Wednesday, April 25, 2012

To Learn Personal Branding, Go to Oz

Dr. Mehmet Oz is a master at projecting
a positive image of his work.
I speak to many groups about personal branding to optimize the image that they want to project. A person in the public eye who serves as an excellent role model is the great and powerful Dr. Oz, adviser to the masses about good health and a good life. Yes, he is an Ivy League-educated physician PLUS a Wharton M.B.A. AND he has performed thousands of cardiothoracic surgical procedures at New York City's prestigious Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. But those characteristics are not nearly as obvious as the others he visibly presents, including:
  • HIS DRESS -- I usually see him in his scrubs or similar "doctor" garb. Calculating? Yes, of course; I doubt that he has rushed to every TV appearance from the OR. However, there is also no mistaking that he is a physician, just as Bruce Springsteen must dress like a rock star (usually in black), or David Copperfield must look as mysterious as a magician should.
  • HIS PHYSIQUE -- Oz's fitness is the bane of all the rest of us middle-aged guys. At 51, he looks as much as a decade younger, trim, flexible and vibrant. He represents his own advice, much as the late, great exercise advocate Jack LaLanne did, even as he lived into his 90s.
  • HIS BEHAVIOR -- Upon greeting a reporter from Success magazine, Oz offered him cashews from a bag he carries with him. Do you keep a bag of nuts or another healthy snack with you at all times? You do when you are trying to be the living embodiment of good health.
  • HIS PERSONAL LIFESTYLE -- Oz professes that to live a long, healthy life, one must personal relationships.He is frequently photographed with his beautiful family of a wife, three daughters and a son. Together, they look like they came out of central casting (a compliment), also reinforcing his message of health and happiness. 
So what is the image you are projecting? If you are gifted with your hands and work a manual craft, do you present yourself to customers as someone who is ready to tackle a tough job or as someone who just stepped out of a Lands End catalog? (Look to Dirty Jobs' Mike Rowe as a good example of credibility in this case.) If you are a financial adviser, do you look successful yourself?

A friend contacted me recently literally minutes I had updated my LinkedIn profile because I had left an unusual number of typos. "Bad image for a professional communicator, Pat," she emailed me. Branding is a complete job, and it requires attention to a number of details. Heed them all.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

To Dick Clark and The People Who Make It Look Easy

We humans often devalue talent.

There is the story of the Parisian woman who was on her way to a fancy ball when she realized that she needed a hat. Panicking, she rushed into the shop of a local and famous hat-maker who was in the process of closing his shop for the night. "Quick, I need a hat immediately."

The hat-maker had no materials but for a single ribbon. He took it and gracefully wrapped it around her head until it adorned her beautifully.
"This is perfect," she gushed. "What do I owe you."
Sizing up the situation, he answered, "Ten francs."
The matron was outraged. "Ten francs!," she exclaimed. "For a ribbon?"

With that, the hat-maker lifted the ribbon off her head and handed it to her, unfurled. "Madame, the ribbon is for free," he told her.

With the passing of Dick Clark, I thought of all the different things he seemed to do so easily, emphasis on the "seemed." He hosted American Bandstand, seemingly just a music program, yet he successfully and fundamentally changed popular music in the U.S., spreading it coast-to-coast from a little studio in West Philadelphia. 

When the Grammys had a stranglehold on music awards, even though they represented blandness rather than popular or critical tastes (the awards were founded as a way to promote "good" music rather than the evil rock 'n' roll), he created the American Music Awards as an antidote, and his creation took hold and gained its own legitimacy. 

Yes, that brightly lighted ball came down in Times Square every New Year's Eve, but it took Dick Clark to make it an event that we all watched, while others could only imitate him. 

And never did he seem so effortless as when he hosted a game show titled The $10,000 Pyramid (upgraded since as a result of inflation). Many years ago, I was at a taping of the show, trying first to get on as a contestant and subsequently watching as part of the live audience. Mr. Clark glided from one role to another, making the players and the audience feel equally at ease. There was a bit of drama when a contestant insisted that he had answered a question correctly. If it were true, then he won the $10,000.

