Personal Branding cheat sheet

Judging from the conversations I’ve had with my classmates these last few days, not to mention the conversations I’ve had in the past with recent graduates, its fair to say that few are aware of their ‘personal brand’. Admittedly, not many of us have consciously worked on building these brands, but they exist nonetheless. As much as the internet has aided our ability to communicate and share knowledge, so too has it become a digital store of every single thing we say, upload or share – no matter how old or seemingly innocuous it might be – and each one of these help form the way our ‘brand’ is perceived.

Facebook in particular, is a trove of embarrassing drunken club-night photos from our teenage (or, in some cases, more recent) years; photos which, if discovered by a employer or client, can damage our ‘image’ and reputation. The question therefore is no longer IF you have a personal brand, but whether you choose to manage and build that brand or let it be defined for you – both positively and negatively. UYB-Slide1

Being able to trust those that you work and associate yourself with is such a hugely important part of modern business, that to not attempt to at least manage your personal brand, can have far-reaching impacts on an individual’s professional and personal life. Its more than likely that whatever business or organisation you end up working or interning for after graduation is going to be using social media to recruit and source new employees as well as to increase connectivity and productivity. Googling variations on your name as well as working out precisely what your social media profiles say (and don’t say) about you is the first step in gauging what ‘image’ your digital footprint is promoting to your boss.

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After all, people want to do business with other people, not with corporations or ‘brands’, but, saying that, they also want to do business with people they can trust to do what’s in their best interests. As such, personal branding allows you to establish a reputation and an identity for yourself whilst maintaining the personalised level of trust and interaction with clients, employers and audiences, that social media allows.

Just as so with a traditional brand, personal branding requires you to find a ‘signature image’, a unique ‘voice’, and at its height, a particular written standard that readers, fans, and employers can grow to recognise. Once you understand how you want to be perceived, you can start to be much more strategic in building and shaping your personal brand. Below you can find the four key steps to get started in building a personal brand for the creative sector:

1) Cut, edit and paste your social media profiles to perfection

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Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, even Instagram and Pinterest; Look at what each of your profiles say about you. If your Facebook and Instagram is filled with drunken photos, either delete them, quit having photos taken of you when you’re worse for wear, or make sure that the aspects of your profile that could be negatively misconstrued are made completely private (though you will need to regularly check this as Facebook is notorious for its changing privacy settings).

In the creative sector, Twitter and LinkedIn are professional lifelines, and its important that you come across well on them. You’ll need to professionalise (particularly on LinkedIn) but try to keep some personality to your tweets/posts; after all, nobody wants to work with a robot.

2) Start creating your own content

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Employers want to see what you can do, particularly in public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism, so blogging is a simple and easy way of building your ‘brand’ whilst honing your professional ‘voice’. The key to this is writing a) about what you know, and b) about what you’re passionate about. For me, that’s communications; which, given my broad spectrum background in Journalism, B2B and B2C PR and my current studies in PR and advertising, has led to my blog covering a range of these sectors to try and demonstrate not only my industry and subject knowledge, but also my writing style and personality.

3) Find a niche and separate yourself from the crowd

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A strong personal brand is dependent on a strong narrative. If you have multiple areas of interest across your blog(s) and social media profiles, this can dilute your brand. Therefore, the strength of your story becomes even more crucial in creating a unified and consistent theme. Whether this is focusing your work towards a niche audience, such as in the case of Behind the Spin (which focuses on appealing to PR students), or diversifying the focus of your content in terms of discipline, such as, Internal Communications, or sector, such as: Food and Drink.

Finding a niche is something that can be done simultaneously to creating your own content, or something that can come as a naturally forming secondary aspect once you have established an audience who respond and engage with your brand. Personally, due to the breadth of my experiences and academic studies, I have chosen the latter approach as I feel that firstly, building the foundations of my brand as a communications professional is at the moment more important, and secondly, that by measuring the success of each post I upload, I will better be able to gauge the ‘niche’ my audience and writing style best fit.

Its all about what works best for you.

4) Network like you’ve never networked before

networkingExpanding your professional network and engaging with social influencers is now more critical than ever. Whether its professionals already working in your desired industry/sector, social influencers with lots of connections, or simply people in great positions to help share your work, sparking conversations and making contacts is key in helping you grow and promote your brand.

Meeting people at events is great but no matter how you engage, be sure to follow it up either through email or LinkedIn to not only expand your network, but also to reinforce your contacts memory of you in a way that leaves a lasting positive impression.

Never forget to share your story, but be sure that each part of your story is one that is worthy of sharing.

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Introducing 500 word ‘fixes’: Subject 1 – Interflora

We use flowers to mark every occasion. They decorate weddings and holidays, mark births and deaths, and say ‘Thank you’ or ‘Get well soon’. Interflora: the largest and most experienced flower delivery network in the world, has been helping its customers’ “Say it with flowers” for nearly a century. Its reputation for excellence, based on the work of its award-winning florists, is centred on three specific brand values; ‘trusted’, ‘personal touch’, and ‘WOW! Factor’.

