As PR and marketing professionals, we’re consumed by the brand reputation of the clients and organizations we represent, but often fail to build our own personal brand. Carol Blymire, founder and CEO of Neon Strategies and professor at Georgetown University, joins us on Lay of the Brand to show us how personal branding can be critical to how you market your company — and how you grow your career.
You have to be really mindful about what you’re putting out there into the world, the decisions that you make, and the communities that you’re part of.
— Carol Blymire, CEO, Neon Strategies
About our Guest: Carol Blymire is in the business of influence. As a strategic comms consultant, she works with individuals and organizations on telling their stories to effect change and better the lives of people and families across the country. Carol also teaches Personal Branding in Georgetown’s graduate programs of communications, public relations, marketing, and journalism.
» Find Carol’s “8 Questions” to assess your personal brand” here
Personal branding resources recommended by Carol:
- The Brand Called You (1997) by Tom Peters
- Me Inc.: The Rethink (2005) by David Lidsky
- Dorie Clark on defining your personal brand (2017) by Bennett Voyles
- Increase Your Self-Awareness with One Simple Fix (2017) by Tasha Eurich
- Trust drivers – competency, empathy, and authenticity (2022) by Brenda Bailey-Hughes
- You really can change your reputation at work (2015) by Carolyn O’Hara
Episode transcript (edited for clarity):
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: As PR and marketing professionals, we’re consumed by the brand reputation of the clients and organizations we represent but often fail to build our own personal brand. Why is that important? In a time when terms like “authenticity,” “keeping it real,” and “bring your whole self to the job” are commonplace, B2B marketers and PR pros are learning that being true to yourself can make a tremendous difference in how you connect with people — both personally and professionally. And that can be critical to how you market your company and how you grow your career.
To learn how to cultivate your personal brand and the ways it can have an impact, we’re talking with Carol Blymire, founder and CEO of Neon Strategies and professor at Georgetown University. Carol, thanks for joining us.
Carol Blymire, Neon Strategies: Peter, thank you for having me. I’m happy to be here.
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: You’ve seen a lot of what works and what doesn’t, so let’s start with the basics. What is a personal brand and why is it so important to cultivate one?
Carol Blymire, Neon Strategies: Your personal brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. A lot of folks struggle with this definition because many people have been raised to believe that, “Oh, it doesn’t matter what other people think about you. What matters is what’s in your own heart.” And as much as I think we all would love that to be true, we know that it’s not because none of us are out there not judging people.
So your brand is what people say about you when you’re not there. It is being consistent. It is being authentic. And there’s a lot of, you know, the changing definition of authenticity is something I know we’re gonna get into, but every single person listening to this podcast already has a brand.
There’s a lot of literature out there on LinkedIn and all social channels about “how to build your personal brand with these three easy LinkedIn tips,” and that’s all garbage. Those might be ways that you communicate who you are or what you’re interested in, but every single person listening already has a brand. So there are ways in which you can do some perception exercises and really pay attention to what you’re putting out there and what people are asking you to do to make sure that you are in alignment with what you’re putting out into the world and how people are seeing you.
It’s really important to understand what your brand is and be very clear about it, again, because we’re judged by what we put out there. Because we’re judging others by what we see that they’re doing. So you have to be really mindful about what you’re putting out there into the world, the decisions that you make, and the communities that you’re part of. All of that is what helps shape who you are, how you’re perceived, and your brand overall.
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: Well, we’re in marketing. So let’s talk about some use cases.
Carol Blymire, Neon Strategies: Yes!
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: When does a personal brand come into play? I can think of a few, but I’d love to hear what you have to say about it.
Carol Blymire, Neon Strategies: It comes into play in almost any experience that you’re in. What I talk about with my students at Georgetown is, we often think about your personal brand as only being career-focused. Your personal brand and who you are comes into play — oh god, I even hate to say this — on dating apps, job interviews, networking, community, cultural, and even family matters. Different family dynamics come into play based on your words and your actions and how you put your life out there into the world.
