What Luxury Means to Hodges

By Elisabeth Edelman

We at The Hodges Partnership have been developing a luxury practice over the last couple years.  As with most things, the perception of luxury depends on the lens used.  I wanted to take a moment and discuss what luxury means to us and why we are so passionate for this sector.

If you turn to the dictionary, you will find definitions of abundance, extravagance and the enjoyment of pleasures or comforts that are not absolutely necessary.  Some equate luxury with items bearing exorbitant price tags.  Others might get philosophical on you and explain that luxury is intangible, a precious moment of satisfaction or ease.

We take a slightly different perspective.  To us, the notion of luxury reflects a dedication to sourcing and serving the best of the world’s talents and resources to create a product of meaning and value.  I see this in a jeweler’s seventh-generation artisans taking days to carefully shape pieces of sterling silver and gemstones into delicate bangles.  I see this in a retailer whose every catalog is held to the standards of an editorial fashion shoot.  I see this in a designer spending years perfecting the shape of a garment and traveling to Italy to find just the right fabric.

We love working with this industry because we share our clients’ pride in creating these amazing goods and services.  We have the privilege of getting to know the businesses inside out, hearing the stories and seeing the hard work that is put in everyday to deliver at such a caliber.

But who says luxury can’t have a sense of humor?  I love this shot from May 2011 issue of Harper’s Bazaar with the cast of Bridesmaids in the midst of a materialistic orgy, cleverly likening Bridesmaids as the female version of The Hangover.

Facebook Timeline for Brands. Holy S#@!

If you are a Facebook marketer like me, today is like Christmas (or for me Chanukah) in February.

Because Facebook Timeline for Brands is here and we have a month before it kicks in for good, whether we’re ready or not.

At first blush (here’s the THP page) it is pretty much what we expected with:

  • The new cover photo offering great promotional opportunities
  • The ability to highlight stories for greater impact
  • The ability to minimize or totally edit past posts to tell your story better

But a deeper dive has marketers like me salivating because:

  • Apps for landing pages, contests etc. now have a more prominent place directly under the cover photo and next to the new photos box.  This will likely lead to greater engagement and interest
  • For admins, the more streamlined admin panel give you additional tools to help you share the page with others including the ability to easily import emails from outside services like Outlook and LinkedIn.

Still to be answered is additional functionality like how this will impact landing pages, etc.  But my first guess is they will still exist and have greater cross-promotional opportunities with the Timeline page.

So the race is on.  If you haven’t created a cover photo or photos, what the heck are you waiting for?

Please share your initial thoughts in comments below.  We’ll have additional posts in the coming days.

Ready?  Go!

Facebook’s Timeline Cover is valuable brand space

Time to get on my PR/social media soup box and proclaim from on high:

IF YOU ARE A BRAND, COMPANY OR ORGANIZATION AND NOT MAKING IT EASY FOR FOLKS TO SHOW YOUR “COLORS” THROUGH THEIR TIMELINE COVER THEN SHAME ON YOU!

So what do I mean when I say “show your colors?”  My current example (below) comes from my own timeline which is now sporting art work supplied by my fellow Springsteen fans promoting his new album coming out in March.

Think of the “cover” as the new expanded billboard version of your profile picture (interesting article on it here).  Now instead of changing your profile picture to show your allegiance to a cause, team or organization or to promote an upcoming event, you can have it live separately on your cover.  It’s also takes about three seconds to change the cover so you can switch it out pretty easily.

Since people will now see someone’s  Timeline when they seek them out on Facebook, think of how important the cover can be in the promotion of a brand, cause, team or event.  It’s really a low-cost no-brainer.  All you have to do is create and supply your evangelists with the artwork and let them do the viral work for you by sending the photo or illustration to all their friends.

Off the soap box now.  Please return to your normal Friday schedules.

Two great upcoming #RVA events

It’s been awhile since the last post but things have been busy at work and with spring break  (Hogwarts was very fun). I welcome you all back with news of two fun events on the horizon.

