The Gong

The mostly official blog of the Hodges Partnership.

Could Instant Messaging Apps Be the Next Big Thing in Your Marketing Plan?

July 29, 2015 | by Greg Surber

Confession time. My first AOL screen name in middle school was MisterEMan83. Because…well I have no idea really. I lived a life of awkwardness then (and debatably now), not mystery. Regardless, my sweet (read: embarrassing) handle and I would spend hours hogging the phone line chatting with my friends.

Now at 32, I’m well on my way to being a kids-these-days… adult, so it’s tempting to look at instant messaging apps like Snapchat as just another young adult obsession. But then I look at the numbers.

At the height of AIM’s popularity the service reported 18 million simultaneous users. Respectable, but wildly eclipsed by today’s apps. SnapChat’s reportedly has more than 100 million monthly active users, WhatsApp has 800 million monthly active users and Facebook Messenger (who recently acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion) has 600 million monthly active users.

What’s the draw?

The Wall Street Journal wrote a fantastic piece on why messaging apps have taken off the way they have, noting its largely because one-to-one messaging more closely resembles how we normally communicate with each other. Whereas more established platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are more of a broadcasting model. The WSJ article also mentions that while platforms like Facebook may have more users, messaging apps like Snapchat are opened at a much higher frequency throughout the day.

What does this mean for me as a PR professional?

No, don’t abandon your Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn strategy in light of this news. But you do need to start asking yourself how your brand might be able to use instant messaging platforms, especially as each crystalizes its advertising partner strategy. Here are some examples of how you can use instant messaging to achieve your communication goals.

I know, you finally got everyone in your company to see the business value in social media and now there’s this. But as platforms like Facebook get more crowded, it’s important to find new ways where your brand can directly reach your customers – and instant messaging might be just what you need. 

0 commentsPosted in: Marketing  |  Mobile  |  Public Relations  |  Social Marketing  |  Social Media

A Very Special Episode: HodgePodge for Jul. 24

July 24, 2015 | by Tony Scida

Earth 2.0

The Kepler Space Telescope has identified a very Earth-like planet. (Via Next Draft, which you subscribe to, right?)


On the occasion of the release of a National Lampoon-less sequel to National Lampoon’s Vacation, a former Lampoon editor ruminates on the demise of the magazine (and takes some pot-shots at the new film).

Hoisted by their own dog food

Google employees used Google’s own collaborative document tools to collectively share and compare their salaries.

Self referential

What my landlord learned about me from Twitter

The more you know

From The Atlantic: The Evolution of TV’s ‘Very Special Episode’

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0 commentsPosted in: HodgePodge

Serve Your Employees by Letting Them Serve

July 21, 2015 | by Josh Dare

It’s early afternoon at The Hodges Partnership, and there’s a conspicuous quietude, the kind that makes you suspicious, that gives you that feeling that something is going on, and you’re the only one not in on it.  “Where,” you think, “IS everyone?”  And then you remember, it’s PRSA lunch day. 

That our office clears out on such occasions is no surprise; in fact, it’s encouraged. We want our folks to not only take advantage of the professional development opportunities through PRSA but to get involved as leaders of the organization, and I’m proud to report that several of them are members of the board – VPs of this and that, treasurer – posts that keep them busy. 

But getting involved in our industry’s professional association is only part of how we see our staff’s role in the larger community. To the extent possible – understanding the many demands on young parents and the challenges they face in meeting their daily obligations before crashing into bed at night, their hands still sticky from a melted popsicle, their feet still inside their shoes – we encourage our team to find an organization in the region that they can contribute to.  For Sean, it’s coaching Benedictine’s baseball team. For Megan and Kelsey, it’s working with Massey Cancer’s young board. For Cameron, it’s supporting Cookies for Kids' Cancer with weeks’ worth of pro bono media relations. 

Emily spent years on SCAN’s junior board, and Tony served a term as the AdClub’s president.  Sean helped steer the Salvation Army as board president, and my 10 years on the SCAN board included two terms as president. And while I’ve cut back my board work, I’m proud to currently be serving on the boards of Impact Makers, a local B Corp consulting firm that has given more than $1 million of its after-tax profits to charity over the past several years, and of the Community Idea Stations, which for me is a labor of love. And while I’m at it, it’s worth mentioning that Jon and I are both proud graduates of Leadership Metro Richmond.