But I think it’s important to keep our conversation today focused on the professional aspects of, not only how your personal brand plays out for you and your career, but then the linkage that it makes to your employer. Because in public relations, it’s so rare that we ever get to spend any time on ourselves thinking about our brand. We are all really good at PR because we’re really good at putting other people first, other brands first, and other clients first. And honestly, we’re kind of garbage at doing this for ourselves.
And so, I always tell my students at Georgetown, “this one night every week, that’s ‘me time.’ You get to focus on you.” And most of my students will tell you how uncomfortable that is. That’s a sign of a good PR person and a good marketer because you are really good at focusing on other people. But sometimes, we have to take those strategies and those objectives and tactics and turn them around on ourselves. Otherwise, someone else is going to control your narrative when you’ve got to really pay attention to controlling it as much as you can yourself.
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: You started to bring up authenticity, and that’s a big part of what we consider someone’s personal brand: their real self. But that term is getting so overused and in some cases, can come across as artificial. People often have a work persona that’s different from who they are in the rest of their life, so how do you balance that to be truly authentic and true to yourself?
Carol Blymire, Neon Strategies: So there are a couple ways to think about authenticity. First of all, a lot of people get authenticity and transparency confused. We all know that person who throws it all out there on Twitter, on Facebook, on Instagram. They’re not shy about sharing every single thought they’ve had or every single thing that they’ve had, and they confuse that with authenticity. We don’t need to know every single thing that’s going on in somebody’s life, every single appliance company that you’re mad at, or your car dealership that didn’t do your oil change the way you wanted it. A lot of that needs to really go away from social media.
But thinking about authenticity has changed quite a bit — even, I would say, in the past five years. Seth Godin used to refer to authenticity as doing that consistent emotional labor to show up in a consistent way. Demonstrating your character, even when people are looking and when people are not looking. And a lot of the ways that he described it is very kind of white dude, tech bro, gamification of authenticity.
And I think there was a time and place for that because, you’re right, we do have these different personas that show up in the different aspects of our life. But thanks to the invention of cameras on phones, there’s no such thing as privacy at all anymore. So you really can’t be one person at home, one person at church, one person at school, another person in the community. You are one person. So it is being very mindful of any — and I don’t want this to sound like this is Justine Sacco tweeting bad jokes and wondering why people are firing you from your job — but you do need to be thoughtful about what you put out there, not just for your own reputation but is this authentically me?
I got caught up in a trap of my own doing on Twitter years ago. It’s fun to participate in conversations, and I love joking around with my reporter friends on Twitter. But then there are times when I’m like, “Do I really need to be part of this conversation publicly? Do I need to build on that joke? Could that come back and bite me in the butt at some point?” The answer was almost always no, but do I need to just reframe and think and focus my efforts where I want them to be?
Seth Godin recently did an interview with Inc magazine where he talked about this newer definition of authenticity which, I think, is much more in alignment with where we are as a society now. We just want to be seen as a human being. With as much damage as has been done to our nation with covid and the pandemic and a million other things, the one thing that has come from the pandemic and the way that our work lives have been altered is that, boy, we are seeing each other as complete human beings.
You’re seeing your co-workers’ kids throw their Winnie the Pooh doll at their face while they’re trying to manage childcare. You’re seeing someone shove a sandwich in their face before the meeting starts because none of us ever have time to eat. We are seeing each other as whole people. And I think, if anything good can come out of this pandemic, I’m hoping that we can maintain those newer expectations of what authenticity is: we want to be seen as human beings. We know that we’re all flawed. We’ve allowed ourselves to be vulnerable in professional situations where that was never permissible before.
So, I think the definition of authenticity is changing. I think what it really means at its core for PR people and for marketers is that, to be authentically you, means that you’re showing up, you’re delivering on your promises, you are recognizing other people for the human beings that they are in that social compact of knowing that they’re doing the same for us.
