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Marketing Your Credential
By Russell Hodge
The following article is first in a three-part series.

Are you an ISA Certified Arborist—the established regional expert in proper tree care where you live and work? If not, why not? The International Society of Arboriculture does a lot of great things to make your credential valuable to you. What is your ISA certification, or any other professional credential for that matter, worth to you? The answer to this question should be based on one thing: at the end of the day, its value comes from how well you are utilizing, leveraging, or marketing your credential. Stop a minute and think about your daily work routines and your interactions with others as they relate to your arboricultural expertise. How often do you run into a supervisor or a client who has his or her own ideas about what should be done with a tree, despite your admonitions to the contrary?

If every person you talked to would just come to his or her senses and realize that you, the ISA credential holder, are always right, then every client would be happy, every tree would be healthy and beautiful, and you would never have to argue again. (Let it never be said that I have less than lofty goals). Let’s start the discussion of how to market your credential by giving you a better sense of what ISA is doing for you.

ISA has been the leading research and arboricultural practices organization in the world since 1924. As a member of ISA’s Public & Industry Relations Committee, I’m part of a group of members helping to plan the direction of ISA’s PR efforts. A major effort is summarized in a statement you often read in this magazine, on, and in our PR materials: Trees are good. Trees need care. Arborists care for trees. The following are a few programs that provide “hidden” value to your certification.

Press Release Program
ISA sends out press releases on more than 45 different tree care topics seasonally. Each month, these press items are sent to newspapers and periodicals all over the world. But only four years ago, I had no idea this was happening. Some of the results of the press
release program are these: In fiscal year 2006–2007, there were 1,274 tree-care (and related)
articles published. Of those, 79 were published outside the United States (including 41 outside North America). About half of these articles were based on press releases or other material originating from ISA headquarters. The first quarter of FY 2007–2008 so far has seen 307 published articles. Every chapter region in the United States and Canada has had
articles published. The UK/I, New Zealand, KPB Dutch, Italy, Czech Republic, and Australia chapters have also had articles published.

Many ISA members do not realize how much the press release program has elevated the Certified Arborist credential in the eyes of the general public. I have found this program to be somewhat of
a secret weapon. I first realized this when I became certified four years ago. As if a magic wand had been waved over me, everyone suddenly treated me as if I had won some prestigious award.
I was no longer just another tree service provider in my area. I was an expert whose opinion was the final word on almost everything related to trees. After all, I was now an ISA Certified Arborist.
I was amazed at the difference in how people perceived me. In my mind, I really had done nothing differently. Our company had been adhering to the accepted industry standards for years. But over the next few months, I began to realize the huge potential of arborist certification when leveraged properly.

ISA Websites
As part of the Public & Industry Relations Committee, ISA’s website traffic information is available to me. I was impressed to find that ISA’s two websites ( and generate approximately 2.7 million hits per month.
These numbers told me one very important thing: a whole lot of people are looking for us each month. The site alone averages 1.5 million hits per month from approximately 32,000
unique visitors. ISA’s consumer information website is It
receives, on average, 1.2 million hits per month with an average of 28,000 unique visitors. This consumer-focused website was redesigned in 2007 to be more user-friendly and visually appealing with the addition of more color, pictures, and graphics.

ISA Brochures
Occasionally, I run into a client who doesn’t want to believe what I am trying to explain about proper tree care practices. Handing over a printed brochure on the specific topic we are discussing can convert even the most skeptical of clients. A collection of informative brochures along with your ability to clearly convey proper tree care information will go a long way toward making you the regional expert. All 18 of ISA’s brochures are available online at If you find yourself without the one you need, you can always send your clients to the website
to see for themselves. I started this series of articles with an overview of the tools available
to Certified Arborists and an explanation of the work ISA does everyday on their behalf. However, as with any tool, it is only as effective as the person who uses it. If you are not already employing these tools, perhaps you should be.

Next time, find out how becoming a Certified Arborist transformed the way I operate.
Russell Hodge is an ISA Certified Arborist. He is a member of ISA’s Public
& Industry Relations Committee and is owner of Hodge Tree Care
( in Portage, Indiana.
APRIL 2008 33

The following article is second in a three- part series.