It borders on the cliché to say that it’s important to give back to the communities in which we live and work. But we believe that and try to live it by virtue of the time we give our team to pursue their interests and the financial commitment we make to go along with it.  Many of us enjoy an abundant quality of life in Richmond, but a great many of our neighbors do not.  Thankfully, Richmond has scores of nonprofit organizations committed to helping those in need, and it’s those organizations who count on professionals in the community to help take up their cause.

It’s my experience that marketing professionals are especially in need. Nonprofit organizations that are trying to make ends meet each month rarely have any budget for marketing, and guidance on helping them shape and convey their messages is often critical to their ongoing success.

Sometimes, it’s just sheer bodies that organizations need, so let me end by making a shameless plug for two such entities. Hands On Greater Richmond is basically a clearinghouse for volunteer opportunities, and Vanessa Diamond and her team have made it super easy to find a volunteer opportunity that fits your – or your company’s (team building anyone?) – interests. 

You might also start thinking about volunteering for Richmond 2015, the international cycling race that is quickly pedaling its way to Richmond in September.  You can create your volunteer account here.

Whatever your interests, there’s an organization that would love to have you as part of their extended family. And you just might run into someone from our family as well.

1 commentPosted in: Agency Management  |  Public Relations  |  Richmond  |  The Hodges Partnership

Twitter rolling out auto-expanding link previews

July 20, 2015 | by Kelsey Leavey

They say imitation is the best form of flattery, and it seems that Twitter is following once again in Facebook’s footsteps. This time the imitation comes in the form of auto-expanding link previews. This change shouldn’t be surprising considering Pew Research Center’s latest report showing that the percentage of users who get their news on Twitter is up 11 percent since 2013. 

What links look like on Facebook:

What links used to look like on Twitter:

An example of the new auto-expanding link previews:

At this point, the feature seems to be appearing in the mobile app and unlike on Facebook you can’t edit the headline or the description.

What do auto-expanding link previews on Twitter mean for marketers, journalists and bloggers? Using a clear, concise and impactful headline is even more important. And by concise we mean 25-36 characters.

What do you think of the new link previews on Twitter?

0 commentsPosted in: Social Marketing  |  Social Media

Five Things: HodgePodge for Jul. 17

July 17, 2015 | by Tony Scida

Boldly went

The new close-up shots of Pluto from the New Horizons satellite have us all nostalgia for the space age, so here’s a long read about the time Buzz Aldrin punched a guy in the mouth

Behind the music

I don’t know how much I believe the theory that the Beatles are the hardest band to cover, but the stories behind the three non-Beatles Lennon-McCartney-penned number one hits are pretty interesting.

Reddit and forget it

At an inflection point for the sometimes-troubled site, Reddit’s founder returns as CEO.

First in flight

What does innovation look like? It can be hard to tell in the moment.

The sharing economy

Why don’t Netflix, HBO and other entertainment companies do more to curb password sharing?

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The First Pitch

July 15, 2015 | by Ellen Forrest

Despite his best efforts, Lt. John Herb was unable to save his plane from crashing into German territory at the height of World War II. Sadly, his remains were never recovered…until now, thanks to his Riverside academy class ring and the childhood memories of an elderly villager that saw his plan go down.

As a new intern at Hodges, I never imagined I would get the opportunity to pitch a story to the national news media, much less have them actually respond to me. And an opportunity to pitch a story like Herb’s was well beyond anything I could have hoped for.

Josh Dare, co-founder of The Hodges Partnership, suggested targeting local newspapers surrounding Arlington, with a primary focus on getting the attention of the Washington Post. Other than that, it was up to me to figure it out. And it turns out locating reporters takes a lot more research than I initially thought.

I quickly learned the importance of targeting reporters who specialize in a certain field- in this case those who covered Military News, Defense & National Security and Investigative News- and who had previously written stories that were similar in content.  