And I think that the definition of authenticity is going to continue to evolve in the coming years. As more women continue to rise into senior leadership positions, as we have society and business and politics become much more diverse and inclusive, all of these definitions of authenticity are going to have to evolve. We can’t allow or permit or encourage the code-switching that has had to go on for women and for populations of color. We have to recognize people for who they are and accept all of that.
So I’m looking forward, in our field, to seeing where we go with this in the next five, 10, 15 years. We’ve got a long way to go, but I feel like we’re on a good path to getting there.
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: You mentioned at the very start that the personal brand is what people say about you when you’re not around, which means you don’t have control over how you’re perceived. But you can take actions to address it. So how do you go about understanding what your personal brand actually is right now? And then how can you make the changes that are going to be useful to others and true to yourself?
Carol Blymire, Neon Strategies: There’s a series of questions that I’ve worked on and have conducted research on over the years, and I’ll share them with you. You can put them in your show notes. But what I think it’s important to do is ask for feedback, and not just in that awful annual review type of way. But there are ways in which you can talk to your colleagues and friends and co-workers to gauge “how do you perceive me?” without saying “if you could describe me in three words, what tree would I be?” Because those are garbage questions. But it’s all about asking people “what do you think my strengths are? What problems do you think I’m best at solving? Where do you see room for some professional development? What path do you see me on?”
If you’ve already kind of defined yourself and you’re pretty confident in who you are, and then the answers to these questions come back in a completely different way, you’re probably not putting out there into the world the things that you think you are.
One of my former students did this exercise in my course, and she was convinced she was this bright, talented young woman at an agency working with CEOs and CTOs in Silicon Valley. And she was convinced that the feedback was going to be “rising star, creative innovator, great at ideation, great strategist.” All of the feedback that came out about her was, “oh my gosh, she loves pizza and she’s going to open her own pizza restaurant in Italy one day.” And she really had to sit and think hard about all of the things that she talks about with colleagues.
Like yes, her work is strategic and strong and she delivers, but she really loved to talk about the pizzas that she ate and she went to Italy and did this tour of all these stone ovens. She really wasn’t clear in her own mind about the kinds of things she was putting out there about herself. And she really had to pull back in and be like, “I gotta nip this in the butt and stop talking about this.”
Yes, it’s fine to have conversations with people, but the fact that she was perceived as wanting to drop out of PR and move to Italy and invent a new kind of pizza dough versus this woman who had the potential to be, I don’t know, the next CEO of some amazing new innovative tech company.
It’s really thinking about who you think you are and then getting some feedback, asking questions, and paying attention to the kinds of things your bosses assign you to. Paying attention to the kinds of things that people come to you for expertise on. And if you’re in your job and you’re in that daily grind and you’re thinking, “oh my god, I cannot stand this work. Why do I keep getting put on this?” Really take that time to think about, “oof, am I being put on this stuff because I keep saying that I like it or I’m demonstrating an interest?”
But you also need to pay attention to how you talk about yourself with other people, the kinds of stories that you share. Networking is not going to cocktail parties with sweaty cheese cubes and bad chardonnay. Networking is very simply an exchange of information between you and another person. It’s answering a question and, gosh, in Washington D.C., we’re so bad at this. Someone will say, “Peter, how are you?” I’m not saying that you would say this, but an answer typically from PR people and marketers is, “Oh my god, I’m so busy.” A) Boring. B) We’re all busy. C) Just gross. Can we stop doing that? You missed an opportunity to say, “oh my gosh, I am busy, I am exhausted because I’m doing this new project for a client. It’s really interesting, but I’m struggling with this one key launch thing that we want to do. Do you have any ideas?” Or “hey, I’m doing great. I watched this new series on Netflix. Got no sleep last night. What are you watching?”
