During the past week, seasoned journalists and renowned academics exchanged volleys over whether journalists should concern themselves with their personal brands. As someone who has spent the past year and a half blogging about personal branding for journalists, I felt compelled to weigh in and share how someone from the newest generation of journalists feels about this career management strategy.
The debate began when Medill School of Journalism student Leslie Trew Magraw requested to interview two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten about how he built his brand. Instead of discussing how he’d grown his reputation throughout his four-decade career, Weingarten used Leslie’s assignment to deliver an indictment of the media’s focus on marketing and the consumer’s influence on content. He then took a shot at the new generation of journalists for not being willing to work hard to earn their reputations:
Now, the first goal seems to be self-promotion — the fame part, the “brand.”
Many veteran journalists are very uncomfortable with the notion of a person having a brand, believing that focusing on marketing your talent automatically detracts from attention to your work and compromises your integrity. They came up in the business at a time when journalists didn’t have to worry about marketing their careers; producing good work and being associated with a reputable news organization was enough to “make a name for yourself.”
For many journalists, the changing media landscape’s effect on employment dynamics – from long-term job security to professional nomadism – requires proactive management of their careers. Fortunately, having a career strategy and professional integrity and are not mutually exclusive, and it is from that perspective that I write about personal branding.
I have to believe those on both sides of the branding argument want the same thing: to make a living with integrity while doing a job they love. If we can rise above the branding versus reputation semantics and generational finger pointing, young professionals in all fields can benefit from journalism’s branding discussion as they seek to establish their careers.
Personal branding is fundamentally about how to distinguish yourself from those with whom you share general characteristics. That is to say, your brand is your intrinsically unique set of qualities that give you value. If you want the people with whom you interact professionally to see your singular value, you first have to be aware of it yourself first:
Be authentic. Your personality, passions, life experiences, values system and beliefs inform the kind of work you naturally are drawn to. Use that knowledge of your core values as the foundation for your career decisions. Without that awareness, that compass to guide you, you won’t be able to determine whether an opportunity is a good fit. As an extroverted news junkie who’s happiest when I’m providing people with information they find useful, my working as a social media producer allows me to professionally be true to who I am and do so confidently and credibly.
Understand where your talent and skills lie and use them. Your brand is meaningless unless you produce quality work to support it, and that starts with knowing what you do well. Many resources are available to help you identify your intellectual strengths and natural talents. You may have figured that out a long time ago or may still be struggling to pinpoint your greatest asset. Taking aptitude tests and talent assessments helped me appreciate my interest in languages and affinity for storytelling that I’d taken for granted, which eventually led me to journalism.
Communicate effectively. All the passion, hard work and talent in the world won’t get you where you want to go if nobody knows about it. That’s why I’m writing my blog, participating in Twitter chats and connecting online. Knowing how to clearly and effectively share what you’re about as a person and an employee is the difference between being in the loop as opportunities arise and being left in the dark.
- Reach out to colleagues at work, at events and online to learn more about your profession.
- Make sure you can tell them what you have to offer that sets you apart from others.
- Take advantage of tools such as blogs, portfolio sites and YouTube to create a digital footprint where you can express creatively express why you have value in your field.
- Keep your online profiles up to date, making sure they collectively provide consistent information.
- And finally, be smart about what you post on social networks and Twitter. Whether you consider it personal or professional, it all affects your brand.
These strategies don’t relieve you of the responsibility of hard work; in fact, they add to it. And when it’s done to build a personal brand authentically and competently, I don’t know how anyone could argue with that.
Jennifer Gaie Hellum blogs at Brand Me a Journalist: Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche. She is a recent graduate of Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where she was named Fall 2010 Outstanding Graduate Student. Jennifer currently works as a social media producer in Phoenix, Arizona.