Mother's Day tips from the world's biggest florist

Christopher G. McCann and James F. McCann.
Christopher G. McCann and James F. McCann.

Chris and Jim McCann, founder and president of, have stopped reminding their customers to buy flowers

Earlier this week, announced exclusively on Campaign US that it had partnered with IBM’s Watson to create a "digital concierge" named GWYN that used conversation to help customers find and send their Mothers’s Day gifts. For the 40-year-old retailer, it was just the latest in a series of investments in artificial intelligence, following its debut of a chatbot on Facebook Messenger and an integration with Amazon’s Alexa.

Despite the somewhat archaic name (though yes, they do still answer the phone), has long had a reputation for innovation, allowing customers to order by phone when such things seemed exotic, and launching an ecommerce site in the digitally ancient era of 1995. We took the opportunity to talk to brothers Jim McCann, founder and CEO, and Chris McCann, president, about their current approach to advertising and what they know about Mother’s Day that the rest of us don’t. is the 800-pound gorilla of florists. How much of your annual revenue depends on Mother's Day?
Jim McCann: Our everyday business — birthdays, anniversaries, get well, just because, anniversaries — is 80% of our business. Then, those three big floral holidays — Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Christmas — are 20% to 25%, and Mother's Day is the largest of the floral holidays.

Chris McCann: Keep in mind that today, more than 55% of our business is gourmet food gifting.

Even with Mother’s Day approaching, we don’t see as many commercials for on TV as we did a few years ago. How is your approach to advertising different than it was five, 10 years ago?
JM: Our advertising mix has changed. It's less traditional media, and the majority now would be social media. But we still do TV commercials. This time, I was smart enough to feature my granddaughter in the spot. At seven years old, she's a lot better-looking than either Chris or I. In fact she was in the office today, because we had Bring Your Child to Work Day. I stretched it to grandkids.

You’ve worked with a number of creative agencies in the past, including McCann Erickson, KBS and Mullen. Do you have an AOR these days?
We don't work with agency of record. We work with agencies for different areas of expertise. Each brings different specialties to the table. We work with search agencies, we work with an email agencies. We work with display agencies from time to time. Different data agencies.

CM: Targeting agencies.

JM: The agency that's done our recent TV creative, an agency called ONE/X, based out of LA.

Any particular reason you don't subscribe to the AOR model?
We tend to move so fast that we need to work with multiple agencies so we can quickly do things like we're doing now, like working with the development agency that knows how to develop on the Watson platform. We find we're better off working with the multitude of agencies on a project basis. It gives us the flexibility and speed.

JM: We're just not spending enough in the traditional media to justify an agency of record right now.

What do you know about the consumers and Mother's Day that other marketers don't?
JM: Because we have such brand prominence in the floral and gift world, we find that we don't have to go out there and scream, "Buy flowers!" From a social media perspective and from a broadcast perspective, we're out there inciting and incenting you to realize the power you have to impact someone's emotions in a very significant way. We remind you that you can do that for free.

You can come to our Facebook page and say something terrific about your mom, or your sister, who you think does a terrific job as a mom. We give you ways, like the hashtag #momsquad to express yourself and show that to her for free. Then, if you do that, we encourage you to send a thoughtful note to mom.

If you want to step it up, you want to send a beautiful box of chocolates, or nice little iced tea pitcher, some butter-cream cookies, then you will come to us because we've helped you realize, "Hey, I have the power to influence people."

CM: I think what's always important is the product. Having a product that's relevant for the consumer and relevant to what they're looking for at the time of the year.

JM: And a range of price points.

For a lot of people, Mother’s Day is a last-minute holiday. Are you satisfied with the percentage of those last-minute purchases you’re capturing?
JM: First, Mother's Day is about twice as big a holiday for us than Valentine's Day — I think there are a lot more moms than there are sweethearts. But Valentine's Day is actually much more of a last-minute holiday. Mother's Day is a two-week holiday, and each day is bigger than the next until the Thursday before, and then it trails off over the weekend. It's much less of a last-minute holiday than you would think.

CM: I think that's because moms have taught us all very well.

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