Monday, 25 May 2009

When vroom, vroom meets bloom, bloom...

Marketing clever? The RHS has often seemed to me like one of those aircraft carriers: monolithic and unable to change its course at the drop of a hat. Yet once in a while, they can actually respond in a manner that seems almost timely.

In a previous post I pondered the implications of the RHS' recent vacancy advert for a person to head their Membership Development. According to their ad, the RHS is 'undergoing a major transformation... with a focus on growth and cultural change.' I did find it significant that, within the text of their ad, the RHS linked the increase of their membership very closely with their funding.

Recently, at their most prestigious flower show, the RHS had elected to allow James May to display a garden without a single plant in it. Which caused no small amount of talk, dare I say it. But controversial talk is better than no talk, right? And as the plasticine garden is actually part of a greater TV series that Mr May is running, then Chelsea will be talked about even after the gardening show season is over, and to a potentially wider audience than purely horticultural folk. After all, Mr May is better known for shifting gears rather than rolling wheelbarrows. Not too bad going in the awareness stakes, is it?

I can understand the backlash from the gardening community. Just as I can understand those who say it was a breath of fresh air. However, honestly, the light bulb that went off in my (jaded) marketing brain was that of concepts beloved of all marketers: Greater Publicity. Increased Budget. Better Funding.

Pundits opined that ticket sales were down (apparently not selling out as quickly before the show) and less exhibitors (the Great Pavilion seeming not as full as in previous years) were supporting the Chelsea Flower Show due to the recent hard winter and the pervasive credit crunch.

Perhaps that could have been the instigator. Perhaps the Membership Development exec needs to get on board really quickly before they run out of quirky non-garden talking points. Or perhaps Mr May's crusade to wean children away from the dreaded Xbox just found its perfectly virtuous alliance?

Have I just hit the nail on the head here? Is this why the BBC gives so little air time to bonsai during Chelsea coverage? What does it take to be controversial enough for you lot, then? Or do we have to jump on some bandwagon associated with: (1) Better Funding. (2) A-List Celebrities. (3) Do-gooder Causes. (4) Better Funding.

Note: The picture above was taken on the Sunday afternoon before the opening day. Getting close enough to capture the detail of the work was a relatively insurmountable challenge, given the amount of people working and filming the activity.


  1. Was the James May a clever marketing ploy by the RHS? Mmmm, an odd choice if it was and should be filed under disMAY. If it was controversy they were after then better to have stuck with Diarmund Gavin or any of a rande of innovative designers. Personally, I suspect they were duped by James May who presented what, on paper, would have been a legitmate design but which conveniently excluded the mention of plasticine. To make a mockery of the work of nurserymen and designers in this way is at best downright rude and demonstrates his contempt for anything other than his limited interest in automobiles (yawn). Fortunately, this sort of behaviour rarely goes unnoticed and I predict the chickens will eventually come home to roost, along with the cockerel which hopefully will take a very large bite out of his bum; metaphorically speaking.

  2. Hey blogger it was good to meet you, I think we put the world to rights over coffee without spilling our own............John B

  3. Thx for the comment Mike and apologies for taking so long to reply. I know we've discussed this since but have also felt it would be good to round off the discussion in writing.

    My honest opinion of the RHS is that they have been willing partners in this. OK, I think they can be more than overly elitist and if they weren't feeling the pinch, I think they would have looked down their noses at Mr May and told him in their posh accents where he could stick his plasticene.

    But maybe I'm just too cynical... :o)

  4. Yo, Mr JB! Nice meeting you at Green Lawns and thx for dropping by! Hope you got to check out the earlier saikei posts.

    Feel free to drop by often and pop us a few lines... while keeping your coffee away from your nice new Mac... :-D