Amber Naslund

The first is an honor to be a part of, as we’re sponsoring the event.  She may not know this but there are few people who have influenced me and in turn the direction of our business, than Amber Naslund (@ambernaslund).  Almost three years ago when I dove into the world of social media, Amber was there.  With her blog Altitude Branding, now Brass Tack Thinking, her availability and advice on Twitter, and her welcoming friendship when we met face to face at Blog Potomac, Amber was and is a teacher and mentor on the topics of social media, social business, online civility and fun in general.   In her position at Radian 6, she is a nationally recognized voice in social business.

She is speaking in Richmond at this Thursday’s Social Media Club meeting promoting “The Now Revolution,” the book she co-authored with another personal fav of mine, Jay Baer.  If there is one event to go to this year, it is this Social Media Club event.  Period.

Second, for those who didn’t receive a Facebook or email invite, consider yourselves invited to “Opening Day” at The Hodges Partnership and Hodges Digital Strategies next Tuesday, May 10 at our Shockoe Bottom HQ from 12noon-5pm.  This open house celebrates the renovation and expansion of our physical space.

We will celebrate in true baseball style with hot dogs, popcorn, giveaways and a “first pitch” for clients at 1:05pm.  BTW, we’re still looking for someone to sing the National Anthem so if you can sing it and sing it well, please comment below.

Please RSVP on this Facebook event page or leave a comment below, as we need to know how many hot dogs to order. 🙂

Looking forward to seeing all of you at both events.

#RVA and Creativity, one year later. #RVACreates

One of the most viewed posts in this blog’s two-plus year history was one I wrote on Richmond and the concept of creativity.

Posted early last March, I made the case that Richmond’s “brand” should not rely on its history but on its future and that future should highlight the strong creative community that exists here.

The reaction and comments I received from that post were stunning to me with most in favor of the idea and making suggestions as to how we could harness and celebrate Richmond’s creative spirit.

Little did I know, at the exact same time, some of the most creative people in Richmond (most of them a lot smarter than me) we exploring the same idea and were planting the seeds to do something about it.

People like the great crew at Venture Richmond, Kelly O’Keefe at VCU’s BrandCenter and Matt Williams of The Martin Agency were picking the brains of the talented BrandCenter students to forge and idea.  Over the months a larger group that includes folks from West Cary Group, Elevation, JHI and even us at THP, plus local civic groups and others that I will apologize to for forgetting, having been meeting to figure out a way to help celebrate Richmond’s creativity.

Not in and obnoxious let’s force this thing down everyone’s throats way.  But in a way in which everyone can participate and everyone can celebrate.  Most importantly, in a way that everyone can contribute to publicly.

What the BrandCenter students identified early on was the adoption of “RVA” as a common ID for Richmond.  Many companies, online communities, etc. have already incorporated RVA into their language.  Twitter has spurred this by the mutual adoption of the #RVA hashtag as the universal Richmond ID.

Fast forward past all those meetings with all those people smarter than me and what has emerged is RVA Creates.

Is it a brand?  I wouldn’t call it that.

Is it a movement?  Could be.

Is it a state of mind? I hope so.

Is it an opportunity? Without question.

How can you participate?  Easy.

First, go to RVACreates.com and read up on what you can do.  You can send in your examples of Richmond’s creativity to rvacreates@gmail.com and it might be featured on the website, the RVA Creates blog or on the RVA Creates Facebook page in the near future.  We’re looking for any or all examples that you can come up with whether your an artist, an architect or an accountant.

Please also read the blog and become a fan of the fan page, more cool stuff coming to both those places.

You can also create your own example of RVA creativity by filling in the RVA generator on the website.  It is a self-explanatory process and we encourage you to use the RVA you generate as an avatar for social media or as a signature on your email, a poster, whatever.

This is the beauty of RVA Creates.  If it becomes a brand or a movement or a way of life, we can all have a part of it.

In a society where others seem to always to define us, this time we can all define what our community truly is and what makes us great.

Let’s have some fun as we Create.

2011: The year of the Tablet

So we gave my in-laws an iPad for Christmas.

