Note to self: write a personal branding statement (now)

Is it asking too much to expect a high school student to know what career she wants to pursue? Probably.

Okay, what about an adult? Shouldn’t adults know what they want out of life? What path they want to follow? Who they are? Hmm…let me get back to you on that.

Charlie Chaplin

Is this you when asked to talk about yourself or firm?

When I was in high school, my friend Dave was certain he wanted to be a doctor. “How do you know?” I would ask. I was clueless as to what I wanted to be when I grew up, although even then I gravitated towards the humanities.

Dave and I both went to the University of Virginia, where he became pre-med and I settled on English as a major. I lost track of Dave after graduation, but I found out later that he had become an anesthesiologist. “So he is a doctor,” I thought, and it made perfect sense that he had gone into anesthesiology because Dave was never much of a people person. I could see him in an operating room quietly administering anesthesia, never having to interact with a patient.

But most of us aren’t like Dave. In fact, many of us, as we approach the mid-life crisis point of our lives, are just as clueless as we were in our youth about our future path. Just as vague and uncertain about who we are and what the heck we’re doing here.

I was thinking about that last week during an excellent “train-the-trainer” session by Chryssa Zizos of Live Wire Media Relations at the October Independent Public Relations Alliance luncheon. Chryssa, a top D.C. media strategist, was giving pointers to a group of us that do media training and message development for clients.

I liked the way that she cut to the chase and said:

Good messaging boils down to just three things:

1. Who are you?
2. What are you doing?
3. Why are you doing it?

If your client can answer those three questions in an interesting, informative way, then they will do well in an interview.

It’s the classic elevator speech, the 15-second sound byte, the personal branding statement that I have counseled clients to rehearse for interviews, networking functions and, yes, the proverbial elevator ride. It’s the response to that most basic of questions, “So tell me, what do you do?”

Yet, it’s the hardest question for most people to answer. Even professionals have difficulty coming up with a succinct response. When Chryssa invited volunteers from the audience to role-play with her, as if they were on-camera, most were hard-pressed to come up with a decent answer.

Sitting there, watching my colleagues squirm, and knowing that I, too, didn’t have an answer that would be very compelling to a reporter, I vowed once again (for, what, the 100th time?) to write my own personal branding statement.

After all, I’ve coached other people to write statements. Why can’t I put pen to paper and come up with my own?

As Chryssa advised us, it’s not enough to simply describe what you do. You need to be able to explain what sets you apart, makes you unique or the best in your field. In short, what’s different about you and your firm, and why should anyone care?

So that’s my homework. I’ll let you know when I finish the assignment!

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2 Responses to Note to self: write a personal branding statement (now)

  1. Alan Hahn says:

    Jay,
    I was always a little envious of “those guys” like Dave who knew exactly what they were going to do…did it…and in some cases are on to retirement. Heck, I’m still poking around for more passionate pursuits. I have begun writing guest columns for our local newspaper on environmental issues…just because. Maybe some of us never totally figure it out because we are wired to constantly pursue.

    Good luck on your “homework.”

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