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.

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.

The Wild and Innocent and the Broad Street Shuffle.

by Jon Newman

I have a confession to make.  I picked Wichita State to beat VCU in the first round on my brackets.

I didn’t want to tell anyone before the tournament here in roundball-crazy #RVA for fear they would equate me with Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale.

VCU Pepband from VCU Athletics

Richmond and to a greater extent the VCU fan base has reached a critical stage in its current run of basketball success.  You see you can’t make the Final Four every year or the Sweet Sixteen either.  The long-term question is will the recent success create a base of season ticket sales, donations, etc. to propel VCU to higher levels of success?  Or will it fall off as the attempt to reach the heights falls short?

Fan bases are fickle.  For example at Rutgers, my alma mater, we would give just about anything to just make the NCAA tournament.  We haven’t been there since 1991.  Incredible for a team that made the Final Four just 15 years earlier and was a tournament regular into the early 80s’.

But things change.  Coaches move on, fan bases get spoiled, you change leagues or new leagues are formed and blink you go 20 years without a dance.

My Rutgers and VCU lives intersected this year as Vic Cegles invited me  and my family to our first Rams home game.  I sort of knew Vic’s dad when I was a student at Rutgers and he headed up athletic fundraising at the Scarlet R club.  Vic was the second baseman for Rutgers Big East champion baseball team a few years ago and is now following in his father’s footsteps as the Director of the Ram Athletic Club at VCU.

Thanks Vic, what I witnessed at the Siegel Center was a basketball revival meeting of sorts.  The sellout crowd, fans singing soccer-style with the pep band, and a genuine love between the fans and the team.  I also witnesses a sold out donor suite populated by a who’s who of #RVA movers and shakers wanting to see and be seen.  It reminded me of Rutgers in the mid-to-late 70’s and 80’s.  It reminded me that we took that success for granted.  It reminded me how quickly things can change.

My hope is that VCU and Richmond as a whole can hang onto this feeling of success as long as we can.  We should not be spoiled by it and assume it will occur year after year.  As Springsteen would say, We need to stay a bit “wild and innocent.”  Because things change.

Before we sign off on Richmond March Madness 2012 let’s take one last moment to celebrate our success.  The worst thing we can do is take it for granted.

“When it ends….”

“When it ends, you fall off a cliff.”

Those were the words uttered by the losing coach in the “other” NCAA Men’s Basketball semi-final after his team lost last night.

But will John Calipari’s words foreshadow what will happen in Richmond, now that the NCAA magic carpet ride came to its inevitable end in Houston?

Long after Dickie V ate his crow and the memories of long lines at the VCU bookstore fade, we are left with the same public perception issues that we were dealing with three weeks ago.

Or are we?

That is now for us to decide.

Can we build on the fun we had at ESPN’s expense and turn Venture Richmond’s banner into a rallying cry for the future?

Can we turn this regional goodwill into progress in attracting new businesses and tourists to a community in great need of the revenue they will bring?

Can we take this excitement for sports and finally decide what new regional sports facilities will help fuel our next Cinderella story?

In a culture where people quickly have a hard time to name who made the Final Four last year, will we look back years from now and say this was the moment that it all turned around?

Perhaps that’s too much to ask for two weeks of Black and Yellow magic.

Richmond is this our time to shoot for the stars?  Or will we just fall off the cliff?

It’s time for our leaders to step up and Shaka the world just like the team they all adopted.

This was Our Team.  And our time is Right Now.

The Final Four. Send someone and follow @cammuncations

We will forever blame George Mason.  It’s their fault.

You see GMU is Steve Cummings alma mater and GMU basketball is the only organized sport he follows.

It was clear to us that as his employers of a business named after a sports icon we were left with one choice.  Send him to Indianapolis.

So we did and it was an experience that he will never forget.

Imagine our dilemma this year with three UR grads and four VCU alums.  Not that we were rooting for Kansas on Friday but that lightened our load a little bit.  But this morning we told our four VCU grads that we would buy one travel package and that one of them could go to the games.

Imagine our horror when initially all of them said they couldn’t go.  It was a combination of work-related and personal issues that forced that resounding no.  After some consultation with their co-workers, Cameron McPherson emerged as the lucky Ram who will board the charter jet on Friday.


Cam will live tweet @cammunications



Cam will send us pictures and live tweet his experiences.  We will live vicariously through him.

We urge other Richmond-area employers to consider this as well.  Based on our past experience this is a great time not only for the person who goes but for those back at home who can experience these games through their friend.

So Richmond, send someone to Houston.  And “Go, Rams, Go!!!”

#RVA, this week, we are ALL Rams.

So you thought last week was wild, well Richmond, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Final Four, baby!

And another week for the team, the school and the city to bask in the glow of national attention.

First and foremost, let’s stay classy and celebrate safely.  Many cities have had their reputations destroyed forever during sports celebrations.  It’s also time for forget about Bilas and Vitale, this is way past the debate of getting in or not.  It is about the celebration of success achieved and success still for the taking.


Jamie Skeen can feel it.

Second, we should ALL be VCU.  Most people know I bleed Scarlet for Rutgers, but this week I will proudly wear black and gold.  And why not, Richmonders, even those who are Spiders, Wahoos, Hokies or Panthers may never see the likes of this again.  Let’s embrace Ram Fever.  It’s time to make last week’s pep rallies look like first acts in the ultimate basketball Cinderella story.


Third, in a city that is in a constant search for its identity but where in recent times we have focused on the intersection of history and creativity, what better way to celebrate that identity than through this team of scrappy underdogs who have used their creativity on the court to continue writing their inprobable history.

A history that is still in the making.

Butler is very beatable, after all.

So Richmond, let make the most of this next week.  Let’s unite under the black and gold halo and let this be the start of something as opposed to the end of a magical run.

But first and foremost.  Go, Rams, go.

#RVA Sweet 16 kudos

So of course I picked the worst two days in recent memory to be out of town on business (although the business partner and I did have plenty of bonding time listening to classic rock.  My rendition of “Carry On, My Wayward Son” was especially poignant).

Congrats go out to the folks at Venture Richmond including Jack Berry, Lisa Simms and Lucy Meade for seizing the day and quickly organizing the Turning Basin rally last night.  This is exactly what we needed and was the point of my Sunday night blog post.

Also a public tip of the hat to our good friend Greg Burton from ESPN 950, those cool t-Shirts handed out at the rally were his idea.  Rick Whiteman of Pixel-Works designed them, great stuff Rick.

This is a prime example of cool, smart people jumping on quickly and taking advantage of a one-in-a-generation event.

Congrats to all, and to all who helped them make it happen.

Oh and by the way, Dickie V, “Eat Crow, baby!”

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