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. 


  1. Posted March 10, 2010 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Tim, thank you so very much for this post. I am rushing it in front of 24 seniors in convergence journalism & strategic comm who I am directing for their capstone projects this semester. These are 100% social media campaigns for @ArtyApt & @Apps4Brand, and every aspect of the projects aim to give these students both the skills and knowledge of the tools in social media to help in their job searches, while also letting them create killer ‘Personal Brand’ portfolios of their individual contributions to the campaigns. Yet, I hate to say this, and I experienced the same thing doing this last year at Mizzou, some of the students continue to post inappropriate content via their Facebook and Twitter accounts, and these are one click away from our campaigns’ Web places. Some is just wrong, and with others it’s clear the students have not thought through possible consequences. For instance, one student has been trash talking about the sports teams at another university in a city where there are many agency staffers who are alums of the other school. I think this student doesn’t realize he might be seeking employment at those agencies.

    So thanks again Tim. Here are a couple of related links:

  2. Maguire
    Posted March 29, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for this article. I was simply curious about this article from the tile and didn’t really think I personally would walk away with much, but especially as an actor, much of what you said about branding made sense in a way no one has ever explained it to me before. So for that I am truly glad I happened upon your page.

    And it is true that in this Facebook world we live in, nothing is sacred anymore. What I could get away with saying and writing to friends when I was kid, isn’t the same anymore, when there is truly no delete button.

    There is an interview series on the Future of Journalism that I would like you to visit.
    I also think that this article in particular could be very useful for the site, so please feel free to leave comments or contact

  3. Posted April 6, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    I would agree with you, as personal branding has never been more important. With the invention of social media and the potential out there for millions of dollars worth of free advertising, people not jumping on this opportunity now are missing out!

    If you havent already, there is a new book by Gary Vaynerchuk called “Crush It” that talks about exactly what you mention in this article, and it is very very good!

  4. Posted May 4, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    A comment that has stuck with me over the years is understanding the difference between building a valuable brand for yourself versus allowing allowing yourself to be branded.

    Same root word, big difference.