An open letter

Dear RSPB, Plant Life and Woodland Trust,

I’ve just returned from the excellent Gardener’s World Live show up at the NEC. I was extremely disappointed by all your stands and think that you missed an important opportunity to showcase and engage the public in your work.

First off, I am an enthusiastic amateur conservationist. I document my contribution in my diary here, partly to promote the organisations I’m involved with and partly, in my very small way, to provide information for the public on conservation issues.

I use all your websites to source reliable information, and wanted to visit your stands to find out about your current projects and have in depth conversations with staff about what they’re doing. The RSPB stand in particular had a lot of effort put in, and looked very appealing to enter.

However, the whole thing is just there for you to sell memberships and subscriptions. I was jumped on immediately on all three stands and just left with a bad taste. I really wanted to know about the work you are doing and have an opportunity to discuss with the experts.

I get that the magic knife guy and the hob stove cleaner guy just want to push as much product as possible during the show to justify their exhibitor fees. But your organisations have a much bigger mission than that.

You had thousands of people walking past your stands, most of whom probably know very little about habitat depletion, nature recovery and species decline. But they were interested in gardens and would be receptive to hearing something they could do to help in their own space.

I believe you should be using these show opportunities to provide good quality information to the public, and give them actionable steps they can do to help.

At the moment all you are saying is “give us money and we’ll go do this stuff on your behalf”.

I don’t have an issue with your people at the show. They were very friendly and bubbly. The problem is that your internal budget and objectives have this activity under sales and marketing, and so the stand staff were working to that brief.

I get that fund raising is critically important, and I expect that you are all pleased with the ROI from the weekend. All I am saying is that you could expand your show objectives to include other metrics like public awareness and engagement with the conservation issues.

Here’s what I think you could do to improve show outcomes:

  • Move part of the show budget into community engagement/project delivery and fund some of your project officers to attend the event alongside marketing staff.
  • Talk to stand visitors about your project information, ask them what area they are from, and how this work may apply in where they live.
  • Given them some material with one or two simple actions they can take in their garden to improve biodiversity.
  • Have part of the stand dedicated to memberships, but allow the project officers to point people in their direction. So there’s a clean hand off between information and sales.
  • But if all people take away from your stands is information, you should feel happy with that as a positive result.
  • Share out all event commission bonuses between all stand staff, so project officers aren’t tempted to start selling the moment someone wanders into the stand.

I meet many ecologists during the course of my volunteering, and without exception they all continuously deliver passionate, informative and accurate information about the work they do. The learning I get is one of the joyous rewards of taking part in conservation activities.

So, let them take this same passion and deliver it to a huge captive audience. Society and the environment will be much better off when reliable information is allowed to flood into our everyday lives.

Read more on this topic . . .