We miss these opportunities to have conversations. And those conversations are what shape how we’re perceived. There’s only so much we can do one-on-one in networking to talk about who we are and what we’re all about. You need your cheerleaders out there. You need those people who will drop your name in a room when an opportunity comes up so that you don’t really have to do any networking yourself. Other people are building your brand for you.
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: The kinds of things you’re talking about, that self-reflection and then actually asking people “please give me genuine feedback,” that can be a little scary.
Carol Blymire, Neon Strategies: It’s totally scary, but think about what we do in consumer marketing and B2B marketing and B2G marketing. We do research. No one created the Affordable Care Act sitting in their office by themselves, typing a 500-word document to be like, “I think this is what will work in a healthcare field.” No. No one is out there doing marketing strategies or plans without understanding their audience.
So all of us as career professionals, we have to know who our audience is. Our audience as it is today and our aspirational audience. Where do we want to be in our career? And then how do we make sure that what we do is visible? Again, I think a lot of us may have been raised that all you have to do is just do the work, deliver really good work, and people are going to recognize that. That may have been true on a factory line in 1963. That’s not true today.
There’s a great book that is very hard for PR people to read, which is why I encourage everyone to read it. It is called “Brag Better” by Meredith Fineman. It came out in 2020. And Meredith works with early-entry career, mid-career, advanced career on how to talk about ourselves. And she talks a lot with people in the marketing and communications professions about taking the negativity out of the word “brag.” Because if we don’t celebrate our own wins and we don’t talk about what we’ve accomplished, how are we going to expect other people to know about it or to share our information with other people?
So “Brag Better” by Meredith Fineman. It is one of the most uncomfortable reads because, again, we’re so good at doing PR and marketing because we’re good at putting other people first. And that book, the first nine pages — and I’m not a highlighter — but I highlighted all of these things while I was cringing going, “Oh my god, she’s so right and we gotta talk about this more!” That’s also a good book to think about what you need to do to really make sure that other people are hyping you up and cheerleading you and helping you with your reputation as it relates to everything that you want to do in your career.
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: So in addition to making course corrections, are there long-term strategies to changing your personal brand over time in order to get where you want to go?
Carol Blymire, Neon Strategies: Yes. And the first thing, as any good marketer and PR person knows, is you’ve got to do that landscape analysis. You have to look at where you are now. And again, that’s really hard to do too.
It’s hard to sit in front of that open Google doc and make that list or open a notebook. Be old school. And really look at your last 30 Instagram posts. Look at your last 100 Tweets. Look at your last five TikToks. Look at what you’re putting out there into the world. Look at what is on your calendar. Look at all of the things that you have agreed to participate in. Like yes, I want to be a part of this club or group. Or yes, I want to network with this person.
You’ve really got to look at where you are now and figure out what you can drop, what you can replace with something new that is aspirational to maybe get you in a direction where you want to go or course correct to make you stronger where you are.
You have to know where you are first. And that is just doing a landscape scan of everything that you are a part of, everything that you’re putting out there, and then really think about who you really are and how you’re perceived. And then think about the ways in which you can help reshape that.
It is a long game. A lot of this is a marathon, it’s not a sprint. It’s not around your passions because your passions are going to change over time. It’s really thinking about, what is it that — I don’t want to use the word legacy too lightly, but if I were to be hit by that bus tomorrow, how do I want people to have remembered me? Again, that’s a little more morbid than I think any of us wants to think about in our daily work day, but think about how you want people to describe you. What do you want people to come to you for? And then start making those adjustments.
It might be that you start sharing different kinds of things on LinkedIn. You might be sharing different kinds of articles and then adding your own three or four sentences in that blog post part where you actually talk about what you think about what you’re reading. Or sometimes, it’s just being a better listener and having that sense of self-awareness to understand, “here’s where I think I am but, ooh, I may need to do a couple of little shifts here and there to, not gamify, but really to think about the long game and the marathon.”
We’re so used to seeing, you know, people, like any musician. We’re so used to looking at celebrities and thinking, “Oh my god, these people. Look at what they’ve done and they did it so quick and it was so easy.” There’s a memoir out by the woman who played Pam on the office. Jenna, totally forgetting her last name.
