How to Lay the Groundwork for a Successful Media Career by Building Your Personal Brand

Panelists from New York Women in Communications Foundation's Student Communications Career Conference

Panelists from New York Women in Communications Foundation’s Student Communications Career Conference

For journalists, bloggers, and freelancers alike, developing a personal brand is as essential to your career as strong writing skills.

At the recent New York Women in Communications Foundation‘s Student Communications Career Conference, a panel of journalists and communications professionals shared their tips for how to build your brand from nothing.

The panelists included:

  • Nicole Ryan (moderator), co-host of VH1’s Morning Buzz and host of SiriusXM Morning Mash Up;
  • Amy Cao, curator of FiftyThree Inc. and creator and host of Stupidly Simple Snacks;
  • Kimmie Smith, founder of Accessory Expert;
  • Kris Ruby, president/founder of Ruby Media Group; and
  • Aly Walansky, freelance lifestyle journalist.

Read on for a recap of the How to Build Your Personal Brand panel.

Is attending events an important part of networking?

Ryan: Networking has been one of my saving graces. It’s one of the main things that has helped me do what I do. My manager dragged me to a red carpet event that I didn’t want to go to and that’s how I landed the job at VH1, from the people I met there. If you have no one to go with you to an event, still go and meet people. It is so important.

Walansky: There are about half a dozen media events every night and sometimes you don’t feel like going, because you’re exhausted. I have definitely gotten a lot of assignments from people I have met at events.

Smith: One of my favorite photographers that I love working with came from a referral from a really good friend. There is also an organic thing that happens when you aren’t actively networking.

Cao: You don’t only meet people at parties or events, but you can also meet people on airplanes and trains. You strike up conversations and meet people who may be able to help you. I tell my team that you should always tell people what you want and aspire to. People might remember you for later — even if they may not know of a current job opening. Don’t be afraid to express your wishes for yourself, because people do want to help you.

Ruby: I think you have to walk through the fear when networking with people. You should also think about how you can be of service to that person. Ask that person questions about themselves rather than thinking what you can get out of it.

What is the best professional advice you have ever been given?

Ryan: The first rule in radio is to be liked. Just be nice to everyone. Everyone thinks that when you are building something you have to be a jerk. You need to get people to like you, so they want to work with you.

In radio they would have a girl on the show to just fill in that chair. When I first started doing the show, they were looking for a girl to do that, but I wanted to break and change that. I didn’t just want to be someone to laugh at the jokes, but I wanted to make the jokes. I wanted to be the one to come up with some great topics and stories.

Walansky: You don’t necessarily even have to attend an event, but if you see someone’s work that you like, follow them on Twitter. They may follow you back, and now that’s a connection you made.

Smith: You need to check in with yourself and not inundate yourself with things that aren’t about your personal brand. I personally like to do a little short-term and long-term goal to make sure I am where I am supposed to be.

Ruby: Turn every “no” into a “yes.” When you work in PR, you deal with rejection all the time. You really need to make sure to push things forward.

Cao: Surround yourself with people who inspire you and make you want to do your job better. I’d rather hang out with people who inspire me and build relationships with them than spend a lot of a time with a lot of people who aren’t as inspiring.

As women, has it been challenging doing what you’re doing?

Walansky: I started my blog eight years ago when people didn’t even know what a blog was. Most people think that having a different schedule as a freelancer means being unemployed. It is really hard for some people to understand that you may work different hours, and it takes a while for people to respect what you’re doing. It is really a journey.

Cao: I work in technology and startups, which is a mostly male-dominated world. There are many steps being taken by women within and outside that world to empower women to go into engineering and math. It is important for women to remember they are not alone, because we are all in it.

Ruby: I work with many male corporate executives, and I feel pretty lucky that I have been treated as an equal. There will be things that are said that will make you feel uncomfortable and you may not like, but you really have to think about the situation. You really need to think about whether that person has an issue with you as a woman or are they just saying things in a weird way — and can you look past it.

What piece of advice would you give your younger, first starting out self?

Walansky: I would have gone to networking events in college. When I started freelancing, I knew nothing and no one.

Ruby: I would say to be more understanding when you work with other people. For example, I work at a very fast pace and I expect everyone I work with to work at the same pace. I am realizing that this is not always going to happen. You need to magnify someone’s strengths versus focusing on their weaknesses. If I could do anything differently, it would have been to take some more management classes.

Smith: I definitely would have done internships. I didn’t do any when I was in college.

Cao: Get as much work experience as you can. When I hire people now, there is a big difference between those that have work experience and those that don’t. I would always pick the person that has that work and internship experience and has dealt with different personalities in the office, etc.

What recommendations do you have for prospective employees?

Ryan: For us, it is important to have a person come in and be a self-starter. We want you to come in with ideas. It is also important to be creative and think outside-the-box.

Make yourself invaluable. