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 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.

The next great expression of “brand love”

by Sonali Shetty

The ultimate expression of “brand love” is an icon on the Home screen of mobile devices.  Our devices are so personal and ubiquitous, that any apps we download and keep, are an extension of our identity.  True enough that many of our devices are a junkyard for apps – long forgotten and seldom used.  But others are so addictive, we wonder how we lived “pre app.”

Checklist from Hilldrup’s Move Pro app

At HDS we just launched an app that I hope will be an incredibly handy resource for many people.  Hilldrup Move Pro (iPhone/iPad), for our friends at Hilldrup Companies, is a full-featured moving platform.  The app is a must-have for anyone contemplating a move.  But, we wanted to make the app relevant to a wider audience.  When creating a strategy for app functionality, we faced a unique conundrum.  How do you extend the life of an app that is built around a discrete event?  You want an app to be a valuable branded tool that people want to access again and again on their mobile device, right?

In looking into consumers’ moving patterns, we noticed that most people don’t unpack their boxes right away.  (True confessions: I still have unopened boxes in my attic six years after stashing them up there.)  So we created the ability for users to visually add items to their virtual box and even take pictures of their items, in order to document box contents.  High value items can be immediately identified.  Finally, users are able to create QR code labels to slap on their boxes.  When a user wants to identify the contents of a box, all they have to do is to scan the label on the box and read the contents. Pretty Cool!  Oh, and as an added security feature, to prevent just anyone from being able to read the QR code, only the Move Pro app on the original device that “packed” the box is able to read its contents.

Some other features and their long-range applications include:

– Ability to notify friends when you’ve moved – applies down the road if your phone number or e-mail address change.

– Currency converter.  For people moving to other countries, this is super useful.  And just as handy for people simply taking a trip abroad.

– Assign a task to a friend – “Honey-do lists” are finally mobile-ized!

Reverse search will be available in the next release. Here’s how it will work – suppose I’m looking for that pair of red shoes I wear over the holidays.  A quick search within the app tells me immediately which box those little babies are in.  That means no more rooting through boxes to find what you’re looking for.  This feature alone transcends moving – it puts a handy organizing tool at your disposal.

We’re pretty excited at what the Hilldrup Move Pro can and will do.  Download it and let us know what you think.  We’re hoping that MovePro will make it to your Home screen.

#PRSARVA and social media, now what?

It could have been the “level” of the people in the room since it was billed as a professional development session.

It could have been the amount of attention, time and effort people are spending on social media these days.

It could have been a lot of factors coming together at once.

But I came away extremely impressed with the group at spoke to and with at PRSARVA’s professional development event last Friday.

Here are the presentation slides for all who want to take a look…

Click here to view presentation

If social media is a ladder and each step up is another level of education and commitment then I think Richmond’s PR and marketing community has climbed another rung or two over the last six-to-twelve months.

Outstanding crowd at PRSA session last week.

In the past, my hope as a speaker was to get everyone to the same level of understanding with a great deal of teaching going on in similar hour-long sessions.  Last Friday, it was clear that everyone in the room was on the same page and my role was more of a validator than teacher.  My hope is that each person came away with one little nugget as opposed to many bars of gold.

Needless to say I was impressed.

So where (as a community) do we go from here?   I think while we continue to educate ourselves about the new platforms, etc. that seem to pop up daily, it’s time to focus more on getting better on the core work.  Some of the themes of the presentation (storytelling, using images, understanding mobile and its opportunities) will hopefully help you focus.

Thanks again for the opportunity to present.  I really learned a lot.

#PRSARVA, what do you want to hear?

It wasn’t an easy call to make, especially at 6 in the morning.

I had to call Jennifer Pounders and tell her “you know that PRSARVA professional development session that I’m supposed to be leading in a hour?  Well, THAT’s not going to happen…”  She handled the curve ball with her usual grace and proceeded to call all the folks who had registered.  Thanks, Jen.

Long story short, I found out after a doctors visit that I had walking pneumonia and it was probably a good thing that I passed on speaking as I would have infected about 70 of Richmond’s stellar PR and marketing community.

So what do you want to hear???

So the session has been rescheduled for May 18 (two weeks of antibiotics later and I’m as good as new) and from what I understand the number of attendees has now risen.  There are a few slots left and you can register here.

I’m still planning to cover Facebook Timeline for Brands, the growing social media platform Pinterest, and touch on mobile.

But the main reason for this post is to solicit any other ideas or things that you’d like to hear about or want be to cover.

So please take a minute if you’re planning to attend ( and even if you aren’t) and comment below to help me add a topic or two to the session.

Thanks so much.

PR pros should “dance with the one that brung you”

by Jon Newman

OK, here we go.  Time for your daily dose of blasphemy on this Thursday.   Hold on to your hats but this is something that’s been bothering me for a while especially as a personally stand one foot in each bucket.

Are we spending too much time focusing on social media when good old-fashioned public and media relations still works just fine?

Before you say Jon, we can and should do both, I will quickly agree with you but add that maybe we should prioritize the time spent on both so we meet all of our clients goals.

Is it summed up with a question I recently asked my PR/social media class at VCU as they were wrapping up their semester-long social media projects.  “Given the choice would you rather have a smooth and successful social media campaign for a client, or get them a media relations hit on Good Morning America or The New York Times?”  To a person (and they are pretty plugged into the changing PR landscape) they choice the big national media relations hit.

I can’t say that I disagree with them.

I haven’t changed my thinking about social media and what it can accomplish, I am saying we may be hitting a slight plateau.  Given the continued struggle to prove ROI and the fact that EVERYONE (ad agencies, marketers, the guy on the street corner) is offering what they claim to be as comprehensive social media consulting, maybe we in PR need to re-look at our core competencies and what we can still offer.

Sure the media pool is shrinking, but it’s not dead by a long shot.  And clients eyes still get really wide when they see their products or companies on TV, online and in print.  As it gets harder to “break through” on the internet interstate that Facebook has become and as we try on the fly to figure out if Pinterest is going to be the next big play or big fail, let’s not forget what has worked for us for the last century or so.

So while we blog and slog it out to see who will comment or share our next post, we may have clearer sailing and a larger “ROI” by making sure we still reach out to national media who still know and can report a good story when they see one.

No, I haven’t changed my overall thinking.  Yes, we at Hodges are still defining best practices for social community management and have three Facebook contests going on for clients simultaneously.  But we also just completed some very cool New York media tours that will bear tremendous fruit.

As Darrell Royal, the patriarch of University of Texas football used to say, “Don’t forget to dance with the one who brung ya.”

It’s gotten us this far.

Got Millions? New magazines are betting on you…

by Alissa Pak, member of THP’s “lux” team

The next time one of the recent Mega Millions winners happens to breeze past a newsstand, they certainly won’t have a shortage of reading materials to flip through. Though some may call the current economic outlook uncertain, for four magazine publications it’s anything but as they launch their new titles. Not exactly aimed at the populist sect, these magazines won’t be everyday reading material unless you count yourself among the 1 percent of society.

Are you a subscriber to the Bloomberg Terminal at an annual fee of $20,000? If yes, then be sure to check your mailbox for the next issue of Bloomberg Pursuits. Introduced earlier this year, Pursuits is distributed twice a year to an audience with an average annual household income of more than $450,000. The premiere issue profiled a solar eclipse-viewing Bloomberg subscriber traveling via icebreaker. Now how do you book that trip?

Bloomberg isn’t the only one jumping on the luxury magazine bandwagon. Niche Media which already publishes regional luxury titles such as Hamptons, Ocean Drive and more will unveil Du Jour this upcoming September. Their typical reader will have a net worth of more than $5 million and average home value of $1.5 million.

Time Style & Design sound familiar? It should. After a three-year absence, parent company Time Magazine thought it the perfect climate for its comeback for the twice published luxury title. A commonly spotted phrase in the issues return is “price upon request”. ForbesLife, a spinoff made available only to Forbes subscribers is hitting the stands, literally. For the first time, the latest issue of the luxury lifestyle title can be picked up by anyone wanting to read about your average billionaire’s Manhattan’s Upper East Side pad.

So what gives?

With slumping newsstand sales and disappearing advertising pages, it’s pretty common knowledge that the mass-market magazine industry has seen better days. But its luxury counterparts the likes of Departures and Financial Times’ monthly luxury magazine How to Spend It have all grown, both in revenue and subscribers. A recent article on this very topic by industry trade publication, Women’s Wear Daily, happened to put it best. “As middle-income consumers get pushed to the bottom of the hourglass, the brands succeeding are those that target low-end and high-end consumers.”

So next time you pass a newsstand, flip through these newbies and pick up a lottery ticket while you’re at it.

I Killed My Blog and Why

Jon’s 1.5 is dead.

It was time.

It’s not like I was running out of things to say but the original reason for the blog and the number of voices needed to tell that continuing story has evolved.

Kirk or Picard? Ok, I'm really done now.

A lot has happened in the world of PR, social and digital in the three years of Jon’s 1.5 and a lot has happened at Hodges during that time.  The initial journal that the blog was started to chronicle is over.  Think of the difference as the original Star Trek and TNG.  You might debate Kirk over Picard but the voyage continues and the characters change but the Federation’s prime directive is the same.  Okay, I’ve really pushed the geek envelope here.

So Jon’s 1.5 (the next generation, okay I promise to stop now) is now the Hodges Blog.  You likely noticed the changes in recent posts.

We not only have a new look and feel, also soon be seen in a slight tweak to our agency identity and a major redo of our website, but also in the number of post authors.  Don’t worry (for those who were really losing sleep over this), you’ll still be hearing from me on a regular basis.  But you will also be hearing from all the Hodgers.  The subjects of the posts will range from our culture (Tony’s recent post on our coffee issues) to our work (Elisabeth’s post on our growing luxury practice) and share our expertise (like Sonali and Casey’s collaboration, a  social media cheat sheet for Facebook Timeline for Brands).

We will continue to feature our work like today’s media relations successes for CarLotz in Fast Company and Snagajob in Time, or social media campaigns or mobile app development.  But we will also feature the people behind the work and what they do (and how they do it) to be successful for our clients.

A mentor of mine taught me a long time ago a simple lesson about our business that I try to practice and repeat:  The key to business success is to hire people who are a lot smarter than you and let them do what they do best.  The Hodges Blog will showcase them and by extension show how smart Josh and I were to bring them on board in the first place. 🙂

It is now their time to shine.

So please enjoy the Hodges Blog and try to keep your emotions in check about Jon 1.5.  I hope it served you well.  I know it did me.

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.

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