Thursday, April 25, 2013

We Need to Talk About Personal Branding

We asked our master of marketing, Tricia Howey, to respond to Jessica Holland's article I Am Not A Brand  published on Ideas Tap. Here are her thoughts and some top tips...

There’s been a lot of talk in creative channels about the pitfalls of personal branding. “What is personal branding?” “What if I don’t want to be a brand?” “I’m a person, not a brand!” So on and so forth.

All of these are reasonable concerns. It makes sense that many creative professionals would hate to have the evil vultures of a corporate mentality, the big bad M-word (marketing, FYI), controlling and possibly limiting their creative flow. I am completely sympathetic; as an individual I am completely put off by the idea of having to present myself as a concept or a product. It feels wrong, and it feels unproductive. Yet this is where we should stop and make a clear distinction: defining your personal brand does not mean defining your person; the two are completely separate. Not making this distinction seems to cause many creative professionals to feel distressed.

To explain this further, I’ll use my own experiences to illustrate. I must admit, however, I do work for the dark side...the marketing side (though I’d like to think I use my powers for good).

I’ve been a marketing professional since the tender age of 7. I know, that’s pretty young, but we do it differently in the U-S-of-A. We are raised as miniature salespeople. As a child I was thrust into the capitalist world – first with school bake sales, next raffle-ticket hawking. Then I was thrown into the extreme universe of Girl Scout cookie selling, where timid young ladies are sent out into the mean streets (a.k.a. their parents’ workplace) and told to “SELL! SELL! SELL!”

My finest salesperson achievement came at 13 when I sold enough premade sandwiches to not only finance a 3-day school trip to northern Michigan/Canada, but even fund my frivolous spending whilst there (wish I still had my giant novelty Canada pencil). It was at times daunting for the shy child I was, but I now feel that it really helped instil an understanding of income, and respect for the process of sales and marketing.

All along the way I picked up the importance of “the brand.” For the most part, Girl Scout cookies sold themselves. But the sandwiches, well, I had to make my case to sell those not-so-tasty treats. The brand was me. When it came down to it, little 13-year-old Tricia had to develop a Unique Selling Position, or USP; I had to reflect to my buyers, my supporters, just why they should buy from me and how well they’d be spending their money  – what I could offer them that nobody else could. I was very much selling them my personal brand, but this brand didn’t represent me outside of my petite saleswoman shoes. The brand was just a tool I used to help accomplish my sales goals. Admittedly I had some help from friends along the way, but that’s where I’m going here.

In the world of marketing, there’s a very famous line: “Don’t try to do everything yourself. Find a horse to ride.” In 1981 this nugget of wisdom was in response to the newly invented concept of personal branding, created by Al Ries and Jack Trout in the book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind.  It’s a great concept: success doesn’t come from trying hard, but rather from planning hard and utilising the tools available to you (it’s not what you know, but who you know, right?).

I was fortunate to learn the most valuable lessons of personal branding at an early age: defining my goals, what I represented, and using the resources (in my case, connections) available to me.

I appreciate that my experiences haven’t been the case for everyone. And I do respect that as a creative professional these things can still seem off-putting and commercial. So I’d like to suggest a change in approach and offer this: Defining a personal brand does not need to become some big corporate-level problem. On the contrary, consider it as a way to outline your objectives: it is simply you having control over how the world views you and your work.

Good story, but what can I do to define my personal brand?

One of the biggest resources, or shall we say “horses,” we use these days are social media. We’ve become instant PR people. The ability to self-promote is endless. It’s a great tool, but as we all know it can be taken too far and become detrimental to our work or lives. Self-promotion has been mixed up and perceived as the one way to personally brand yourself/your business. But that’s simply not the case. Personal branding should be considered a process, and self-promotion is merely one tool used to help build that process.

If you’re feeling daunted by the task of defining your personal brand, don’t worry! In reality, most people haven’t come anywhere near working this out. What they, and possibly you, have done is nailed the self-promotion aspect. 

So let me suggest this: with a little forethought, you can have better control over your work and its promotion. Before you worry about having to “label” yourself, consider these steps to starting to define your personal brand with the goal of being a better professional communicator:
1)   Define your goal: what do you want to achieve through your creativity?
·       Perhaps think, what do you/your work stand for?
2)   How are you going to reach that goal?
·       Yes, we could say “What’s your USP?” but that’s marketing talk. I think that phrase is creatively limiting. So instead, focus on how you envision yourself coming off to the public, what you want them to know about you.
·       How you can make you/your work stand out? Think of what you’re trying to offer, how you feel it provides value to others.
3)   Plan your attack, lay out your strategy!
·       Define the language and tone you’re going to use for your business as this may be separate from your personal tone. Keep this mindset when you’re in work mode.
·       Remember, it’s not about what you say, but how you say it, so be thoughtful! Don’t publish every thought that immediately comes to mind.
·       For example: good practice might be to pre-write your tweets or Facebook posts in advance. Set specific times each day to use the networks and communicate with your audience. Give yourself time to thoughtfully perform these promotional/admin type tasks, but then get back to the creative work.