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: Fischer
Carol Blymire, Neon Strategies: Thank you! Her memoir is all about the grueling auditions, the waiting tables. Anytime you can really remember like, yes, people are well known for doing things. Or yes, a new chief comms officer at Netflix is the hot new whatever. But my god, we need to talk more about all the gross stuff we PR people had to do for years until we got where we are.
I think there’s an expectation, thanks to social media, that things happen in a blip and a snapshot. And if you’re 22 and you’re not a vice president, then you’re failing. And oh my god, I’m here to tell you that’s the furthest thing from the truth. There is a grind, and I think all of us — especially those of us in our mid-level and advanced professional levels in our careers — we’ve got to talk more about all the things that we do to have built where we are today. Because all of those little building blocks come together to make that bigger foundation that then launches us to the good stuff.
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: Personal brands can become intrinsically linked to a corporate brand. You look at Steve Jobs and Apple. Elon Musk and Tesla, for better or worse. How can marketers use their personal brand to support or elevate their employer’s corporate brand? And are they linked?
Carol Blymire, Neon Strategies: They are linked. It’s all about reputation. So you can look, again, Elon Musk is an example. Elon Musk, for a long time — like yes, he was quirky and odd, but he was an innovator. And so you looked at Tesla, and you looked at SpaceX. And what he was doing was new and interesting and bucked convention and was fascinating. So those were intrinsically linked.
And then the more that Elon shared about himself or the more that people uncovered about him or felt freer to talk about, a lot of what he has exposed about himself reputationally, people take that into perception. Fewer people now want to buy a Tesla because they don’t want their money associated with or going to Elon Musk. You saw it with the newest Top Gun movie. Yes, it was a box office success, but there was considerable conversation that people purposely did not see the movie because of Tom Cruise’s association with Scientology and all that we have found out about Scientology since the first Top Gun movie came out.
So those are big-picture examples. When you bring it to our level, we make decisions about consumer purchases, about businesses working together, certain political connections. All of those decisions have reputational links to them, whether they are people affiliated with those reputations or you may want to work for a certain employer or certain company. Your agency may want to go after a specific client, or not, depending on the reputation of the people working there.
So if you think about who you are and you think about where you work, a lot of PR people get faced with this personal brand and employer link — largely around those highly sensitive issues. There are PR people that are very clear that they will never work on tobacco, vaping, guns, certain healthcare issues. And it’s both sides of the political aisle or any kind of societal impact.
I think a lot of us are very clear and we have our list of “I will never work on something like this” or “Yes, I absolutely want to work on something like this.” So there are reputational links there because you don’t want yourself associated with a specific issue or a specific whatever.
When you have individuals with reliable, trustworthy brands. I mean, we make connections with brands as consumers because we trust them, and I think there are significant business-to-business brand linkages. They’re all based around trust because they have to satisfy shareholder expectations and business goals. And that holds true for personal brands linking with employer brands.
We’re in this symbiotic relationship based around trust. I trust you as my employer not to make a crappy decision and take on a client that is garbage. And you as an employer trust your employees to make wise decisions; to position themselves as very good at what they do; and also have a robust, interesting personal life.
I don’t think any employer should be looking at their employees to be like, “You must be in these five personal activities. And you can’t do anything that will be flagged as ‘weird.'” Because I think this is a much more open society, and we want our employees to have fascinating personal interests. But again, it’s all centered around trust. We make our buying decisions — whether we’re a consumer or a business or a governmental organization – all of it is based around trust. So that’s where that linkage has to exist and be very strong.
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: It seems like it would be even more important when you’re talking about, say, a startup or a one-person business. And if you’re representing that kind of individual, personal brand and company brand are the same.
