The Year of Me is about us. How can you can participate.

So the big birthday in “The Year of Me” is coming up this Sunday.

I’ve taken my share of crap over “The Year of Me” thing but if you remember (this link will serve as a reminder back to my original post), The Year of Me is meant to be more than a year about me.

One of the key points of that I stated then is I wanted to be more philanthropic with my money and my time.  On the time side, I’m spending more of that volunteering with Zack’s baseball league this year and I’ve met a number of great people doing that.

On the money side, well here’s my idea and it’s tied into my 50th birthday on Sunday.

One of the cool things about Facebook is that you are reminded about your Friend’s birthdays so that you can post a message on their wall that day.  You feel good, they feel good.  I see the point, but there’s nothing actionable from that, it’s cool and all but at the end of that exercise there’s a long list of “Happy Birthday” greetings on a wall.

So this year, I encourage everyone to wish me “Happy Birthday” on my wall. In addition to the greeting please also include your favorite charity.

For every charity mentioned Kyra and I will donate one dollar (sorry honey for not discussing this with you first :)).  Out of that dollar 52 cents will go the Eric LeGrand Believe Fund.  Eric is the Rutgers football player paralyzed while playing football last year and included in the “Year of Me” post.

The other 48 cents of each dollar will go to one of the charities mentioned along with the birthday greetings on my wall.  If you’re a Twitter person and want to tweet me a “Happy Birthday” and a charity, please do so and those tweets will be counted in the mix as well.

I have a great wife, family, business, partner, co-workers and life.  The “Year of Me” is much more about me, it’s about all of us and what we do with our lives.

If you think I’m being a bit selfish and all I want is tons of people to send me birthday greetings on Sunday, you’re absolutely right.

That way you can help me spread some “Year of Me” cheer to others who are less fortunate.

Please share, post, retweet, etc. this post so we can spread that cheer together.

Twitter. Dead.

More than one person has come back to me/Sonali after our PRSA Richmond presentation concerned and surprised about our remarks about the future of Twitter.

The interesting thing they told us is after those remarks they spoke to others who agreed with us.

For those who weren’t there, we pretty much said that Twitter was dead.

I know, pretty dangerous blanket statement, huh?

So here’s what we meant (and by we in this case, I mean me because Sonali isn’t looking over my shoulder right now):

  • Twitter has become difficult:  There was a time where you could meet new people, have insightful comments and linked retweeted, engage in conversation.  That has become more and more difficult on Twitter likely because of its growth.  There is too much broadcasting and not enough conversing.  There is too much clutter and spam.  There was a time where a valuable tweet with a link to a cool article was met with conversation and re-tweet.  Now?  Bupkis.
  • Twitter has become siloed:   Which is not necessarily a bad thing, btw.  I am more likely to be talking to my Rutgers friends, or my #nightlybaconchat buddies on Twitter because hashtags make that easy.  Those silos make continuing long-standing conversations easy, it makes starting new conversations hard.
  • Facebook is easy:  And it now incorporates Twitter.  Our colleague Caroline Platt says Facebook has become “the mall of social media” where everything is available and within walking distance.  People will gravitate to where everything and everybody is and by extension stay away from where there are too many detours or boarded up storefronts.
  • Twitter is too constant:  The stream never dies and even with searches and filters it can be too hard to maintain and keep up with.

These are just some of my off-the-top-of-my-head reasons.

For those not willing to buy into my argument, here are some reasons that there still may be some hope:

  • It is still a great way to find specific people in specific areas:  You can track down journalists and others in specific categories using third-party tools like Listorious.com and Twellow.com.  The challenge then is to engage those folks in a meaningful conversation.  My argument is that given the breadth of Twitter, that is now much harder than it was two years ago.
  • Twitter is still a great place to share an event:  the Super Bowl, the Grammys, the Oscars, the overthrow of a middle eastern country, Twitter is great for breaking news and reaction.
  • People that want to break news on their own.  See: professional athletes and celebrities.

