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Be Your Own Brand

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Don’t let others define your promise and power. Take charge and tell your own story! Getting noticed is easier than you think. Every workplace seems to have one: an aggressive corporate climber who churns out self-congratulatory emails to the team every time she makes a sale or enjoys a success. She’s forever mentioned in the company newsletter and always seems to be first in line for plum assignments—and accolades from the boss. If this kind of self-promotion makes you squirm, you’re not alone. But the reality is that those of us who package, promote and market ourselves as a brand—think McDonald’s, Coke and Starbucks—are more likely to reach our full career potential. That’s why many of us, who’ve been taught from childhood to be modest and let our hard work speak for itself, need to learn how to “brag and brand,” says Fortune 500 consultant Peggy Klaus.


“You really do have to look in the mirror and say, ‘I need to market myself,’ ” says Klaus, who wrote BRAG! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It. “What sets you apart from your competition is you. And what people perceive about you is more important than the reality.” That’s why, Klaus says, it’s your job to shape and control the impression others form about you.


“Branding is really about what you stand for,” adds Miriam Vializ-Briggs, an IBM marketing VP who kicked off her General Foods brand-management career by marketing the Jell-O brand. “Employers make many choices, and you have to be on their ‘must-have’ list.” That means you need to deliver the goods and have a game plan for building upon and boosting your brand. This is vital for women of color, who may face cultural pressure to focus more on work and less on self-promotion. The payoff for strong branding? Not only will you be confident about tooting your own horn, but you’ll also get noticed when it’s time for pay raises, promotions and prime assignments.


To help you launch your own brand plan, we asked three moms to tell us what they consider their best brand-building traits. Then, for expert advice, we asked Klaus and Vializ-Briggs to give us their take on what each mom could do to market herself even more effectively. Read on.


Marti Quiñones-McCarthy: 36 years old, magazine advertising sales account manager, New York City.

At home:
She’s the mother of sons Crispin, age two, and Juan Lucas, eight months.

At work: She’s a six-figure-earning sales whiz who sells ads for two magazines, Shape en Español and, more recently, ¡Mira!

Her strengths, as she sees them: She’s a fast-acting problem-solver and a great listener who gives thoughtful advice to clients.


Marti says, “I definitely try to promote myself in relationships I have with my clients. I want to make those ties strong enough so that when clients have a problem—say, a complicated ad that requires extra attention to get into print—they’ll call me first because they know I’ll work fast and make them look good. I’m Puerto Rican, and I bring that perspective to my work in the Hispanic ad market. As a Latina, I’m extremely acculturated and Americanized—a “Nuyorican,” who was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in Manhattan (on the Upper West Side). Being Latina didn’t keep me from tooting my own horn. That stems from my childhood, when my father boasted about every little thing I did. People in my industry know the added value I bring to clients. While some salespeople go after lots of potential business, I make sure I know each client’s needs before making a pitch, so I have a better chance of getting every sale. It takes a lot of time to close those deals, but I’m in it for the long haul. In the meantime, I’m wondering whether a management job might be right for me. I love hands-on selling, but I’ve got two kids and don’t want to spread myself too thin.”


Peggy Klaus says, “It’s great that Marti tells friends and colleagues about her successes one-on-one. But as she continues to establish herself in her field, she’ll also want to let clients know what she’s capable of. I would start a “bragologue,” an artful and gracious litany of her own contributions, such as being the go-to person for turning around difficult jobs quickly. And during internal meetings with coworkers or bosses, she should drop little nuggets about work she’s done. It’s good for them to know what she can do and what her goals are, going forward. She should also attend important industry meetings for the content, fun and possible contacts—and take clients with her. If Marti wants to keep growing relationships, which she’s obviously good at, she’s got to keep her face and name out in front of her clients and industry peers.”


