March 25, 2013

My Troy-Bilt Saturday 6 Partnership

Here is the story behind my new partnership with Troy Bilt, and why sometimes, a deal can be good for all of us.
Troy Bilt treated us Saturday 6'ers with a flight to Phoenix, VIP treatment at a Cleveland Indian's game
and a visit to the Desert Botanical Garden as we tested product and learned about the company.

Preface -  This SO not like me, but I am writing this long post about how ridiculously amazing some companies and social media agencies can be, especially when communicating with a blogger like me - one who hates advertising, but fair warning, I’ve been compensated with product and peanut butter deserts to be part of this very special project sponsored by Troy-Bilt called the Saturday6 – a creative project where 6 garden bloggers are invited to be brand spokespeople for a year. Here is the story about how the snagged me -seriously, peanut butter, chocolate and bacon combined. Ya, amazing. I will do anything for bacon and peanut butter as you can tell from my gut in the pictures. But that’s another story.

Last year, you may remember that I tested and then gave away two products for the Troy-Bilt company- you know, the once classic rototiller company that now makes so much more than tillers - like high quality mowers, leaf blowers and all sorts of gardening equipment, and all mostly here in the USA. Now that my blog is showing up in some important top ten lists, I am starting to get, well, countless requests from PR people trying to reach influential bloggers like me :) - mostly wanting free PR from us social media types who are connected to their target consumer. These mostly come in mass-emailed blind press releases that offering everything from free product in exchange for an ad or a link to just request for plain ‘ol free PR. I don't want to be commercial, so mostly, I pass.

This time, the offer was a bit different, and here's why:

The folks at Troy-Bilt and their agency took the time to care, and for me? That goes a long way.

Here we are, the new Saturday 6 crew along with the key players from the agency and from Troy-Bilt
while in Arizona two weeks ago.

As many of you know, my career ( my day job) keeps me smack in the middle of big business (full disclosure- I’m a creative director at Hasbro, you know, G.I. Joe, Transformers, My Little Pony, Furby), so, I ‘get it’ – I interact daily with ad agencies, PR firms, art reps and marketers all over the world, most don’t even know that I write a gardening blog ( and most probably don’t care, or if they did, they would just think that it was weird) - also am intimately familiar with how the world of advertising and branding is changing – super fast. I also steer clear of any commercial endorsements, or hidden sponsorship deals ( product placement, etc - so you ain't gonna see me repotting an aloe while "Wait, let me take a sip from this giant liter of soda in a red glass with a wave on it". 

Also, ain't gonna happen.

I know what it costs to run an ad in a national magazine, at least, when there were magazines. I know what it takes to place a TV spot, and what it costs to create one. I also know how these media outlets are changing –faster than anyone imagined.  Between you and me, a company offering me a plastic trowel or a free bag of blue fertilizer to reach 75,000 eyeballs doesn’t equal a $100,000 TV spot, but then, a million-plus page hits isn’t something to sneer at either. So as businesses shift their thinking and ad-dollars to social media attempts, some ugly things are happening.

The team at Troy-Bilt rolled out the red carpet for us, and even though I am not keen about lawn care nor
lawn equipment, I happen to have two acres of garden that needs constant care. So, I get it.
I was so impressed with the quality and care that goes into each of these machines.

This post is not about any of those sort of partnerships, it's about how some companies approach this sort of thing honestly, and creatively. A company has to work differently today in able to connect with a personal blog, and simply sending me a press release is not going to get me involved.

In short, I am not really in this for the money, which, I think you guys can tell by the lack of ugly ad’s right?. I’m a designer, and the aesthetic design on this site is important to me, and the experience you get on my site is important to me too, and yes, to my brand, (Yeah, OK…I need to think of my space as a ‘brand’) well, that all suffers if I make compromises - I may be a designer, but I am not naive - I need to have total control over it to keep it pure.

If you are serious about gardening, and serious about composting, then you need one of these -
a serious chipper/shredder. it's on my wishlist this year, and my wish may have just come true!
Maybe your's will come true too?

Now my story about this Troy-Bilt experience:

Last summer, I was approached by Troy-Bilt’s ad/PR agency to test a couple of products. I like Troy-Bilt,  and the deal was fair – no money, just  free product to give away. I accepted, and posted a nice honest review, and then offered the product to you. Fair enough. After all, I felt that I knew the Troy-Bilt brand well enough to truly recommend it – maybe because we have two old tillers in the shed that still work, a snow blower and a leaf blower - one tiller still works after 30 years, time tested and true. My geeky neighbor loves small engines, and always love talking about how Troy-Bilt packs oil into their….oh, I don’t know what it’s called – who am I foolin', - I know nothing about engines, but believe me, this guy does, so I trust him. Besides, when a small engine manufacturer has fan sites created by engine geeks, it says something.

The Troy Bilt mowers are stylish, use mostly American made parts, and are designed for people who love to work
in the backyards.

Fast forward to January when I was approached again by the Troy-Bilt agency, this time by their rep - Mary Jo. She said that she had a better, if not amazing offer for me - if I was interested. She was wondering if I would like to be one of their Saturday6 Spokespersons – a deal that would last a year, requiring me to write a couple of articles for their on-line newsletter THE DIRT, write some tweets and then to test or review a couple of products. In her email, she explained that I would also be able to share more impressive products with you – my readers – as free giveaways ( these are kind of big products,as you can imagine).

