Planning and Planting Flower Show Coverage

RCP_150228_0424Spring comes early for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society… sometimes when it’s still winter.

For the PHS Communications/Public Relations team, spring arrives with the opening of the Philadelphia Flower Show, the nonprofit organization’s signature event and major fundraiser, which this year ran from Feb. 28 to March 8 in the Pennsylvania Convention Center. It’s a “false” spring, created through a greenhouse process that “forces” trees, shrubs and flowers to bloom weeks or months before their natural peak.  And while spring is normally the beginning of the life cycle, for us it’s the culmination of months of planning and execution.

It’s also a beautiful thing to see – and was successful on many levels this year.

Selecting a theme
The theme of the Flower Show is chosen at least one year in advance by a panel of PHS leaders and consultants, with input from members and visitors. In recent years the themes have moved from place-based exhibitions (Parisian parks, London streetscapes, Hawaiian gardens) to broader concepts inspired by great art or, this year, great movies. These recent themes have required more explanation of how a painting or a film would be interpreted through a landscape or floral design.

To make the 2015 theme, “Celebrate the Movies,” easily understood and appealing, PHS formed a partnership with Disney and Disney•Pixar.  Every generation has a connection to the classic characters, live action films, or recent animated projects from the world’s best-known studios. Each of the Flower Show’s major exhibitors chose a film from the Disney canon and used it for inspiration. All the language that referred to those exhibits, as well as use of studio logos, would be reviewed and approved by Disney before it was shared with the media or used in any promotion.

At the same time, references to other films would appear throughout the show to broaden the appeal to movie fans. Famous posters were designed in dried flowers; sets from favorite films were recreated in miniature with natural materials; iconic actors were honored with namesake roses in the Entrance Garden, an Art Deco movie palace of flowers and lights.

Pitching the show
The goal of attracting a quarter-million guests to the Flower Show requires a multi-level communications strategy. About 60 percent of the ticket buyers come from the Greater Philadelphia region, so there is a strong concentration on local media in the months leading up to the event. But to attract the other 40 percent from beyond this area, we look to long-lead regional and national media outlets.

The targets are travel, arts, and garden media, as well as mainstream digital and print outlets with national audiences.  The early pitching focused on the combination of the Flower Show’s history and standing (nation’s oldest and largest) and its 21st century twists (movie tie-ins, new events and attractions).  The pitches emphasized the visual elements of the show and included artists’ renderings of exhibitors’ plans and photos from previous shows that evoked the look of the new theme.  Special media events included a press conference in New York City coordinated by Visit Philadelphia.

The social media campaign for the show included regular blogs focusing on participants and new attractions. A series of videos shared on social platforms and the Flower Show website also explored ways visitors could take concepts from the show designers and incorporate them in their own homes and gardens.

The major press conference for the Flower Show occurs a month before the opening and moves to a different location each year, depending on the theme. This year, with the support of Allied Integrated Marketing, the event was held at the Ritz East/Landmark Theatres in Old City on Jan. 29. The takeover of the theater included “Celebrate the Movies” posters in all the exterior and interior light boxes, floral arrangements by  show designers, iconic film costumes,  “paparazzi,” and a red carpet leading from the entrance through the lobby. The press conference was held in one of the auditoriums, where the speakers spotlighted the new elements of the show and its impact on the region’s economy.  Entries in a short-film competition, “What Is Beauty?”, coordinated by PHS and the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, were projected on the screen as the media and guests entered. The Flower Show sizzle reel was shown at the conclusion. The event was covered by all the major local broadcast and print outlets, and strengthened the wave of advance ticket sales.

Countdown to opening
In the week leading up to the opening of the Flower Show, members of the media are invited to document the construction of the exhibits. Reporters and cameras were on the show floor each day of the set-up.

On the evening before the Members Preview, 50 area writers and producers attended a Media Preview Tour of the exhibits and had the opportunity to ask questions of the President of PHS and the Chief of Shows & Events. Social media influencers were also hosted on a special tour of the show on opening day.

The media and social media efforts this year resulted in strong coverage of the show and a major rise in attendance.