Miriam Vializ-Briggs says, “Being fast-acting is a really great attribute. Marti seems to listen thoughtfully to her clients, which is awesome. I don’t think she needs to repackage herself in her expanded sales role, but she should think about taking on one project that would test her interest in management—sort of a personal “test market” that would give her exposure to what it’s like to be a leader in her company. She’s doing a great job building relationships with clients. But Marti, like all women in the corporate world, needs to make sure she’s developing relationships internally, serving as a resource to her new peers and managers and ensuring they are constantly aware of her successes, powerful client ties and contributions to the company’s bottom line. Remember, people aren’t mind readers. They need to be reminded why you’re a valuable commodity.


Angel Giannoni-Byrnes: 38 years old, self-employed, Chicago.

At home:
She’s mom to Emilia, age two, and John Patrick, seven months.

Work: She’s a time-pressed artist who’d like to boost her client base while being true to her vision.

Her strengths, as she sees them: Angel has a passion for photography and an easy rapport with clients. She’s also an effective multi-tasker with a down-to-earth style. Even in high-drama situations like weddings (think nervous brides!), she captures great images.


Angel says, “If I provide a good product and great service, the customer will give me good references, and I’ll get more work that way. I’d rather hear clients or potential customers say, “These pictures you took are beautiful,” than have to say it myself. Besides, I don’t feel comfortable talking about myself. I do love taking great photos, however, so seven years ago I left my corporate job as a paralegal in risk management to pursue a photography career. Initially, most of my business came from word of mouth, and it’s certainly worked well for me. In fact, the business is successful enough that when my bond-trader husband quit his day job two years ago, my work sustained 100 percent of our family’s expenses. I’d eventually like to double my billings, but my priority right now is raising my two kids. Ironically, my intention was never “I’m going to open a big studio.” I started the business with only $250, but everything just kind of fell into place over time. I’m the daughter of a first-generation Italian-American dad who raised my siblings and me after my mom died. Before becoming a Chicago cop, he owned a North Side tavern and pizza place, but I never recall him bragging about himself. He was just a hardworking guy who did what he had to do for his family. And in many ways, I’m the same. But I would like to market myself better and take on more visible assignments.


I belong to a women’s professional club and often go to monthly meetings, but I’ve got to admit it’s hard to just show up and start talking up myself and my company. Maybe it would be good for my business, but I really don’t have time to go to all these networking events and toot my own horn.”


Peggy Klaus says, “Her brand is obviously her great pictures, but there are a lot of people who take great pictures. That’s why, in Angel’s business, it’s so important to keep the marketing pipeline going. You have to make sure people think of you before they think of your competitors. I would take her existing customer base and use it to get referrals to corporate clients. She should send follow-up notes to clients and ask them for names of contacts within their companies and workplaces. She already belongs to a women’s networking group, which would be another great place to get corporate referrals. It’s not easy for most people to show up at networking events and start conversations. But once she’s there, Angel should concentrate on meeting women who can offer contacts and perhaps share their advice on running their own small businesses. Opportunities await—Angel only has new business to gain!”


Miriam Vializ-Briggs says, “Angel should take advantage of the business contacts she can score by attending industry events and getting more involved in professional women’s groups. She can leverage the contacts she makes by attending monthly lunches, fund-raisers and other events. She’s smart enough to know that relationships drive her service business—they go hand in hand with marketing herself. These opportunities are more for “prospecting” or “schmoozing” than for making lasting friendships, though she may form those as well. She’s been in the photography business for seven years, and wisely, she’s moved beyond weddings, where she started, into shooting portraits and events. Many of her wedding clients are probably having children, or could hire Angel for their corporate assignments, so she needs to follow up and reestablish contact with those people. They are repeat business waiting to happen! In marketing, we call it retention and cross-selling. Repeat customers may be in a position to hire her for corporate work as well. She might also consider developing a promotional piece, a “teaser,” that she can mail to prospective clients to pump up business. And to keep her studio thriving, she’ll want to make sure her clients continue coming back.”


Joanna de’Shay: 30 years old, community development manager, Arizona Public Service, Phoenix.

At home:
She’s mom to son An’Tony Johann, twenty-two months.