Amazeballs ( what my designers would say).

I was also invited to spend a weekend in Arizona ( Oh yeah!), with the Troy-Bilt team, to test product, be wined and dined, to be rolled in bacon, chocolate and peanut butter, and to meet the other Saturday6 bloggers.

Meet the Saturday 6 Team!

Hey, time to meet my fellow Saturday 6-ers! I almost forgot, please promise me that you will visit their sites and support them, they were all so smart, so nice and for whatever Kismet, we all bonded in a special way – new friends are rare, but, it’s funny how sometimes it all works out. I am happy to share their blogs with you!

Steve Asbell is the author of the blog The Rainforest Gardener. From Florida, he is a talented graphic designer, illustrator, artist and an plantsman. He secretly shared with us that he is working on his first book.

Amy Andrychowicz from Minnesota is the author of the blog Get Busy Gardening! might be a software developer  while are work, but  at home she is a deeply passionate gardener who has a the green gene big time.

 Noelle Smith Johnson from The Home Garden blog, is from Arizona. Not only is she a knowledgeable horticulturist, but she is also a successful landscape designer and a garden writer. In her spare time, she is also a busy mom!

David Townsend from the popular vegetable growing blog  Growing the Home Garden, lives in Tennessee with his ever-growing family, which he feeds from his garden. He is currently in the process of kicking-off his own nursery business 'The Blue Shed Gardens'.

Helen Yoest from the blog  Gardening with Confidence. is the author of the fab gardening book Gardening with Confidence. She is our own Elisabeth Lawrence - garden writer, plantswomen, location scout and stylist for many leading horticultural publications and books, she too is a mom!

Garden equipment and Matt? Not always a good mix, but I do have a few Troy-Bilt machines in the sheds, so
it is a brand that I not only believe in, but one I depend on year after year. With design
such as this on their new line of ride-on mowers? I could not resist.

So why did I agree to participate? Nah, not really for the free product or even for the deserts – I joined because this is a company that does everything right. I mean it. For example, last week I received an offer from a big blue fertilizer company via their PR agency, and they actually wanted me to post pre-written tweets about their brand, that they provided me, as well as requesting me to recommend their brand site for no reason at all- then to recommend a new app they created to market their brand. Why would I ever do that? The quotes about their greatness were pre-scripted, and thus would not be in my own voice, (what if I don’t even use the brand?) – come on people! Learn some social media skills, especially if you are a fortune 100 company!

Helen Yoest gets some practical advice on edging.

To contrast that, here is how the Troy-Bilt people play -

With my big-brand hat on, I wrote a list of questions to ask the team while playing on their buck, in Phoenix. Their agency rep MJ gladly read my questions. “Who is your target audience? What products are you trying to focus on from your portfolio of brands? What are my limitations? Are you trying to focus on a specific or target consumer like women or young dads?”

MJ’s response surprised (read- impressed) me. She said  “Matt, we want you to just be honest.  No need to mention Troy-Bilt or any products in your tweets or Facebook posts. We would like you to write one post about your visit with us and your experience in Phoenix (this post) and also about meeting your fellow Saturday6 blogger team, and then two articles about anything you want – as long as it’s about backyards, gardening or plants - we are hiring you to be our voice about gardening for our newsletter because we at the agency really are not serious gardeners and just not as knowledgeable as your real gardeners are. Just be honest, forthright and you don’t need to mention any products at all even in your tweets or even in your Facebook posts.” 

I was in.

MJ said all of the right things. We has total freedom to write honestly, and the last thing the team wanted was for me or any of the other Saturday 6’ers to feel as if they were uncomfortable with specific requests like pushing a product. My point is that Troy-Bilt believes enough in my brand, that they felt that my audience would sense any dishonestly, which goes to the core principles of their company, and why I decided to be a partner with them.

Another great PR/business lesson - learn from these, my Mom always said.

SO here I am, an official Saturday6 Troy-Bilt spokesperson for a year. You can expect two reviews of new product, some tweets and Facebook mentions, and a nice, little ad on my sidebar. I, get to eat bacon and chocolate until I puke, and I get to make a video for their website on anything I want about gardening, ( yes – finally you get to see me in a video) with no need to mention any brand or product.

This automatic starter was BRILLIANT! If you hate pulling the cord start you lawn and garden tool, this device will become your best friend. As if - a flashlight had a baby with you automatic car starter.


  1. i just wrote a novel about how much i love your blog, appreciate your openness with the troybilt sponsorship & other offers you have received. had a couple of paragraphs on how much & how rapidly blogging has changed, so many blogging for profit rather than passion, although i think it is great to make a living from blogging, just stay true to what you love,etc.

    then, i accidently deleted it :).

    so, i'll just say....recently found Growing with Plants, love it, love the down & dirty gardening info, great pics, super layout and thank you for only agreeing to promote products that you believe in.

    nanne, a transplanted alabamian, learning to garden in the midwest

  2. Wow, Nanne, Thanks so much for you nice comment, I really needed to read that today~! Welcome aboard!

  3. Humanity is all about persuasion, sales, bottom lines and getting ahead--whether we are communists or Industrialists--everyone has an agenda: there is a transcendent sort of integrity when the magician reveals the trick (which is still magical nonetheless): Troybilt is a fine company and it's no accident they have targeted you six! And you could make any endeavor compelling and true. Enjoyed your "crass commercial" post as much as any other--you are a magician!..have a great spring!


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