Richmond’s Canal Walk: A Staple of its History and Future

Cinco de Mayo at Casa Del Barco

Cinco de Mayo at Casa Del Barco

If you haven’t been down to Richmond’s Canal Walk lately, there’s a lot going on. This unique part of Richmond is chock full of history and has come alive now that we’re into the spring months.

This past weekend, the Que Pasa Festival, a celebration of the food, music, and art of Virginia’s Latin American communities, took place on the Canal Turning Basin. The latin sounds of Richmond favorite Ban Caribe filled the air inside Casa Del Barco–which features more than 150 agave-based tequilas. Nearby, blues rockers Vintage Trouble lit up Brown’s Island with funky, soulful beats.

The Canal Walk area has been abuzz since 1785, when George Washington surveyed the route for the canal–the purpose of which was to transport people and goods between the western counties of Virginia and Richmond upon completion.

During the Civil War, the area was home to Tredegar Iron Works, one of the largest iron foundries in the nation and whose gun foundry played an important role in the war.

In 1900, the city’s first power plant was constructed, which powered Richmond’s electric street car system–the first such network in the country. Both buildings remain intact today.

By 1995, the city was abuzz about a about a multi-million dollar investment to fix up the Canal Walk–a plan that came to fruition. A video from WTVR’s Video Vault captures the excitement.

If you’ve yet to take a stroll down the canal, there are plenty opportunities this year. Friday Cheers, the aforementioned weekly outdoor music series (now in its 30th year) runs through the end of June. Outdoor lifestyle festival Dominion Riverrock brings trail, bike and kayak races, among other events, to Brown’s Island on May 25. Finally, the Richmond Folk Festival, the largest of its kind in the nation, celebrates its 10th year on the island October 10-12.

It’s All About The Endorphasm

Erica Porter

Erica D. Porter, founder of Endorphasm

Okay, let’s go ahead and get the name out of the way–Endorphasm. I know what you’re thinking. The name does have to do with pleasure. More specifically, that feeling you get from endorphins after a great workout.

Personal trainer Erica Porter, a fitness studio owner in Midlothian, is no stranger to the idea, and used the name to brand her studio and line of fitness apparel.

Porter’s brand is twofold–a full service fitness studio with daily classes and a variety of trainers and an online retailer offering custom fitness apparel. Being that she had a relatively new concept, Porter was without a website, which made it difficult for clients to find her studio and her apparel.

We jumped at the opportunity to help Porter develop a web presence by customizing a WordPress site to fit her needs. By integrating with the software she uses to allow customers to sign up for classes online, we were able to provide an easy way for customers to see which classes are offered and when, which Porter can easily manage from her computer. The information then auto-populates to the website as changes are made.

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One of the many original Endorphasm t-shirt designs available for purchase

We also created an easy way for Porter to show off her custom t-shirt designs, which are housed on a Square Market website, by embedding each product directly into her website. Customers can then click through for more information and secure payment.

If you’re looking to get in shape for beach season or just interested in some cool, locally-designed apparel, be sure to check out Endorphasm!

But First…Let Me Buy A Shelfie!

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Shelfie, “the bathroom tray for safer play.”

By now, you’ve no doubt seen and heard the viral #SELFIE music video, a song that pokes fun at an entire generation’s selfie-taking obsession.

Local ‘momtrepreneur’ Joy Jones, decided–perhaps quite serendipitously–to launch her new product, the Shelfie, around the same time the video came out. Shelfie is what Jones calls “the bathtub tray for safer play.”

After one of her daughters slipped and bumped her head on the wet floor, Jones thought up the idea to build a prototype of a bathtub tray that allowed her kids to play with toys on the side of the tub without spilling water onto the bathroom floor.

After several tests and interest from friends and family, Jones decided to go for it. She ordered a pallet Shelfies from a manufacturer. Her product is now carried at a number of online retail stores, and locally at The Toy Center and Pigtails and Crewcuts.

Shelfie was a finalist in the 2014 i.e.* Competition, an annual startup event put on by the Greater Richmond Chamber. It is now available for purchase online, too.