Carol Blymire, Neon Strategies: Yes, they are. So my company is a one-person company. It is just me. I hire subcontractors as I need them on specific projects, but my name is my reputation, is my brand, is everything. And I pride myself on the clients that I work with. I’m very clear about working on issues that appeal to both sides of the aisle. I work a lot in healthcare, biomedical research, longevity. I can’t afford, nor do I want, to be polarized. I want to work on things where people come together and solve problems together and find common ground and I work on influencing that. And that’s important to me.
That’s what our country looks like. Our country is never going to be one ideology, one political party. You’ve got to find ways to find common ground to work on things. But yes, when you are a startup, when you are a solo practitioner, when you are this hot young entrepreneur — or not even young. When you are this entrepreneur that people are paying attention to, your name is your reputation, is your brand, and you have to protect that as the business asset that it is.
Tom Peters, in 1997, wrote a piece in Fast Company called “The Brand Called You,” and it is all about us as our own personal brands. We are the CEO of us. And so you have to think about how you protect your brand as its own asset, and then apply those same principles as if you were doing marketing or PR for that startup, that entrepreneur, that solo practitioner. Your brand is everything.
I mean, we’ve seen how far people want to dig back into your Tweet history to find some potentially negative thing that you said in 2010. It’s all gonna surface and you can’t really delete anything because everything is findable. But I think there is some grace around that, too, in knowing, “Hey, this is what I did. Here’s the expectation of what could happen. Let’s figure out how we roll with it.”
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: There is a lot to consider when you’re defining or refining your personal brand. But what if you’re just starting out? You’re a recent college grad. You’re getting into the business. You want to focus your career on marketing and PR, but you have a full life. What do you need to think about when you’re getting started?
Carol Blymire, Neon Strategies: Oh my gosh, if I could go back and be 22, 23 again. I don’t think I would do anything differently, but I love seeing early-career professionals start to build this because there’s so much opportunity for crafting who you are and what you want to do.
The first thing I would encourage you to do is to understand that people of generations above you are going to have opinions. And I think it’s incumbent upon those of us in Generation X and the Boomers above us to be mindful that generations are different. I would never apply certain standards that my colleagues do. I have a colleague who is a young Boomer who, when he is having his PR firm interview new candidates, they do a deep dive on social media. And if they can see you drinking or see you on a beach in a bathing suit, they don’t necessarily want to hire you because they think that puts you at risk. And I think that is the most outdated “insert every expletive here” ridiculous measure of whether or not a person has talent to apply to an organization.
That said, you want to know that people apply that standard. So, not telling you that you have to go and readjust everything about what’s out there, but I do encourage you to go through all of your social media. Every photo that you’re tagged in, just know that people will use that as a way that they could perceive you, judge you, eliminate you, whatever that is. So be aware that it’s out there. I don’t agree with it. A lot of people don’t agree with it. But it’s out there.
Early-career people, what I would encourage you to focus on: cleaning up your existing social. But really think about what your point of view is on something and that it’s okay for that point of view to change. Understand that you’re in the early stage of your career. You’re not going to know everything. No one expects you to know everything. It’s going to feel competitive. You’re going to see people out there posting whatever they want on LinkedIn or trying to drive some sort of personal brand strategy. And if you’re not comfortable doing that, please don’t fake it. Everyone will be able to see through it. It’s not something you’re going to be engaged with or click with to be able to continue.
I would encourage you to be a really good listener. Use your external sources to listen and to learn and to compliment. As a PR practitioner and a marketer, follow great marketers. Follow good PR people. Watch what they talk about on social channels with their colleagues. You’ll see conversations and Twitter responses and LinkedIn comments. Pay attention to those and compliment them. Say “thank you for this this blog post. This was really fascinating and I learned something.”
Just be a sponge because one aspect of your personal brand that is incredibly hard to fake is showing that you’re an interesting person. One of the ways in which you can demonstrate that you are interesting is by being interested. So learn. Be a sponge. People will recognize that about you. I don’t want you to feel like you’re 23, 24 — and a lot of my students fall into this trap — “oh my gosh, I’m just out of college. I have to have my own website, and I have to do a professional photoshoot with headshots and me leaning on a brick wall with a cute shot of me looking introspective with the Capitol dome behind me.” No one cares.
