It’s not about the press (news) release

by Tony Scida

(Editor’s note: BTW, I always refer to it as news release.  The old TV guy in me. -JN)

This inside joke greets folks at THP's front door.

This inside joke greets folks at THP’s front door.

Late last month the intersection of technology, journalism and public relations was sent into a tizzy when a number of news sites fell for a phony press release posted to PRWeb in an apparent attempt to game the stock market. While other postulate whether this is a nail in the coffin of PR, journalism, Google News or all of the above (and what’s next), I wanted to talk a bit about the document that got this whole mess started and how we think about them here at The Hodges Partnership: the press release (or news release, if you prefer).

We certainly produce our share of press releases around here, usually in close collaboration with our clients, and they have their uses, including securing approval from corporate legal departments, satisfying federal regulations and highlighting basic facts about a company or campaign. In fact, we create enough press releases that we put a press release pun on our doorbell sign. But, at least for the way we practice PR, the news release is not usually the center of our media relations strategy.

Media relations, stated as simply as possible, is about:

  • Helping journalists understand what our clients do, so they can decide whether to write about them
  • Helping our clients hone their message or generate newsworthy content that supports their business goals

In some cases, a press release may be the right tactic to achieve those goals, but more often it requires a pitch targeted to specific journalists. If all goes well, we help the journalist do their job and help our clients get their message out to the world. And of course, as important as media relations remains, it is only one tactic in a company’s public relations and social media programs.

 

10 Tips for Mastering Your Television Skype Interview

(Editor’s note:  Cam is one of The Hodges Partnership’s media relations superstars. Much of his recent work has been focused on international media for clients like ChildFund International.  This post is a result of his recent success.) -JN

by Cameron McPherson

One of the neatest things about technology advances is how it lets news organizations connect with sources and experts more quickly. With Skype, Google+ and other video calling tools, news networks like CNN and MSNBC can get an expert on the air in a matter of minutes.

ChildFund’s Mark Dasco does a Skype interview with CNN International after last year’s tsunami in The Philippines.

ChildFund’s Mark Dasco does a Skype interview with CNN International after last year’s tsunami in The Philippines.

A video interview via Skype or Google+ is much like a traditional studio interview. There are some extra things to keep in mind though. When we’re coordinating Skype interviews for clients, here are some of the tips we share:

Do not look at your screen: You will look weird. Instead, look at your computer’s camera, so it appears to viewers that you are looking at them. Put a bright sticker or another marker to draw your eyes to the camera.

Know your talking points: Just because you’re behind a computer and not in the studio, does not mean you can cheat by including notes on your monitor. This is broadcast television – the big leagues! If your eyes are reading from the screen, it will look awkward to viewers.

Turn off notifications: Remember how I told you to look at the camera? Turn off email and other desktop notifications that may pop up and distract you during your interview. Also, silence cell phones to avoid unwanted background noise.

Create a backdrop: This sounds like common sense, but if you’re doing an interview from your office, be sure to clean up. It’s also an opportunity to include organization signage in the background. If you have a poster or sign with the organization’s logo, put it behind you.

Practice: Don’t wait until you’re live on CNN to see how you look on the video feed. Practice with a friend or coworker to make sure you and your surroundings look top notch. Test lighting to make sure it’s not too dark or bright. It’s also a chance to practice looking at the camera, something that may not feel “natural.”

Wardrobe: The safest color to wear for television interviews is blue. In general, do not wear white, black, red or patterns, and avoid colors that blend into the background.

Headphones: Ideally, you’ll be able to hear the anchor without the use of headphones, but have them around just in case. Use a pair of discreet, white or black headphones, if needed.

Reduce background noise: Turn the television off. Not only will it create background noise, but the short delay can distract interviewees. Additionally, be aware of other outside sounds that could interfere. Closing your office door is always a good idea.

A Professional Skype username: While it’s unlikely your username will be displayed on the screen, the producer will need to connect with you beforehand. Nothing takes away from an expert’s credibility like “BarbieGirl99.” I suggest a username with your full name and organization.

Keep IT on standby: This is technology you’re dealing with – it will break when you need it most! Make sure you have someone around who can fix any issues that pop up.

Producers will often call and do a sound check before broadcast to make sure the connection is solid. Feel free to ask any questions or concerns you may have at this time. But, remember: you’re an expert and you’re going to do great!

Do you have any tips for the perfect Skype interview? Please share in the comments below.

Why do you like RVA? (And, why I love it.)

by Cameron McPherson

I really love Richmond. I’ve called it home for the past 27 years.

As a Fan-dweller, I enjoy being able to walk to restaurants, parks and the ultimate Richmond destination: my friends’ porches.

The 8-minute drive to The Hodges Partnership is also a perk. How people survive 45 minute commutes, I will never know. As a young professional, our agency has some great perks: flexible schedules, a fun environment, collaborative culture and other things like agency-wide pizza (and beer) brainstorms and an annual baseball outing. This year, I went to my first Orioles game! Which brings up another convenience: Richmond is so close to so much, from mountains and beaches to other cities.

I’m part of YRVA, a project team of about 30 young professionals that aims to survey other young professionals and college students on why they like Richmond and how we can improve it. We’re organized by Richmond’s Future, a nonprofit think tank focused on the future of Richmond. Results from the survey will be made public and will be shared with city leaders and HR professionals at companies around Richmond.

Help us figure out how we can make Richmond a better place. It only takes 15 minutes! Please take one of the surveys below:

Hopefully, we’ll hang out on a Richmond porch one day!

(Editor’s note:  There was also a great column in the T-D yesterday from publisher Tom Silvestri .  Click here to read.

AND not OR*: How Mobile, Social and Web are converging

by Sonali Shetty of Hodges Digital Strategies

*For a refresher on Boolean algebra go here.

Are mobile, social and web three separate entities anymore? Not when you consider the following:

  • The number of smart-phone users, world-wide just crossed the 1 billion mark.  In the U.S., approximately 87 percent use their phones to access the web and other apps (25 percent of whom, primarily use their mobile devices to access the web).
  • More than half of Facebook’s 1 billion users access the platform through their mobile devices, while 18 percent of whom don’t even visit the website.

So, it’s no longer an option to pick a platform, businesses must be on all of them. At Hodges Digital Strategies, our most interesting challenges are design and development at these three intersections: mobile + web, mobile + social and web + social.

Mobile + Web

  • Side-by-side example of website on mobile (left) and mobile-optimized website (right)

    Mobile friendly sites (Sites that function on mobile devices.  These sites have no flash and small image sizes for relatively fast loading. Users may need to zoom in order to use the site.  Newer design and development capabilities are phasing out these kinds of sites in favor of mobile optimized and responsive sites.)

  • Mobile optimized sites (Sites designed to cater to mobile devices. Pared down functionality and navigation elements, large, touch friendly buttons and minimal data entry allow for mobile optimization.  Most mobile optimized sites give users the option to view the desktop version of their website.)
  • Responsive design (Sites that utilize responsive methodologies for web development. A full website that renders seamlessly on devices with various form-factors. Meaning, a separate mobile site is not required – a large three column site on your large screen monitor, with rich visuals and extensive menus, can step down to a single column in a series of steps, responding to various device sizes.)

As more people interact with the web, primarily through their mobile devices, mobile capabilities for your website are no longer optional. While there is no right answer on whether to choose mobile optimized or responsive, we are biased towards responsive design and are incorporating these techniques in pretty much every new site we build.

Mobile + Social

Of the main social platforms, Twitter and YouTube were the most mobile-centric from the beginning, however, the switch to Timeline impacted apps, as they’re not visible via Facebook’s mobile app. To mitigate this (and to aid in app discovery), Facebook announced App Center. Mobile friendly apps that are registered in App Center are now discoverable through Facebook’s search bar. From a development perspective, it does mean that each app needs to also include a mobile version (using any of the above methods). There is slightly more work on the backend, however, with more and more users coming in from mobile, this is the only way for the users to access apps on their devices.

Web + Social

Back in 2010, Facebook introduced Open Graph API (yes, that ubiquitous “Like” button is just a toddler). Social sharing by liking or sharing content on social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google +, has been deployed on millions of websites. Sharing also happens in the reverse direction by embedding activity streams from social media onto the web.  Single sign-on (signing up for a web-app via your Facebook or Twitter account) saves us from having to remember yet another user ID and password. However, balance that with the risk of allowing the 3rd party site access to your information and sometimes publish on your behalf. You can control third-party app access via privacy settings on your Facebook account.

This digital convergence is only going to accelerate further and include future platforms. Just think: Google Glass, the Nike+ FuelBand, your car’s dashboard…the fun has only just begun.

Non-profit events: A PR recipe for success

by Cameron McPherson

(Quick editor’s note: There are few better at getting the word out about events than Cam.  Great ingredient list below. -JN)

I’m fortunate to work at an organization that encourages employees to volunteer and give back to the community. As a guy who loves to work with nonprofits, this makes me so happy. Throughout the year, in and outside of work, I help nonprofits publicize their events to the public. It’s not only an opportunity to fundraiser for a cause, it also gives the nonprofit a chance to tell their story to the community.

I just finished helping with PR for the Cookies for Kids’ Cancer bake sales in Richmond and thought some of the best practices would be helpful to other organizations. So, without further ado, here are 10 tips for getting the word out about your event:

  • Create a storyline: This isn’t just an event, it’s an opportunity for you to explain to the community why your nonprofit’s work is so important. Leverage facts about the issue and localize as much as possible – and then shout it from the rooftops!
  • Do some digging: Community news organizations have engaged readership and often love getting the word out about local events. You’re probably familiar with local TV and the daily newspaper, but don’t forget about blogs.  Do some Googling and ask Facebook friends, “where do you get community news?”
  • Look for interview opportunities: Flip through your radio dial for a week and listen for local drive-time programs that interview guests. Skip nationally syndicated programs, and focus on programs with local DJs. When it comes to TV, look for local newscasts that do in-studio interviews.
  • Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery: Have you seen a nonprofit in your area get great press for their events? Google search and see what outlets covered them. It’s a good way to pinpoint outlets that could cover your event.
  • Facebook, it’s free!: You might not have the financial resources to create a website dedicated to your event, but creating a Facebook event page is free.  Not only is it a great way to get attendees energized before the event, but you can use it to find volunteers and provide updates before the event. Even better, a lot of news media have Facebook pages with huge fan bases that will often link to your event.
  • Develop a variety of angles: Ever notice how news organizations sometimes cover a story differently? If you’re pursuing interviews or pre-event coverage, develop different angles. Find how the problem your nonprofit is trying to fix affects various local people. Or, maybe a local program has a cooking segment. Is your event catered? You could offer the chef as a guest on the program as an alternative way to plug the upcoming event.
  • Don’t forget a news release: Some say the news release is dead. For nonprofit events, it is very much alive and one of the best ways to ensure consistent messaging. There are tons of resources online on how to write a release. Make sure to include the basics: who, what, when, where and, most importantly, why. It is important to tell people why they should support the cause and how will it help the community.
  • Award buzz: Will you be honoring someone at the event? If so, contact your local newspaper about the why the recipient is receiving the award. It’s an opportunity to get positive exposure for that person’s work, while also getting the word out about an event.
  • Radios PSAs: Good news! Some stations are required to donate a certain amount of airtime to nonprofit causes. However, submission requirements for PSAs are different from station to station, so your best bet is to call and ask for someone who manages the PSAs. It’s a free way to create a “commercial” for your event.
  • At the event: Do certain outlets include event photos? Give the publication a big enough heads up (at least three weeks) and see if they would be interested in sending a photographer. Don’t be let down because the editor told you “no.”  Often times this is due to a lack of resources, ask if you can submit hi-res photos after the event.
  • Long term vision: Is your event annual? Be strategic with your media relations outreach plan. Every outlet can’t cover your event every year. If your daily newspaper did a feature on the event this year, try looking for other PR opportunities.

Those were just 10 tips, but there are many more ways to promote your event. Please share your ideas in the comments below.

 

Thinking “Outside” the box to leverage RVA’s recent PR success

A belated congrats to everyone who contributed to the recent Outside Magazine story that declared Richmond as the Best River Town in America.

This story has been literally years in the making and is tied into a broader strategy first embraced by groups like the Sports Backers and Venture Richmond.  That strategy is to promote Richmond as a participatory sports town focusing on events like the Marathon and Riverrock and as a vibrant river community with events like the Folk Festival.

The story is great, but our collective job as region and its ambassadors is only half complete.

As PR pros we know that any big story like is great but only if as many people as possible are exposed to it.  As soon as we get a “big hit” for any client we first celebrate with them and then ask them specifically, “what can we all do to leverage the story to your target audience?”

Without arming your sales force or evangelists with the story, the job is half done.  That’s PR 101.

So as we all bask in the afterglow of this great cover story, I will ask the question “what are we doing to leverage the story to everyone we know?”

The collective community came through in a big way the last time the city was on center stage.  When VCU and the University of Richmond made the NCAA basketball “Sweet 16” and then VCU made the Final Four we had rallies, tweaked Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas, and greeted all the visiting media with a wave and a smile.

But remember that story came to us.  That media coverage while fantastic was sort of “baked” into the event.

This Outside opportunity is different.  Instead of the media coming to us, we need to push the story out to a much broader audience than the readership of the magazine.

How do we do that?  There are many ways but I have a suggestion that everyone with an email account can sign up for.

Just include the link to the article and a little explanation in your email signature.  We all do it for ourselves and our companies, why not do it to promote our region.

We have a great story, it has now been told in a spectacular way.  The pressure for us to tell it is off.  All we have to do now is spread the word.

Will you sign up?  I did.  Check the next email I send you.

No, not another “five brand lessons you learn from Springsteen” post

by Jon Newman

This is a big week for me.  In the next week or so I’m going to see Bruce Springsteen live.  Twice.

In the past I might have fallen victim to the same “crutch” that other blogger sometimes depend on.  I’ll admit to it, I’ve also done it in the past.  That’s taking something you are doing or are passionate about and stretching that into a blog post about three or five or seven lessons you can learn from that person or thing.

At first it was cute, then it grew a little tiresome and then it became the thing that everyone did.

I’m stopping now.

In this social world I’m finding it harder and harder to separate the personal from the professional.  More times than not lately I’ve been chided by some who have grown tired about my Facebook posting or tweeting about Springsteen, or Rutgers, or the Mets, or my other passions.  By not connecting my passions directly to a blog post I hope I’m giving them one less thing to chide me about.

If I sound a little bitter, well maybe I am.  If social sharing is not created to share things that you are truly passionate about then what is it there for?  Please tell me it’s not just about sharing your latest views about marketing, PR or advertising because if it is the world would then be a truly boring place.

Maybe I/we are somewhat to blame for that.  Maybe we get so caught up on the use of social media, we forget what it is there for, for people to just share.

If you don’t like what I’m sharing then feel free to unfollow, unfan, unlink, unpin and unconnect with me.  I’m not forcing you to do any of that, it is your choice.

As Springsteen says in “The Ties That Bind,”

It’s a long dark highway and a thin white line Connecting baby, your heart to mine.

Maybe we should look at social media as that highway and its thin white line.  You can ride it with me, or get off at the next exit.  You can choose and should choose the Ties That Bind.

Shit, there I go using Springsteen to teach a lesson in a blog post.  Damn.

Chick-fil-A’s Turf Toe

by Tony Scida

Recently a Chick-fil-A executive made a statement that caused a bit of a stir in the media and, especially, online. Yesterday, Gizmodo reported that Chick-fil-A (or someone representing them) created fake Facebook accounts (complete with stock photo profile photos) just to defend the company online.

Chick-fil-A denies this charge, but it brings up a very important piece of advice for companies trying to navigate the digital landscape: Do not make fake accounts.

It’s awfully tempting for companies that see criticism online to want to jump in there and post in their own defense. And since an official response may not be taken at its word, some companies engage in what’s known as astroturfing (I’m sure much to the chagrin of the presumably fine people who make imitation grass sporting surfaces), which is meant to look like grassroots support, but falls short on closer examination.

What makes astroturfing even worse is that it’s often not even necessary. If CFA did indeed create these accounts, they’ve just made themselves worse. Their fans had already come to their defense, with Fox News correspondent (and former presidential candidate) Mike Huckabee already calling for a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.

In the best case, astroturfing just costs a lot of money and fools no-one. In the worst case, your brand could be tarnished long-term (but you won’t be around to see it, because you’ll be fired).

Thanks For Ten Great Years….

by Jon Newman

I know I’ve been a bit of a slacker on the blog side recently.  The truth is I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about the future and the direction of PR and how it fits in the social and digital universe.  I’ve got some posts “written” in my brain and I will share them with you in the near future.

I’ve also been thinking about the past since THP is celebrating its tenth anniversary this week.

It’s been a fun, wild ride so far.  Amazing what you can accomplish without a business plan, huh?

So some quick thanks are in order.  To my wife Kyra and Josh’s wife Rose, thanks so much for being patient with us on this continuing journey.  Josh always says we have three levels in our business hierarchy, us…our employees…and on the top rung, Kyra and Rose.

To our co-workers, many thanks for the great work and great times.  We’ve been very fortunate to have had a very low turnover through the years with our first four employees still working with us for many of those ten years.  Thanks for taking such good care of us and our clients.

To our clients, we hope we’ve delivered great work for you.  Many of you have been along for most of the ride as well and have become great friends along the way.  We hope to continue all those business and personal relationships.

To the Richmond business community, thanks for all the support.  We have and work with a lot of great partners who have added to the success of our business.  We hope to continue partnering with you as we have always looked at our business as a true “Partnership.”

On a truly personal note, I’d like to thank Josh (who hopefully played at least one round of golf on his current trip to Ireland) for being the best “second wife” a guy could ever have.  The truth is we barely knew each other ten years ago when we took this leap of faith and I can say on my end that it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

I’ve included the latest edition of our e-newsletter which has a lot of fun info on the ten years and our current staff.  Don’t forget to take the quiz that’s included since one lucky person will win, what else, two tickets to see Springsteen in DC in September (got to be true to the personal brand, right?)

A lot has changed in ten years and we expect more changes in the future.  Our plan is to be here for at least the next ten being the best we can be.

That’s all we or anyone can ask for, right?

 

Our New Website: Being “Responsive”

Editor’s note:  Great job by Tony Scida and Casey Ferguson on our new website.  One of the features that’s explained below is “responsive design” which basically means the site grows and shrinks to accommodate the computer or mobile device that you’re using.  To best illustrate, view the site on your laptop and then your smart phone.  Or just look at the images below.  Cool, huh?  We think so.  Enjoy.-JN

by Tony Scida

When I started at Hodges, the first thing I wanted to do was update the website. While the site had served the agency well for a number of years, it had started to show its age—it didn’t take advantage of the new variety of screen sizes that users have come to find on their desks and in their hands, for instance. It was also not all that easy to update to add new Hodgers or update or add case studies, for instance.

I was cautious at first, because I wasn’t sure how Jon & Josh (and my coworkers) felt about the existing site and the prospect of undertaking a major site redesign. Fortunately for me, everyone around here was in agreement that we needed a new site.

This week—just days shy of my three-year anniversary—we’ve launched the new hodgespart.com. What took so long? Well, I’ll talk about some of the site features and considerations below, but the main reason is that, as with any agency, client work comes first.

Goals for the new THP site:

  • Update the look and feel to match recent logo and color palette changes.
  • Better integrate additional services and practices such as social media and luxury.
  • Improve updateability of the content.
  • Provide a first-class experience for users of mobile and other small-screen devices.
  • Put the work front and center.

With these goals in mind, we worked with Sonali and the Hodges Digital Strategies team to create the final site you see. Here are some of the features we’re particularly proud of.

Our website viewed on a browser

Responsive Web Design

The site was designed from the start to work well on iPhones and other mobile devices. Without getting too technical, the site uses modern CSS and HTML features such as media queries to resize and shift elements on the page to provide a better experience on small devices without sacrificing the desktop experience. We learned a lot of responsive design throughout this process, as we do with every project, and we already have some enhancements to the responsiveness planned.

Client Success Front and Center

Our website viewed on an iPhone

On the previous site, the case studies were a little minimized. They were all on the same page and there was no room for compelling images. With the new site, we decided to put the case studies right up front. And, thanks to our content management system (CMS), we can easily change and update the case studies that are featured on the homepage. But case studies aren’t the only way we’re featuring client work. Because this blog serves both THP and HDS, it didn’t make sense to create a separate blog on the THP site, so instead we created what we call The Gong, a nod to the real-life gong we hang in our office. When something good happens, like a great hit for a client, we bang the gong so everyone in the office can hear. With The Gong, which I like to call our “hit blog,” we can now sound a virtual gong as well.

What’s Next?

Just because this site is launched doesn’t mean it’s done. This was a long time coming, but it’s just the starting point. We’ll continue to update the content, optimize performance, refine the responsiveness and, we hope, constantly update The Gong with quality client hits.

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