Check out the product video we produced for Shelfie below.

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Second Screens & Sochi: NBC Olympics Producer Caroline Engle

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Organizer Andrea Goulet Ford watches as attendee Dorsey McFadden asks Caroline Engle a question at the RVA Content Strategy Meetup.

TV as we know it is evolving. DVRs allow us to watch shows on our own schedules, social media is driving our conversations about programming and smartphones and tablets are practically an extension of our arms while many of us watch our favorite shows–a phenomenon known as the ‘second screen’ movement.

It’s exactly the audience that NBC aimed to cater to with its experimental Primetime Companion feature, a component of its Sochi 2014 Olympics Highlights & Results app. The feature allowed viewers to get real time facts, stats and photos relating to the content that was on TV at any given time.

Caroline Engle, a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was contracted by the network to produce content for the Primetime Companion feature. Engle shared her experiences and strategy at the April RVA Content Strategy Meetup, organized by our office neighbor, BrandVox’s Andrea Goulet Ford.

Pulling from a vast bank of research, statistics and photos going back to the first modern Olympic games in 1924, Engle produced upwards of 250 pieces of content for each primetime broadcast for 18 days of coverage–from athlete facts and trivia to background on sports, Olympic history and country stats.

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Trevor live tweets the RVA Content Strategy Meetup featuring Caroline Engle.

Engle said her best line of defense was over-preparing and producing the content up front. Over 90% of the content she produced was done ahead of time. “When you over-prepare, it makes it easier to shift things around,” said Engle.

A second advantage was that, due to the time difference, Engle got to watch each broadcast before it aired. Primetime programming was taped live in Sochi for later viewing in the US, which allowed her to decide when to best have each factoid pop up in the app.

What was most surprising to me was that there was no approval process for the facts in the app–what Engle wrote was published to the app without any level of oversight. Producers trusted her research and accuracy wholeheartedly.

While the app received a great response, Engle says she wishes it provided a more interactive experience for users rather than just having the app present users with information.

Overall, Engle is excited about the trends in second screen viewing and optimistic about its future. “I love this type of media. I think it’s fantastic and makes it easy to engage with those who are enthusiastic about any subject,” said Engle

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Third Annual RVA Hackathon Calls On Developers To “Make Something Awesome”

Developers collaborate on a project at the inaugural RVA Hackathon in 2012.

Richmond is a city of movers and shakers, makers and doers. From the individuals and small startups that work within the walls of our home, 804RVA, to nationally known firms like Mobelux and The Martin Agency, our city’s tech ecosphere is brimming with talent.

But there are also plenty of self-proclaimed “nerds” in Richmond’s tech ecosphere that may not be a part of the larger tech community on a regular basis. RVA Hackathon, an upcoming tech event, is a chance for these individuals to either team up or fly solo and “make something awesome” in a collaborative environment.

Now in its third year, the 2014 Hackathon will take place at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden on Saturday, April 12 from 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. Mobelux is the presenting sponsor again this year, and we’re proud to be a sponsor for the first time as well.

Developers will have 10 hours to work on their project, after which a panel of judges will award small prizes to the Best in Show, Best Concept, Best Design and Best Execution. The audience will also award a Crowd Favorite. Regardless of the outcome, everyone will at least walk away with a t-shirt and mason jar for participating.

If you have an idea for the next big thing or a project you’ve been tinkering with, join other Richmond developers and make it a reality!

Early bird tickets are available for $20 before March 28, after which the price increases to $25. Admission includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and all the coffee you can drink. Register now here.

Wedding Season is Already in Full Bloom–For Planners

Getting hitched? Be sure to pick up the 2014 edition of Virginia Bride Magazine, on newsstands now around Central Virginia.

It may be cold and snowy outside, but the spring and summer wedding season is just around the corner–and that means planning season is in full swing!

If you’re tying the knot this year (or planning for a wedding down the road), the Richmond Greater Virginia Bridal Show taking place this weekend is a great source of inspiration and ideas. Held at the Old Dominion Exhibit Hall, part of the Richmond International Raceway Complex, the show will allow brides and grooms to plan their big day in one fell swoop.

