3 Assignments for a New Leader

1. What inspires you about the brand or firm you have inherited? Write a short visionary statement.
2. What aspect of the business most troubles you? Draft a chapter on this topic for a new and improved version of your firm’s personnel handbook.
3. Say you work 50 hours a week. How might you reassign 10 of those hours to better align with your vision for change in the firm? This change in how you spend your time will model new behaviors throughout the organization.

Toward a Theory of Personal Branding (Part II: Blog to the Score)

Theorized: With only slivers of time, one can create good content and thereby expand one’s personal and professional brand.

Sometimes a personal brand gets built by accident. In late 2008, I presented to my firm leadership a trend report on social media. At the time, social media was poorly known. LinkedIn was a fledgling service and Twitter had not yet met Oprah. Most of the principals in our industry who heard me talk laughed nervously about how Facebook was where their teenagers lived. But when I delivered my trend report, something happened. The doubters acknowledged that this might be something big. I was asked to give the talk five, ten, 15 more times, to audiences representing a wide range of companies.

Four years later, I decided to start a blog under my own name. Although by this point I had developed websites, blogs, and social media campaigns for the firms I had worked for, I began to feel that I had to drink my own KoolAid: I had to create and measure social media for my own personal brand. While there is much work to do to develop this brand, there is one trick already worth sharing, and that is to work within a score.

What is a score in this sense? In certain forms of improvised dance, a score is employed to give dancers a structure to navigate through a performance. It is a set of rules or limiting factors. These limiting factors serve to wedge the writer (that’s me) into a spot where creating content is simplified.

The first aspect of the score that I designed (by accident) was effective yet radical. I chose simply to blog about my experiences, with no apology. This was contrarian thinking for a professional marketer, someone who has always spoken from the customer perspective first. Every day that I face the blog, I draw only from my unique anecdotes and stories. The difficult hurdle is continuing to believe that to do so is valuable. When I was a young writer in high school and college I heard a constant refrain, “Write what you know.” However, a decade or two in business has squashed much of that truth as I am paid mainly to edit the writing of others, whose technical expertise I understand only vaguely and whose core business is somewhat of a mystery to me, it must be confessed. The main value that I bring to the table is to write clearly enough that a typical client audience can understand the gist of the technical gems.

The light bulb went off again when I realized that drawing from my past, including my very recent past, would be valuable to my desired blog audience: other marketers whom I could inform or inspire. From the perspective of organizational development and human capital, I provide, as you do, as everyone does, unique accomplishments, beliefs, experiences, experiments, and the list goes on. Seeing this list so objectively suddenly made it easy to hoist stories up from the well. The anecdotes I have from my experiences are unique to me. Therefore they must be told, because not to tell them is to deny others access to that capital. It’s the product that is under development. And in the privacy of my blog, I forego the market, I relax about the market. I focus on product development. The product that is perpetually invested in by my own and others’ human capital: me.

Blog posts therefore, are pretty speedy to write. I recommend looking through sent emails of the past week or excerpting from almost any formal document you have contributed to. There is always a kernel of brilliant accomplishment to be found in the detritus of our work. The score is permanently inscribed in the blog’s categories: Accomplishments, Beliefs, Experiments. Stay within the score and hit publish.

A puny little blog like mine is hardly the end-all be-all for personal branding or organizational publicity. In fact, studies are beginning to show that a person’s presence across various social media services is what builds traffic because we inspire trust when we participate authentically in many conversations. We are trustworthy when we both listen and speak. Yet more evidence that in the era of social media, building and believing in our personal brand is of paramount importance.

Toward a Theory of Personal Branding (Part I)

Given: Success in many environments comes from a combination of old-fashioned hard work, excellent social skills, and a touch of flagrant self-promotion.

Let us consider flagrant self-promotion as an ingredient for success. Hard work is hardly a topic for much discussion: we know it’s critical. Haul yourself out of bed because the early bird gets the worm. (Though it often seems that the earliest bird gets the worm figured out, paving the way for the second earliest bird to obtain the worm and reap the big rewards!) Social skill-building for business is an excellent topic for discussion, and it merits a full treatment. One of my favorite topics of all time is networking tips and tricks and I very much enjoy helping individuals and groups explore the true size and breadth of their personal and professional networks. It’s awkward under the hot lights, but let’s be brave and take a look.

In order to be clear that building a personal brand is not the same as craving a spotlight, let us first consider a famous name who shun the spotlights when she is not working: Meryl Streep. Considered by some to be film’s greatest living actress, Streep rarely appears in tabloids and keeps her public appearances to a minimum. In keeping with this lack of gratuitous self-promotion, Streep has built a personal brand of seriousness and dedication to her craft.

Close to home, there are plenty of notable characters who work to maintain a personal brand. One well-known consultant wears a bow tie to each and every networking event. A female company president keeps her mane long and blond; combined with the feminine name of her firm, it suggests a welcome differentiation in a male-dominated field. A p.r. specialist at an architecture firm always chose yellow for her social media avatar backgrounds, which worked perfectly with her sunglasses and sporty updates to convey California-born freshness on the East Coast.