After earning my certification and seeing its great potential, when leveraged properly, I deliberately changed the way I operate. While my company name is Hodge Tree Care, the center of everything I am, and do, is now as an ISA Certified Arborist. High-end, careconscious people are looking for what we offer. I have had clients tell me they have been searching for a Certified Arborist for months before finally finding me. Commercial tree care companies often focus on the company name in their advertising and marketing, but my move was to change the emphasis to my Certified Arborist credential. Here is the chronology of the transformation.

The Re-Introduction
I mean this quite literally: let every professional and work-related contact you have know about your certification. Among my first stops were the extension offices in the two counties I cover. They
were elated to know a Certified Arborist they could work with and send referrals to. I also received an invitation to join the board of directors of a local nonprofit organization, Lake County Tree ReLeaf. This group promotes new tree planting as well as the proper care of urban trees. Four years later, I now receive 100 to 200 highquality referrals a year from these two contacts alone. I also extended re- introductions to the other green- industry colleagues in the region. Local garden centers, landscapers, and lawn services received a personal greeting from me along with a business card. My network includes 20 to 30 green- industry referral sources that send me pre-qualified (and nearly pre-sold) contacts on a regular basis.

Newspaper Columns

Over my 29 years in the tree industry, I have been disappointed at the availability of quality tree care information in mass media outlets. My blood would boil seeing the glowing feature in the local newspaper of an area “tree service” topping someone’s trees and the proud look of that company’s owner as he smiled for the photographer. How could a newspaper reporter be so naïve to not know that topping is bad? I had been in correspondence with ISA about the frequency and targeting of its press release program, but even with the most ideal targeting, you still have to rely on the newspaper to see the release and run the article. Solution? Be the columnist in the newspaper writing the articles on proper tree care every month. I approached two regional papers about writing a column directed to home owners concerning proper tree care (my company name is never mentioned in the columns). Both papers were delighted to have such an expert providing such valuable content for their readers. The impact of this endeavor has been “ginormous” (my wife’s favorite new word). People in my area now know there is a solid source of tree care information out there. Their tree information isn’t coming from the phone book any more. I regularly refer people to TreesAreGood. org (TAG) for more information. TAG provides great information and, of course, tells people to call a Certified Arborist for all their tree care needs. I have to admit, it was a strange feeling the first time I came across a new client who had clipped out and kept every column I had ever written. But I have received numerous quality contacts and referrals through the columns, and I have become established as the regional authority on all tree care matters. Anybody can buy an ad in the paper and say anything they want, but newspapers
don’t generally give columns to someone without a credential in their field. As you read a newspaper, what carries more weight in your mind, the ad or the columnist? The column provides a degree of authority unobtainable through advertising.

Public Speaking and Teaching
The popularity of the newspaper column led to invitations to speak for various community groups. Local garden clubs and Master Gardener chapters from around the state began to ask me to speak to or teach their groups. I got into the Master Gardener teaching rotation and was eventually invited to speak at the statewide Master Gardener convention. As a commercial Certified Arborist, I highly recommend that you get to know this group of people. Not only are they great customers, but they are some of the best cheerleaders you could ever hope for. Through my membership and involvement with the Indiana Urban Forestry Council, I was asked to teach for the Indiana Department of Urban Forestry’s Tree Steward program whenever it comes to our area of the state.
In a discussion with the Lake County extension office about tree care training for public employees, we came up with the Urban Tree Care Workshop. This six-hour program is specifically targeted to
public employees of small to medium-sized municipalities, many of which have no one on staff with any tree care training at all. This program has been conducted more than 20 times in counties all
across the state of Indiana.

Additional Writing Opportunities
Different opportunities over the years have presented themselves, and several publications have printed my columns, including the newsletter for the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns and City Trees magazine, published by the Society of Municipal Arborists. My columns also make their way to three different websites,, 1-800-, and the ever-discriminating

As a Certified Arborist, your informed opinion is a valuable and marketable commodity. I quickly discovered a large demand in the residential market for tree experts, especially those with PHC
knowledge. I realize not every Certified Arborist deals with the PHC field, but the work brings great rewards to those who put forth the effort. Evaluations for insurance companies and attorneys, as well as ongoing consulting work for golf courses, have come to be fairly routine. Full tree appraisals have been a part of my repertoire for a few years now. Naturally, I would strongly recommend seeking specialized training in appraisals before tackling this service.

