The Gong

The mostly official blog of the Hodges Partnership.

Are your viral news platforms giving you all the news you need?

March 31, 2015 | by Josh Dare

On November 28, 1972, I scored two baskets in a hard-fought varsity basketball game against the Key School. I know this because the next morning, my picture was in the paper making one of them, my Pete Maravich-like hair flopping in black and white. (Admittedly, my haircut was pretty much the only part of my game that resembled Pistol Pete’s.) 

My mom cut that sophomore-year photo and the accompanying article out of the paper. And so did some of my neighbors. And some parents of classmates. And a local insurance agent. By week’s end, I think there were about a dozen clippings of that photo in the basket on our kitchen counter where my family kept important stuff that we didn’t know what to do with.

Forty years ago, that’s how news went viral. If someone saw something they thought you’d be interested in—that article with tips for stopping the hiccups, that Dear Abby column about the weird aunt that sounded eerily like your own, that J.C. Penney advertisement about the sale on bellbottoms—they’d stick it in an envelope and send it your way. Grand-mothers were especially good at it.

Today, of course, there’s much greater efficiency. Platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter give us the capacity to share news with our network of connections (and beyond, if we want) even before we’ve read to the bottom.

On top of the links that my friends suggest that I see, I also partake of a regular dose of Daily Show and Ellen clips, the best of NPR and The Atlantic and some self-indulgent Buzz Feed quizzes that give me critical insight into things like what kind of dog my personality most resembles or what Disney princess I am (answers: Golden Retriever and Cinderella). 

I’ve also signed up for news alerts from The Washington Post and The Richmond Times-Dispatch and subscribe to regular e-news services from Virginia Business magazine, and Fairfax County EDA’s thrice-weekly e-Bird. And if you’re not yet subscribing to Next Draft, do yourself a favor and sign up today.  It’s free and the best (and most creative) aggregator of the most talked-about news stories of the day.

Through it all, I feel reasonably well-informed. And yet, all this digital news acquisition is not enough.

Whenever I interview someone for a job or internship at The Hodges Partnership, I toss a lot of softballs the way of the applicant, questions that sound more like we’re shooting the breeze than anything else. But the question I’m most interested in I slip in when they least expect it: how do you get your news?

What I hope to hear—but rarely, if ever, do—is that they read the morning newspaper. Ideally, and I know this sounds old-fashioned to Millennials, they will tell me that they subscribe to the paper and physically pick it up off their front steps every morning and that by the time they’ve finished their morning coffee, they’ve caught up with what has happened around the world and around the block. And only then, if there’s something they’ve read they want to share, they will pull it up online before posting it elsewhere.

I worry that if we rely too heavily on viral news sharing as the sole source of our news—as many people do today—we run the risk of being too self-selective, in other words, that we will consume only the news that others have decided we should see. The value of the daily newspaper is that a team of smart and largely truthful and objective journalists have put together a fairly comprehensive rundown of the news that an informed, engaged citizen should know. You may be cynical about the news media, but no one does it better than daily newspapers.

Your grand-mothers are actually onto something.

(Image via

0 commentsPosted in: Media Relations  |  Public Relations

All the K’s: HodgePodge for Mar. 27

March 27, 2015 | by Tony Scida

Art of the menu

In this video on The Atlantic, “the young doctor” James Hamblin looks at the psychology of restaurant menus and how we’re manipulated by the language used. I promise it’s funnier than that sounds.

Apropos of nothing

Here’s 15 subway-style maps of, uh, non-subways.

And on that bombshell

It may be “just a car show,” but Top Gear brings in millions for the BBC every year, so it’s a pretty big deal that co-host Jeremy Clarkson went and got himself fired.

All the world’s a stream

While you’re picking sides in the big Meerkat-Periscope debate, the big live streaming trend in Korea is called mukbang. From NPR: Koreans Have An Insatiable Appetite For Watching Strangers Binge Eat

Definitely Merida

Do curveball interview questions really work?

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Give the People What They Want: Aligning your message with what your customers actually care about

March 25, 2015 | by Greg Surber

Things you probably didn’t know (or care to know) about me. I love Richmond native D’Angelo. I also love—to a lesser degree— writer Rembert Browne, who in my opinion is one of the funniest music/pop culture writers out there. So you can imagine my excitement last week when this happened. (Browne wrote about D’Angelo. I know, right?!?)

I was expecting to read about how amazing D’Angelo’s newest album, Black Messiah, is live. What I got was a lesson in corporate branding. Stay with me.

The criticism around how corporate SXSW has become isn’t anything new. And Browne, lover of all things fresh, was apprehensive about the fact that D’Angelo’s show had a corporate sponsor—Samsung. But after years of in-your-face look-at-us branding, Browne was relieved to see Samsung take the back seat at the event, realizing people cared about D’Angelo, not Samsung.

Most companies don’t have the resources to sponsor an A-list musician’s concert at one of the biggest conferences in the country, but that doesn’t mean Samsung’s insight should be lost on us.

They’re not coming for you, specifically

Whether you’re pitching a reporter, writing a blog for your website or sharing an article on your Facebook page, ask yourself one question: is this what they want from us?

