Tony Abruscato is the owner and director of the Chicago Flower & Garden Show, which makes him one of the go-to gardening gurus in the Midwest. Tony’s vision inspires the beautiful gardens that bloom at Navy Pier each spring, and his careful direction ensures that this major production goes off without a hitch.
I interviewed Tony as part of our 6 Questions feature: a series of one-on-one interviews with people we work with who’ve made us proud. We get very close to our clients and their brands during the brand development process, and when we see them doing great work and achieving great things, it’s very personal to us. They’re rocking their brands in exciting and innovative ways, taking the ideas we developed together and using them to grow their organizations. We find how a brand works out in the “real world” fascinating and hope you will, too.
Read on to learn about the theme for the 2013 Chicago Flower & Garden Show, how on Earth you plan a show that involves pounds and mounds of dirt and flowers and how to garden without a backyard.
1. Last year, the theme for the Chicago Flower & Garden Show was “Hort Couture.” BatesMeron created blooming runway models and fashionista headlines to promote the show. This year, the theme is “The Art of Gardening” and our designs for signage, posters and ads are taking a more painterly bent. How do the theme and creative designs help promote the show?
The show theme has dual purpose: it not only allows us to keep our promotions fresh and new but also gives the garden builders inspiration for their gardens within the show.
The creative campaign created by BatesMeron is designed to catch the attention of consumers and pique their interest in the show. The billboards, transit advertising, print ads and TV spots keep our brand front and center in the first quarter and remind people that their favorite event is just around the corner. The theme also lets them know that they can expect something different than they have seen at past shows.
2. The Chicago Flower & Garden Show has been a celebrated Chicago event since 1847. Why do you think the show is so popular, year after year?
Chicago is a major center for gardening within the United States. I believe our typically cold winters inspire Chicagoans to celebrate the warmer seasons. The Flower & Garden Show has been a tradition of that inspiration and ideas for the seasons to come. The show offers not only beautiful gardens but realistic solutions that can be translated to your own backyard, patio or balcony.
3. While people will start seeing ads for the show in winter, planning for each year’s show starts as soon as the previous show closes its doors. What goes into planning and producing an event of this size, and how do you make sure that everything stays on track?
There are many moving parts to the Chicago Flower & Garden Show, from the gardens and marketplace to the educational workshops and seminars to cooking demonstrations—and of course, marketing and promotion. Our team has experience in logistical planning and sales, and we have created strategic partnerships with companies such as BatesMeron Sweet Design to help keep us on target.
We typically work from a deadline matrix and meet on a weekly basis to update each other on progress or areas we need to focus on. My goal is to be working closer to 18-24 months in advance of a show, which will allow for even greater integration of marketing ideas and planning.
4. Besides the feature gardens, which are created by professional landscapers and exterior designers, the show offers hands-on seminars, culinary demonstrations, Potting Parties and other activities. As an attendee, what is your favorite part of the show?
I don’t know if I can pick out one favorite aspect of the show, but obviously the gardens are a major attraction. I’ve also found that the seminars and workshops have been very helpful in improving my own gardening skills. I have used the principles learned at the show to make my yard and containers look the best they ever have.
The show can actually be a bit overwhelming—as show director, I’m obviously thinking about everything that needs to be done, but even as an attendee, the sheer size of the show can make it hard to decide what attractions to seek out. That’s why we worked with BatesMeron to develop this very cool “how to enjoy the show” infographic. It’s a flowchart—almost like a choose-your-own-adventure story—that helps you figure out what parts of the show would really appeal to you. This chart is a great, versatile piece that we think will help our guests get even more out of their Flower & Garden Show experience.
5. Since 2010, you’ve been actively promoting the Chicago Flower & Garden Show through social media, including Facebook and Twitter. How does this new avenue help you reach out to your audience and attract new people to the show?
Our social media has grown exponentially in the recent months, and we have found that it helps to engage our attendees and potential attendees long before the show ever opens. Facebook and our eNewsletter are more than just sales and marketing tools. We share gardening tips and give inspiration for your own green space, whether that’s a 5’x12′ balcony or a 1/2-acre backyard. We also hold giveaways and ask for our followers’ thoughts.
I think the biggest misconception with the show (for people that have not attended) is that it is a room of tables with your grandmother’s prize roses on display. Social media helps us to educate people about what they can expect at the show and how they can enjoy it even more.
6. As you know, I live in a condo in the city and don’t have a backyard to garden in. What would you say to my fellow high-rise and apartment dwellers who are interested in gardening but don’t have a lot of room to do so?
The Flower & Garden Show is a great place to learn more about small space gardening. I have a small balcony myself and after participating in our container gardening workshops (Potting Parties) and talking with professionals about the types of flowers and vegetables that might work best under my conditions, I have enjoyed my balcony so much more. I not only have flowers in containers, but I grow herbs and vegetables that I like to use when I cook…and it all comes from my balcony! I have also used plants that can be shifted indoors to give me year-round enjoyment of my containers.
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