The floral industry scored a major win last week in its efforts to combat negative floral advertisements and references around the holidays.
For more than 20 years, florists have been frustrated and annoyed by Vermont Teddy Bear Company’s (VTBC) marketing, which repeatedly disparages flowers. The Society of American Florists has reached out to the company dozens of times, urging them to reconsider their approach, only to be ignored or rebuffed — until now.
After receiving an email from SAF that addressed the floral industry’s concern’s with VTBC’s negative approach and this year’s commercial in particular, which showed dead flowers in a vase, CEO Bill Shouldice replied on Feb. 8: “I hear you loud and clear.”
The next day, in a follow-up phone conversation with Jenny Scala, SAF’s director of marketing and communications, Shouldice, who took over as CEO four years ago, said, “If I could pull the ads now, I would but they’re already scheduled and paid for, but you can bet you won’t hear those ads again next Valentine’s Day.”
The shift represents a remarkable turnaround from a company that has disparaged flowers at varying levels in their advertisements since the ’90s, said Scala.
“There were certain years that the negativity would be relatively tame but then the blatant disparagement would flare back up again,” she said. “SAF has reached out to VTBC’s marketing department every year, sending emails, faxes, letters and phone calls, trying to get to the right person to listen to the floral industry’s point of view.”
Therein lies “half the battle” of fighting negative publicity, Scala said. Finding a contact at the company who’s most likely to be receptive to SAF’s message isn’t easy. “Ideally, we like to go beyond a general email address and connect with the individual responsible for the marketing campaign,” said Scala. Marketing representatives at VTBC have stood firm behind their approach over the years, Scala said, and information on how to connect directly with the the company’s CEO proved elusive — until this year, when Scala was able to send her concerns directly to Shouldice. In an email, Scala wrote: “Your products make wonderful gifts, as are flowers, or any other gift that is the perfect fit for the recipient. Shouldn’t we let the consumer decide? On behalf of thousands of small businesses in the floral industry, we respectfully request that you rethink negative promotions and focus on the many merits of your products rather than disparaging other industries. Keeping things positive reflects well on all involved.”
Shouldice took over as CEO in January 2013. Prior to that, he was CEO of the family-owned Vermont Country Store and Commerce Secretary of Vermont under Governor Howard Dean.
During their Feb. 9 conversation, Scala asked Shouldice why the change of heart. Shouldice’s answer: SAF’s email said it best.
“We have the world’s greatest bears, and we should be promoting our merits,” Should said. “Let’s bury the hatchet, and move forward.”