Telling Our Story

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Ideas for collective industry promotion are percolating again. On June 11 and 12, Bailey Nurseries in Minnesota hosted a summit that brought about 30 green industry leaders together to explore what could be done to unite the turf and landscape, nursery and floriculture sectors to work toward national promotion.

This initiative began with Dale Siems, past president and CEO of Sherman Nurseries in Iowa. For the past year, he has been talking to members of the nursery industry and learning more about existing programs that have the potential to be all-encompassing in both their financial support and activities —America In Bloom (AIB) and Project Evergreen. "We can’t give up on a national marketing program," an enthusiastic Siems says. "We’ve got the best story in the world. We’re the original green industry and everybody is eating our lunch."

For seven years, AIB has been a successful grassroots initiative on a very limited annual budget of $200,000, funded by industry contributions and registration fees cities pay to participate in the national competition. To date, AIB has actively engaged more than 160 cities ranging in populations from a few hundred people to millions. Combined, these cities represent 21 million residents in 37 states. AIB also has generated 250 million impressions in the national media with articles on participating cities.

The most encouraging part of AIB is its long residual after a city participates. In a recent press release itemizing all of its greening initiatives, the city of Akron, Ohio, referenced its 2003 participation and win in AIB five years later. Most of the 160 programs that got planted are continuing. We are getting our bang for our buck.

Project Evergreen promotes the value of professionally maintained green spaces and began with the turf and landscape side of the industry. It has an annual budget of $650,000 and has launched innovative programs under its slogan — "Because Green Matters." Another program that has made a difference for 5,700 families is Green Care For Troops, in which landscapers provide lawn and landscape care for families of deployed soldiers. This spring, the organization created an Evergreen Zone in Akron and mobilized a blitz to create awareness for green spaces. The goal is to do this in 20 cities, and Milwaukee will be next.

During a brainstorming part of the summit, Steve Cissel of 10-20 Media presented an idea that ties in nicely with consumer and media interest in environmental awareness called Oxygen Footprint. The idea is to create more oxygen with plants instead of focusing on carbon. Consumers could go online and calculate their oxygen footprint and link to a wide range of local sources, including growers, garden centers and landscapers.

This could be similar to the Produce For Better Health (PBH) Foundation’s strategy that promotes eating more fruits and vegetables. Campaigns began 15 years ago with the Five A Day message, which has been updated more recently to be "Fruits & Veggies–More Matters." This isn’t a promotion order, but a voluntary umbrella message that unifies the produce industry. Companies and associations that promote specific fruits and vegetables can combine this message with their own.

A truly representative green industry council could be formed to develop campaigns or messages that promote the quality of life benefits and solutions plants offer, whether it be offsetting carbon emissions, improving property values, reducing crime, revitalizing business districts or enhancing personal and social wellness.

A similar initiative took place in the 1980s and ’90s when the Garden Council was formed, but its fatal mistake was pursuing a national promotion order funded by container assessments called Plants For America. Nursery and floriculture growers were represented on that council.

Coming up with common messaging, a logo and an informational Web site with resources doesn’t need to cost millions of dollars. What we really need is the right leadership to come together and promote a unified message we can all get behind.

Delilah Onofrey directs Flower Power Marketing for the Suntory Collection. She can be reached at donofrey@gmail.com
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