At its most basic level, PR, communication, marketing—whatever you want to call it—can be summed up in these four points:

  1. Know who you’re trying to reach.
  2. Know what they want (or need).
  3. Figure out how your company can meet that want/need.
  4. Get out of the way.

That last step is where we often stumbled. It might because we’re drinking the Kool-Aid or maybe just desperate to show some traction – I’ve been guilty of both many times. Whatever your motive, remember that your customers don’t so much care about you, but how you can make their life easier/better/more enjoyable.

That four-step process I outlined before is admittedly much more complex in practice, but the fundamentals shouldn’t be ignored. Here are some things to keep in mind to help you stay out of your way.

  • Take time to research your customers: It’s tempting to want to get things going as quickly as possible, though from my own experience, not taking the time to figure out who should be targeting and what their pain points are that you can help solve will only lead to some costly frustrations down the road.
  • Show don’t tell: Sorry to go all 9th-grade English teacher on you, but it’s true. Saying that you’re innovative doesn’t make you innovative. Give people specific examples of how you’re innovative and how doing so makes you better suited to help your customers. (Bonus points if you can do this without actually using the word innovate—or all the other business jargon everyone hates.)
  • Keep listening: This isn’t a one-time exercise. People change, and as a result, so do your clients. Regularly take a pulse on what they are saying, what their needs are and if you need to change your offering and how you talk about it.

Yes, this can be a time-intensive process. But not doing so, and as a result coming off as tone deaf to your customers, can have a severe and costly impact on your brand and customers’ loyalty.   

Editor’s note: In researching this post, I saw The New York Times wrote about the same thing over the weekend. For the record, I had already pitched this idea to THP co-editor, Tony, so basically I’m as smart as The New York Times

(Photo by Anthony Quintano)

0 commentsPosted in: Branding  |  Marketing  |  Public Relations

10 tips for mastering your television Skype interview

March 24, 2015 | 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.

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: 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.

1 commentPosted in: Media Relations  |  Public Relations  |  Social Media  |  The Hodges Partnership

Spring Spectacle: HodgePodge for Mar. 20

March 20, 2015 | by Tony Scida

Smarter than a watch

Fusion has a behind-the-scenes look at how Apple’s new medical research framework, ResearchKit, came to be.

Troll the respawn, Jeremy

Read this Vanity Fair profile of Ellie Kemper and then go binge her new show, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the best show not on TV.

Hi Dad

Here’s a sweet on-air moment between Lester Holt and his son, Stefan.

Maybe you don’t want to know

The language you use says a lot about you, and that holds for your social media updates as well: What do your Tweets say about you?

Working on the chain

WaPo takes a look at the no-longer-elusive Peter Chang.

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Art on the Avenue: Launching Chesapeake Bank in a creative way

March 19, 2015 | by Lindsay Grant

Recently, we helped long-time client, Chesapeake Bank, host a community event to unveil a mural installation at the future site of the bank's first Richmond branch located in the Westhampton neighborhood of the City of Richmond. With several months of construction ahead before the branch is completed, Chesapeake Bank decided to install a mural as a way to thank neighboring residents and businesses for their patience while also obscuring the construction site.

The woman behind the mural is local artist Emily Herr, of HerrSuite. Herr is a recent VCU graduate whose work can be spotted at several Richmond retailers, restaurants and professional services companies.

In line with Chesapeake Bank's "It's All About Community" brand, the 24-panel mural installation includes various streetscapes and beloved institution from the Westhampton neighborhood. The community contributed to the creation of the mural when they were surveyed to define the quintessential Westhampton experience.

At the unveiling were local business owners, Westhampton residents, elected officials and art enthusiasts. They were all eager to see the installation, meet the muralist and shake hands with the newcomer community bank.

Chesapeake Bank is scheduled to open in September 2015. Until then, look out for more out-of-the-box events and ideas from a bank who knows a thing or two about how to engage with the community.

0 commentsPosted in: Public Relations  |  Richmond

Video blog: How to go beyond demographic and interest targeting on social ads

March 18, 2015 | by Emily Shane

You’ve heard us say it before…the days of reaching large portions of your social fanbase for free are largely over. But it’s not all bad news. While it costs money to reach social users – people both within and outside your current fanbase— each of the major social platforms now offer audience targeting tools that will allow you to reach qualified contacts at a reasonable price. You no longer have to rely solely on demographic and interest targeting. Instead, you can send targeted messages to your customers, website visitors or even contacts from your pipeline.

Take a peek at my new video blog below, where I walk you through Facebook’s custom audiences, Twitter’s tailored audiences and LinkedIn’s business professional targeting. You’ll learn what each term means and why your business should be using each.

New Call-to-action

0 commentsPosted in: Social Marketing  |  Social Media

Swift response serves Oklahoma University well in a crisis

March 17, 2015 | by Sean Ryan

Oklahoma University found itself in the middle of a crisis last week when video of a racist chant by members of the SAE fraternity went viral.