At work: She’s a Russian and Italian-speaking midlevel corporate manager, seeking to expand her personal exposure beyond the minority community.

Her strengths, as she sees them: Her diverse cultural background and global perspective contribute to her passion for her work. She’s always thinking about her next move in her career and life. And she’s a roll-up-her-sleeves leader in a fast-moving job who’s undaunted by hard work and by change—in fact, she encourages others to help create it.


Joanna says, “My image is that of a worker and a doer. I’ve always preferred to let my work speak for itself, and so far, that’s been effective. Growing up in Africa as the daughter of a Nigerian father and a Russian mother, I was taught that you garner respect by what you do, not by what you say. In my work, as the public face and spokeswoman of my company, Arizona Public Service, the largest electricity utility firm in Arizona, I’m phenomenal at branding.


I represent the company at luncheons for the mayor, get interviewed on local news when there’s a power outage or some other energy crisis, and spend time in the community talking to customers and neighborhood associations. But I’m also interested in taking my energy and parlaying it into branding myself as someone with a lot of different interests, talents and goals. I strongly believe none of us is just one thing. Exploring all the diverse aspects of yourself makes you a well-rounded person. For example, I’m chairman of the Arizona Black Film Showcase because I love film and the arts and because my husband is an independent filmmaker. That’s a hobby, but a potential future moneymaker is the line of blue jeans I’m designing for full-figured women—something that many women of color will appreciate. I haven’t launched it yet, but I would love for it to eventually clear a million dollars in profits. That’s a whole lot more than midlevel managers like me, who earn about $70,000 to $90,000, can ever make at a public utility! Because of my volunteer work and my former job at the Greater Phoenix Black Chamber of Commerce, I’m well known among African Americans here. But I could do better at marketing my skills outside the minority community. My mentors say that it will help me avoid being put into the African-American woman ‘silo.’”


Peggy Klaus says, “I am so into telling people to do what they love. But I sense that Joanna has to really dig deep to discover her true passion rather than just doing a bit of this and that. That’s what will keep a fast-tracker like her from burning out. It’s great that she’s gotten involved with influential leaders in her community through key networking organizations, but she needs to know from the start what she expects from it. It might be interesting for her to tell colleagues that she has this interest in fashion designing and see if people recommend contacts that she can use. If she really wants to launch a fashion line, maybe she should learn something about profit and loss and other key elements of running a business. So it might behoove her to stay and acquire skills like this at her current company. Another way she might pick up this knowledge is by getting herself recommended for and selected by a corporate board, even though they’re predominantly white. The contacts she’s building with some of the region’s corporate movers and shakers may help her achieve this. But she’ll need to put the word out to her contacts at small and midsize companies, who may be looking to add some diversity to their boards, that it’s something she wants. After all, it would be a great feather in a company’s cap to have this diverse person on board—and it would help her to reach her goal of extending her influence beyond the minority community. And if she gets involved in a corporation with a mission she really feels passionate about, the time and energy she puts into it will be worth the effort. It could pay dividends for Joanna, if and when she becomes an entrepreneur.


Miriam Vializ-Briggs says, “Joanna needs to give herself more credit for the leadership skills she’s racked up. You don’t run into people every day who are this diverse and who have such a culturally rich background. Her global sensibilities and language abilities need to be high on her list of brand attributes, because in today’s world, having a global perspective is incredibly valuable and makes her even more marketable. She should find ways to tell her life story, perhaps sharing anecdotes about something that happened to her as a child in Liberia, or about arriving in Phoenix from Africa. Introductory snippets like those will get her noticed and get her unique brand attributes out to the larger business community. It’s important for Joanna and other women of color to move beyond their ethnic and gender groups and into broader, influential networks. Like any successful brand, she needs to be highly visible in the market and relevant. Generating awareness will help Joanna to get her brand on the target market’s “preferred” list. And that, in turn, will help her put forward the best image at work for getting noticed and getting ahead.”


By Maureen Jenkins


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