Media Analysis: Garden titles ride consumer wave

Consumer gardening magazines have become big sellers for their publishers, with the likes of the Royal Horticultural Society's The Garden and BBC Gardeners' World leading the way.

With the first signs of spring in the air it is not just gardeners who are busy - so too are the increasingly competitive media that serve them. Chief among these are the consumer gardening magazines, a sector that is enjoying a relative boom while many others in publishing are far from flourishing.

According to latest ABC data there are ten consumer gardening titles, one more than in 2002 since BBC Worldwide launched BBC Easy Gardening in 2003. The data also shows a 6.4 per cent circulation growth in the sector from June to December 2003 compared to the same period in 2002.

Statistics like this have prompted many in the PR industry to take notice.

One of these is Robert Daines, who two months ago launched Greenfingers PR to specialise in the sector. He says: 'When you look at the number of firms advertising in the magazines, you realise that it is a growing market.'

He believes the sector's growth can be put down to a combination of the house price boom, general interest in DIY and increased stress in the workplace. 'People want to escape into their gardens,' he adds.

Rare opportunities for promotion

Within the sector the two runaway leaders are the Royal Horticultural Society's The Garden, with a circulation of 326,762, and BBC Gardeners' World, with a circulation of 285,772. Other titles such as Romsey Publishing's The English Garden and EMAP Active's Garden Answers lag far behind, below the 100,000 circulation mark.

Homebase PR manager Sarah Woodcraft says readers of most of the titles are extremely knowledgeable about the subject so the most successful way to get editorial coverage is to present 'the expert view'. She also says it is vital that PROs in the sector are aware of the seasonal cycle, with most of the magazines experiencing a significant news-stand sales drop in the latter six months of the year. 'Easter is the big time for us when people are starting to invest in their gardens,' she says.

Georgina McLaren, head of GM PR, whose Gardenia division promotes Marks & Spencer's flowers and plants range, says: 'Most magazines are not going to feature an item on, say, garden furniture every issue. The opportunities are rare - it's a question of taking them.'

BBC Gardeners' World

Publisher: BBC Worldwide

Adam Pasco: editor

Is there a boom in the gardening market and, if so, why?

It is a growing market worth £5bn with 20 per cent year-on-year growth.

It's a solid sector with a huge number of DIY stores and garden centres opening. People are taking to gardening for lifestyle reasons, wanting to do more with their space and enjoy it. There is also a subliminal aspect to do with awareness of the environment and relaxation.

What are the hot topics in gardening for consumers?

Many gardeners are like music fans. They have an appetite for things that are new so any new plants are of interest. Garden wildlife is another area; there is a growing market in things like bird feeders and boxes. The other issue is the increasing diversity in style.

People don't only want simple things. There is an emphasis on natural woods like willow and very modern materials like glass and stainless steel.

How has the magazine changed in recent years?

We had a redesign two years ago but the main difference last year was that the TV programme Gardeners' World changed presenters from Alan Titchmarsh to Monty Don.

That meant we had a new face for the magazine.

What are the key events in the BBC Gardeners' World calendar?

The Royal Horticultural Society shows at Hampton Court in July and the Chelsea Flower Show in May are very big, as is Gardeners' World Live at the Birmingham NEC in June.

The Garden

Publisher: RHS Publications

Jon Ardel: features editor

What is the ethos of the magazine?

It is the same as the Royal Horticultural Society - to improve the art, science and practice of horticulture in all its branches. We are editorially independent from the society and can, if it's called for, criticise it.

Describe a typical reader and what they want to read

The readers are experienced enthusiasts. We have a large elderly readership but it is getting younger. The readers want to know more about the practical side of gardening and want more features to help them. We don't simply cover gardens in stately homes in the South East. Our readers want real gardens.

What opportunities are there for PROs?

As the journal for a charity we tend to steer clear of product stories and won't do advertorials. Having said that we will feature something if it is innovative and groundbreaking - I'd be surprised if that happens more than once or twice a year. We ran one article recently about a fungi that was used in commercial gardening but had been developed for a consumer market. We also have an events listings section.

What are the important times of year for the magazine?

March, April and May are the really important issues for the obvious seasonal reasons. In May's edition we are doing an environmental special, which is an issue that is getting more prominence. We also cover all the main RHS events such as the Chelsea Flower Show and Hampton Court.

RHS events get preference but we do cover others.

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