I love my in-laws, but when my wife first suggested that we and her uncle go dutch on the iPad for my in-laws I gave her one of those looks.

You know the look.

My in-laws are wonderful but they’re the folks in the family who needed me or my brother-in-law to come over to fix the blinking clock on the VCR.

But my wife consulted her uncle who swore that each of her parents played with his iPad when they visited him.  So we bought the iPad.

And then an interesting thing happened, a week later we talked her my sister-in-law who said that each of her parents spent the whole week on the iPad checking the internet and playing games we had loaded for them.

And that is why 2011 will be the “Year of the Tablet.”

Of course, that’s not the only reason.  This week at the Consumer Electronics Show, more tablets will be introduced to entice the masses.  Some will be smaller than the iPad and other will run on the Android operating system.  But they will offer similar alternatives that Droid phones have offered to iPhones.  Experts expect tablet sales to quadruple in 2011.  They have already eaten into the Netbook market.

And of course, that’s all before the iPad2 launches later this year.

What does that mean for us in marketing and PR?

  • We need to understand how people use their tablets.  They are a great tool to check emails and for internet use.  But it is through Apps that they really come to life.  If your brand does not have an App you will be missing on the great tablet opportunity.
  • If not an App make sure your website is optimized for mobile use.  You may also want to consider how extensive you want to go down the “Flash” road, as flash-heavy websites are still no good for use on Apple products.  This may be mitigated by the growing Android tablet market.
  • If they are better “web-access” tools, they are also better social media platform tools, right?  For the most part.  It depends on how people access their social media platform of choice, through the web or through an App.  For example, Facebook has a much richer tablet (and mobile) experience on the web than through Apps.  On the web you can access custom landing pages, on Apps not so much.  The bottom line is if you think of a tablet as a larger smartphone (more on that coming), and people use their smartphones to check in or update status, then the tablet provides a bigger screen and better experience to Facebook, Tweet, Foursquare, whatever…on.
  • If you believe that the iPad2 will include two cameras, we are then just a short step away from your tablet becoming your videophone, with a much bigger screen.  The new Skype App just released for iPhone is a step in that direction.
  • The bottom line is there are two ways to look at how we communicate to folks online.  First is which platform they use, websites, Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Second is which devices they use to access them, desktops, laptops, smartphones, tablets.  Brands need to “be” on all these places and they need to offer what consumers and fans want, interactivity, information, offers, etc.

So if you agree that 2010 was the Year of Mobile, 2011 is the Year of the Tablet, or Year of Mobile2, the sequel.  The tablet enables mobile but in a larger-screen way.  For communicators who want to extend their brands, understanding how people use these devices is critical since people not only take them from meeting to meeting but from room to room.

If you haven’t figured out a way for your brand to have a “tablet home” now is the time.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Two years, and the wild ride continues.

First, apologies for not writing as much lately.  Frankly, I’ve been busy both personal and professional and I just haven’t had a great deal of value to say.

It is humbling to have conversations with many folks and have them tell me they are regular readers of this blog.  We’re approaching the blog’s second birthday and when it began I didn’t know where it would take us all.  I’m also spending a great deal of time thinking about where things are going.  The topic is coming up in client meetings and will also be the topic of a talk that my Hodges Digital partner-in-crime Sonali Shetty and I will be giving next month at the PRSA Richmond luncheon.

Some here are some reflections and musings in no particular order.

