Have you heard the one about the cobbler's children? Of course you have because you work in PR. It goes something like this: The cobbler works so hard every day to make shoes for customers that he (or probably she) doesn't have time to make shoes for his own children. PR pros use this story to describe the gap between what they do for clients and how they handle their own affairs.
Frankly, it's getting a little old.
Let's make a resolution in 2017 to put this tired cliché to rest. For far too long now, strategic communications professionals have ignored the health of their own professional brands and are missing the opportunity to grow their business.
This year, in addition to the great work that we're doing on behalf of clients, let's make a commitment to look inward and focus on expertly communicating our own brand stories.
What's the state of your brand?
It's easy to let our own brands languish. After all, we spend endless hours helping companies and individuals build strong brands. We explain why their brand matters. We listen attentively to understand what makes them unique or newsworthy. Then, we find the perfect words to define their competitive positions and strongest attributes to describe them in the most concise, compelling way.
Having done all that in an average day, who has time to put our own brand through the microscope, to ensure it's as polished, current and effective as it could be?
The result? Maybe our personal blogs or websites no longer reflect our best creative energies. Maybe we haven't kept our social media content up-to-date. Or, maybe we just haven't sat down lately to rethink the way we sell ourselves to senior leaders within our firms, prospective employers and other key career influencers, including colleagues. For example, does your elevator pitch truly reflect who you are and what you do today? Does it still resonate, or reflect what really matters to your target audiences right now?
Five steps to build or tweak that brand
If any of the above rings true, then you're overdue for some strategic "me time," to step back and think about the narrative you want people to know about you, and how you can get your brand "out there" to propel your business and career forward.
Here are my five favorite tips:
1. Understand your authentic self. Don't fall back on safe, generic corporate speak or industry jargon when describing what you do and how you deliver value. Instead, think deeply about who you are as a person, your strengths and weaknesses, and how that translates into your business. Honestly ask yourself: "What do I excel at?" and "What would my clients and colleagues say about me?" and "Why do they trust me and choose me when they need something?"
Be critical and challenge yourself to home in on the traits that really matter and are genuinely unique. And, of course, carefully assess whether this is what your target audience wants and needs, today and in the future.
2. Create a strong narrative that you can own. Having completed Step No. 1, you'll know what you need to say. Now, you must find the right language to express it. This is where you absolutely can't turn to cookie-cutter words that would sound like anyone else if you covered up their name on the page.
Find the white space that no one else is in and own it! Write it like you were describing yourself over coffee. Sound like yourself, and you'll find an authentic brand voice that no one else can duplicate. By the way, this doesn't just apply to your blank screen. Audit all of your existing external "touch points," including your online presence, social media posts, biography and promotional tools to ensure that they relay the brand you want to be.
3. Make great content, beyond the small screen. It's a smartphone-obsessed world, but that doesn't mean that your brand building should solely focus on social media. What other channels could put you in front of your target audiences and bring your brand to life? Think about media opportunities or byline articles that spotlight your expertise or distinct point of view. And, since face-to-face connections really make a meaningful impact, seek speaking opportunities, participate in panel discussions, network at events, and find high-profile volunteer or board positions.
4. Jump into the conversation. Building a brand can seem a bit egocentric at times since we must think intensively about ourselves and what we want to achieve. That said, make sure that it's not all about you. How? Look at and learn from the ways the most successful brands really engage with their audiences.
Think of past brand campaigns like Nabisco's "How do you eat your Oreos?" or Ivory's "Tell us what real beauty means to you" or McDonald's "Our food, your questions." These brand programs reveal how audience engagement is a two-way street and good branding is less about talking about yourself and more about interacting with others.
5. Keep good company. "You're only as good as the company you keep." That sage advice is definitely true when it comes to creating or maintaining your brand. If you're an ambitious PR practitioner, then make sure that your firm's leaders, partners and clients know and believe in your brand. After all, they can't help you succeed if they don't know where you're going.
Choose your friends and work alliances with equal care to ensure that their values and work ethic align with yours. Do your best to find a firm where you can surround yourself with the most-respected influencers and admired leaders who project the same characteristics and standards as you do. People will take note of the crowd you run with, and these best-in-class peers could be your best brand ambassadors, just as you are for them.
With these five tips in mind, you can avoid the mistakes of the (now long retired) cobbler. Take a good look in the mirror and join me in making your personal brand a personal priority, and commit to making 2017 the year of "Brand You."
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