MarCom 2.0 - Cutting Through the Clutter

In the past five years the communications and marketing world has become increasingly complicated. Google+, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and mobile apps have joined the vast array of outlets and platforms competing for our attention. This blog contains my thoughts on best practices for cutting through the clutter and having impact. I'll also be taking occasional detours into the world of corporate social responsibility and green marketing where I have ten years of expertise.

Why Getting Laid Off Was A Good Lesson in Branding and Strategy (Part 2 - Personal Brand Lessons)

By Jason W. Anderson on
Jason W. Anderson
Jason has spent the last ten years developing and executing communications strat
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Jul 13 in Marketing & Branding

In my previous entry, I discussed how being laid off from my job reminded me of valuable branding and strategy lessons that were applicable to my role within the communications and marketing division at Conservation International.  I also discovered that the experience taught me some important lessons in guarding my own “personal brand” as well.

10 Years of Service - 2 Sides of the Coin:

I am proud of the fact that I have only worked for two organizations in my career.  This included a 10-year stint with Conservation International, and before that, nine years working a journalist with CNN.  That said something about me and what I stood for.  It was part of my personal brand

I carefully choose each of these companies because they lined up with my values and interests.  Coming out of college I was a "news junkie."  It had been instilled in me as a young man growing up watching the nightly news at the dinner table.  Not only did I enjoy delivering important information, but doing so in an engaging fashion.  The fact that I could be part of the "third estate" lined up well with my wanting to be part of an organization that was making a difference.  At that time, CNN was the perfect fit for me.

Over time, the news business changed.  During the two years of covering the Monica Lewinsky scandal, I saw a trend that did not sit right with me.  Media was becoming more sensational and “gotcha" focused.  I knew it was time for me to leave.

I focused on finding a job in which I could use my communications skills to support my other passion - the environment.  After years of reading National Geographic and growing up near the beaches of Southern California, supporting conservation efforts was (and is!) very much a part of me.  Having a young son on the way only strengthened my resolve to want to leave this planet a better place.  The media manager positioned I eventually landed at Conservation International was, once again, a perfect fit for me.

Being at one organization for ten years has its advantages.  I was given opportunities to grow my skills and advance into a leadership position.  I met great friends.  I learned much more from colleagues and partners than I ever could have imagined.  I had rich institutional history that I could lean on to strengthen my own work.  It defined a part of who I was.

At the same time, I learned that when you spend ten years at one organization you can allow your personal brand go stale if you are not careful.  Here are some of those personal lessons that I learned.

Personal Lessons:

Be tuned in or risk being tuned out:  Here in Washington, DC there is an expression known as “inside the beltway.”  That phrase is generally used when it is felt that politicians only seem to care about what is happening here and loose touch with the issues their constituents really care about.  That can happen to any of us.  

Make sure that you take the time to get out and connect with the people that your work impacts.  Their needs, their concerns, their issues should be what drives you.  It should be why you choose that job and why it makes up your personal brand.  If you do not have the budget for focus groups or studies, use online and social networking avenues.  Have a conversation with your followers so that you can stay current on their thinking.

Stay Passionate:  A secure job with good benefits and flexible hours is a good thing.  But be careful.  Make sure that the benefits are not what drives you to come into work everyday.  A job that does not capture your passion can impact the rest of your daily life.  The outcomes of what your work should be core to your brand.  When people ask what you do, that passion should be felt by you and your audience.

Honesty is the best policy (especially with yourself):  When working for a non-profit organization, small staffs, small budgets and big expectations are often the norm.  At a certain point, however, you need to be honest with yourself when you realize that expectations are not backed by the proper investment and infrastructure.  

How many times have you said to yourself, "In six months it will get better" or "Once I get this project done things will turn around?"  Be honest with yourself and your colleagues.  Ask your leadership team the tough questions.  You may not get the answers you want, if you do not act on that, you only erode your personal brand.

Keep your Network Alive:  We use a simple phrase around our house as a guiding principle that states “family, friends and food.”  Now we all know that work-life balance is always a challenge.    For the most part, I was able to make it home to coach my kids soccer and little league teams, act as a chaperone for school trips and be home to eat dinner as a family.  

What I realize now, however, was that I let my personal network slip.  There always seemed a good excuse to not meet friends and colleagues for lunch, attend after work events, or stay in touch with colleagues who left for another organization.  Keeping these relationships going is critical.  

After I was laid off, I had to spend a good amount of time reconnecting and rebuilding my network before I could jump into my job search.  Who knows what was lost by not having this circle of people as a professional and personal sounding board while I was still employed.  These were opportunities to not only keep my own brand in check, but also to remind them of who I was personally and professionally.  Setting priorities is important, but make sure you stay engaged with your network of family, friends and co-workers.

Innovate Yourself:  At both of my jobs I had to learn a lot of new skills that were outside of my job description.  Some of this was pure survival (I became a pretty good IT guy!).  I also quickly realized that knowing how others did their jobs - everything from building a powerpoint or keynote presentation to understanding the back end of a website - makes you better at your own job.  When developing a communications strategy you know what is and is not possible.  Look around, ask questions, get your hands dirty.  It certainly came in handy when I decided to launch my own website and blog from scratch!

Make Your Voice Heard:  We all have opinions and expertise that we like to share.  Ten years ago, there were very few places to do that beyond your close circle of friends, family and colleagues.  Today that is clearly different.  Think beyond Facebook, Google +, Twitter and YouTube.    Consider Yelp, TripAdvisor, even the review section on Amazon or iTunes.  Whatever your passions or interests are, there is bound to be a blog or forum or website where you can make your voice heard.  Feeling more ambitious?  Start your own.

Take the time to be part of this larger conversation.  It shows others who you are and establishes you as a credible thought leader.  You never know where that conversation will lead.  New friends, new ideas, perhaps even a new career.

Guard Your Brand:

I recently took some time to remind myself of my own personal brand.  These attributes included being passionate, loyal, flexible, a problem solver, calm under pressure and always with a good sense of humor.

When evaluating my next career path, I realized that I still wanted to work for an organization where I can educate, influence and empower people, where I can inspire behavior change, where I can feel that I am truly making a difference.  

As I sought out recommendations from my colleagues, I am happy to see that others recognized those same attributes in describing me.  Still, I see areas where I let my own brand fall into disrepair.  Unfortunately, it took being laid off to help me see that.  I now know where my weaknesses are and can work on them to make me stronger both personally and professionally.

Your brand is many things.  It is who you are, what you stand for, what you do and how you do it.  Much like your company’s brand, your personal brand is a living, breathing thing.  It must be attended to all of the time.  If you do not notice that your brand is sliding, you can rest assured that others do.  Some of the signs may be small like not being asked out to a happy hour.  Others may be big like being passed over to lead a project.  But do not wait on others, constantly evaluate yourself and ask your network to do the same on your behalf.  

Once you find your brand, make sure you guard it!

Tags: branding, marketing, personal brand
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About the author

Jason W. Anderson

Jason has spent the last ten years developing and executing communications strategies and integrated marketing campaigns for Conservation International, an international non-profit with operations in 30 countries. Jason has worked with Fortune 500 brands, government agencies, pr firms and partner organizations to educate, engage and empower consumers, policy makers and business leaders. Prior to that, Jason spent nine years with CNN as a producer in their political and business news units.

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Jason W. Anderson
Falls Church, VA

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