Former Unilever marketing boss Keith Weed is exchanging the cut and thrust of the advertising industry to get his hands dirty in the gardening world after being appointed president of the Royal Horticultural Society.
Since stepping down from Unilever last year, Weed has taken on a number of non-exec roles, including positions at WPP and Sainsbury’s, while also being president of the Advertising Association.
Of course, the irony of a Weed running the RHS has not been lost on many, especially the new president. He told The Times: “My dad was a Weed but my mother was a Hedges. If a Weed gets together with a Hedges, I think they’re going to give birth to the president of the RHS.”
He succeeds Sir Nicholas Bacon and takes up the role at an unprecedented yet opportunistic time in the organisation’s 216-year history.
Like many charities, the RHS has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and is expecting to record an £18m loss in 2020 after being forced to cancel nearly all this year’s shows, including Chelsea Flower Show, Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival and RHS Flower Show Tatton Park, as well as the 2021 Chatsworth Flower Show and Cardiff Flower Show.
However, many believe Covid-19 has made people far more appreciative of their gardens, as evidenced by the fact that 15 million people visited the RHS website in the first 100 days of the lockdown, compared with 20 million throughout 2019.
Weed commented: “There was so much enjoyment from gardening in lockdown, and more people gardening than ever before. Not just gardening, but also thinking about real environmental sustainability. Gardening has had a renaissance over the past few months.
“In some ways we’ve learnt new behaviours under Covid — washing hands, social distancing, facemasks. We would hope that one of the things we can do is be better on behaviour that we can do as gardeners that can have a meaningful impact.
“These are some of the things we can tap into. We need to mainstream sustainability in our lives. It’s a call for gardeners, current and future, to get behind the revolution. It’s a fabulous time to get involved.”
He said wants to “make sure the offer for gardening is accessible to all” and added: “Post-lockdown I was at Hyde Hall. They were talking about diversity they’ve noticed since reopening, a more diverse group of people of ethnic backgrounds, and of age. There’s more people that have discovered gardening than before and I want to encourage that.”
Weed is also keen to get companies to embrace gardening to stave off mental health issues, “the area where someone is well enough to start engaging with life but not well enough to go back to work”. He said that he wants businesses “to support and sponsor employees to start getting back to work by working in gardens”.
The new president will also no doubt be keeping a close eye on the RHS’ digital transformation strategy, which last year saw the organisation implement a digital membership scheme with the aim of boosting customer engagement among its 500,000 members.
Using Silverbear’s proprietary software, developed using Microsoft Dynamics 365, the initiative aims to improve the member experience, increase security around data collection and eliminate the time associated with employees manually writing out membership forms at shows before inputting the details at RHS offices.
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