McGuire on Media

Our journalism students need to sell their personal brands

In tough economic times the concept of brand becomes incredibly important. In hard media times as big media brands get pounded from pillar to post, I argue that your personal brand becomes even more important than corporate brands. I wrote a blog entry several months ago that raised this issue and a lot of recent events have brought the subject back around for me. 

In that blog, I talked about telling students to sell themselves by building their own personal brand. I advised students to become experts in the thing they have a passion for and then market that expertise with a blog, with Twitter and with a responsible Facebook page.

Let’s start with the definition of brand: A brand is an identifiable entity that makes specific promises of value. 

That brand gets built with behavior and performance. Young people need to sell themselves every day with every action. Their interaction with professors, student peers and visitors could lead them to their first job. 

Several weeks ago, John Dille a nationally recognized broadcast executive taught four classes in finance and corporate structure in my Business and Future of Journalism class.  His lessons include a pizza parlor owner named “Boozoo.” John likes to  name a “Boozoo” in every class to make the student a part of his lesson.

John candidly admits that in my class he chose the student out of a bias.  A young man had a hat on and John didn’t like it, so he appointed the “hat guy” as his “Boozoo” A funny thing happened over the next four classes.  The “hat guy” is a young man named Baldo Besich. Baldo is really smart, savvy and mature. Over the remainder of those classes, John learned all that and became so enamored with Baldo he’s now trying to help Baldo get a job when he graduates.

Baldo initially hurt his brand with his hat. But, unlike a lot of people, he had time to overcome that first appearance and he eventually marketed his positive qualities to John. It could have a dramatic effect on the young man’s life. That’s how personal brand works. Baldo convinced John he has real value and can deliver on that value. He maximized his contact with an important person and there may be be a big payoff. I am hoping and praying he keeps ongoing contact with John and continues to build networks of people like John with whom he can collaborate over the coming years.

Of course, this branding issue is not something I’ve invented. This blog has 49 things you can do to enhance your personal brand. They are insightful and easy to grasp. 

One of our graduate students, Jennifer Hellum, has started a blog about the personal branding issue. It is readable, insightful and establishes her obvious credentials as a sophisticated thinker. Jennifer has the added advantage of being a mid-career graduate student so she is able to juxtapose her early career experiences with the vastly different landscape she encounters now. Her lessons are worth reading for anyone trying to invent their own personal brand strategy.   

A close friend of mine, Pat Dawson, is starting a new virtual consultancy called The Brand Chiropractor. This week he wrote an incredible blog about Toyota and then he added to it today. In his original blog he made the point that “Brand Equity is a like a piggy bank – open 24/7 for deposits and withdrawals.” In his update today he wrote of the developments in the last 24 hours: “I closed my original blog with a metaphor of brand equity being like a piggy bank — always open for deposits and withdrawals. Well folks, this little piggy is shrinking quickly. Another 24 hours like this and we may be down to a couple strips of bacon.”

I think Pat is correct about Toyota’s crisis and I think his lesson also speaks to students’ brand equity. That’s why I hammer students with lessons like Michael Phelps and his dope pipe and Matt Leinart and his coeds and the beer bong. I tell students they must always be aware of appearance, behavior, and peers. Blind trust that everybody is your friend and will not do you harm is folly. Even if it’s not malevolent intent,  people way down the chain can do you great harm. Since Cain and Abel kids have told their moms that their friends don’t define them. In cyberspace Phelps and Leinart will testify that’s not really true.

Students need to think about the audience on Twitter and Facebook. Nothing on a social media site is private. Use the old test. Do I want Mom to see this? And add a new one, do I want my future boss to see this?

I am frightened by the number of students  who don’t get this. They do and say many things designed to give them “street cred” with their friends. These same images and messages may give a prospective employer a very different impression. I am always disturbed when I hear about young people using language and references that might be fine for hip young kids, but would seriously upset a potential employer. Their bad judgment and immaturity could carry a stiff penalty.

When I talked about personal brand at a recent faculty confab here at the Cronkite School a fellow faculty member, C.J. Cornell, challenged me. He was kind, but he made a sort of “aren’t  we being fuddy-duddys here” point. He correctly observed that we might be asking our students to meet a standard we never came close to meeting when we were young. 

C.J. is spot on with that observation. Many of us did some things that would seriously damage our brand if we were young now. By sheer luck and good blessings we did not live in a Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn world. We caught a huge break. Our students didn’t catch that break, and they must focus on maintaining a viable, interesting and exciting personal brand. To paraphrase my friend Pat Dawson, they must mind their own personal brand piggy bank to insure their equity far outstrips any withdrawals.