After locating reporters, and using the infamous Cision to check their contact information, I focused on writing the perfect pitch. What I soon learned was there is no such thing. I found that one of the most difficult parts of media relations is developing a pitch that successfully captures the essence of the story, but that is also short enough to hold the reporter’s interest. With a very long and detailed story on your screen, this is not an easy task. With the extensive help of my peers at Hodges, and a few rounds of edits, I put together a pitch that included the most essential facts needed to tell the story.

Two days before Lt. Herb was set to be buried to at Arlington Cemetery we decided to stop targeting local outlets and began pitching at the national level. Go big or go home right? Being in a time crunch I didn’t even have time to stop and realize the magnitude of the outlets that I was pitching to- Reuters, AP, NY Times, and ABC among many others.

After two days of very persistent pitching, the story caught the interest of ABC News and The Washington Post. Both outlets ultimately ran the story: Washington Post, ABCNews.

When I first came to Hodges I had very little actual experience in Public Relations and was unsure whether or not I was cut out for this field. So far, I have learned more than I could ever learn sitting in a classroom and, thanks to Hodges, I can mark my first real pitch as a success.  

0 commentsPosted in: Media Relations  |  Public Relations  |  The Hodges Partnership

How long does good PR take?

July 13, 2015 | by Jon Newman

After sitting through hundreds if not thousands of public relations new business meetings, I’ve come to (at least) one universal conclusion:

Potential clients wait until the absolute last minute to decide that they need to work with a PR firm.

I really don’t know why this is the case. It doesn’t happen (as much) to our advertising brothers and sisters who are usually given months to do research, generate creative treatments, present final ideas, place media and then track results.

Perhaps it’s because folks still don’t know what front-end work goes into public relations. We too require time to research, create messaging and talking points, target the right media, pitch, etc.

I can’t tell you how many times a client has come to us and said, “Oh, and we’d like to get this in the paper next week.”

It just doesn’t work that way.

This is changing even more as we expand into the world of content marketing and content management.

Clients should expect and anticipate at least a two-month ramp up time before the first article is placed or before the first piece of content is published on a blog, Facebook page, etc.

I repeat for effect: Clients should expect and anticipate at least a two-month ramp up time.

So what happens during those two months? Perhaps the most important work we will do in our engagement.

  • Research: Media research, competitive research, social research. We need to get a handle of what is going on with the client, their competition and how we can use that information to our advantage.
  • Messaging: Making sure we craft a compelling story for the client.
  • Messaging training: Making sure the client can deliver that messaging to the media.
  • Story development: More than messaging, making sure the story fits into the media landscape.
  • Content audit: If we are doing content marketing and management there is a series of steps that need to happen in sequential order.
    • Persona research and creation: Usually in a series of 6-10 interviews of key stakeholders. These generate the targets for your content. Yes we give them actual names and profiles.
    • Content bins: Identifying the right content and the right platforms to reach those personas.
    • Content plan and calendar: This is the outline for the first 6-12 months of your content approach. Depending on the assignment it even includes the first month or two of actual posts.

We understand that once you decide you want to “market” your company or organization you want to get it done yesterday. By seeing this process, our hope is that you understand the upfront work that needs to be done to “move the chains” correctly.

Some clients are very comfortable including these first few months in an ongoing retainer. Others are more inclined to separate this upfront work into a communications audit of sorts and then seeing what we find before going into that second “work” phase.

We can—and do—work either way.

We’ve seen the faces of disappointment when we tell folks it’ll take a few months to get it right before the actual marketing happens.

We’ve also seen the faces of happiness when they see the positive results this upfront work brings to a successful PR and content marketing effort.

Please share your thoughts on this upfront process, how long it should take and how much it should cost.

Free download: 5 reasons your media relations strategy is failing

0 commentsPosted in: Media Relations  |  Public Relations  |  Social Marketing  |  Social Media

Goooooooooooal: HodgePodge for July 10

July 10, 2015 | by Greg Surber


The U.S. Women’s National Team! Amirite? To all the countries wanting a better women’s soccer team, here’s your first step: start treating women equally.

Summer reading

After a 55-year hiatus, Harper Lee delivers her follow up to To Kill a Mockingbird. Read the first chapter (or have Reese Witherspoon narrate it to you) here.