Almost as newsworthy has been the University’s response. All too often in a crisis, companies or brands face the music by saying very little or explaining that the situation needs more evaluation. Somewhat shockingly, OU President David Boren’s reaction was swift, blunt and strong—his first comments went viral, and his decision to expel two students and no-nonsense approach to getting to the bottom of the situation have been applauded my most. It also should be noted, some are questioning whether Boren’s reaction was too much, too early, as seen in this well-done piece by Jack Stripling and Andy Thomason of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Even if Boren’s decision leads to legal action—and in today’s society, who would be surprised—the court of public opinion appears to be on his side and likely would remain there throughout a legal battle. The alternative? Boren could have waited a few days to “evaluate the situation,” and the result would have been the public beating down campus doors demanding more action.

If you don’t think the court of public opinion matters, rewind to the NFL in 2014 when the league continually fumbled, er, stumbled through crisis after crisis. Remember what happened when Commissioner Roger Goodell handed Ray Rice a two-game suspension? Outrage from the public, backtracking from the NFL and a series of awkward steps as the league couldn’t get out of its own way.

Crises by definition are difficult situations, situations that often require and demand important decisions. Boren met the Sooners’ crisis head on. He and the University aren’t out of the woods, but his actions to date have been nothing short of admirable.

(Photo: AP)

0 commentsPosted in: Crisis Communications  |  Public Relations

Know the Media—Data Journalism

March 16, 2015 | by Steve Cummings

This past week we got online hits on The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, The Boston Globe and Deseret News (and also this fun “Today I Learned” subreddit) for research we created two years ago. Guess how many hours of work it took to land these placements? Zero. In fact, the client is no longer actively engaging in media relations (which might explain why they aren’t mentioned in the articles).

So what? At Hodges we spend an inordinate amount of time researching what journalists are looking for and need in order to do their jobs. Successful media relations hinges on matching their interests with our clients’ stories (or finding ways to create stories that will). One way more PR pros are going about this, either to the media’s ire or rejoice depending on our standards, is by leaning into data journalism.

What is data journalism?

The short of it is this, more and more journalists are looking to expose and explain stories found by carefully collecting, analyzing and presenting the growing amount of data that the information age has gathered up. The oft-cited examples of the trend’s growing importance are the rise of Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight and Ezra Klein’s VOX (although not without reasonable critiques of those examples)—the latter has a good primer about how they define data journalism, written by Melissa Bell.

Putting this into practice

The groundswell of data journalism is too great to ignore, and more importantly, the opportunity is too great for us and our clients replicate ourselves. Take the Lost-Hour Economic Index—that’s the study that led to all those delicious hits up top that generated an insane amount of coverage when it was first released. 

Here are the combined elements of that program that made it so successful:

  • A timely news hook—daylight saving time is a much-loathed but often assigned news hole at media outlets
  • A rigorous methodology—our clients wisely invested in a third-party econometrics firm and the methodology they recommended
    • The original study with methodology was made available to journalists—the top-flight media prefer and often demand the “clean” data for veracity and to interpret themselves
  • It was novel research—it was easy to understand and tied to the client (sleep tips and information to overcome DST was the natural tie back to’s goals)
  • The data was deep enough to do both a national story and market-by-market stories
  • We pitched it like crazy

Not every client has the resources to undertake this sort of research, but at the same time, data journalism isn’t going anywhere so we need to meet them halfway. Especially among top-tier media outlets, journalists don’t care about trumped-up lists or unscientific surveys when they have publically available databases with data sets of hundreds of thousands or millions. But pulling out insights from data, when done right, is a laborious process, so PR pros have an opportunity to either beat them to that data OR create new research. Either way, we should try our best to meet or exceed their high bar for accuracy and credibility.

The most recent example that fits this strategy, the New York City comptroller’s release of a study that found that it “costs NYC $1.8 Million to Clear One-Inch of Snow”. Now there is a factoid that is ready-made for snowpocolyptic news cycles.

Next time you have a pitching assignment for a client, take a moment to think like a data journalist. What research could your client sponsor that would be novel, rigorous and resonate with journalists and their audiences, even two years after its release? Does your client have any deep data it can share, provided (and this is a big provided) it’s not obviously proprietary or could be used to expose personally identifiable data.  At the very least, start keeping track of what types of data media are using and how they are delivering it to their audiences so you can be attuned to opportunities and threats for your clients.

0 commentsPosted in: Media Relations  |  Public Relations

Have Some Pi: HodgePodge for Mar. 13

March 13, 2015 | by Tony Scida

Splice of life

Two minutes into discussing the usage of commas with compound subjects and predicates, copy editor Mary Norris drops the line “it gets more complicated.” Check on the first episode of a new video series from the New Yorker: The Comma Queen.

Peek scream

The Wilhelm Scream is the world’s most overused movie sound effect. Pricenomics takes a look at where it came from and where it’s going.

In the slow lane

Why does your brain hate slowpokes?

Gone blog

Major tech blog GigaOm shut down this week. Recode has the details, but suffice it to say it’s kind of a bummer.

I did… not well

Take this quiz to find out if you can tell which items were written by a computer and a human.

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0 commentsPosted in: HodgePodge

When something good happens, like a media hit for one of our clients, we bang a gong in our office.


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