Niche Market Opportunities and Challenges for Agencies — Q&A with Katie Dubow, Garden Media Group

By | December 11, 2012
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This post is part of the Insider Series, which is designed to feature professionals in our industry, offer business insight and discover new paths in the agency world.

Katie DubowKatie Dubow is a PR account manager at Garden Media Group, a Philadelphia-based agency that specializes in the home, garden, horticulture, outdoor living, lawn and landscape industries.

Garden Media Group is one of the top 10 public relations firms in the Philadelphia region and the top marketing communications and public relations firm in the lawn and garden industry

In this Insider Series, Katie shares with us how her firm has successfully navigated this niche market, offering others best practices and lessons learned from Garden Media Group’s experiences.

Q&A with Katie Dubow

MAI: What are the origins of Garden Media Group?

Garden Media GroupKatie: In September 1988, my mother, Susan (Suzi) McCoy, put a six-year-old me on the bus to start the first grade and opened the doors of IMPACT Marketing & PR. For the next 10 years, she operated as a general practice public relations firm in the Philadelphia region, representing everything from banks and hospitals, to car dealerships and trucking firms. However, it was her work with the American Mushroom Industry that would change the course of the agency.

This relationship and the results she achieved transforming the public image of the mushroom industry is what attracted our first horticultural client in 1997, The Conard-Pyle Company. It was love at first sight. Within a few years and tremendous success with The Conard-Pyle Company, Suzi made a strategic decision to focus on the lawn and garden industry niche.

MAI: How have you evolved your service offerings over time? What were the driving factors and results behind these decisions?

Katie: As a general practice firm, we worked locally and regionally with clients and the media.  Once we decided to specialize in the lawn and garden market, we grew into a national and even an international company with clients in The Netherlands, UK, Germany and France.

Suzi built this business and her reputation on traditional public relations. She has launched hundreds of new plants and products, and helped to build countless horticultural brands. We have since added content marketing to our list of services and are finding great success for our clients. We also take on garden start-ups, as we believe some folks in our industry need a leg up.  

MAI: What are the benefits of specializing in a niche industry?

Katie: We quickly discovered that the lawn and garden industry was a gracious business. The media professionals who talk about gardening are kind and generous with their time, and eager to help us help our clients succeed. Also, because it is a specialty for the media as well, reporters tend to change magazines or newspapers, but not beats. As a result, we can follow them from one job to another.

Today, we are one of the top 10 public relations firms in the Philadelphia region and the top marketing communications and public relations firm in the lawn and garden industry. 

One of the major benefits for our clients and us is that we know this industry inside and out. We have great contacts that we’ve developed over 15 years, and people know us—from the top media, to garden center owners and horticultural breeders.

MAI: Working in a specialized industry, have you run into any issues in which your clients were direct competitors of each other? How did you handle the conflict of interest?

Katie: The benefits of being in a niche market are endless, but the downside is that the more we grow, the more chances there are for clients’ products and plants to overlap. 

For example, we had to turn down a client who wanted to expand our services into plants we already represented for another client. We not only had to say no to the client, but we had to say goodbye to their business as well.

To prevent such conflicts of interest, we look for clients that fill categories we don’t already serve. For instance, right now, we do not represent any garden tool or outdoor furniture companies, but we’d only represent one in each category. It’s a little trickier with plants as there are so many of them in hundreds of different categories, from roses to orchids. In that case, we offer exclusive agreements that we will not represent competing plant families, like the rose plants but not flowering shrubs.  

MAI: Do you disclose to your clients/prospects other companies you've worked with in the industry? Why or why not?

Katie: We are a transparent agency. Every client we work with or have worked with is listed on our website, unless of course, the client chooses to keep the relationship private. We are proud of every relationship we have and the brand that we have helped to build. 

MAI: How do you ensure that you’re differentiating content, social updates, etc. and/or not sharing information privy to one company with another when managing multiple campaigns that are similar in nature?

Katie: No campaign is the same, or usually even similar. Each client has such a variety of offerings that we try and create out-of-the-box ideas for each. We also have multiple account managers so that if there is a similar campaign in the works, we can split up the duties.

MAI: How does working within a niche industry affect account efficiencies? With a focused effort on one area, do you find you can complete work faster than if you were catering to multiple industries?

Katie: Relationship-building, getting to know editors, taking bloggers to lunch, etc. benefits each of our clients. We have become a one-stop shop for the media who have come to count on us for must-read content, creative ideas, top-notch media interviews, high-quality products and plants, and the best trend spotting in the industry. Our reputation is our greatest asset. And we pass these efficiencies on to our clients in round-up stories and pitching.

MAI: Does working in a niche market make it easier or harder to find new business? Why?

Katie: 100% easier. The reputation of Garden Media stretches far beyond our reach and that is all because of Suzi’s hard work and proven track record. We are lucky in that all of our current clients came to us, either through word of mouth or a garden industry connection.    

MAI: What are some unique characteristics of the lawn and gardening market you work within? How is marketing different in that sector?

The lawn and garden market is very fragmented, not only on the retail level but on the media side as well. There are 18,000 small independent garden centers in the country and  still thriving small businesses. Many of the key influencers are independent contractors who generally fly under the radar and do not show up on media list management software. That means, we have to know these newspaper columnists, radio personalities and bloggers by name. We have to find them through our contacts and constant outreach.

Additionally, many people in horticulture still speak Latin, literally. Plants go by Latin names, but for the average consumer, a petunia is a petunia not a Calibrachoa Solanaceae. The biggest reason people don’t garden is lack of time and knowledge. You can be rocket scientist but have not a clue how to grow tomatoes. Not unlike other markets that have their own “language”, we, too, have to prepare our marketing messages in everyday language to be able to communicate to the average consumer, give them inspiration and help them be successful.

Gardening is very personal. If you kill a beautiful, flowering hibiscus, you feel badly and think it was your “fault.” If you kill your can opener, you just throw it away and buy a new one. We really are trying to inspire people to be more successful with plants—after all, where would we be without them?

Katie Dubow is a PR account manager at Garden Media Group. Connect with her on LinkedIn.