In the red

Greece may be flirting with bankruptcy, but Fortune has three reasons why the average U.S. citizen may actually be in a worse debt situation.

Personal space be damned

For introverts like me, this is absolutely terrifying.

The last first time

Because Pluto is a planet, this is the last time we’ll see a planet up close for the first time.

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Facebook’s New Lead-Gen Cards: Good or Bad for Online Marketers?

July 07, 2015 | by Emily Shane

Lead generation and mobile are two of the biggest trends in online marketing. So it’s no surprise Facebook is examining how it can change its ad platform to better marry the two and mirror capabilities already offered by Twitter. Recently Facebook announced it has developed its own version of lead-gen cards—native ads that allow users to download offers directly from the platform without filling out a form or leaving the site.

So what does this mean for those of us interested in lead generation?

The Good

SEO and lead-generation best-practices both say to remove as many hurdles as possible to help ensure a customer follows through with the desired conversion (e.g., download an offer or sign up for a newsletter). Leaving one site to go to another to fill out a form is a big step in this process. It’s a step that’s also riddled with potential IT malfunction—poor loading time, page load error—that could negatively impact the number of people who complete your intended action. The ability to tap a single button on Facebook is about as simple as you can get.

The Bad

Facebook is a leased platform, meaning that it controls how it works, what data it collects, and most importantly, what data it shares with marketers. More and more, companies are using marketing automation platforms such as HubSpot to better understand how customers are interacting with their content and move them toward making a purchase. As it stands now, Facebook’s new lead-gen cards bypass these programs because they do not take the user to the website. So while your conversions might increase with the simplicity of Facebook’s new tool, you could be sacrificing important data that could facilitate interim conversations—before that contact is ready to make a purchase—and ultimately convert that lead into a customer.  

Facebook’s lead-gen cards currently are only offered to a select group of brands. Once they’re rolled out to the masses, they undoubtedly will be a huge success for some companies looking to simplify their lead generation campaigns. But again, for those using platforms like HubSpot and who are interested in gathering specific information about their customers to better qualify leads and segment audiences, this might be a tool to let pass by.

Stay tuned to our blog for further updates on this new tool and how it impacts online marketers.

0 commentsPosted in: Social Marketing  |  Social Media

Why I Got My APR

June 30, 2015 | by Greg Surber

If you’ve received an email from Lindsay, Cam or me in the last few months, you might have noticed a new addition to our email signature, specifically three letters—APR. For those familiar with PRSA parlance, you know exactly what I’m talking about. For all others, let me elaborate.

APR stands for Accreditation in Public Relations, which is a distinction the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) developed “as a way to recognize practitioners who have mastered the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to develop and deliver strategic communications.” More simply, it shows you understand that PR is more than just tactics and “press agentry,” to use a word learned in our studies.

How do you get it?

It’s been a professional goal for each of us the past few years, but it wasn’t until our local PRSA chapter held an APR Boot Camp that we decided to do more than just fill out the first page of the application—something we’d all done more times than we care to admit. See, the process isn’t easy or short.

The APR exam consists of two parts:

  1. A 60 to 90-minute panel interview where you present a public relations campaign you worked on that followed the four-step process (research, planning, implementation and evaluation)
  2. A 3.5-hour multiple-choice computer exam that covers everything from communication theory to the history of public relations

The whole thing took approximately two months, which is actually considered short for most APR candidates, who can take up to a full year to complete the process.

Why did we do it?

Anyone who has more than a day’s worth of experience knows there’s a big difference between how we should ideally practice public relations and how it’s done in the real world. Rarely do we have the budget and time to do all the research we should do, for example. Still, the APR reminds us, regardless of budget or scope, we need to approach all of our work strategically, with not only our clients’ best interests at hand, but also their customers.

As Jon explained in his last blog post, PR is changing. This isn’t the first time our industry has gone through a sea change and it won’t be the last. But as we were reminded in our APR studies, the fundamentals of our profession are more deeply rooted than any technology or trend, and so long as we continue to rely on those we—and our clients—will be fine.

0 commentsPosted in: Public Relations  |  The Hodges Partnership

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