What I haven’t really addressed so far is brands.  I’m just not seeing it.  Maybe for monitoring for reputation management purposes?  But for branding, engagement, conversation and eventually social commerce,  I’m just not seeing it.

Sorry, Twitter.  After two years as a pretty active user I will continue to tweet every night on my iPad to my friends, neighbors, TweetChat friends and colleagues.  But call me back when I can once again through a quality tweet out into the vast wilderness and get a valuable replay that starts a beautiful friendship.

Okay Twitter lovers, I’m braced for your comments.  Tweet away.  Maybe I will hear you.

 

 

The Year of “Me.”

Aside from 2011 being the “Year of the Tablet,”  it is also the Year of  “Me.”

When I told my wife and my business partner this face late last year, they both said the same thing, “why should 2011 be different than any other year?”

2011 is my 50th year on this earth and as I get older, like most folks, I’m coming to the realization that there are less years ahead than the number I’ve already left behind.  So while the Year of  “Me” sound quite selfish on its surface, it sort of isn’t.

Life can change at the drop of the hat.  I learned that a few years ago when my dad’s health took a sudden turn that led to his death.  I was also reminded last October as I was sitting at the New Meadowlands Stadium and watched Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand hit another player, and hit the earth and then not be able to get up.  You knew something was very wrong right away as my college friends and I witnessed “the cart” come on and off the field faster than in any other similar injury we’ve ever seen and saw Rutgers Coach Greg Schiano run over to LeGrand’s mom and put his arm around her telling her that her son was being rushed to the hospital.

Here is the video of the play.  You may not want to watch.

We all had pits in the bottom of our stomachs.

Tomorrow, ESPN will be airing the first interview with LeGrand since that accident.  He has some movement but his life is changed forever.

So in this Year of  “Me,” I will be celebrating my 50th birthday.  A lot.

But I will also try to:

  • Take better care of myself.  I’ve been going to the gym three times a week since September.
  • Be nicer and better to my wife and family and business partner.
  • Try to be more patient (a big deal for me) and less things “come to me” more.
  • Empower others to grow
  • Be more philanthropic with money and my time
  • Learn more

and finally “Believe.”  I’m not sure exactly how much or in what, but the word “Believe” is symbolic of the effort to support LeGrand and his recovery and I can’t think of a better word or effort to believe in.  You see, it really isn’t ALL about me.

Go 52, we’ll all be watching.

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.

My father must be smiling down on his Jets

For those of you who are regular readers of this space or who know me well, you know last year my dad lost his fight against a number of illnesses and passed away in August. 

Mel

That obviously leaves a massive hole in the lives of those left behind.  As I have posted, Mel was a business mentor having run a very successful local furniture store in Jersey City, New Jersey from a very early age until his 60’s when he retired, then splitting his time between upstate New York and “Boca.” 

Since my dad worked retail  he worked retail hours, for many years working six days a week, 12 hours a day.  As a young child there was not a lot of time to “connect” but at an early age we connected through sports and the teams we followed.  

At the top of that list, was the New York Jets. 

Dad became a Jets fan in the mid-60’s shortly after Rutgers alum, Sonny Werblin bought the team and changed the name from the Titans.  My father, went to Rutgers for a short period of time before having to give up his college dream to run the store after my grandfather’s heart attack.  He and Werblin shared the same fraternity at Rutgers, so my father wrote Sonny and letter.  Sonny sent my father two tickets to a game and the love affair began. 

Sonny Werblin

That love was cemented when the Jets drafted Namath and my father bought season tickets to Shea.  He was in the “green seats” in the end zone mezzanine for just about all the games in the mid-to-late 60’s and watched Namath’s meteoric rise.  I remember going to a few of those games as a young child, and my dad and his friend taking our families to Florida.  We stayed at the Fontainebleau, they went to the game and stood proud among the throng of Baltimore Colts fans, watching Namath’s guarantee come true. 

