A Marketing Conversation

A Marketing Conversation

by Robert Hendrickson

There’s a reason why reality tv shows are so popular. People like standing in the background watching what takes place in other peoples’ lives. Well, here’s your chance. What follows is an email conversation between a garden center owner and Robert discussing what needs to be considered before making a marketing decision for next spring. Names have been changed but the process Robert knows will work remains.


Hey Robert,

I’m planning on spending $50,000 on an HGTV ad campaign this coming spring. I attached the schedule that’s been suggested. Take a look and let me know what you think.

Back at ya Buzz,
Before I can make an informed suggestion on your tv adventure I have a few questions and comments:
First, I need to know your complete marketing plan before trying to determine if the HGTV schedule makes sense. Also, how many different commercials will you run over the length of the suggested schedule? I need to see the commercials you're considering running before worrying about the schedule. Regardless of the schedule or cost, the format and message of the commercials being run is my first consideration.

Is this a repeat of previous years because you've been amazed at the results or a first attempt to see what might happen? I guess you know there's no longer much "G" in HGTV making it less attractive for running commercials geared toward gardening and landscaping. It might still be an ok choice depending on your total marketing plan and the message of your commercials.

Regarding the cost, it’s difficult suggesting a garden center spend $50,000 on HGTV over just a two month schedule regardless of what the ad rep recommends. This is probably the highest price per commercial on HGTV I've seen. The cost has a lot to do with the number of markets you’re trying to cover. I seldom focus on such a wide area but instead concentrate on a smaller geographic coverage in order to achieve a higher frequency. Garden centers and especially media sales reps tend to focus on Reach instead of Frequency. "Wow! Think of all the people who might see our commercial!" Successful marketing isn't about how many people might see your commercial but how many people are truly able to absorb the message you're delivering.

attached an article dealing with the misconception media reps and garden center owners have regarding Reach vs. Frequency plus the follow-up article.

Fill me in on the info I need then let's connect to discuss my findings after I've had some time to review.


Hey Robert
To answer a few of your questions, Yes, this will be our first foray into the world of television advertising. The $50,000 for HGTV is a sizable chunk of my yearly advertising budget.

The rest goes mostly to radio in the Fall and Spring, and glossy full color mailers that we send to our Club Members 4 times a year.

We also send out weekly e-newsletters to 10,000 + subscribers.

After reading your articles I realized I am TOTALLY at fault of getting very chummy with my website designer/ad guy and radio rep.

As far as the HGTV schedule goes, we are only targeting developing areas.

I am attaching the tv spot I am preparing to run. I sometimes worry that I am too caught up in the artistry of the piece rather than its ultimate effectiveness for our business.

I have the ability to steamroll whatever I want into fruition, but sometimes I wonder if I am pressing forward with the right force/content.

And that’s where I need your advice,

Thanks for the quick feedback. Glad you used the steamroller analogy. I tend to use a steamroller approach a lot. It would be the perfect graphic for my logo. The tag line would be "Just fix it!" Think I'll work on that this winter.
So... in a steamroller response to your response...

I’ve never understood why garden centers that are open 12 months a year repeatedly spend/blow the majority of their ad budget over just a few weeks’ time. I know, "smart" marketers have always said... "Fish when the fish are biting." But obviously these smarty-pants are forgetting that fish eat year 'round. Garden centers tend to run their business like it's a year 'round endeavor yet schedule their marketing like they're a seasonal business. Marketing shouldn't be about matching the obvious sales curve, but understanding there's bills to be paid and money to be made each day a business is open. Besides, garden centers are busiest during their peak week-ends/seasons regardless of how much they spend on marketing. Why over stuff and over spend on marketing when it's not necessary, then act like the company is closed the rest of the year? Weird.

I seldom recommend garden centers do any type of marketing they don't have the budget to do properly for at least a twelve week period in the spring then a twelve week period over fall and Christmas. I'd rather insist on a 36 to 52 week period but have been in the industry long enough to know that's a battle I probably can’t win.  Although I do have a few savvy clients running 52 week radio campaigns with good results.

The definition I use for "properly" is focusing on Frequency not Reach as the article I sent you explained. And yes... I realize garden centers and marketers working with garden centers don't agree. But after generations being in existence, the garden center industry's seasonal sales curve says a lot.
Just sayin'.

