There’s a dynamic duo in horticulture that has brought the green industry to the forefront of the public eye. It’s the mother and daughter team of Suzi McCoy and Katie Dubow. Suzi is the founder of Garden Media Group and Katie is the current president of the business. Suzi, a native South Carolinian, started her business as a general practice public relations firm under the name of IMPACT Marketing and PR Inc. in 1987. Her diverse clientele ranged from the mushroom industry to steeplechase horse trainers.
Her first client was Conard Pyle/Star Roses, which introduced her to the world of horticulture. Suzi said that it was an industry filled with true ladies and gentlemen. After attending a Garden Writers of America (now GardenComm International) symposium in Boston, she came away from that conference with a new goal and decided to focus on horticulture and outdoor living as a niche market.
She worked hard and positioned herself in places where she knew she could make a difference and built her reputation. Suzi said the editors at the big magazines were extremely helpful and found that everyone was really cheering for her across the industry, and everyone looked out for each other. One of her first clients came from a rival PR firm who couldn’t take the customer on at that time. Suzi said she found by staying positive, listening to her clients and getting results, as well as managing a smart team, helped pave the way for the firm’s success.
“Garden Media Group helped put our brand on the horticultural map,” says Mark Highland, president of The Organic Mechanics Soil Company. “Their efforts helped our website rise in SEO ranking and got us regional and national exposure on multiple television networks. GMG speaks the language of horticulture and marketing, and they bring a positive attitude to everything they do.”
Suzi has witnessed and been a part of big changes in the industry. She has seen a large number of turnovers and ownership changes of small growers and garden centers. Suzi believes one of the biggest challenges the green industry faces is how to spread the marketing message with so many communication platforms available. “The way that we communicate with the end-user is so different than it was 30 years ago. It will take continued exploration of new avenues to attract and engage consumers. We have a tremendous array of wonderful products we need to get in front of these consumers to show them how growing a plant can be Instagramably easy or it can be a TikTok challenge, depending on the consumer’s level of expertise.”
The way the green industry engages new gardeners and helps them become successful, as well as continuing to offer seasoned gardeners “something to brag about,” will help all the companies in the entire supply chain, Suzi says.
“Once someone has experienced the gratification of growing beautiful flowers and tasty tomatoes, gardening can continue to be a lifelong interest,” she says.
As far as predictions about the industry, McCoy says, “You’ll have to ask Katie Dubow, she’s the trendspotter now!”
Katie manages the firm’s annual Garden Media Group Trends Report, something the team amply researches and presents to the market.
“[The trends report] is a brand of its own and is always leading our industry forward,” says Sid Raisch, president of Horticultural Advantage.
Katie grew up in the heart of America’s garden capital just about a mile from Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square. She took over the business in January 2020 after Suzi retired with plans to spend more time with her husband and granddaughters, travel more often, play golf, paint and volunteer.
But Katie didn’t always want to follow in her mother’s footsteps.
“I think many children don’t ever envision themselves in their parents’ jobs, working together, living back where they grew up — or at least I certainly didn’t,” Katie recalls.
She studied communications at Northeastern University in Boston with a sports broadcasting concentration (she wanted to be one of the first female sideline reporters), and she landed a job with the Boston Celtics while still in college. Her first job out of college was at CBS television in New York. She quickly realized that she wasn’t cutthroat enough for the broadcasting industry.
She started taking tours with Garden Media Group and GardenComm International and began to fall in love with the people in the industry.
“Everyone was always so willing to help, nurture and grow — not just plants but each other,” Katie says.
And it was so different from the New York City work culture she was used to. Next, her love of plants began to develop. When asked what makes her love this industry, she said she loves that people don’t enter this industry for status, money or fame, but because “it’s what they love, and there is a passion about sharing that love and helping others find their passion, too.”
Katie is mom to two girls, ages 4 and 7. Of course there are still a lot of roads to travel before she knows if her daughters will be interested in the business.
“I just asked them [about being interested in my job] and they said, ‘um, kind of.’ They like having plants in the house and they like knowing that someone else will take care of them.”
Katie is enthused about the future of the green industry.
“Oh, our future is bright. We’ve moved past houseplants as the gateway and people are invested. They are building community through plants, they are creating space in their lives for caring for them and getting joy out of them. These are the things that embed us in someone’s life — and no matter where they move, what comes up, it’s in their DNA. When we nurture an entire new generation to respect the earth, plant flowers, grow their own food, and garden for wildlife, we can be proud of the work we’ve done.”