What people will care about is that you are learning and you’re interested and you’re engaged and that you can then share with others what you’ve learned or post questions. Open it up for conversation. And if there’s anything that you feel could be, not really risky, but just could be like, “ooh, what would my boss think if they saw this?” Ask your boss about it. Don’t be afraid to have that conversation with people in your workplace, to say “hey, I’m thinking about a LinkedIn blog post on how B2B marketing in 2023 … what a new trend might look like in one particular …” Put that question out there and encourage conversation.
In our field, the more we can convene good ideas and encourage people to talk with one another, the more successful we all are. So please, if you are new in your career, there is no expectation that you have to either have it all together have or this perfect package. I’ve seen too many of those perfect packages fall apart in six, seven, eight months because it’s not sustainable. It’s okay to lay low and to just listen and absorb and learn and then use your external outreach to bring people together, to bring ideas together, and to thank and acknowledge people. That’s an important part of networking.
So, make sure that your social channels are clean. And you know what I mean. I don’t mean clean like perfect and pristine. That they are clear and that you’re putting out there the kinds of things that are going to help shape how you’re perceived. But try to take some pressure off yourself. If you’re putting pressure on yourself that you have to be this perfect Kylie Jenner, you know, everything has to be perfectly maintained and beautifully designed and your Instagram has to be perfect. I’d rather have you have nothing on there than you putting out a bunch of stuff that is going to change in its look and feel and approach in three months because you just don’t like it anymore.
Use this time to just learn and absorb and take it slow. Your career and your life? It is a marathon. It is not a sprint. So take your time and talk to your colleagues about the ways in which you can improve, change, grow, the ways that you’re putting yourself out there. But really, just take that breath and try not to put stress on yourself about it.
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: The idea of personal brand changes over time. Of course, I know that my career goals now are not the same as they were when I was 25. I know that, while there’s things that have carried through my entire life, I’m not the same person I was back then or 10 years after that. The idea that your brand can evolve is something that may not be intuitive to people.
Carol Blymire, Neon Strategies: So take a look at some of the consumer products on the shelf at the grocery store or on Amazon. When you take a look at consumer brands and you take a look at the history of how they’re marketed — let’s use, for example, what all of us have in common is the fact that we do laundry. I personally hate it. We all do laundry.
We choose a brand of detergent based on a number of factors — whether it’s price, whether it’s the way it smells, whether it’s good for the planet. We all choose our laundry products of choice based on our own determining factors. Again, all of those determining factors, the core element is trust. I trust this brand because it’s good for the environment, it doesn’t use whatever. Or I trust this brand because my grandmother used it, my mom used it, the smell is good. No matter what those brand attributes are, they resonate with us because they’re all grounded in trust. So again, if you can think about carrying yourself as a human being that builds relationships that are centered on trust and connection.
All branding — whether it’s B2C, B2B, B2G — there’s an emotional connection there. Because we’re all thinking about, not the actual product, but what’s what is the problem that it solves? So think about yourself in the same way: “What is my secret sauce? What do I deliver? What value do I bring that can help me stand apart from others and be memorable? What ways in which do I develop trust?” And when you think about that from an authenticity standpoint and you think about that, your brand is going to evolve over time.
Something that you have to get very comfortable with is that, when you are who you are and you are authentically you, you become a magnet. Magnets do two things: they attract and they repel. The attracting thing? Great. It’s going to help you find your people, find your connections, find your communities.
A problem that a lot of people have is that they’re not comfortable that they repel because they were either raised to believe that everyone needs to like you or there’s something wrong with you. Which, every parent needs to understand, that is not the case. It’s why we have people pursuing bad relationships. It’s why we have people who tend to lose friends because they’re too focused on why so and so in a group doesn’t like them and ignoring the fact that 35 other people do.