Representatives from a variety of Central Virginia vendors will be on hand, from caterers and florists to DJs and venues. The show, put on by Virginia Bride Magazine, takes place Sunday, February 16 from 1:00-5:00 p.m. Admission is $10.

Pick up a copy of Virginia Bride Magazine on newsstands around the state, and be sure to look for a spread from The Boathouse on locally sourced menu ideas and one from Casa Del Barco on great bachelor party ideas (Think tequila!) Both feature food photography from yours truly.

Need some wedding venue inspiration? Be sure to pick up Virginia Bride’s sister magazine, Virginia Wedding Locations, on newsstands next week.

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Creating Waves of Online Change at Max Radio of the Carolinas

Jody O’Donnell and Mike ‘Moose’ Smith, the duo who make up ‘Moose & Jody in the Morning’ on Beach 104 WCXL-FM in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina

The Outer Banks of North Carolina might as well be my second home. Ever since I can remember, my family would take an annual vacation to Corolla or Duck on the northern beaches. Dotted with beach houses and quaint restaurants, it’s one of the last stretches of shoreline on the East Coast that isn’t lined with jarring hotels and other heavy commercial development. There are few places I’d rather be.

I’ve also always had a love for and deep interest in local radio. Every year we went down to OBX, the whole family would listen to Beach 104. It became one of my favorite stations of the years. One summer in high school right before my family and I came down, I called and asked one of the morning show hosts, Jody, one half of ‘Moose & Jody in the Morning’ if I could come into the studio to see how everything works. They happily agreed, and ever since then, we’ve kept in touch and I’ve made drop-in appearances on the morning show when I’m in town and was dubbed the ‘International Observer.’

Last year, I reached out to Moose, who also happens to be the Regional Vice President of the cluster of stations Beach 104 is part of (which is owned by Max Media) after noticing the previous Beach 104 website had been taken down in favor of a very basic WordPress site.

I asked if he’d like some help with a new website. After a few discussions, we came to the conclusion it might be a good time to go ahead and redesign the entire cluster, which consisted of Beach 104 (Hot AC format), Water Country 94.5 (Country), 99.1 The Sound (Adult Album Alternative) and Classic Rock 104.9 & 92.3 (Classic Rock).

The Problem

Two out of the four stations whose websites were slated for redesign were recently acquired from another company and had either out of date designs or were rarely updated because of the lack of an easy way to do so. None of the existing websites shared any characteristics that tied them together as one cluster of radio stations either.

Being that the Outer Banks is a strip of barrier islands that are vulnerable to hurricanes, nor’easters and other extreme weather, Max Media’s cluster of radio stations are of extreme community importance, sometimes providing the only lifeline to residents after major storms.

Following Hurricane Irene in 2011, Beach 104 simulcasted their signal on each of their radio stations and provided around the clock team news coverage for the following week to thousands without power. The information they provided was especially important to those stranded on Hatteras Island following the washout of Highway 12–the only access road to the island.

Their dedication to the public and dissemination of lifesaving information in times of crisis such as these has been recognized both locally and regionally through numerous public service awards. Max Media needed an easy way to update their websites as a secondary source of information (and to provide live streaming capabilities) in these times of local distress.

The cluster of stations had also become more engaged on social media, which is utilized as a third tier to disseminate critical information, but links to these profiles were somewhat cumbersome to find, depending on the station.

Our Approach

We utilized clean, responsive WordPress templates to put the focus on content and allow for air staff to more easily post to their respective websites, and ensure that content looked good on any platform or device. We wanted to make sure each station retained its own unique look and character, but we were able to achieve a level of brand cohesiveness by implementing several features on each site:

  • Live streaming capability – We implemented a uniform widget on each site that allows visitors to stream each station online via Max Media’s streaming partner, Crystal Media Networks.
  • Outer Banks news and information – Max Media owns a stake in popular online news website The Outer Banks Voice. We leveraged the company’s partnership and pulled an RSS feed of the latest Outer Banks news from the site into each station’s home page. This enabled us to visibly strengthen the partnership between Max Media’s radio and online news brands, not to mention provide a singular content source across the board.
  • Events calendar – Each station website includes a uniform events calendar plugin that allows staff to easily add upcoming events and concerts relevant to each station’s audience and demographic.
  • Tight social media integration – Each site features prominent Facebook and Twitter links to increase audience interaction and engagement on multiple platforms.
  • Unified comment system – By creating a company-wide Disqus account, employees are able to moderate visitor comments across all four websites from one page, saving time and unifying the moderation process.