National coverage included advance stories and videos by USA Today and the Associated Press. Good Morning America aired live hits from the show on the morning of the Members Preview. New York Times Style section photographer Bill Cunningham covered the Preview Party. Stories and slideshows appeared in print or digital editions of the Washington Post, Conde Nast Traveler, Architectural Digest, Parade, BizBash, and Canada’s Globe and Mail. Hundreds of stories also appeared in local print and broadcast reports.

All the coverage translated into a total of 250,000 visitors over the course of the nine-day event, a 10 percent increase over the previous year. Attendance during the final weekend broke all  Flower Show records. But most gratifying was the increase in young audiences; the show sold three times as many family packages and twice as many student tickets as the year before.

This post was written by PHS Director of Communications, Alan Jaffe. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society is a nonprofit organization, founded in 1827, dedicated to creating beauty and building community through gardening, greening and learning. With more than 64,000 members throughout the world, PHS offers programs and events for gardeners of all levels, and works with volunteers, organizations, agencies and businesses to create and maintain vibrant green spaces. For information, visit

Photo Credit: Rob Cardillo Photography

Did Your Hotel Take a Vacation From Public Relations 101?

As the summer travel season heats up, I’m reminded of many hotel stays over the years, some good and some bad. The really bad ones are always the first to come to mind.  While the incidents aren’t always memorable, the way they were handled leaves a lasting impression.

At the pool area of a Key West hotel, I was approached on my back by an iguana. Quite scary for a Philadelphian. Surprisingly, the hotel really didn’t seem fazed. Didn’t even ask if I was okay. And yes, this was a major hotel chain.

Once at the Jersey Shore, a major storm knocked out the power, including the key cards into the hotel rooms. No owners were to be found, and hotel guests were stranded outside during a monsoon for hours. The next morning, there was no form of compensation, credit or otherwise, for not being able to get into our rooms during the storm.

This year, I got locked inside the hotel bathroom after the door knob broke. For a change, this hotel reaction was positive; in fact, I was impressed. Not only did the engineers come to the room within five minutes to fix the knob, the front desk called three times that day to make sure I was okay.

That positive experience made me think back to my not so positive experiences. Isn’t the role of hotel management to be effective public relations practitioners — even if that is not their title? To care about what their stakeholders and customers think of the hotel by the time they leave? Today it doesn’t take long for a guest review to go up on TripAdvisor.  The hotel owners often post a nice response and take the conversation offline. But isn’t a face to face discussion with the guest the best way to address the incident?

Acknowledging that these hotels are in business to make money, we all know they can’t compensate guests by not charging for their stay every time an incident happens. But calling a guest to confirm that the matter has been appropriately resolved doesn’t cost money and goes a long way.

That’s handling your public.

These types of incidents are not exclusive to mediocre hotels; anything can happen at the high end chains as well.

I hope your hotel doesn’t take a vacation from public relations this summer.

But if it does, let’s share our ideas about how they could have effectively reversed the impact without being forced to operate in the red. Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below!

Karen Toner is a PPRA member and communications member at ParenteBeard, an accounting firm in Center City. She assures you in spite of her hotel “incidents,” she’s had many great vacation stays — made possible by the help of awesome hotel staff members.

Philly Celebrates National Travel And Tourism Week

Last week, members of Philadelphia’s hospitality industry joined together to celebrate National Travel and Tourism Week 2014 and kick-off the city’s big summer season. On Tuesday, May 6, hundreds of hospitality workers — including everyone from the presidents of the PHLCVB and Visit Philadelphia to Rocky impersonators — gathered on Broad Street to mark the occasion.

Each year, Philadelphia’s travel and tourism industry generates $10 billion in economic impact to the city, and employs 90,000 people in the region, according to Visit Philadelphia. Known for its historic sites, rich dining scene, and plethora of cultural institutions, the City of Brotherly Love is always a hot spot for visitors. The summer tends to be a particularly busy period for the city’s tourism industry, especially with the numerous festivals and other unique events that happen in Philadelphia during those months. 

Did you or your clients do anything special to celebrate National Travel and Tourism Week? Have anything planned to take advantage of the busy summer season?