Let’s be honest, I’m not great at branding myself in the journalism world, and if we run the stats I am probably not qualified to write a post about it. But, I am really good at regurgitating other people’s thoughts, so I went to someone with more experience, credentials, knowledge and really just someone who knows a lot more about branding than me — Robin J. Phillips.
Robin J. Phillips
My Twitter followers: 356 (mostly pity follows)
Robin’s Twitter followers: 3,736 (probably all legitimate)
I had the opportunity to talk with her at Excellence in Journalism 2014 in Nashville, when she was a speaker for the Branding for Journalists breakout session. Phillips just so happens to be the digital director for the Reynolds Center for Business Journalism and a journalism professor at the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University, so who more fitting to give all of us up-and-coming journos a branding lesson than Ms. Journo Branding herself?
Want more tips, tricks and advice on breaking into journalism as a young journo? Join SPJ’s #youngjournojobs Twitter chat at 2 p.m. ET on Sept. 30 with Kenna Griffin, assistant professor of Mass Communications at Oklahoma City University. In the meantime, check out her awesome website with loads of young journo helpful tools.
Now back to branding with Phillips:
Q: What are the top five things a young journalist who is trying to brand themselves must do?
- Get your own domain name. Register a Dot Com name that is as close to your real name as you can get.
- Even if you aren’t working as a journalist yet, get moving. Create a blog on a topic you’re passionate about and be creative. While you’re waiting to work as a journalist, be a journalist – write, report, take photos, make videos, show what you can do.
- Join journalism organizations where you can find training and begin to network with other journalists: There is a group or two for everyone like SPJ, NAHJ, NABJ, AAJA, NLGJA, NAJA, AWSM, JAWS, RTDNA, ONA, #wjchat. If you don’t know what those are, go look them up, follow them on Twitter.
- Spend time every once in a while taking a look at the bios you have for all the social and online platforms you belong to. If you joined Polyvore or Pinterest as a kid and haven’t been back in a while, take a look at the photo and bio you have there and update them. You don’t necessarily want to kill the under-used sites, but it’s a good idea to make sure that if someone finds you there, they are seeing what you want them to see.
- Have fun. Social media and sharing things on the web is all about relationships. It’s time-consuming, but should not be a big chore. If you’re having fun – in a healthy, safe, professional way – then people will pick up on that and want to “hang out” with you.
Q: What is the worst mistake you see young journalists make in the name of branding?
Trying to be something you aren’t. It’s important to be yourself. Figure out who you are, what you want to do and keep that in mind. Life is too short to pretend you’re something else. That doesn’t mean you should stay the same always. Figure out your goals and make sure that everything you do to present yourself in a professional way is consistent with those goals.
For example, if you want to be an investigative reporter specializing in healthcare (could happen!), then follow healthcare reporters on Twitter and Facebook. Read everything you can about your subject and share the good stuff. Comment once in a while about what you are reading or watching – your opinion is as valid as anyone else’s about what is good and interesting.
Q: What are three incorrect stereotypes about journalist’s branding themselves?
- People sometimes think Branding is being fake. See my answer above. Don’t be fake. Branding is actually being very real – true to yourself and true to others.
- Some journalists think Branding is a sell-out and that your work should stand for itself. Not true. There is too much news and information out there these days. It’s OK for you to give your work a little push. Share it.
- Journalists, who often are basically shy, can be critical about Branding because it feels like bragging. So what’s the matter with that? You don’t want to be obnoxious, but if you’ve done something new, interesting, smart, go ahead and blow your own horn. If you don’t tell people (prospective employers, for example), they may never know. That doesn’t mean Tweet each story you write 5 times a day. Just like any other relationship, share your successes, but don’t be obnoxious.
Q: What phone app can you not live without?
Flickr. I love photos. My camera – HTC One – has a great camera so I take a lot of photos. I try to quickly kill the poor ones and upload high-resolution versions of the good ones to Flickr where I can keep them for later or share them with family and friends.
Q: If you could only use one social media outlet to brand yourself as a journalist, what would you choose and why?
It’s got to be Twitter. Twitter is great for journalists because it is so easy to find people interested in the same topics you are. A local journalist might have more luck on Facebook, but that gets too mixed up with personal and professional contacts. Twitter is a good place to establish your voice.
Q: If a young journalist was trying to better their personal brand and could only revamp three things, what would you suggest they focus on?
- Review your bios.
- Think hard about your true goals – what do you want to do, how to you want to spend your time.
- Then start to think of yourself as a professional. Social media can feel personal and intimate, but don’t lose site of the fact that you are representing yourself as a young professional at all times. That gives you both power and responsibility. Use them wisely.
Q: Who are some examples of good journalists who are great at branding themselves?
Personal Branding for Journalists slides in full.
Q: Do you think branding has become a completely digital game, or are there still tangible techniques outside of the online sphere young journos should be aware of?
Oh, in-person, real-life friendships and contacts are invaluable. After all, that’s what life is about. As you establish yourself in your field, you’ll find that relationships you make online go only so far. If you find a source online, you need to treat that person with suspicion, perhaps not quoting them at all until you’ve met in person, and certainly until you’ve talked on the phone. As far as friends and mentors and colleagues you meet online, you’ll find that you get a lot out of relationships that are only digital. But, when possible, turn those into real-life relationships.
Attend journalism conventions when you can and set up in-person meetings. If you’re on vacation to a new city, ask an online connection to meet for coffee or see if you can stop by their office. You’ll both know a lot more about each other because you’ve been following each other online. Go the local journalism organization’s meet-ups. Or organize one yourself. I once had a dozen people meet in a local bar to “attend” #wjchat on a Wednesday night. We were talking to people around the world on Twitter, but it was fun to be with ‘real’ local folks at the same time. This goes back to No. 5 above. Sometimes it’s just more FUN in real life.
Taylor Carlier. Photo credit: Matt Thomas
Taylor Carlier is the communications coordinator at the Society of Professional Journalists. She is a 2014 Purdue University graduate of Mass Communication: Journalism and previously was the special projects editor at The Exponent. She can be reached at email@example.com or interact on Twitter: @Taylorcarlier.