Who are you?

The first week of my Personal Branding class at Georgetown, I ask my students:  Who are you?

To begin the real work of personal branding, and get to the core of who we are, I tell them:

  • You are not your job title
  • You are not your affiliation with an employer
  • You are not your passion
  • You are not all the things you've failed at.

Your personal brand isn't "I'm a PR manager" or "Wine and cheese is my passion".  (barf)  Your personal brand isn't "I'm divorced."  It's also not, "I'm a government wonk."

Your personal brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room.

When we think about what that means, we need to reframe how we think about and talk about ourselves.

When I'm not in the room, I wouldn't want someone to describe me as "oh, she does marketing for a tech company."  Why?  Because tens of thousands of other people do that.  That's not memorable.  That doesn't set me apart.

So, I work with my students to identify their functions, attributes, strengths, emotional appeal, and differentiators.

  • Functions: What do I do? What services do I offer?
  • Attributes: What are the characteristics or qualities that describe me?
  • Strengths: What am I good at? What am I known for being good at?
  • Emotional Appeal: How do I make people feel?
  • Differentiators: What sets me apart and makes me memorable?

Every semester I have taught this class -- EVERY SEMESTER -- at least one student says, "there's nothing memorable about me" or "I have no idea what sets me apart".  At least 5 other students nod in the affirmative.  I used to want to just hug them and tell them it will be okay ... but now, hearing that makes me excited.  Why?  Because I know that person is going to have a pretty damn remarkable semester in my class digging deep and finding out what sets them apart from others.  Because it's there.  They just don't know it yet.  When we find it (and we always do), it's magic.  I wish you could see it.  The energy and momentum that comes from it is infectious.

I don't use the word "unique" in my class.  I think it's unnecessary in personal branding.  When I see personal branding presentations or articles with the words "unique value proposition" I automatically know two things: 1) that person's personal brand is Boring King of Finger-Guns City and 2) they are not in my tribe.  Using "unique value proposition" is the kind of marketing gobbledygook that turns people off from the whole exercise of figuring out what they're great at doing, how they can pursue those talents in myriad ways, and how they talk about themselves and interact with the world around them.  Our DNA makes us unique.  But in terms of talents, skills, values, and experiences, "unique" is not what we're going after.  We're going after what makes us memorable ... what makes people want to engage with you when they meet you or have heard about you.  What makes you magnetic.  What helps you find your tribe.

For one student, her memorable moment was that she had her pilot's license before she could drive a car.  For another student, it was having written and submitted a spec script for "How I Met Your Mother" (which never got used, but the very action of doing it is a fun story and shows part of that student's personality and gumption that might not have shown up in a regular networking conversation).  Yet another student had done more than 100 drops out of a helicopter in the military ... didn't seem interesting to her, but in conversation with others it made her memorable and also kind of a badass.

So, who are you?






When PR Week Uses Your Tweets for a Story

Here's a little lesson that everything you write on Twitter is public, even if you think it's just a conversation between two friends.  

My social media content is an extension of me, and I am generally not a jerk or a hair-trigger troll.  I am unabashedly myself on Twitter, so I don't ever have to stay up late at night worrying about a Tweet or other social media post.  If I think something could be misinterpreted or taken out of context, I don't Tweet it.  It's that simple.

The week of the May 2015 Amtrak derailment, my friend and fellow PR pro Erin Hennessy and I were "talking" on Twitter about how disappointed we were in Amtrak's handling of the crisis, particularly on social media.  PR Week magazine did a round up of how top PR pros were talking about the crisis on social media, and our back and forth made the cut:

PR Week: Crisis communicators skewer Amtrak's crash response on Twitter

Erin and I (and countless others) wondered how a passenger transportation company's PR team didn't have canned statements and social content at the ready to customize and communicate almost instantly given any kind of accident, crisis, or catastrophe.  Even in client organizations I think are at low risk for crisis, we still do a crisis plan.  It's just good practice.

How Amtrak fumbled so badly, I'll never understand.  I want to believe their PR team is strong and talented, and were beating their heads against the wall because they couldn't get approval on statements or strategy.  Still, PR pros shouldn't have to wait that long for others to give a green light.  PR pros need to and must be among the decision-making team during a crisis (and every other aspect of the business).

The key to having strong crisis comms is for the PR team to have solid relationships with the lawyers and C-suite at all times, always always always.  There has to be trust and open, proactive planning and communications. PR pros need to befriend the legal team ... bring lunch to the ops staff ... take the IT guys and gals out for drinks ... maintain open dialogue with media ... because building up the trust bank before a crisis happens means you have ready reserves when the fit hits the shan, as they say.  It's rare, but when it happens it's magic, and crises are handled exponentially better than when those relationships don't exist.

Clearly, that wasn't the case at Amtrak.  And, like I wrote in my Tweet -- I'd love to work with them on crisis planning, more open and trustworthy communication, identifying key decision makers, and rapid readiness.  Many times, there's not a lot to say, or few details to provide.  Still, silence (or a tone-deaf Tweet) is never the answer. 

I'm not old enough to join AARP, but they still want my advice!

Hey. We all make mistakes.  Personally, professionally, somewhere in between.  We're human.  

In my awesomely fun and very busy PR career, I've made some professional (and personal) blunders along the way.  Thankfully, with the help of amazing mentors and work colleagues, I learned very early on that you can't run, you can't hide.  You have to step up, address what you did or what happened, do what you can to fix it or find a solution for next time, and move on and let your next great bit of work adjust your mojo.

Kara Baskin of AARP's "Life Reimagined" reached out to me for some advice on how to reverse a big misstep.  The article is here:
AARP Life Reimagined: How To Reverse a Big Misstep

In the piece, I talk about:
- the importance of friends and colleagues
- how to inoculate yourself against rivals and enemies
- why you can't burn bridges or be a jerk
- acknowledging difficult conversations but having them anyway
- why gossip has GOT to go

Have you ever made a big mistake?  Screwed something up?  Got yelled at?  Pissed off a co-worker or boss? 

How did you handle it?