Business in general can be seen as having two essential parts: the product and the market. It’s simplistic, but it works well. A product is developed, whether a new invention or a fresh take on a time-tested service. Perhaps your firm was founded by an engineer: that person represents the product. The market has to be represented inside the company, too, whether by a chief of client service, sales, or marketing. Product and market.

In the case of a personal brand, the product and the market are one. When developing and promoting your work and persona, you must see yourself as product, which may be at some level objectionable. What is the product truly? What makes it/you unique? And of course, what does the market want? How does the market want to make use of your talents? Can these two identities fuse together successfully? A personal brand that accepts its true and dyadic nature has magnetism. It has a reputation that shines equally outward and inward. The velocity is spiral and increasing. With applied acceleration, it may go viral.

Recipe for a Great Interview

First, an
Opening statement
Followed by
Questions to determine your needs.
(Stop! Look! Listen!)
Some call this “Buy before you sell.”

Then it’s time to show off
Relevant accomplishments
Buffed by a
Testimonial from an objective third party.

Pause to ask about any reservations you may have.
(Stop! Look! Listen!)

And finish with a statement on motivation to work with you.

10 Takes on Personal Presence

1. Style. See Bill Cunningham New York, the documentary about the world’s best street style photographer. It is the tale also of a decades-long unerring point of view.

2. Grooming. SMPS Boston shared “Dress for Success” tips last week on their blog. We had to clip the grooming section, which said essentially, “Get a facial a couple of times a year to avoid over-reliance on cosmetics.”

3. Persuasion. My dramatic speech teacher from high school found a lucrative encore career helping executives become more lucid and persuasive.

4. Holding a room. Sometimes this means getting to know the room ahead of time. How much will your voice have to project?

5. Posture. You cannot hold a room unless you stand up straight.

6. Preparation. Send people the agenda ahead of time when it is your meeting to lead. You will make them feel respected.

7. What Dad said. “Firm handshake and look ’em in the eye.”

8. Poise. See L’Amour Fou for a peek into the man behind 70s fashions, Yves St. Laurent and Valentino: The Last Emperor for a fashion business marriage of two men.

9. Manners. It is truly illuminating to read etiquette books from different decades. Miss Manners and Emily Post are still the reigning champions.

10. Generosity. Smile to yourself and to others and see it returned in unexpected ways.

Big Birthday Experiment

My husband has a big birthday coming up. What should we do? We could go skydiving, like my friend Vikki did the other day (just saw it on Facebook). We could work on a volunteer project, like the Boston Natural Areas Network  Community Garden events held in Boston’s poorest and most densely built neighborhoods. We could go to a rock concert or a Celtics game. I could buy him a bottle of his favorite cologne. We could have family gather around for an all ages party. We could have dinner with ten friends in a fine restaurant. I could hire a caterer to cook at our home for ten friends. We could have a mixed family and friends party.

Some of these ideas will have to wait until next year. Cupid’s birthday is tomorrow, Valentine’s Day!

Sample Web and Social Strategy

For each social media service below, note the aspirational audience (A), message (M), and sample tactics(T) for marketing Firm X, a professional services company.
A: Warm leads; clients who are just beginning to know Firm X.
M: We can help you with your high-risk problems.
T: Maintain a unique and updated web presence. Post occasional, high quality messages.
A: Those who have hired Firm X previously plus qualified prospects.
M: We can delight your clients or team.
T: Post unique experiences and insights. (One-way communication is expected because people are reluctant to comment on a corporate blog.)
A: Those who benefit from the services of Firm X.
M: We are listening to your comments and needs.
T: Engage with followers (2/3); provide teasers for blog posts (1/3).
A: Existing staff and clientele of Firm X. Future staff.
M: Let’s entertain and be entertained.
T: Post celebration photos. Engage with friends.
Instagram, Pinterest, Soundcloud, Tumblr
How would you use these services for your firm?

Life Sciences Explosion

“We are in a renaissance, a life science explosion. It used to be, if you could do nothing else as an architect interested in academic work, you did a lab. Now our clients who offer lab work are truly the patrons of the arts. They are fighting for extraordinary talent. Lab work can showcase truly creative interior design work while the most dynamic workspace analysis comes from the sciences.”

Words of one of Boston’s top architects. Coming soon in full interview form.

Twelve Days of Christmas, Six Gifts at a Time

We will take a winter break, roughly parallel to the twelve days of Christmas. (Posting will be light.) Here are six gifts for colleagues and friends, none of which is a partridge:

1. Appreciation for that 80% of your personality that gets things done and is completely successful.

2. A gentle word or two for the 20% that is less effective and powerful.

3. Something luxurious, whether a massage or a box of Bellocq tea. (I’m eyeing the $25 sampler pack.)

4. The ability to laugh at yourself. Is your office a mess? Hang up a sign that melds together ‘chaos’ and ‘order’ in humorous typography.

5. A commitment to listen closely to someone you work with who is upset. The power of the listening ear cannot be overstated in business.

6. A good biography and time to read. (Try Tina Fey’s Bossypants if you haven’t read it already. I’m opting for Grace: A Memoir, about Grace Coddington of Vogue.)

Six more, coming soon.