When Susan McCoy, owner of Garden Media Group, finally found her way to the green industry, it was love at first sight. Little did she know that her first project — promoting roses and shrubs for The Conard-Pyle Company (Star Roses and Plants) — would steer her down an extraordinary path. Like everything else she does, McCoy embraced the journey with a fearless enthusiasm for adventure, and ultimately, it changed the very face of her business. She hasn’t stopped to look back since.
Impact Marketing and PR, Inc., McCoy’s original public relations firm, opened its doors in 1988. With a young daughter in tow and a family to care for, McCoy built her Philadelphia business from the ground up, specializing in general public relations for banks, hospitals, infertility doctors and even racehorse trainers. But it was the firm’s work with the American mushroom industry that caught Dick Hutton’s attention. It wasn’t long before he enlisted Impact Marketing to help promote products for The Conard-Pyle Co., which eventually led to McCoy’s involvement in the launch of the game-changing KnockOut Rose.
A New Focus Opens New Doors For Garden Media Group
McCoy’s first call upon receiving the Conard-Pyle project was to Mark Kane, then editor of Better Homes and Gardens, who spent an hour and a half with her explaining how the industry worked. His generosity was indicative of others in the industry who McCoy describes as ladies and gentlemen who were quick to share their vast knowledge and eager to help others succeed. She says she found it a refreshing change.
McCoy eventually marked her official entry into the green industry with a name change for her firm to Garden Media Group and a shift in focus to specializing in horticulture, home, landscaping and outdoor living. She says it was the best move she could have made because it opened up doors for her around the world. Garden Media Group now has clients spread across the U.S. and has previously had clients from as far away as Germany, France, Japan and Holland.
The group’s clientele reads like a Who’s-Who list of garden celebs — Costa Farms, Ball Horticulture Co., Longwood Gardens, The Philadelphia Flower Show, American Beauties, The Royal Horticultural Society and so forth. Besides the KnockOut Rose, McCoy has helped launch well-known brands such as Endless Summer, Simply Beautiful and Brazelberries, as well as helping to extend the Wave Petunia brand.
“We have worked with just about everybody from seed catalogs to the furniture you sit on to enjoy your garden,” McCoy says. “So we really understand the industry from a nice horizontal perspective.”
That perspective lends itself well to the group’s annual garden trends report, which reveals the latest fads and movements that influence consumer behavior and embody the garden and outdoor living industry. McCoy has traditionally taken the lead on trend spotting, but she is turning over more of that side of the business to her first employee, daughter Katie McCoy Dubow, who rejoined the business in 2011 after a stint with CBS television and Monet Jewelry in New York. McCoy first hired six-year-old Dubow to put stamps on envelopes. Now, Dubow works as creative officer and PR account manager for the group. Occasionally, a third-generation, McCoy’s seven-month-old granddaughter, joins them at the office, as well.
Clients That Match McCoy’s Core Values Speak To The Heart
McCoy stays heavily involved in new business development since two of her favorite things are working with new clients and mentoring others. She scrutinizes her clients carefully, hand-picking those that match her core values.
“I love nature. I love the outdoors. I love making a difference,” she says.
Garden Media Group recently started a campaign with Crown Bees as a way to help make a difference. Crown Bees’ mission is to raise awareness and promote the importance of native bees as pollinators. The company encourages others to release native bees in their gardens or support someone else who is raising native bees. To help fund a large-scale public outreach campaign, Garden Media Group suggested an Indiegogo campaign and committed to making it a success. To date, 336 contributors have donated $22,037 toward the $100,000 goal. McCoy says her staff has put in a lot of extra time on this campaign that the group is not getting paid for because it is a cause they strongly believe in and an opportunity to make a change.
“If I could work for free, I would work for free for a really great cause,” McCoy says.
Another project the group is looking into is working with a company that makes portable, raised-bed keyhole gardens, which take their name from their shape, basically a circle with a notch in it. Compost is deposited in a container in the middle of the circle and provides the nutrients necessary to sustain the garden. It is a highly productive and low-cost way to raise food, particularly in drought-challenged areas. For every four keyhole gardens the company sells, it donates one to families in Rwanda.