  • Two years ago, we were pulling our clients into the world of social media, now if you don’t bring it up in a meeting or presentation they will.  People aren’t thinking in the terms of social media any more, they are thinking in terms of communications.
  • I am more convinced than ever that the marriage of social and mobile is the future.  Brands need to make an impact on social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube and that presence needs to be carried through onto smartphones and tablets.  New stat that I saw yesterday, the number of tablet sales are expected to quadruple in 2011.
  • The ability to “share” using social and mobile is critical and a tipping point for success.  It is why people love Groupon, where they can share and save socially.  (Interesting Andrew Mason interview with Matt Lauer today, btw).
  • Geolocation is a 50/50 proposition with a split between the folks that believe and the folks that respect their privacy.  The jury is still out in my mind on the long-term business benefits.  Facebook Places will be the ultimate bell weather of success.  Best new geolocation tool I’ve seen is where Untappd, people can connect over the beers they drink.
  • Content and engagement is still king and they run hand in hand.  Branding through custom landing pages and tabs are now engagement points.  Clients that incorporate those elements see their Facebook engagement numbers increase dramatically.  If not all they have is a wall between them and their fans.  Literally.
  • Twitter is losing on my personal “attention scale” as I find myself forcing it rather than enjoying it.  I’m not adding to my personal community as much as I used to, but I do communicate with my existing friends and folks that share similar likes and dislikes.
  • I’m willing to revisit LinkedIn given some recent conversations, but the recent changes to Facebook Profiles is a warning shot across the bow as it marries LinkedIn’s profile information and Facebook’s search and marketing capabilities.

Generally, we as a group are finding that our decision to marry our public relations experience, social media and mobile/digital is paying off.  Clients now expect to have all those conversations at the same time and in a perfect world with the same people.  They also value a strategic partner that can work across this spectrum.  We are also seeing clients and prospects who are less inclined to “silo” specific aspects of communications and work with fewer partners who can bring all these services to the table at one time.  They just have less time to manage multiple partners and value smart thinking, speed and the ability to deliver.

If you told me two years ago that two years into a blog about my journey as a traditional PR guy into the world of social media that I’d actually be a partner in a digital agency I would have told you that you were “smoking crack.”

The communications world has come a long way in two years and for us at THP and now HDS it has and continues to be a wild ride.

This blog will continue to chronicle that ride.  I thank all the readers, clients and friends who help me make it happen.

I promise to try to be more “regular” in the new year.  If you have suggestions on topics and direction please send it along.

For now, the ride continues.

The birth of Hodges Digital Strategies

This is a blog post that is more than two years in the making.

Past posts have alluded to growth at The Hodges Partnership, mainly focusing on the new two-story addition to the back of our Shockoe Bottom home.  But I have hinted at something more, and here it is.

Today I’d like to announce the creation of a second business under the Hodges umbrella, Hodges Digital Strategies.

HDS is the product of a two-year journey we’re taken with a number of folks including our new business partner in the venture, Sonali Shetty and a number of clients who have jumped into this new digital and social world with us with both feet.  Some of those clients include AMF Bowling, SnagAJob.com, Carpenter, Virginia Farm Bureau Insurance, ChildFund International and CarMax, all of whom at varying levels are exploring way to reach audiences online, create community and broaden their communications strategies to include digital, social and mobile platforms and everything in between.

As I have written before, I am a big believer that PR firms are well positioned to guide clients through this newer world because we have a great history of content creation for communications programs. Some PR firms have struggled because while they know what should be done to communication on platforms as diverse as Facebook, Twitter, websites, and iPhones, they lack the design and technological development capabilities to handle the entire assignment for clients.  This is where we hope to succeed with HDS by marrying the power of public relations and technology and providing seamless strategies under one umbrella.

Through our communications, design and development capabilities we can create “digital outposts” for a brand with strategies born out of our public relations experience, delivered across all online and digital platforms.

Specifically HDS will:

  • Build custom websites and web applications
  • Build custom experiences on social media platforms, like branded custom landing pages on Facebook and use contests, games, etc. to leverage its viral nature.  Among our team is one of the first third-party Facebook developers so we have the experience needed to deliver.
  • Build iPhone, iPad and Droid apps for smartphones.  We’re in the beginning stages of building an iPhone/iPad app for Rutgers University athletics.
  • Provide analytics to see how successful your program is.
  • Counsel on social media strategy including everything from initial listening programs, to ongoing monitoring for reputation management issues, to providing advice on how to grow and interact with communities and consumers including social commerce and geo-location programs with Foursquare, etc.
  • Provide strategy and counsel on online video projects.

The combination of all these specialties will help a client leverage their potential audience and engage and interact with them wherever they are.