Boards, Appointments and Committees
I already mentioned the Tree ReLeaf group earlier. Additional affiliations that have followed since include
• ISA’s Public and Industry Relations Committee
• Indiana Arborist Association’s Public Relations Committee
• Northwestern Indiana Tree and Landscape Association
• Indiana Emerald Ash Borer Task Force
• Indiana Green- Industry Working Group

Don’t be afraid to volunteer for groups like these. They don’t always come seeking you, but the rewards gained in the people you meet and the relationships you build are well worth your time.
Those of you in commercial arboriculture are well aware that re ferrals are golden. The actions I took generate dozens of high-end clients every month. This active mechanism changes the common scenario of you showing up to give a bid for a job to one where the client seeks you out for advice on what needs to be done. The most common client response is one of “I am so happy I found you! Please, go ahead with the work. How much will it be?” All of this has happened in the last four years, one step after another, since I became an ISA Certified Arborist. If you are not
certified, then get on the stick. It is my goal to make the regional tree care expert in every region possible an ISA Certified Arborist.

Part three of this series, to be published in the August issue, will discuss the nuts and bolts of what you need to do and explain how to actually achieve that “regional authority” status.
Russell Hodge is an ISA Certified Arborist. This series is being developed into an extended workshop format for all ISA chapters. If you would like more in formation about hosting one of these workshops for you chapter members, contact Russell Hodge through his website (www. RussellHodge. com).
Marketing Your Credentials (continued)
Nearly 100 Volunteer Arborists Donate Services to Baltimore County

Marketing Your Credential Part III

Hopefully, you have found parts I & II interesting and informative.  Part III is about being useful in helping you accomplish your career and/or business goals.  My whole life has been in residential/commercial tree care.  I have never worked in the utility or government sectors, although I have worked with both sectors many times.  Please forgive me if my perspectives come across as commercially dominant.

A New Mindset Is Required

After becoming a Certified Arborist (CA), I spent a few months gauging people’s reactions and contemplating the most productive way to utilize this new tool.  Quickly, the realization came that I did not want to continue to exist in the classic “tree service” scenario (we’ll get back to that later).  I had to operate in a whole new mindset.  I was not looking to be just a good tree care company.  My goal was to attain regional authority status and become a premium service provider for all things tree care we chose to offer.

First, you must look the part at all times.  All I do now is job estimating, PHC diagnostics and appraisal/evaluation.  No more jeans or t-shirts.  Casual pants and collared, button down shirts are standard attire.  Customers routinely say that I do not look like any “tree guy” they have ever seen before.  This is an easy and immediate method of distinction between you, and your competition.  Yes, it is a cliché, but you only get one chance to make a first impression. 

You should keep a sharp appearing vehicle.  If your vehicle isn’t lettered, you are wasting a valuable means of marketing.  Don’t be shy. Put your name, your title, your certification ID number, and your phone number on the vehicle for all to see.  If you have already done this, you know it works.  People often stop to look at my truck and then come over to get a business card out of the holder which is mounted to the outside of the truck on both sides. 

Second, you must believe you are worthy of being considered a regional authority in tree care.  Why?  Because, if you do not believe it, neither will any body else.  This is the point where I put considerable emphasis on your professional education.  The material in the CA exam is no where near the sum total of knowledge you will need to actually be a true expert.  The continuing education element to being a CA is critically important to acquiring the necessary knowledge to be competent.  Never be content with what you know.  There is always room for improvement.

Network, Network, Network

Get to know as many of your green industry colleagues as possible.  They are a great referral source for new clients.  This group equates to an unpaid sales force actively recruiting for you.  The lawn and garden managers of the big box stores (Lowes, Home Depot) can also be good sources of referrals.  A few years back, I got to know a horticulturist working at one of the big chain stores.  In two years, she sent me clients which led to more than $30,000 in new work. Don’t forget the CA in sectors outside of your own.  Municipal and utility arborists can be great assets to the commercial arborist.

Lead With Your Credential

I do not even put my company name on my truck anymore.  Early in your CA life, the credential carries far more weight than you yourself.  As time goes by, if you leverage it properly, you individually, become the public embodiment of the CA.  This is when things really start to click.  Your time becomes more valuable.  My public face and personal introduction is as an ISA Certified Arborist.  I discovered my company name wasn’t as important as I once thought it was.  ISA’s PR efforts over the years have cultivated this “hidden” power.