However, Interflora’s customers are invariably middle aged men and women. If you ask young adults where they would go to buy gifts for their loved ones, flowers has fallen down the ranks; even asking them where they would go to specifically buy flowers will rarely spark recognition of the Interflora brand. Instead, they’ll think of supermarkets, whose focus is on convenience and low prices, leading to supermarket’s market share rising so that over 70% of the UK’s £2.25 billion flower sales are now bought there.

I propose that to increase brand awareness within young people and regain market share, Interflora needs to tap into the mind-sets and consumption habits of young people so as to raise the profile of buying premium hand-delivered florist-made bouquets as opposed to a cheaper supermarket alternative.

Praised for their delicate beauty and heady aroma, flowers are often given to loved ones such as parents and grandparents, so I propose a digitally-led integrated campaign which focuses on them as the recipients. However, rather than using the standard sentiment of “I love you” for these recipients, I believe that saying “Thanks” holds more creative potential. Our parents and grandparents after all, are often those who’ve most actively shaped our childhoods and therefore the adults that we become. Centring a campaign around this fact can therefore have universal appeal, tapping into the gratitude of young people, the nostalgia of the elderly, and the sentimentality of all.

The campaign would consist of an initial series of short videos on Facebook showing, for example, how a grandmother’s role in teaching her granddaughter to bake sparked a passion for cookery, resulting in the granddaughter getting a job in a top kitchen. Simultaneously, under the hashtag #minetaughtme, a Twitter campaign can be used to tap into real people’s memories of growing up and how those experiences have shaped their lives, with the results being used to reward lucky users with a discounted bouquet delivery to their loved ones as well as to create additional videos which can be aired both on and off-line for maximum reach

I would also seek celebrity endorsement, as gaining their stories on how their parents’ and grandparents’ actions during their childhood influenced their success as adults would, without doubt, boost the campaign’s appeal and recognition amongst its target audience. I would also utilise their inclusion by hosting Interflora-sponsored events in shopping areas across the country to celebrate and reward particular parents/grandparents with a surprise bouquet whilst they’re shopping with their loved ones.

Skill-building for students: What we need to impress employers

One of my current favourite blogs, the ever-insightful Comms2point0, published a post on Friday by Sarah Stimson covering her perspective on what skills are currently needed for a career in PR; namely: ‘Likeability’, ‘Writing skills’, ‘An interest in media and current affairs’, ‘Attention to detail’, and being “savvy” with social media.

Whilst these areas are of course valuable, I don’t think the article perhaps addressed the nitty gitty specifics. Seeing a gap, I’m intending to fill it with a breakdown of a few slightly more specific things that we students/newbies need to be able to demonstrate when job-hunting – that’s not to say we need all of them however, as agency and role requirements vary to suit their and their clients’ needs.

I’m basing this post on a compilation of suggestions by marketing, journalism and PR academics such as Sheffield Hallam’s new PR whizz, @LizBridgen; DMU Journalism Lecturer, David Penman; and my own experiences facing what employers claim to expect skill-wise in interviews and job descriptions.

Some may be obvious. Some may seem like they’re unnecessary for any but the highest over-achievers. But I believe they all have great potential for being useful not only to initially ‘get’ a job, but also to succeed once in it.

Writing skills

Arguably the most important aspect of a communications/marketing/PR role – It would be idiotic to claim otherwise.

Writing doesn’t always come easy though, and your tone of voice in what you write needs to be adaptable. Creating your ‘personal voice; however is something that only really comes with practice, I find, so specifically, the following will help with that and in building your professional ‘brand’ as it were.

  • Create and regularly update your own Blog. Don’t forget to share posts via Twitter and LinkedIn.
    • Blog and tweet about current media issues and areas.
  • Review PR/marketing/advertising books on Amazon.
  • Write for a local or University magazine.
  • Write press releases and blog posts for University societies and clubs.
  • Write for a student PR magazine such as ‘Behind the Spin‘ or for CorpComms Magazine.

As well as practising and honing your writing skills (including your attention to detail), all of the above can be a way of demonstrating that you have an active interest in media and current affairs that goes beyond just reading Metro headlines on the way to the interview.

Creative skills (for Advertising and Marketing)

Practice. That’s all I can recommend. It doesn’t need to be perfect, you have time to hone your ‘craft’ but being able to show you’ve done some of the following go’s a long way to suggesting you have the creative/innovative and therefore useful approach that employers like.

  • Create a perfect portfolio. Only contain the best of your work; remember your choices are what are ‘selling’ your ability to an employer, show them what you can accomplish.
  • Practice creating under pressure. @OneMinuteBriefs I’ve found really helpful for this even if my attempts are usually notebook doodles rather than cut-past collage masterpieces
  • Draw/sketch/paint/design every day that you have the time. Some may be rubbish, but soon you’ll pick up on ideas and improve time-wise.
  • Visit Museums, art shows, theatre performances. Attend niche music events and watch independent films. Breaking out of a personal ‘bubble’ exposes us to a wealth of creative inspiration that we can use.