“It is a great cause and a great product,” McCoy says. “It is heartfelt. A lot of the decisions we make here are with our hearts, and then our minds follow.”
McCoy says she often tells her clients that advertising gains share buying, but public relations gains share of the heart.
“We want people to fall in love with our clients and our clients’ products,” she says. “So we are all about the heart.”
Other change-inducing, heartfelt projects the Garden Media Group has worked on include Costa Farms’ O2 for You program advocating the health benefits of indoor plants; the Espoma Co.’s Safe Paws push to urge people to switch to organic lawns to create healthy environments for dogs and cats; and American Beauties’ effort to raise awareness of native plants.
McCoy Balances Staff Individuality And Accountability With A Culture Of Togetherness
With so many projects and a small staff to do the work, McCoy says hiring smart people with skills that complement hers — not supplement them — is crucial.
“I excel at getting up at the 30,000-foot level,” she says. “But if everyone in the company was there, nothing would get done on the ground level. It is nice to have people who can work magic for you.”
McCoy says her staff can think horizontally and vertically and do it in different creative ways. They are talented and creative people who excel at turning good ideas into reality.
She says she tries not to stand in the way of letting them succeed at what they do best. Her philosophy is to give people a task, know what the goal is and step back and let them do their jobs.
“It is important for people to be accountable,” she says. “If I am constantly taking the monkey off their back, then that monkey is mine, and I am responsible. The accountability helps people own much more of the solution than if I told them what to do.”
While McCoy encourages independent thought and individuality, she also nurtures a culture of togetherness throughout her company, because with such a small staff, it is important that they have good chemistry and watch each other’s backs. McCoy speaks from experience. A few years ago, things weren’t quite gelling at the office. After making some staff changes, she noticed some tension in the office and realized she needed to do something.
“The staff is the core and foundation of the business,” she says. “If we weren’t cohesive and didn’t appreciate each other and like each other, that was going to affect everything else we did — our relationships with our clients, with the media, and ultimately, our reputation.”
McCoy instituted a three-year action plan for the office, starting with an entire year of focusing on feeling the love for each other. She encouraged her staff to write “love notes” of appreciation to each other that they read out loud at staff meetings. The plan paid off. McCoy says she now has a tight-knit group that works well together and delights in celebrating births, weddings, babies and enjoying an occasional relaxing lunch in the sun or a night of bowling.
Bring Your Seat To The Table And Invite Others To Join You
Since McCoy spent several years as a single mother, caring for her young daughter while she laid the foundations for her business, she knows how hard it is to balance family and work. She tries to give her staff the best of both by giving them the flexibility they need to take care of their families.
On a personal level, McCoy has a rule in her house that helps her put her family first. From 7:30 in the evening to 7:30 in the morning, her cell phone goes on silence. She only gets texts and emails from people on her favorite list.
“I try to be very protective of family time,” she says. “It is important to carve out that time and make time for your child’s activities. As women, we need to respect our families as much as we do our work obligations.”
When McCoy first started working in the green industry, it was very male dominated, and the industry was all about new and improved varieties of plants and hybrids. Everything was more about the plants than it was the process and the joy of gardening, she says. Now she sees more women running companies and involved in upper management and breeding, which she says is a nice change, but we still have a ways to go.
“It still amazes me that this industry is so male dominated, because the customer is so female dominated, so women can help the industry in a variety of ways” McCoy says. “Women are nurturers and caretakers, and gardening and horticulture is a nurturing business. I think as women and business owners, we are not only nurturing the plants we grow, we are also nurturing the people in our business. We have an opportunity to make the horticulture industry one that people want to be a part of.”
McCoy recently joined a women’s group dedicated to supporting charitable causes, despite having always been involved in her community, serving on various boards and teaching at her church. This is the first time she has joined a group like this because she feels women should integrate into the entire workforce, saying they bring a unique perspective to a table that should include both women and men.
“I am happy to support women in business, and I do think we need to put the spotlight on women doing great things,” she says. “But I want women to support each other and invite more people to the table. That supports the whole industry.”