THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
PROJECT EVERGREEN: GENERATING MILLIONS OF CONSUMER IMPRESSIONS WITHOUT SPENDING MILLIONS OF DOLLARS
by Den Gardner
Would you like to learn how you can communicate your message to your customers without spending a lot of money?
Of course you would. That is exactly what Project EverGreen has accomplished in less than two years. And it continues to do so, focusing on public relations and publicity as its primary vehicles to tell the story about the benefits of green spaces.
Project EverGreen is a national non-profit organization whose very existence is to raise awareness among consumers by promoting the environmental, economic and lifestyle benefits of green spaces. Project EverGreen was founded by an alliance of large and small companies, associations, contractors and suppliers who provide services and products for green spaces.
Why was it created? To counter the voice of activists and others who were promoting alternatives to well-maintained green spaces. This could have dire consequences to thousands of small businesses throughout the country — landscapers, lawn care operators, sod producers, nursery and greenhouse growers, golf course superintendents, sports turf managers, professional grounds managers and others who maintain their livelihoods by creating green spaces for consumers.
Project EverGreen encompasses all the people, products and services used for green spaces and the benefits of maintaining them. They call this group the "green industry."
As a non-profit organization, it serves many masters. It relies on public relations to relay its message to all of its audiences, including consumers and potential and existing donors in the green industry.
PARTNERING WITH LIKE-MINDED PEOPLE
One of the primary things they have done to immediately establish credibility is ally Project EverGreen with non-profit organizations connected to green spaces and with similar missions. These partnerships give them a solid story to tell both consumer and trade media, while simultaneously working directly with the public.
This summer Project EverGreen folks were on hand to kick off the first games of the fall season at the WRAL Soccer Center in Raleigh, N.C., where they had donated more than 150 man-hours and $12,000 in
labor and materials to enhance the playing field.
Hundreds of soccer parents and players stopped by the Project EverGreen (PE) tent to receive a cold PE water bottle, sunflower seeds to plant, and a handout featuring tips for maintaining their own turf at home. Additionally, one lucky parent won the "Gift of Green" — free lawn care service for a year from Weed Man
As a sponsor of America in Bloom, Project EverGreen hosts an annual contest that awards communities and institutions working to "Plant Pride in Their Communities." The 2005 Project EverGreen land-scaped areas champion was Westlake, Ohio. Westlake received the award because of its high standards, ordinances controlling development that respect the topography and existing site features, livable housing developments, office parks and municipal properties that consider the landscape and the preservation of its amenities.
This summer they launched their pilot program in Minnesota with the Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity at a landscape completion celebration for four families. As the crews laid the sod, city officials, Habitat for Humanity and Project EverGreen spokespersons made a presentation to the families receiving the homes, followed by an outdoor lunch.
In 2006, they plan to triple their number of our consumer events and grow each program to increase national consumer awareness of the tangible benefits of green spaces. "The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company shares Project EverGreen's concerns that homeowners and the public in general may not realize the value of green spaces," explains Chris Schmenk of Scotts. "Well-maintained green spaces are more than aesthetically pleasing; they improve our environment and add to our physical and emotional well-being."
RECOGNITION BRINGS REWARDS
An oriental proverb says, "If you wish your merit to be known, acknowledge that of other people." In keeping with the spirit of that philosophy, Project EverGreen has developed two awards of their own.
The "Because Green Matters Award" is presented each year on Earth Day, to a company, organization or individual that promotes the beneficial effects of green spaces through a major project to create or improve a green space.
In 2005, Project EverGreen recognized the University of Akron for adding 30 acres of open green spaces, featuring many new and abundant landscape enhancements, including the planting of 30,000 new trees that line the campus. "The University of Akron embodies exactly what we promote through Project EverGreen," says Paul McDonough, of LESCO and president of Project EverGreen. "It is creating an environment at the campus that encourages a sense of identity for the students and helps them see how green spaces enhance their outlook and well-being."
The "Project EverGreen Steward-ship Award" is given at their discretion to a company, organization or individual who has done great work that showcases the environmental, economic and/or lifestyle benefits of green spaces. This year, Mayor Richard M. Daley received the award for his efforts on behalf of the city of Chicago.
Mayor Daley is credited with reviving parks in Chicago, which cover over 7,730 acres and have an annual budget of $280 million. He cleaned them out, rescued schoolyards from asphalt and improved park maintenance.
A PUBLICIST'S DREAM
By connecting the Project EverGreen message to timely issues the media are communicating to their audiences, it will become the resource for the media whenever they may need information about the benefits of green spaces. For example, this winter Project EverGreen is bringing together its message with autumn and winter tips for maintaining yards and gardens.
Part of their consumer public relations initiative is to give national television, radio, magazine and newspaper media a touchable reminder of "why green matters." Project EverGreen is sending topiaries to the top tier of journalists and producers that they want to establish a strong relationship with. The topiary will serve as a long-lasting reminder about the benefits of maintained green spaces.
Project EverGreen also seeks to give the organization a face by visiting the media in person. They combine the travel schedules of their board members to set up personal meetings with consumer and green industry media.
IT'S IN THE WAY ITS USED
The culmination of all of these efforts is in merchandising them back to the industry, donors and potential contributors. Project EverGreen uses regular e-newsletters to reach this audience, as well as news releases and news conferences to highlight major announcements and reports.
The board of directors and officer's group goes the extra mile to represent Project EverGreen at trade shows and industry events. "Project EverGreen has a high profile at all of the major green industry shows it attends," says
Finally, Project EverGreen keeps their finger on the pulse of the green industry by tracking changes in consumer attitudes through yearly independent market research. By relating hard data to how the benefits of green spaces are perceived by consumers, it is able to adjust its message appropriately. At the same time, the research results give Project EverGreen another layer of valuable information to provide to the media.
"Knowing consumer attitudes is crucial to this effort," says Norman Goldenberg of TruGreen ChemLawn. "We have a huge job ahead of us to show consumers that well-maintained green spaces do not happen by chance. Furthermore, we need to show consumers that there are definite environmental, lifestyle and economic benefits of green spaces. We need to know what consumers are thinking about our business and change attitudes if need be."
All of these tactics can be applied on a large or a small scale to help your organization or company communicate with its audiences. For more information about Project EverGreen, visit www.projectevergreen.com.
Den Gardner is owner of Gardner & Gardner Communications, New Prague, Minn. He also serves as executive director of Project EverGreen.