As the seventies moved along and Namath’s knees buckled, my dad and uncles and family friends and I watched the parade of quarterbacks and awful teams lead by coaches like Lou Holtz, Charley Winner and others easy to forget.  We survived bitter cold temperatures drinking a concoction of Southern Comfort and Blackberry brandy out of a flask and dixie cups.  To this day I’m not sure whether that made the cold better or worse. 

We parked on the streets of Queens and walked over the Grand Central to Shea, only to find our battery stolen with my dad and uncle scouring the neighborhoods for an open gas station in the era where no gas station was open on Sundays. 

We survived the Richard Todd-“We want Matt” era and witnessed one of the greatest almost comebacks in NFL playoffs history as the Jets almost came back from a 20-plus point deficit to lose close to the Bills.  If a stadium ever literally rocked back and forth, Shea did that day.     

He even witnessed O.J. Simpson breaking the all-time rushing record in person at Shea on a terrible snowy day when no Jets fans should have been in the stands, as the game meant nothing to the home team. 

Dad moved with the team to Giants Stadium as I got older, went to school and then moved south.  There was the AFC championship game in the strike year, but somehow that felt a little cheap.  Our trips to the games together became less frequent.  I did make it make for a rare home playoff game against Jacksonville, but our Jets connection became more of a long distance phone connection. 

We’d talk before, at half time and at the end, in most cases lamenting “what might have beens” and “wait till next years.” 

Parcells and Leon Hess

 

 The last possibility for the return to glory ending in the second half in Denver as Parcells’ Jets led at half, only to have the Broncos score 23 unanswered points. 

And now we find our team on the brink again.  

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve almost picked up the phone this year to call, stopping myself.  I know he’s up there smiling though.  Dad was a big Buddy Ryan fan from way back and he’s up there loving Rex’s bravado. 

The parallels to 1969 are sort of frightening.  Big game, the Colts, Miami, etc.  Knowing dad, he’s trying to use all the salesman’s skills to sell the man upstairs on the poetic justice of it all. 

If they win two things are sure.  I will be online checking out the latest Super Bowl ticket prices (I have to admit I already have) since that will be a pilgrimage fate dictates that I will likely take.  Call it a “circle of life” thing. 

And second, I’ll have to stop myself from picking up the phone.

Rutgers football coach…brand expert?

There are a lot of random thoughts that enter one's mind on a long drive.  As I mentioned yesterday, we're on our way to Birmingham to see my beloved Scarlet Knights play in the Papajohn's.com Bowl.  And in between the squeals of Wall-E on the DVD and my kids looking at the Western Virginia countryside, I pondered my next blog post.

So it is fitting that I ponder the resurrection of my alma mater's football program in branding terms and see what lessons we can learn as we enter the next stage of marketing.

First some history.  Rutgers played Princeton in the first-ever football game in 1869.  There have been good years, bad years and just-plain awful years.  Some of the worst came about a decade ago and led to the hiring of Greg Schiano as head coach.

250px-Greg_Schiano-Rutgers

The program was so bad on and off the field, Schiano realized that not only did he have to build a team, he had to build the new brand of Rutgers football to excite perspective players, fans and kep influencers like state legislators whom he would need to ask for money for facility upgrades.  As we look back, the football coach used and still uses the basic tenants of successful public relations programs to build the brand from scratch.

  • Do research and come in with a plan:  A "Jersey Boy" born and bred, Schiano knew he needed to market the program in the state using old fashioned grass roots tactics.  He and his coaches visited every single high school football coach in the state to reclaim connections that were lost by past coaching regimes.

  • Establish your key messages and stick with them:  I'm a big believer in what I call "the mantra."  It's what other might call the 3-5 key messages that become the backbone of any communications plan.  For Schiano, it was that he would turn the program into a winner, that it would succeed in the classroom, that he could see a day that fans will come and that he would create a family atmosphere that kids would enjoy.  In the first few years there were more losses than wins, but Schiano stuck to those messages, even as fans and media questioned and laughed.  It was personfied by the slogan he created, "Keep Choppin," that is now on signs and T-shirts held and worn by Rutgers fans.  Rutgers is now also among the top three in football classroom success in the country.