Service vs. Care

If you have “Service” in your company name, consider changing it to Care.  This is another easy method of distinguishing you from all of the other tree services.  I know I just got done saying your company name isn’t all that important, but you still do need a company name.  Care conveys a truer sense of what being a CA is all about.

Plant Health Care (PHC)

Unless you are exclusively a consultant, offering PHC services is nearly a must if you are to be the “go to” guy when it comes to solving tree problems.  Diagnostic skills are extremely important, but the next question from the client once the diagnosis is rendered is always “Is that something you can do?”  If you do not offer the fix for your diagnosis (if there is one), then you leave the door open for that client to find there fix somewhere else.  That client will more than likely go straight to the fixer the next time they have a problem.  Client love to know that they have found someone who knows what the problem is, and that they can also fix it.

All of the varied services that constitute a comprehensive PHC program require an individual dedicated to maintaining the necessary education to stay current in the field.  I love the diagnostic challenges encountered in PHC.  They keep you sharp and always thirsty for more knowledge.  This is crucial to being a regional authority in tree care.  Remember, you want to establish yourself as the person to call when they need a tree problem solved.

Publicize More, Advertise Less

If you or your company has ever been in the newspaper for the work you do, you remember the feeling you got when you saw the picture and/or the article telling your local community what great work you do.  Better yet, think back abut how much that article cost you to put in the paper. (Momentary confusion) It cost nothing!  How much would an equivalent ad cost to have run?  I hope you are catching on.  You should working toward a steady dose of publicity throughout the year.  Cultivate relationships with newspaper editors and reporters.  Develop a database of media contacts so you can send them news on interesting projects you will be working on.  Keep your eye out for projects you can turn into a media event.  Outside of my regular newspaper columns, I end up in the paper 5-10 times a year on tree related stories.  Does this just happen? No.  Sometimes the reporter calls one of my other green industry colleagues first.  I end up being a source for the story because the colleague tells the reporter, “If you are doing a story on trees, then you must to talk to Russell Hodge.”  I hope you are seeing the synergy that these relationships bring.  I wish I could continue on here, but this is a subject that will be covered more extensively in the chapter workshops.

TCIA Accreditation

The Tree Care Industry Association has constructed a company level accreditation process for tree care companies.  One of the primary goals of this process is to provide consumers with an easily recognizable method of distinguishing quality tree care companies from everyone else.  A mandatory condition to completing accreditation is that each company have at least one CA for every ten employees.  Compared to the CA credential, TCIA Accreditation is relatively new (about 4 years), but it will become a more important evolution for our industry as time goes by. 

Accreditation is not an easy process to complete, but your company will be far better for having done it.  As extensive as the process was, we (Erwin Tree Care) decided to bring in an outside consultant to help get us through the process faster.  They provided hands-on and on-site coaching to help us complete the process quickly.  Instead of the industry average of 9 months to complete the process, we finished our in 100 days.  If you would like more information about TCIA Accreditation, check out the TCIA website at, or contact me through my site

I can only really hit the major points in a piece this size.  The primary objective for this series of articles is to give ISA members and chapter representative a thorough idea of a sample of what will be covered in the extended workshop that will be offered to all ISA chapters.  If you would like more information on hosting a “Marketing Your Credential” workshop, please contact me through my website at

Marketing Your Credential Workshop

Hosting Information


Option 1:  5-6 Hour Workshop

This is the in-depth version covering everything in the 3 part series plus 2 new sections developed after publication (Targeted Internet Marketing for Tree Care Companies and How to Get a Newspaper Column of Your Own).  Power Point based, interactive and collaborative is the format for the full version of this workshop which can be done as a pre-conference offering or a stand alone day event. 

Cost: $1250 + travel expenses

Option 2:  90 minute In-Conference Session

Only time for the highlights in the abbreviated version (mostly what was in the articles), but may be used to measure interest in a future full length Workshop.  Power Point based with questions at the end (time permitting) is the format for this version.

Cost: $495 + travel expenses

Special Notes

  1. Will need access to a LCD projector.  I will provide laptop.
  2. Event locations within 5 hours of Portage, Indiana, I would most likely drive. ( Hotel may be required)
  3. Event locations greater than 5 hours will likely require air travel.



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