’t think about the long term impact and the human/ animal bond that’s created and the love and joy that they’re both going to bring to each other’s lives for a long time. But it goes back to the first thing I said was that every cat is somebody’s Doobert or monkey. Bringing those together, having experienced it yourself, you know exactly what that means for people. Absolutely.

 So what? So what’s next for you? Where does this go? Over the past few years, I’ve been running these networking events to try and tighten the social fabric of the cat rescue community. And this year we ran a two-day conference in Virginia, and next year we are doing a two and 1/2 day conference. That’s gonna be about 4 times as large, and I’m really excited about that. These conferences give the boots on the ground a chance at the mic, kind of like what you’re doing, well exactly like you’re doing, and it’s a peer to peer kind of thing. We have heavy, heavy emphasis on networking so that people can get to know each other, learn about what’s happening in other communities, expand their transport network, and their partner shelter system. And we give people a chance to get up and do presentations on the successful programs that they’re running, because who understands this stuff better than the people who were actually doing it? Yeah, that’s really cool. So now that conference is coming up next year in January, right? January 17 through 19 in Dulles, Virginia. Very cool. And if people want to register for it, yeah, where can they go to find out more information? Well, tickets will be on sale in probably late July or early August at the Academy, ACATacademy.org. That’s very cool. That’s really neat. So I’m excited to see that, and I appreciate the fact that, like you said, you’re focusing on the people on the front lines, doing the real work, talking to one another, because I really believe that, that’s the best way people that are experiencing it, gives it more credibility. Here’s what we did and learn from us, you know, share their experiences so that others can either build on it, pivot from it or do the same thing. Exactly. I’m not a huge fan of academia, but academics don’t do a whole lot of good unless they’re gathering statistics and reporting to us, because we’re the ones who are actually getting the stuff done. It is absolutely critical that we learn from each other rather than beard strokers. Yeah, totally understand.

 Well, it’s been really interesting Julia to learn about your background. I mean, I can now say I know a geologist, right, something that studies sand. So I’m gonna add that to my list of friends, right? And it’s I just enjoyed hearing your passion and your pivot and how you’re applying all of your experiences towards helping cats. So is there anything else you want to share with our listeners before we wrap things up? One of the most beautiful things that I have found in the cat rescue community, is the people. These people do thankless work, like literally thankless work. They are not seen, like we talked about before. They never get validation through thank you’s. If they get a thank you, it’s very vague. Thanks for all you do. And that is just an eye-roller. And these are just 1000, what people? And it has been comforting to find myself in their company because I’ve spent, oh well, I wasted a lot of my life, being a square peg in a round hole because of natural intensity. And these people are just, they live with like that. They embrace that, and they are unashamed of who and what they are, and they use that for good. They understand each other because we’re all like that, and we forgive each other quickly, for those solar flares. I guess for lack of a better word, they’re solar players, and in the end, even with all the contention and people having better ideas and nonsense, that comes up in rescue. We always have each other’s backs, and it’s a very tight community, and I’m trying to keep fulfilling our purpose on a larger scale, so we can do more. It sounds like you found your tribe. That’s exactly what I call it, and I absolutely love them. That’s an amazing experience, and it’s really inspiring to hear all the great stuff that you’re doing in your nights and weekends job and how it’s just, it’s a passion and your passion for animals and for people, in trying to raise awareness of a very important part of animal rescue. And when people say it’s all about the cats, in an attempt to excuse bad behavior, and I know we’ve all heard it, it is not all about the cats. I don’t think it’s all about the cats for any of us, it’s about the people. And if we’re not taking care of each other, then nothing happens for the cat. So I encouraged anyone listening to just be cool to each other. Think about what you do and what you say to the people who are simpatico, who are on the same frequency as you because it’s one of those rare things in life to find people who truly get you and to be where you belong. And I think that’s something worth protecting, though, even being a little more mindful of the way that we interact with each other.”

 Very well stated. Well, thank you so much, Julie, for coming on, I really enjoyed our time together. It was great to talk to you. Thank you for your time. I’m glad I got the opportunity to do this.

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