This coupled with The Hodges Partnership (no the traditional PR side is not going away by a long shot), will allow clients to reach consumers through traditional media (media relations/communications), online (through media relations/communications, social media platforms and web development) and on their mobile devices (through media relations, social media platforms and mobile sites and apps).

All under one Hodges umbrella, which provides one consistent communications strategy and of course, lower overhead and costs.

Speaking of which, we are also offering a small business/non-profit product for Facebook based on feedback we’ve received from a number of folks as well.

So there’s the news.  I know it was a little “salesy” but we’ve been holding this in for so long we wanted to make sure we told our story effectively because as we tell our clients, “you only have one time to launch, so you better communicate effectively.”

We’re very excited about this and we’re happy to answer any questions or provide initial consultation.

Again, we think that PR is perfectly positioned to lead in the digital world, and we’re putting our money where our opinion is.

Thanks for all your support these past eight years and we hope the Hodges brand of companies is around for a whole lot more.

SM ads: Buying your way to community?

Saw this interesting article today as I trolled for the THP “PR story of the day” for our Facebook page.

The story on Forbes.com point to the general increase of ad buys on social media platforms and specifically the increase in ad spending by major brands on Facebook.

So the question is can you buy your way to “community?”

It’s tempting.

The ability to REALLY target your audience given all of Facebook’s targeting tools (age, education, keywords, etc.) is very effective.  One of our clients told us last week he’s seen a sizable jump in the engagement and entries to his online contests by adding Facebook ads to the mix.

For big and small businesses alike you also don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to make an impact.  For our clients who are launching a custom FB landing page or a contest we routinely recommend a small FB buy to “grease the viral wheels” and help gain initial traction.

In a recent blog post, Scott Meldrum talks about the importance of gaining fans, and big brands have recognized the importance of FB ads in that mix.  But I urge you to read the rest of his post.  As he (and we) point out, it is one thing to get the fans….it is another one to engage and keep them.

So while a “jam the gym” approach may work in getting initial numbers, the real job starts in keeping all those people engaged and to get them to be your evangelists.

Creating community is more than just dumping all your marketing dollars into social media platform advertising.

As with any marketing platform, advertising will get folks to sample, it’s the product (in this case, the content) that gets them to buy your product again and again.

I’m sure some of you will disagree, I’d love to hear from you.

Social media execution is a collaborative process

Interesting blog post by Lauren Fernandez on the Radian6 (social media monitoring firm) blog today exploring the question “Should Agencies Execute Social Media?”

In it she details some of the factors that go into that decision including the now what seems to be long-time debate of “who should do what” and some rules of the road like planning, education, etc.

Personally, and for obvious reason, I’m glad to see the conversation move from an absolute yes or no and more towards how agencies and clients can collaborate on social media for companies and brands to be successful.

Our experience is that the extent of collaboration is related to the comfort level of the client, some of the factors that go into striking that balance include:

  • The experience and education of the client:  The levels vary, but the clients know their organization needs to be playing in the social media space, so they work with the agency to do as much or as little as needed to help them on a daily basis.
  • Manpower:  Some companies have enough people to do the day-to-day while others need the agency to shoulder more of the work.
  • Cost:  While most of its platforms are free, it takes time and money to execute social media work on a daily basis.
  • Layers:  This is newer phenomenon on “layering” higher level design and execution like Facebook landing pages, contests, games, etc.  In some cases all the client needs are the ideas and counsel, in others they need soup to nuts like design work and development.
  • Trust:  Not the trust between brand and consumer, but the trust between client and agency.  Does the client trust the agency to represent the brand?  How good of a plan can be created to make sure roles and responsibilities are clear?

Not every client has the knowledge, manpower, money or creative resources to execute what is needed in the increasing competitive social media space.  Agencies (you can debate which agencies – Ad, PR, Digital – till the cows come home) are an important partner for those who need to extend those capabilities.

IMHO, we are beyond whether agencies execute social media campaigns and we should focus on those best practices that will make agencies good collaborative partners for their clients.

Your thoughts?

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