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How I Learned the Hard Way About the Necessity of Branding

January 13, 2004: I was in my Jeep Cherokee driving towards Atlanta, winter camping gear in the car, with more than an open road before me, an open life as well. The day before, my eight years of service to the people of Louisiana with Governor Mike Foster had ended. I did commentary on the inauguration for my former TV employer, WAFB TV, and then began my life as a “has been”. For the first time in my life I had no job that carried with it the power to directly or indirectly compel someone to act. No more riding in State Police cars and helicopters with the governor, not even a press pass.

I had a collection of work skills with only a vague idea what to do with them, no idea how to focus them in ways that would make me money. In marketing terms, I had no unique selling proposition, no marketing plan, no brand identity. But it was much worse than that. I knew I had skills, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with them. Most beginning business owners know what they want, but all I knew was that I was very tired of politics. In the months before I became unemployed I’d done a half-hearted search for corporate jobs using a headhunter, but nothing came of it.

If you live long enough something will happen to you that blows your insides out and that was happening to me. My beloved 35-year-old sister had been killed in a car crash just three years before and both my parents had terminal illnesses. But before I could decide what my next professional chapter would bring I had to get some rest, adjust to life away from professional power, and find out who I was if I wasn’t “important” and what the heck I was going to do for a living. I had no idea at all.

I spent three weeks in Georgia and South Carolina visiting various friends and hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail alone, in temperatures that averaged about 10F at night. I am an adventurer by nature and it was fun for me and helped me clear my head.

When I got home I called a “hail mary play” and put out a news release announcing I was going on the paid speaking circuit. I got a good reception from the Louisiana Republican Party, sharing minor harmless secrets of the Foster years, poking gentle fun at my former boss, and jabbing at the press for being superficial and the public for being under-informed.

I was thrilled when the National Society of Newspaper Columnists hired me to speak to their convention in New Orleans. I was a very press-friendly press secretary and expected to be well received by my former colleagues, but “arrogant”, read a lot of the feedback forms. That was the end of my speaking career.

Arrogant, unemployed nearly broke, and quietly terrified.

All external work flows from something internal, and I knew something internal was amiss. I did not at that time know how to separate my own personal identity from the prestige jobs I had had since I was in my twenties and I was very disoriented in the process. What followed were several years of personal discovery through self-development workshops, and I was ultimately liberated from my ego, mostly.

One of my mentors, Pamela P. Dunn, had me print out the definition of humility and post it in front of my computer. Work became for me more of an expression of joy, contribution, and self-fulfillment instead of a need to prove my own importance.

The ability to let go of being right in every human interaction has given me the freedom to understand what my clients are really saying to me rather than thinking of ways to prove to them that they need my services.

And when I am in place where I need to improve my own branding, setting aside my ego enough to listen to others’ opinions of my strengths and challenges enables me to make changes without feeling like I am losing something.

It takes confidence to run a business, but when that confidence blinds you to what you need to correct, then you are engaging in magical thinking and that can cost you money, and even your business.

I cannot think of any professional endeavor that requires more courage and emotional maturity than running your own business. It can be terrifying, and I don’t know any shortcuts to success without working through the issues I’ve mentioned above. It is an ongoing process for me.

I’ve identified what I am best at: Finding the gifts in other human beings as they express those gifts in their business lives and then helping them communicate their uniqueness to potential customers through the news media and social media. At the beginning of my public relations practice I focused mostly on getting news stories done for clients but now the addition of social media has given us many more avenues than we had just a few years ago.

And as much as I find it to be thrilling, it still must be strategic and focused. I had help figuring this out. I have tremendous mentors who gave me honest and vital advice when I most needed it. I hope this page and my services can do for you what was done for me.

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