In our oversaturated digital media age, the matter of personal branding is a very serious one that can affect every stage of a professional’s career. What will potential employers see when they Google your name, and how can you change the perceptions of others?
Today we spoke to Meredith Fineman for more on that topic. Fineman, who is Founder and CEO of Washington-based firm Fine Point, wants to help everyone from aspiring communications professionals to startup founders and executives better learn the subtle and increasingly valuable art of self-promotion.
1. What does personal branding mean to you, and how do we need to change the way we think about it?
We often view it as a way of empowering people in the leadership development stage of their careers, but I see it as a much larger issue.
You have to create a mini-PR campaign for yourself using voice, pitching, and other principles to create a cohesive personal brand or a projected self. A lot of it is about simply teaching people to be out there so they can create this “brand.”
Some leaders are comfortable doing it, and many women are (though it’s obviously more complex for them to be “out there,” if you will). But self-promotion in general is difficult.
Promotion of one’s own leadership is such an essential piece of business that it’s non-negotiable, particularly among entrepreneurs. Many such leaders are highly technical people who didn’t think, when they started their careers, that they’d need to be “outward facing.”
But your competitors understand this, and it’s a missed opportunity in terms of visibility and, ultimately, revenue if you are not out there.
2. What does your new project aim to do in addressing these challenges?
We have an upcoming boot camp [called “Do You But Better“] tailored to both the younger demographic and established professionals.
It aims to boil personal branding down to the essentials of PR: creating a personal site, writing a bio, and learning how to talk about yourself.
This project came about because I realized that people often don’t know how to talk about their professional accomplishments, and I want people to be excited about what they’ve done.
The program skews female, but not exclusively so.
3. What’s the most important personal branding lesson for younger PR professionals?
I can’t believe that people don’t have them, because we live in a time in which your greatest accomplishments often can’t be written down. These sites are great for SEO and overall visibility, but they also serve as personal catalogs.
Humans are visual beings, and there’s only so much you can glean from a written document — I’m hiring a woman now based on the strength of her amazingly creative personal site.
You need to make sure that [the site] is ultimately for business and be careful that you don’t come across as someone who doesn’t take things seriously. For example, I wrote a piece today for Harvard Business Review in which I mentioned that a personal bio is not a place for playful language.
The same applies to social media: online is forever, and it’s easy to forget that. In a Justine Sacco situation, people will pull whatever they can — so play devil’s advocate and ask yourself, “could this be interpreted as X, Y, or Z?”
4. What do you think of the study finding that the salary gap between men and women in PR is growing larger?
I can’t speak to gender, but I can speak to PR in general: it’s very saturated, there are a ton of small shops, and it’s heavily commoditized.
We end up throwing out the baby out with bathwater because everyone just wants press hits. All salaries are going down because there are so many players in the game, and that’s a shame to me.
5. How do you teach female business leaders to “brag?”
“Brag” is a very dirty word, but experience is really about who’s willing to get out there and start talking.
There’s a general tendency to downplay one’s accomplishments: many people who are incredible will post status updates on Facebook with qualifiers like “self-promotion alert” and “hate brag,” but if you can’t be proud of your own accomplishments then I won’t be interesteed in reading it.
Just the other day, a friend wrote something negative when posting a really impressive personal accomplishment, and I said “Remove that immediately.”
This is really about using PR tactics to empower people to learn to be “out there” for the purposes of career and business.
Whatever is going to happen is not as bad as what you think is going to happen.
It’s important to be proud of what you’ve done: if you’re worried that something isn’t worth talking about, then it probably is worth talking about.
I work with incredibly accomplished people but, unfortunately, this is just how our media works.