Networking

Some of us love it. Many students don’t. How do we get our identities known so we can get that elusive ‘big break’. The following are a few of the ways I’ve come up with for meeting and greeting (within PR particularly). They don’t take an awful lot of effort either if I’m honest. Easy peasy!

  • Join the CIPR (small fee for students, free membership for students of Uni’s with CIPR-recognised courses).
  • Join the PRCA (free for students I believe).
  • Research the agencies you want to work for and the people who work there.
  • Find current agencies and practitioners with personal blogs. Have an opinion! Ask for advice! Give feedback!
  • Follow and engage with relevant people on Twitter and LinkedIn. Comms chats like last week’s #measurePR discussion are particularly great!
  • Create your own business cards. Moo.com is cheap. Make sure to include your LinkedIn, Twitter, Email and Blog addresses or even a QR code.
  • Go to CIPR events and local business events.

Social media savvy

To me, the term ‘savvy’ never fails to bring ‘pirates’ to mind (thanks to a childhood love of Johnny Depp) but that’s probably the one thing I’d recommend not to do. I know it may seem low risk to grab that innocuous torrent but with the way things are going, in my opinion at least, its a silly thing to risk a reputation and finances on. The following however are skills with a potentially giant reward of getting your foot in an employers door, so keep these platforms and skills in mind.

  • Twitter. Enough said. For the few that don’t yet have/use Twitter, have you been living under a rock? For marketers, advertisers and PR execs, this is your bread and butter platform, so definitely make sure you have a profile and engage frequently in conversations with those you want to engage with.
    • Hootsuite or Tweetdeck. Both are great apps for making Twitter a lot easier to manage, Hootsuite is perhaps more commonly used, but I like Tweetdeck’s interface a lot.
  • Facebook. Not chatting to your mates of course, but learn how pages work and how to measure impact and engagement.
  • Google adwords. Research, learn, understand.
  • Learn how to blog using WordPress or Blogger.
  • Understand how to network and engage on LinkedIn beyond its use as an online CV.
  • Do video blogs and host your own YouTube channel.
  • Make use of Vine and learn the best ways to be creative/innovative. Experiment and see what works for you.
  • Learn the marketing potential of Instagram and consider how that relates to what you want to do/achieve.

Technical skills

For me, technical skills is a broad-brush term that includes all of the below plus many more I’m sure I’ve forgotten/haven’t come across. The perhaps annoying thing about web 2.0 is that its forever changing the goal posts BUT, saying that, its also a great opportunity to get really good, relatively quickly at a range of skills. Such as, for example:

  • Adobe Creative Suite, particularly: Photoshop, Lightroom and InDesign. For January only, Skillfeed are offering over 63’000 video tutorials for various software
  • Basic coding. It might seem daunting but websites like CodeAcademy are really simple to use and learn.

General skills

  • Language skills. Set yourself apart from your competition by learning a ‘business’ language i.e. French, German, Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin etc. It shows that you’re internationally minded and appreciate other cultures. It’s also a valuable commodity given that in the EU, we Brits are significantly disadvantaged in terms of foreign language ability.
  • Get a full drivers licence. Even if you don’t intend to ever own, drive or be in any way associated with a motorised vehicle, it ticks a super common box in application forms and is a basic technical skill of modern adulthood outside of inner-city London.

Experience

Very simple. Get some. It’s one of those things that shows you’re serious about what you claim to want to pursue a career in, and that you’ve impressed someone else within the industry in the past. Although payment for work is never guaranteed, and the jobs aren’t always the best, here are a few ways I’ve found work well to getting you noticed.

  • Volunteer to do PR for a local event or charity.
  • Volunteer in a local public sector business or for your University’s Media Department or Student Union.
  • Apply for internships here, there and everywhere. Though I’m a huge advocate for paid placements, if you can afford it, then widening your search to include unpaid short placements hugely increases your options.
  • Use your contacts and friends. Everyone knows someone and those ‘someones’ might well have your golden ticket to experience.

A new section is born: “Notes for novices”

A big part of my learning process has been the realisation that pretty much every single person I’ve met in my position or in their first creative job role is scared. They’re scared about money, about their current situations, and most of all (I believe) they’re terrified of how to get themselves noticed. Today’s creative industry is so competitive, its understandably a daunting challenge that anyone worth their salt is expected to overcome.

Working for a social enterprise: PAPER Arts, which focused on helping unemployed young people build skillsets for roles in (or to start their own businesses in) the creative sector, was a true eye-opener as to the sheer number of young people who don’t know where to start.

I wouldn’t claim to be the font of all knowledge (for one thing I don’t have the ego) but I’ve thought that, as well as my own analyses and opinions on various aspects of advertising and PR, it might be beneficial to include a section of tips or notes for other students/young people trying to break into the business based on my own gleanings and take-homes on the off-chance they learn something new that might be of use.

So here it it.

A new *star* – by which I mean ‘section’ – is born.

“Notes for Novices” (Name in progress)