Mr. Clark cut to a commercial, rallied the technical staff and looked appropriately concerned when he announced that they would play back the audio to see if the young man had indeed provided the right answer. It turned out that he had, sotto voce, and it was captured on the audio track. Everything was under control and justice was eventually achieved, all under the smooth guidance of one Dick Clark.

Yes, we have the hat-makers in our lives, the alchemists who turn lead into gold, people who accomplish great and effective things, yet somehow make it look easy because we do not appreciate the skills they bring to bear. We underestimated Cary Grant for years, didn't we? Wasn't he charged for years with "always playing Cary Grant?" And yet when he received an honorary Academy Award, and the TV audience saw the wide range of parts he play, from the grieving father losing an adopted child in Penny Serenade to the burlesque of Arsenic and Old Lace, we were ashamed at how we had not recognized all that he could do. Others not appreciated in their lifetimes? Galileo Harry Truman. Billie Holiday. Dwight D. Eisenhower, as President. Preston Sturges.  Vincent van Gogh. Being ahead of your time is a bitch.

Legendary coach John Wooden said that "Winning takes talent; to repeat takes character." Let's not forget those among us who capitalize on their talents to do great things and then have the fortitude to be more than flashes in the pan. And with that, let's lift the glass one last time to Dick Clark, for his grace and his accomplishments. We are not likely to see his kind again any time soon.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

ROI: New Book Gives a New Look at New Media

As the old saying goes, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. So how do we know if our social media activities are successful? Mark W. Schaefer guides us with his book, Return on Influence: The Revolutionary Power of Klout, Social Scoring and Influence Marketing (McGraw-Hill), which comes at a most opportune time. As our mobile connections grow, most of us have unprecedented reach in our communications. (As Schaefer was wrote the book, 84 percent of American adults and 80 percent of teenagers had cell phones, more than half of adults with laptops have mobile ties, and 11 percent have tablet computers.) But how influential are we, really?

Schaefer sees many benefits to being a “citizen influencer” — the new breed of online communicators who can become a rock star in that world. He describes personal influence as “the marketer’s Holy Grail.” He notes how such influencers get the opportunity to test-drive new cars, receive the latest technological toys and more. His advice, essentially, is to become an influencer in a particular area to become a celebrity. “Bloggers may not have the societal authority of a physician,” Schaefer writes, “yet there are certainly many badges and symbols on the Internet that can reliably trigger our compliance in the absence of the genuine substance of authority.”

However, he also warns readers to be authentic on the Web, lest they undermine their own credibility. (One particularly telling anecdote concerns a man who makes a comfortable living by creating false Twitter accounts preloaded with thousands of followers, which he then sells on eBay.) According to Schaefer, the three best ways to increase your Klout scores are to build a relevant network, provide compelling content, and systematically build a network of fellow influencers who will distribute your content virally. Most important is to create content that is RITE: relevant, interesting, timely and entertaining.

Schaefer advises organizations that use social media to become content publishers, rather than just republishers of others’ information. He reminds social media practitioners to think about the content they publish in terms of its relevance to its audience.  “If you create great content, the social Web will do the work for you,” he says. He also reminds readers that the social media are two-way. Therefore, we should do our best to interact with the audience, letting them set the tone for a conversation. (Schaefer points out that social media have replaced the old “letters of compliant” from customers.)

To provide “social proof” (Schaefer’s term) of reach and influence, he teaches us of the various measurement tools, such as Klout and Peerindex. These have become so legitimate that many communicators are listing their scores on their resumes and in other documentation.  

I found a welcome bonus at the end of the book: Schaefer lists many of the current influencers in social media, along with contact information, so readers can follow these folks and stay up-to-date with latest philosophies and practices.