To view each of the sites, click the respective logos below.

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Facebook Content Strategist Visits the 804RVA Wolfpack

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Andrea Goulet Ford, owner of BrandVox, introduces Facebook Content Strategist Jon Colman

The 804RVA Wolfpack was treated to a special Google Hangout with Facebook Content Strategist Jon Colman last week. This special Meetup, organized by our resident content strategy guru Andrea Goulet Ford, was both informative and useful to a wide audience of communicators, from bloggers and social media strategists to email marketers and public relations professionals such as ourselves.

So just what is content strategy, you ask? Colman says the term can most clearly be defined as the planning process for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.

Colman’s presentation was fun and informative–not to mention filled with great quotes. As someone who’s worked as a journalist, social media marketer and now PR pro, I got a lot out of it. Here are some highlights:

1. Content is the whole experience

Content isn’t just the words you’re writing for your brand, it’s the entire experience–from the fonts and design to the user interface and coding that makes it all tick. Part of that experience is understanding how your end users or customers are interacting with your content.

Many content creators don’t think about how end users will connect with their content. Colman demonstrated this by showing a photo of a typical vending machine keypad and explaining that the order of the keys, with letters going down one side and numbers down the other, is laid out counter intuitively to the typical user’s eye motion.

2. Content strategy defines how you portray your brand to the world

Your content strategy should be much more centered around your brand’s values than just ‘what Google tells you to do’ in an SEO sense. Colman showed a great example of how email marketing service Mailchimp put together a comprehensive style and tone guide that gives their support team examples of how to respond to customers using the voice of Freddie, the company’s fun and playful monkey mascot, but adapt it to any situation depending on the context and seriousness of the situation. By doing this, Mailchimp increased customer loyalty and built brand affinity, and scaled the strategy from a small startup to one of the largest and most successful email marketing companies in the world today.

3. Putting processes in place and using them consistently lessens your strategy’s technical debt

By putting systems into place that allow you do things like publish your content once and have it pushed to multiple platforms at once, plus having content you can reuse and readapt for multiple uses, you’ll lessen your technical debt (the time it takes you to post and repost content and change/adapt it).

Colman wrapped up his presentation by dispelling a common myth about content strategists. “Content strategists don’t make things like blog posts, press releases, etcetera, they make systems that drive the performance of those things and make the brand make sense,” Colman said. “We make systems that make things. Things for people.”

Ford, owner of content strategy startup BrandVox, says the main problem content producers are facing today is outdated business processes that can’t keep up with the high volume of information businesses need to publish to their social media channels these days.

“There are antiquated business processes that get in the way of good content. It’s not a talent or expertise problem. It’s a leadership and organizational one.”

Ford says by building bridges between your company’s creative and leadership teams, you can take ownership of your brand’s voice. “Sit down with someone and get their vision for the company, and make sure your content matches your values.”

Local Family Receives Priceless Holiday Gift

Baby Hears Clearly For The First Time

photo-2Back in December, Hayes and Fisk Photography launched its first-ever Instagram Challenge: #RVAHolidays. The idea was to get Richmonders to share their favorite holiday traditions on Instagram for a chance at over $500 in prizes. [Read more…]

It’s Hip To Be Richmondmom

Monica Horsley, Kate Semp, Kelly Vance, and Kate Hall in front of the Chevy Traverse they traveled in from Richmond to Austin, TX for SXSW.

When I first met Kate Hall three or four years ago, I already knew we had a lot in common. As the founders of two local publications (myself with Downtown Short Pump and Kate with RichmondMom.com), we clicked and became friends almost instantly. [Read more…]