A Public Relations Overhaul

A Public Relations Overhaul

Initial Tropical Plants (ITP), headquartered in Riverwoods, Ill., is the largest provider of interior landscaping, design installation and maintenance services in North America. Initial Tropical Plants is the leader in enhancing the customer’s brand image and improving quality of life in the workplace as they change the landscape of business interiors across North America.

However, while Initial Tropical Plants (ITP) is the largest provider of interior landscaping, design installation and maintenance services to businesses, the company didn’t look like the “leader of the pack.” The bloom was off the proverbial rose with the company’s passé internal and external marketing materials and static Web site. In the summer of 2005, the company engaged an outside management consultant who conducted a qualitative customer research study that indicated the brand was in need of serious reinvigoration and provided the foundation of the company’s marketing rebirth.

The consultant led a SWOT (strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats) analysis with company managers, which laid the foundation for the company’s marketing initiatives. Additionally, a one-to-one customer survey questioned clients’ brand perceptions about Initial Tropical Plants. The company’s high-touch care and nurturing of both clients and plants was a common refrain relayed by the majority of clients polled. Research indicated that the company’s commitment to customer service was not reflected in the company’s marketing. The Internet site was widely received as stagnant and unattractive.

Jeff Mariola, president of Initial Tropical Plants, established overall marketing objectives and hired the company’s first director of marketing, Michelle Rodwell, in October 2005. Marketing and public relations agencies were engaged to begin translating the company’s vision to build the brand. The team was united with the challenge of infusing a creative, strategic approach to meet company wide growth goals; employing marketing best practices with consistency and continuity; and developing tools and programs that build sales and awareness. 

Spreading The Word

The internal and external marketing communications team worked to develop and execute core marketing initiatives. The team, led by Rodwell, created key messages that reinforced brand positioning focusing on service, people, solutions, design, knowledge, industry leader, technology and size which also led to the creation of a new tagline, “Changing the landscape of business interiors across North America.” The tagline was woven into all internal and external marketing communications and public relations materials. Each word of the tagline was strategically selected to capture the essence of the brand.

“In March 2006, Initial Tropical Plants rolled out a comprehensive series of marketing materials developed with our brand in mind and were created with a consistent look that could be applied across all mediums and effectively convey what we do and how well we do it,” Rodwell says. Vivid, immersive images of up-close plants and flavors were featured with a color palette in warm hues of reds, sepias and greens. About 1,300 co-workers participated in a company-wide marketing launch meeting with branch managers each doing a presentation to their teams.

“Our brand transformation was both an internal and external event,” adds Rodwell. “The work we did on our brand had to be conveyed properly to all of our co-workers, so that they could become our brand ambassadors.”

The Poinsettia Meter 

The holiday season represents about 10 percent of Initial Tropical Plants’ overall sales, purchasing more poinsettias annually than any other company in the b-to-b sector. As such, Jeff Mariola wanted to employ public relations tactics to shine a spotlight on the company. The company’s PR consultancy, Vorticom, recommended the creation of a Poinsettia Meter, which measured the company’s sale of poinsettias across different regions. A press release was disseminated in December 2005 that was headlined “Green Holiday Season Indicated by Initial Tropical Plants’ Poinsettia Meter.”

Hundreds of broadcast and print media outlets published Initial Tropical Plants’ prognosticating poinsettia story including the Associated Press, The Cleveland Plain Dealer and The Denver Post resulting in over 200 million media impressions.

Getting It Done

The company’s new marketing collateral included:

Capabilities brochure. A unique square-shaped brochure, featuring immersive plant images, was created to be used in conjunction with the new branded folder and as a stand-alone to distribute to prospects.

Case studies. Case studies showcased the many innovative solutions ITP has engaged. For the first time, the company began creating a library of case studies across client sectors that demonstrated ITP’s original design solutions. In addition to using these case studies to share with clients and prospects, the case studies were expanded for use on the editorial side with public relations.

Market segmentation. To support the company wide movement to a segment-selling focus, market segment sheets were created with a showcase photo of an ITP design coupled with descriptive copy tailored to that segment.

Welcome kit. A welcome letter and envelope were designed that reinforced the customer buying decision and provided a transition from sales to the appointed service technicians. The welcome kit is personalized with important branch contact information and hand delivered to new customers at their first service visit.

Fleet graphics. “A single delivery truck with an effective graphic design can generate 16 million visual impressions per year,” according to a study by the American Trucking Association. ITP’s entire fleet of 350 vehicles was refaced with new color graphics and copy that were in line with its reinvigorated brand image.

Online survey and sweepstakes. A survey to capture customer satisfaction levels was developed that was conducted online by e-mail invitation. The responses are captured and available for review at the branch and regional level. The survey was tested in the Chicago and Milwaukee markets and has been rolled out nationally. The survey was sent to ITP customers with valid e-mails and is averaging a 19 percent gross response rate. About 35 percent of branch customers were surveyed by the close of May 2006 with all customers polled by August.

“My clients relay that the survey demonstrates that we really care about them,” says Don Koonce, a Seattle-based Vice President for ITP. “The information we received from the survey helped us save some accounts.” Service technicians handed out postcards during service calls and alerted customers that ITP had a new Web site that included a sweepstakes for customers where they could enter to win prizes including an iPod.

e-Newsletter. Each quarter, ITP creates and e-mails out e-newsletters to the customer base. ITP is able to keep in touch with customers while providing them with useful information. The importance of capturing and keeping customers’ e-mail addresses current is a high priority. ITP’s first quarterly e-newsletter e-mailed to current customers netted a 36 percent open rate. To date, Initial Tropical Plants has received 200 sign-ups for future newsletters. The majority of the new sign-ups are triggered by Web site visits.

Redesigned Web site. The launch of www.initialplants.com in April 2006 replaced a static, old-fashioned digital experience with a lush, immersive one that encouraged potential customers to linger and learn. The site showcases a constant mix of intimate, up-close and artistic plant photographs along with outstanding interior landscape designs. The home page features three main silos that reflect the three primary revenue drivers for the business: interior landscaping, national accounts and architectural landscape design services.

In the Web site’s first two months, the number of visitors increased by 33 percent with 4,323 unique visitors versus 2,316 unique visitors in 2005. Additionally Web visitors’ time on the site doubled versus a year earlier. Elizabeth Miller, a business development specialist serving the Seattle region for Initial Tropical Plants, says the “Web site created so many opportunities in Seattle with prospects calling who wouldn’t even return calls in the past.”

Capabilities brochure, case studies, market segmentation and welcome letters were distributed to ITP managers in March 2006. Responses have ranged from “we now look like the leaders we are,” to “these new branding materials inspire confidence in ITP as a true market leader with new prospects.”

“It’s been a pleasure to evolve from the bland, impersonal corporate image our previous marketing materials represented,” says Christopher Karl, a California-based sales and design consultant for Initial Tropical Plants.

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