R%20magnet%20large

  • Create a 'mark":  As the State University of New Jersey, Rutgers has had an identity crisis for as long as I could remember (insert Jersey joke here).  Feeding that crisis for many years was the lack of a brand icon.  For years, state leaders demanded that New Jersey be included in the brand icon visually either by added an "N.J." or using the odd outline of the state.  The most laughable of these attempts resulted in an odd script "Rutgers" with a mini-NJ added almost as an afterthought.  Schiano decided early on to get back to brand basics and the "Block-R," a scarlet R icon was born.  After many of the cutsy attempts, the basic approach has won fans over and united the Scarlet Nation.  So much so in fact, that after the Unversity spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in a new branding campaign, the branding company decided to keep the "Block-R" as the athletic logo because it had gained so much brand equity it would have been foolish to toss it.

 

  • Expand your demographics:  One of the best example of this was the children's book about being a Scarlet Knight distributed to newborns at New Jersey hospitals.  Talk about seeding the next generation.  Schiano also reached out to the ripe Florida recruiting territory using billboards and getting his coaches show on regional sports networks to succesfully recruit speedy players who have formed the base of subsequent successful teams.

  • Seize the moment:  After years of knocking on the door (five years to be exact), and sticking to his message, Rutgers started winning.  Once that happened, especially after Rutgers started 9-0 two years ago and rose to number two in the BCS, Schiano didn't meet an interview he didn't like.  Everywhere you turned on TV sports shows, he was there.  The messages were the same as they were on day one, but now he had the platform and he turned the volume up all the way.  Even the PR stunts came out as before a big national game against Louisville, the Rutgers marketing machine arranged to have the lights on the Empire State Building turned scarlet.

  • Use all the platforms:  Text messaging, expanded websites and streaming video, Facebook pages and yes even Twitter updates, the Schiano marketing machine continues to build the brand.  Now however, after four straight winning seasons, the next generation of New Jerey and even national high school recruits, don't remember the old tainted brand, but only the new Block-R winners who have gone to four straight bowl games.  The sell is now easier because the brand has been elevated.

  • The ultimate evolution:  The ultimate test of any successful brand is how it holds up in times of challenge.  This year in the face of a series of newspaper reports that questioned spending practices of the football program, the popular athletic director who worked with Schaino to make most of these changes, was fired.  However, two days later, the university's Board of Governors still voted to go ahead with the $102 million expansion of Rutgers Stadium.  They cited the success of the program and its popularity.  They could not argue with the positive image the program has created for the university and the often-maligned state.

As we ponder PR 1.5 (or even 2.0) I think the campaigns of the future should be rooted in the basic tenants of the past like research, mantra, a stong mark or icon, consistency, repetition, etc.  No matter which platform of the future you use and who you are trying to reach, without following these tenants you will be hard pressed to have a winning program. 

*A personal note, an old friend of mine, Kevin MacConnell, has been Schiano's marketing sidekick as the number two person in the athletic department.  If he is not hired for the number one job, the president of the university should have his head examined. Go RU!

What is life without passions….

A man cannot live by PR 1.5 alone.  So from time to time I will blog about my other passions (aside of course from my wife and kids, who may show up once in a while).Rtime-bowl

Sports and Springsteen, specifically Rutgers sports, the Mets, the Jets, are you beginning to see a theme here.  Yes my life has been filled with great sports disappointment with a glimmer of hope about once every 20 years or so.

Recently that glimmer has been Rutgers football and tonight I'm preparing to make my first bowl excusion.  The destination is Birmingham, AL for what the familiy is calling The Pizza Bowl (the sponsor is PapaJohn's) to face N.C. State.  Over the next week or so the posts will follow our trek to Birmingham and Atlanta.  If I can I will sprinkle in some idle work thoughts that hit me on the ten hour drive.

After the bowl game on Monday, the next big date in my life is January 27th, when Bruce's new CD hits the web and stores.  Can't wait until tickets are on sale for the next tour.

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