If all of this is still leaving a bad taste in your mouth, and you perhaps feel like your work speaks for itself and doesn’t need to be branded, consider this: personal branding is organisation - organisation to help you be more successful. Don’t overthink it, just consider it necessary housekeeping to ultimately furthering your creativity whilst ensuring that your audience perceives your creative output in the way YOU intended.

Good luck!


Tricia Howey is a Coordinator for Narus Productions. In addition to her childhood exploits, she has many years experience in marketing and PR in the creative industries.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Creative Entrepreneur: Combining art and business

This is the story of how and why Narus came to be. It is a rather personal story, but an important one in understanding why the company functions the way it does, and, in the spirit of our people-centred approach I feel it is worth sharing. 

It all started with the concept of Entrepreneurship. 

Entrepreneur is a pretty hot word these days. I don’t think I even knew what it was a couple of years ago, but now I see it everywhere. It seems to be the hope for the future in my generation graduating from university into a time when jobs and funding are being cut left right and centre. We are the ray of light in the doom and gloom of the job crisis. 

On finishing my MA back in September I happen to have lucked into a new scheme known as the Graduate Entrepreneur Visa. It replaces the post-study work visa which allowed graduates from UK Higher education institutions to stay in the country for two years and work, which was was cut in April 2012. 

The Entrepreneur visa is meant, I suppose, to weed out the brightest and best. It is for:
graduates who have been identified by UK Higher Education Institutions as having developed world class innovative ideas or entrepreneurial skills, to extend their stay in the UK after graduation to establish one or more businesses in the UK.
I often describe it as being a bit like some twisted reality tv show, minus the potential for public shame or glory. Angels Den meets Survivor. You have one year to build a successful business or get voted off the island.

But given that I wanted to stay in England and had no immediate marriage prospects, I had few other options. Having been endowed by nature with more than my due share of stubbornness I set about playing their game.  This meant I had about four weeks to come up with this world-class innovative business plan.

Floundering around for an idea I started attending conferences and expos and quickly learned that rule number one of Entrepreneurship is that “problems” become “opportunities.” At first I was somewhat resistant to this opportunity, but have eventually realised that it is a rather valuable viewpoint to hold. 

Now, it is worth saying that there are many flavours of Entrepreneurs. At their lowest they seek not only to capitalise on but to perpetuate problems, and thus guarantee themselves endless profit. Then they start making even more money by selling you a book or a seminar on how to get rich (but the meta-wealth market is a whole rant I had best not begin.) People who in one breath extoll the power of unselling by showing you slides of the extra features their Ferrari, and in the next extoll the virtues of outsourcing your secretaries from the Philippines because you can pay them a fraction of the cost. 

At the other end of the spectrum are those who genuinely want to make the world a better place. Who take a problem, and don't just patch it over but come up with a creative new solution. You are less likely to see this sort of person standing onstage at Entrepreneurs 2013 (though there may be a few that slip in), but these are the people who truly make a difference across all levels of society. 

The idea of Narus was first cemented when I was at a rather soul-destroying trade show listening to pitch after pitch on the values of social media marketing,  SEO (that's search engine optimisation... or in lay persons terms, where you show up in google) and how to convert all that traffic into sales. I'm afraid these pitches were aimed much more at the former type of Entrepreneur, more concerned with their own profit than in giving people something they actually need. 

But a thought struck me... why can't we more actively use these techniques and tools to promote really worthwhile things? 

In the course of my MA I worked with many theatre companies (and spoke to even more) who struggled to bring in audiences. Many of these companies have website thrown up sometime in the early 2000's that hadn't been touched since, and who simply didn't have the time and energy (let alone the expertise) to run an e-mail marketing campaign. Their directors sometimes serve quadruple duty as production manager, marketing, and accountant. 

I also started thinking about my favorite London theatre company, Graeae. From the very beginning its founder Nabil Shaban was out there promoting the company (before they even had a show in fact... you can read his fascinating article on the early history of Graeae here.) That grounding in addition to the strong artistic team is part of what had enabled Graeae to become the force for change and world class and innovative that it is today. 

The business and the arts world are often so completely separate from one another, but maybe it's time for that to change. Time to move beyond the cliché of the struggling actor or director, and the expectation that people should be satisfied to be scraping through by the skin of their teeth. I firmly believe that this can be done without sacrificing quality of work, and that it will build a more sustainable arts sector. 

However, business is not the strength of every artist, nor should it have to be. That is why we collaborate. This was the problem-turned-opportunity that Narus was created to capitalise on. As we say in our tagline, we want to facilitate creativity; to provide creative people the support to do what they do best without having to constantly worry about whether their next grant will come through.

We may not yet have the perfect solution but we are committed to trying, and our business model is such that it is in our interest for everyone to succeed (not least so they can pay us for our services!)

On a personal note I have an extra drive to succeed. If i don't I could well get chucked out of the country. If that isn't motivation, then I don't know what is! 

But have no fear... this will not taint my morals or my commitment to building a good society as well as a good business. I would much rather go back to California than become the next Simon Coulson. 

My commitment to our clients, staff, audiences, and anyone else I come into contact with is to do my utmost to make the world a better place through collaboration and creative solutions.