Glee: Showing the way

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Using media to help a top trade show ride the changing economy and shrinking audiences

The challenge

Established in 1976, the UK’s biggest exhibition for products aimed at garden, pet and leisure trade buyers, Glee, had grown to a huge, annual show sprawling across nine halls of Birmingham’s NEC. After 30 years as the top industry event, however, Glee was starting to attract industry criticism for its approach, costs and dominance. Previously loyal trade association partners were talking about setting up rival, niche exhibitions; and formerly flush exhibitors were cutting back on exhibition spending as the economy, and marketing budgets, tightened. The show’s core visitor audience of UK garden retail buyers was also contracting: the sector was consolidating as many independent garden centres became part of major chains, contracted their teams or closed altogether – leaving far fewer individual buyers making often larger purchasing decisions. Simultaneously, cost, lack of time and the success of even larger European garden trade exhibitions meant that it was becoming harder to attract international buyers to visit Glee.


Our approach

Tasked with moving Glee forward into a more challenging future, Hornby Whitefoot took over the PR reins in 2006. All activity was firmly targeted at inspiring trade audiences: engaging prospective exhibitors and visitors from both home and abroad to attend the show.


Embracing the new economic backdrop, competitor challenges and the mood of criticism towards the show, we undertook a raft of year-round, proactive media relations to address and counteract potential issues, then grow and cement Glee’s authoritative, must-see status. In the UK this took the form of topical and informative news releases highlighting angles such as profit potential and buyer targeting to hit the right buttons with exhibitors. Buyers were shown how Glee provided the widest, most efficient purchasing opportunity under one roof, was a unique launch-pad for emerging product innovations, and offered the year’s best chance to network with industry influencers. As sections, features and visitor attractions at the show evolved, we generated the media exposure to attract interest. Any criticisms that arose about the show was constructively addressed, and counteracted.


In key target overseas nations such as the Netherlands, Germany, France, Australia and Japan, potential buyers were wooed to Glee with special editorial features on topics such as Britain’s illustrious gardening heritage. Hornby Whitefoot was also commissioned by the UKTi to produce two special British Gardening reports, sent to international buyers to showcase the best British product stories at Glee, and help attract inward investment.


During each Glee itself, the Hornby Whitefoot team also runs the on-site press office, welcoming scores of the industry’s key trade and consumer journalists as well as liaising with hundreds of exhibitors, securing top industry influencers as judges for Glee’s annual New Product Awards, and coordinating hundreds of must-have, ‘VIP goody bags’.


After some recession-related initial contraction in the late 2000s, in recent years Glee has seen a fresh surge of success and growth, as well as increased popularity and interest across the industry.


The results

  • Eleven years (and counting) of continually increased UK media coverage
  • In 2015, 170 press cuttings were achieved, representing an advertising equivalent ROI of 1:14
  • Strongest possible trade media relationships have generated year-round editorial opportunities
  • Enquiry handling and expert PR advice provided to cores of exhibiting companies each year
  • Continual liaison with leading individuals from industry associations such as the HTA and RHS