Based on the information you provided, you have a choice. Either spend way more money, reduce the coverage area you seem to want or change the proposed schedule.

Here's the formula I use to decide what's possible with different forms of marketing...

Step 1. We have X dollars to spend on this specific type of marketing we want to do.

Step 2. It cost X dollars per week to do this type of marketing properly based on Frequency not Reach.

Step 3. The required X dollars per week to do things properly divided into the total X dollars we have to spend gives us the number of weeks we can do this type of marketing properly.

Step 4. Are the number of weeks we can do this properly enough to make this option worthwhile or should we walk away and use our money some other way?

Your proposal says the cable company can measure Frequency. Let's assume they're telling the truth.

When it comes to tv and radio, my "properly" target is at least a 3 Frequency per week. Your campaign says you'll receive a Frequency of 6.9 over 8 weeks. From my experience, that’s not good enough to be "properly" done. I can hear your marketing folks already... "That's insane! You can't afford a 3 Frequency per week! That would cost a fortune your budget can't afford!"

People using words like this proves they're a Reach person, not a Frequency advocate. Welcome to the world of undercapitalized garden center marketing budgets trying to pretend they have enough money to play with the big kids on tv.

Now to the actual tv commercial, and sorry for the steamroller approach:

The spot is pretty much what I would have predicted since it’s a perfect example of tv commercials garden centers have produced for decades. Open with a shot of buildings, then a slow pan of colorful benches, a few smiling staff faces then a long list of available inventory with all the requisite buzz words like generations, promise, expansive selection, highest quality, amazing prices, 1000's of varieties... right out of a copy of "A Marketer's Book of Clichés". The only thing missing was the sound of birds chirping in the background.

The first seminar I presented after starting my consulting business was titled... "Quality, Value, Service and Selection... The Tombstones of Marketing". Forty years later I'm still having the same conversation. Guess I should have been a better teacher.

As far as the focus of the message in the ad… any ad that’s all about you is a bad ad. My marketing mentor says it this way... "Sounds like they have a bad case of wee-weeing all over themselves."

I attached three radio ads I use at workshops to show the difference between an ad about the company, an ad about inventory and an ad about the customer. I think you'll hear the difference and know where your commercial fits into the mix.

And what's with the "so serious" voice-over? Research says people like the stuff we sell because it's fun, relaxing and personally rewarding. They garden to unwind, relax and reduce stress. The guy in your ad sounds like he needs a vacation... fast! He's definitely not someone I'd like meet at your garden center. 

From my position, this isn't the quality of ad deserving a $50,000 test to see if television advertising works. What typically happens in a situation like this is after the money is spent and results not as good as hoped for, the advertiser will blame the delivery method, not the message.

"I tried X marketing once. It doesn't work." is the typical refrain I've heard my entire career. My response is... 'When it comes to successful marketing, what you say is way more important than where you say it."

So... after all this, my suggestion is... don't do the deal. It's too much money being spent over too little time with too little impact and too little thought behind the message being delivered.  But... there's always a but... I prefer not getting in the middle between a garden center owner and their marketing advisers. It's a battle I've never found worth the pain and suffering involved.  Sorta like the old saying "too many cooks spoil the broth". In marketing it's more like "too many opinions mean nothing good will be decided and Robert will just get pissy". So either do the deal or don't do the deal but don't try to convince your marketing team of anything I've said. It won't end well. For anyone.

And hey... if you're running the sales volume garden center you expect doing the type of advertising you've been doing, you're probably safe skipping this $50,000 experiment on cable tv.

Hope this helps and again, sorry for driving a steamroller during the process. When people ask me for advice, I don't expect to make friends, just provide advice I know will work.


Got questions or need more information about your marketing programs?

Give Robert a call or email!
Robert Hendrickson
Cell: 443-255-8282

Robert Hendrickson is founder and a service provider for The Garden Center Group and our "guru" for how to best tell your story.



REMEMBER: Your interaction (by phone and email) with Group Service Providers such as Robert Hendrickson, Steve Bailey, Sid Raisch and Jean Seawright, are included in your retainer!

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