SBJ/May 30 - June 6, 2011/In Depth

The Gatekeepers: John Price

Senior brand manager of sports marketing and sponsorship, Scotts Miracle-Gro Co.

Not surprisingly, one of the important things to know when pitching a company that markets grass seed and fertilizer is the seasonality of the products sold by the Scotts Miracle-Gro Co.

SCOTTS MIRACLE-GRO CO.
John Price
The company has nine MLB team sponsorships to complement its national MLB rights. So suitors have to be cognizant that the spring season for seeding and fertilizing lawns isn’t the same in the Texas Rangers’ DMA as it is in the New York market, where Scotts recently added the Yankees to its roster of club deals. Still, among the five or more daily calls or emails including sponsorship offers, there are still too many cookie-cutter pitches to the official lawn care company of MLB.

“We have almost universal brand recognition, so increased awareness is almost a moot point,” said Scotts’ John Price.

Very few of those calls come from people who have bothered to examine Scotts’ efforts online or inside a home improvement retailer. It’s all about educating, somewhat endemic to the do-it-yourself industry, but even more so in lawn and garden.

MLB’s verdant fields are an ideal connection between Scotts and consumers, but
aside from playing off MLB’s deep-rooted affinities, Scotts wants to simplify lawn care for those consumers who may be able to explain the balk rule, but don’t know how and when to fertilize.

“Lawn care is a category that’s confusing to most consumers, so our strategy is to connect, educate and demystify,” Price said. “We want to be the brand that connects homeowners with nature. If we can amplify that experience in an endemic way, then we’re doing the right thing — and that should increase sales.”

That can mean Internet instructional videos, printed booklets leveraging MLB grounds keepers, local sweeps, sponsoring in-store balloting for the MLB All-Star Game at more than 1,700 Lowe’s stores, a field refurbishment program, distributing prints of MLB diamonds with coupons attached to those touring fields, or sponsoring MLB grounds crews.

“We’re building consumer connections,’’ Price said. “Our brand name is already pretty well built.’’

What properties could do better: “Aside from lowering prices (laughs) … they should make it easier for us to activate. We try to build integrated marketing programs, but the fragmented nature of some of these properties makes it really hard and puts the onus on us to integrate.’’

Recent program that provided the best return and why: “We’re in the second year of sponsoring MLB All-Star Game balloting at Lowe’s. It’s increased our sales to that important customer, done the same for them while building their store traffic, underscored our overall sponsorship with MLB and its teams, and gotten the word out about [All-Star Game] balloting per se. So I’d say it’s worked every place we wanted it to.’’

The onset of social media means they can: “It’s now an important way for us to tap into consumer passion points, engage consumers and educate them. But Facebook is not your company microsite, so whatever you are doing won’t work if you come off too corporate — too serious and too commercial won’t work there.”
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