I recommend ROI as a critical resource for beginning and journeymen social media practitioners. George Santayana once said, "Those who speak most of progress measure it by quantity and not by quality." The book makes clear that online activities can be meaningless without measurement, turning it into a narcissistic experience. The principles in ROI serve not only us as readers but also our audiences.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Pulitzers Honor More than Print with their Highest Award

Yesterday, the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service -- the highest award among journalism's highest awards -- went to the Philadelphia Inquirer for "Assault on Learning," a series on violence in the city's schools. In all the excitement, it is easy to overlook that the Prize honored more than print.
The prize for public service goes to an entire paper rather than an individual. The Pulitzer committee said the Inquirer's series used "powerful print narratives and videos to illuminate crimes committed by children against children and to stir reforms to improve safety for teachers and students." The Inquirer created a database to document tens of thousands of serious incidents, ranging from robberies to sexual assaults. It was a year-long project by a team of reporters, editors, photographers, designers and multimedia specialists.
Other new media journalists were honored by the Pulitzers, notably The Huffington Post. The Emmys have been honoring interactive television for a few years now.  All of these examples remind us of the many tools at our disposal to get our messages out. Press releases are not moribund, but neither are they the only weapons in our arsenals. They are just one part of a strategic campaign, combined with blogging, Twitter and more.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, a member of the supposedly staid Fourth Estate, recognized this. Yesterday, it paid off big for them. Also for many students in Philadelphia.

You can view the entire series Assault on Learning by clicking here.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Lesson on Art and Life from Stand-Up

I came across a fun book titled Comedy at the Edge — How Stand-up in the 1970s Changed America, by Richard Zoglin, who is an entertainment editor and writer at Time. It was a fun read because that groundbreaking period of entertainment  greatly influenced me. In fact, many of my sensitivities as a speaker, media producer, marketing communicator and writer came out of this heady time. This book reminded me of many lessons I learned in that  time:

1. BE TRUE TO YOUR VISION. Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Albert Brooks, Andy Kaufman - all of them had a unique view of comedy to express, whether it was expressing subject matter that was previously taboo, intricate wordplay, maintaining your unique vantage point (i.e., gender, race) or simply turning the tables on the audience through irony. If you have such a vision, whether you are the next Jackson Pollock or Le Corbusier, stick to it.
2.OLD METHODOLOGIES PASS. The comedians in this book fought against the standard way of making people laugh: Set up a situation, then deliver the payoff as a punchline. When was the last time you heard a comic tell a joke like that? (Henny Youngman and Rodney Dangerfield enjoyed late career success with their retro styles, but even they are long gone.) Stay current and either learn from others who are coming up or forge your own new style.
3. PRACTICE INCESSANTLY. I repeat what Geoff Colvin of Fortune has said so convincingly: Talent is overrated; success is almost always determined by hard work. These successful comics rose to the top of their craft by working and reworking their routines, and finding audiences for road tests of their material.
4. LEARN WHO AND WHAT INFLUENCES SUCCESS. Most of the success stories in the book are attributed to one person: Johnny Carson. For decades, he could make or break a young comic's career. But even those who never had the opportunity to appear on The Tonight Show found other platforms for success, such as the right nightclubs or other venues, such as colleges. For those of us in less glamorous fields, where can we make our marks? This is a reminder to network, meet more people and make our presence known through a variety of organizations, whether they are professional associations or the Rotary Club.
5. TIMING IS EVERYTHING, FOR BETTER OR WORSE. The book recounts not only the comics who reached stratospheric levels, but also those who were equally talented yet missed that big opportunity. A comic could be influential, with many up-and-comers imitating that person's style. Perhaps that person kept honing the craft, appearing on TV and in concert, yet never making that one hit movie or TV special that launches everything. The lesson learned: Stick at what you are doing, but have a back-up plan, because luck is bigger factor in success than many of us care to admit.

In fact, this very book is a testimony to that last lesson. I had heard of Zoglin's book, having read a few reviews of it, all positive. But I found it at the local dollar store, while lesser tomes have gone on to greater and less deserved success. So I encourage you to look for this book, support the author, and give him a bit more love than he might have otherwise received.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Stardom Doesn't Matter on a Team

I am watching the Phillies play the Mets this beautiful Sunday afternoon. Cole Hamels is pitching a terrific game; he is allowing few runs, and his strikeouts are in double digits. But the game is at risk for the Fightin' Phils because they are not hitting.
Hamels is a Cy Young caliber pitcher, and he was MVP the year they won the World Series. But not of that matters if the whole team doesn't produce.