So again, when you are authentically you as your brand and you are building those trustful relationships, just know that some people aren’t going to buy what you’re selling out there in the world. And that’s amazing! Because they’re gonna go find their own things and there’s no amount of convincing that you can do to change their minds. We know that from a consumer perspective. There is absolutely no way I am ever going to eat an Almond Joy candy bar. No matter what you would do to try and convince me, I think they’re disgusting. I want nothing to do with them. So Almond Joy, Mars, is not going to spend eight billion dollars to try and convert me to eat one of those candy bars. They’re going to focus on the people who want to buy them.
So it’s the same thing with you as an individual. You’ve got to be very comfortable with the fact that when you are who you are. Some people aren’t going to want what you’re buying. It’s a gift. Time is our only non-renewable resource on the planet. You can grow more food, build more stuff. God, the Fed can even create more money. You can’t manufacture more time. So spend your time with and on the people who want what you’re selling. Doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk to those who don’t, but you don’t have to chase after them because you’re not going to convert them. And that’s brilliant! They’re not going to convert you to their stuff. Think about the people who want you to be in their camp on something. It’s not going to happen.
So remember that principle: when you are who you are, you’re a magnet. You attract. You repel. Repelling is not a bad thing. We’ve gotta reframe it. You’ve got to focus on where you’re spending your time to get the most return for your life.
Peter Jacobs, Lay of the Brand: Carol, there is so much to think about so I even hesitate to ask, are there any last tips or thoughts that you’d like to leave us with?
Carol Blymire, Neon Strategies: Can we do this every day? Can we just talk about branding every morning and you release a little 10-minute conversation with us? Because I have loved this! You’re asking the best questions and it’s so clear that you’re so in tune with what marketers and PR people need to be thinking about and how we think about our brand and how it’s linked.
I think the only other thing that I would raise is, you know, again, there’s only so much that we can strategize or gamify in ourselves without it feeling icky. And we’ve got to be really mindful of the ick and the cringe and not forcing ourselves to do things that put us in that uncomfortable, awkward setting because we’re not meant to be there.
So you’ve got to pay really really good attention to your gut instincts and in knowing what you’re comfortable doing. Yes, take some risks sometimes, but the the biggest takeaway is just be a clear communicator. Build that trust with people. Be an active listener. Learn as much as or more than things that you’re willing to share. And just be patient. This is an exhausting career to be in.
I am 53 and I have been in PR and marketing and comms since I was 19 years old. This is a long game. Self-care is very important, and I don’t mean “oh, get a manicure” or “oh, make sure you eat less steak every month.” That is not self-care. Self-care is making the decisions about career, about life. It’s building a life so that you don’t feel the need for those weird, extraneous — that you’re not depending on that one massage a month to make your life perfect. Because it will never be perfect.
Just know that you have to be very clear on your boundaries in this career. You have to take care of your body. You have to eat well. You have to hydrate. You have to exercise because it’s a grueling career and it’s hard, but you’re doing incredible work.
All of us in this business are in the business of influence. All of the work that I think, this listenership, the decisions that we make are all around decisions that are helping American and global families live better lives for the long term. And we have to center ourselves in that and also know that, to be able to deliver that great work, we have to have the internal foundation to be able to deliver.
I wish I had given myself this advice in my 20s but for those of you in your 20s and in your 30s, nutrition, hydration, exercise, save money. Build a savings account because you never know when you might need to walk away from a job or an opportunity that conflicts with your values. And that can happen in PR and marketing. But really, take good care of yourself. Make sure you’re surrounded by people who you know are there for you. You’ve got good supports. And then be those good supports for other people as well.
It is a fun, amazing career to be in, but I don’t think people on the outside really know how hard this is because we’re so good at making it look easy and so good at making all of our clients and colleagues look amazing. We’ve got to focus that inward on ourselves.