“Learn to market yourself.” That’s the suggestion I’ve been given. It’s so simple, I’m told, that anyone can do it. What sells people in today’s market are their personal brands. In another era, what sold great publications were cadres of brilliant journalists collaborating to produce a great product. Today, in the wake of the convergence of all things media, what’s said to make media great is individuals. This way, when a great media product succeeds, then it’s the work of a team of individuals working together toward a common goal. And when it fails, then it’s all Matt Lauer’s fault.
There’s a whole blog devoted to the subject of branding oneself. No, not with an iron, but with the Web. The blog brandyourself.com has posted a “Twitter Personal Branding Checklist.” According to this blog, you want to build a brand that “exudes your core values and aligns with your career goals.” Here’s one suggestion: “Twice a day, tweet a blog post relevant to your field.” Here’s another: “Once a day, tweet a news article about your field.” And this: “Tweet an inspirational quote. We love bite-sized sayings that impact how we think about life and work.”
Here’s the problem: I don’t do “bite-sized.” I don’t see the point in branding myself with a brand that doesn’t fit me or represent me.
My wife — who, incidentally, is the most intelligent life form in the universe — was inspiring my daughter the other day by relating an example from my career. She concluded it by saying, “Your dad’s motto is, ‘Go Big or Go Home.’”
It occurred to me that I could do both.
For my entire life, literally from the moment I could put pencil to paper, I believed that, at the apex of my career, I would be looking into a lens and speaking into a microphone. This whole business with the keyboard and all this text was essentially a detour along the way. For the last three decades of my life, I’ve been involved in the production of something called “content.” It’s the creamy filling that sustains the Twinkie that is the Web. I’ve suggested any number of times to hundreds of people that we do this with some form of moving media. One of the more poignant responses I received to this suggestion was this: “Scott, you’re always trying to make things bigger than they really are.”
Which is, of course, correct. Branding is about marketing, and marketing is about anything, it’s about “big.” I believe if we can make things better by making them bigger, we should.
I’ve done the things on this checklist, and I’ve done them bigger. “Twice a day, a blog post relevant to your field;” “once a day, a news article;” “how we think about life and work.” Check, check, and check, times two. Except not 140 characters each, but 1200 words. For four years, I produced between four and seven articles per day for myself, five days a week, and managed a team of journalists in contributing the same amount. Each.
Someone asked me if I was sad that Betanews was never a success. Thing is, it was. We did a Newsweek a day. And we had three million monthly readers. Put that in your tweet and smoke it.
What hasn’t worked yet is the business model. In another era, journalists relied on publishers to provide them with the institution. Imagine what the Chicago Tribune used to stand for, for instance, or NBC News. Remember when these brands were institutions. They stood for integrity — meaning, they were in one piece.
The unspoken reason why the Web wants us all to brand ourselves, to all volunteer to tweet and blog and hyperlink and Instagram and drive traffic, is because the integrity is no longer there, the engine of ingenuity has run out of fuel. Each of us has our own oar, and we’re all rowing as fast as we can. As one editor told me flat out, “You’re the brand now.” When one man’s the brand — and yes, I’m still alluding to Matt Lauer — then rather than the whole brand sinking like the Titanic, one man can take the plunge for everyone. I know that feeling too.
Okay, so guess what? If I’m the brand, if everything relies on me, then we’re going to start playing by my rules. We begin with rule one: “Bite-sized” morsels are outlawed. I’m breaking out the heavy artillery. I’m turning the camera and microphone on. And with them, I will make waves.
You really want me to exude my core values? Children, cover your eyes, here comes one: You’re smarter than any publisher or any broadcaster believes you to be. You’re ready for more than the schlock you’re been shoveled. You deserve better than Soylent Green. Web 3.0 ain’t the answer.
Here’s another: None of us are prepared for the tremendous cultural, economic, and sociological earthquake that has just begun to rumble beneath our feet. You think the iPad changed your life? You think Facebook liberated Egypt? Then you live in a very small box. Let’s blow it up.
One more: Technology has not given us anything. It has made us aware of more than we have known, and in too many cases, of more than we want to know. So we often use technology to dull our senses to the facts, and to separate us from the truths that are too painful for us to bear. There’s so much we have not talked about, you and I. There’s still time.
The blog suggests that I make my personal brand personal. Well, I don’t know anything that can be more personal than a person. And here I am. I’m making the move today to video. To cite my new, favorite, bite-sized aphorism, I’m going big.