Monday, August 24, 2009

30-Day Branding Challenge: How branding can improve your integrity

To start off this challenge, I want to address one of the biggest barriers writers have to creating a brand: Integrity.

To most of us journalists, branding will always look like Andy Warhol's Campbell's soup cans--artificial, utterly devoid of meaning, designed to sell, to manipulate and to lie. It's a lot more Mad Men and a lot less The Wire.

So how do you get over the hump? Should you?

Consider it differently. Branding is not only about the message you send but also the message your clients receive. In other words, you could create a brand that, say, tells your clients that you're fun, outgoing, perfectionist and well-organized. And that may be the way you'd like to be. But if what your clients actually experience is that you're juggling a million assignments, scattered when you talk to them and drop facts, forget to follow up on things, you're delivering something different than they've been led to expect. You're out of integrity.

So if you're hesitant to work on a brand, approach it from a different direction. Working on your brand can help you find ways in which what you do doesn't live up to what you strive to do.

So take these steps:

First, create a mission statement: How do you strive to be in your business? What are your key words?

Here are a few of mine: Accurate, enthusiastic, professional, collaborative, inquisitive, prompt, thorough. These are all ways I strive to be with my clients: I give them an accurate impression of what it will be like to work with me. I act professionally and enthusiastically to bring my clients prompt, surprisingly good work that's of service to them and their readers. And I do it in a collaborative way, harnessing my inquisitiveness and writing skills.

Now you try.

Next, compare your mission statement to how you actually work. You can do this by asking yourself honestly these questions about how you behave at work:
  • Do you like talking to clients between appointments?
  • Do you ask questions of your clients or like to figure stuff out on your own?
  • How do you react to edits?
  • Do you fact-check your work or double check facts all the time? Do you have a system for this?
  • Do you take work that bores you to tears and that you struggle to complete?
  • Do you regularly file stories over word count, past deadline, or do you regularly ask editors for extensions?
  • How often do you like to update your clients on your progress?
  • Do you give clients a head's up on the sources you're planning to use or would you scoff at that?
  • Will you take source suggestions from your clients or does that violate a line for you?

Finally, compare the two lists: At least according to your estimation, are your goals in integrity with your behavior? If so, give yourself a gold star and move forward with your branding. If not, it's a chance to move your work in the direction of your goals. Start by identifying your weak spots and paying attention to them every day. Bring your support network into the issue, ask for help, make phone calls.

It's not about lying to convince your clients that you're better than you are. Can you imagine how much overselling yourself could kill your serenity? It's about giving your clients an accurate image of what to expect when they work with you. Branding is about the experience your clients have with you, not just the story you turn in.

How'd you do in this exercise?

Photo of Andy Warhol's soup cans by loop_oh.

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