15 July 2009

The Interview: Chris Hogan

Chris Hogan is a family man, an exec at a major trade association in DC, and an old friend. If you really know Chris, you know he has a very strong interest in men's clothing - not really what's "hot" or what the latest boy band is wearing, but the cultural and historic aspects of classic style.

To the best of my knowledge Chris doesn't have "formal" training in textile science, marketing or design. He didn't have many contacts in the field and doesn't have a long resume in the fashion industry. He just really knows his stuff. So when Chris decided he wanted to make a contribution to the body of thought leadership in this community, he did what many people are doing now - he started a blog in late 2006 that focused on the issues that interest him. He calls it Off the Cuff.

He still has his "day job," and he never did much to publicize his work - when he had time, he just kept writing thoughtful posts that demonstrated his knowledge of the topic and reached out to just the right people online. His readership grew steadily as more people learned about the blog. Now he has major publications asking him for contributions and companies asking for his advice on marketing. He's an authentic, credible, and independent voice in this community.

I asked Chris to answer just a couple of questions about what he's doing - I think Off the Cuff serves as a nice case study about how it's possible to take simple, sustainable, and strategic steps to build and strengthen a reputation in a specific community. This is how it's done, folks. The Q&A:

Why did you start the blog?

I wanted to explore if I could actually become an acknowledged expert in the menswear field. I've always had the interest and felt that my more intellectual and culture-focused approach might be attractive. I didn't want to write about what was "hot" - I don't really care about that - I wanted to write about how classic and timelss style can easily be fit into modern life.

How has it evolved since you started it?

The core goal of becoming a leading voice in the menswear/lifestyle world is fairly unchanged, but as the site and brand evolved I found myself addressing weightier topics, like the mass luxury movement and how it destroyed the concept of craftsmanship in favor of profit. I still write about day-day topics, but overall, I'm the old timer in the men's style blogging space. In fact, most of the sites on my blog roles didn't even exist when I started.

At the same time I was being approach by several entities to provide content for some major sites like MensFlair and now Nivea For Men's corporate site. I also recently sent in my first major publication, a piece for The Rake magazine that will be in an upcoming issue. So, the bigest change for me is the level of attention and genuine benefit a lot of my readers get fromthe site and associated content.

What are the tangible benefits you've gotten from it?

Obviously being considered a leading voice, someone worth talking to, is a big plus. I originally wanted to see if I would ever be considered and expert in the area of interest and the answer appears to be "yes". That helps me gain access to a lot of interesting and knowledgeable people, but it also allows me to extend the OTC brand and refine my style of writing and presentation.

I never advertised and I've never really pushed the OTC site or brand on anyone. all the attention has been natural and organic - to me that means even more because it tells me that I have something to say that others want to hear. that matter the most, being useful and relevant. Pumping up site traffic means nothing to me because there is no value there. So, the attention I am getting gives me a sense of purpose - it really matters. I have gained in a umber of ways - OTC is a relevant advice and style guide brand in the classic/preppy/Ivy League segment of the menswear space. Niche, yes; but valued. I get tangible benefits like products for testing and evaluation and significant discounts in some cases so that I can purchase products to test and write about. I have been invited to attend several very cool events and have also been able to interview some talented in engaging personalities.

I have also been able to expend my own skill set, notably in branding and strategy, so much so that I have provided some rather extensive advice to a UK based apparel/lifestyle firm.

All of this flows back to reputation and value. On the web, and certainly in my postion, reputation is everything.

What would you like to gain from it next?

I would like to build the OTC brand into a real consultancy of some sort. Branding and style/lifestyle advice. I would also like to take the Monocle route and develop a highly edited co-branded line of products. If nothing else, and I just wrote about this, the whole concept of branding and the marketplace it fragmenting and becoming highly decentralized. While Mr. Blackwell's list is entertaining, today people make up their own mind about what's cool, what's in and how to best create their own look and sense of style.

I want OTC to be a leading resource in market shift.

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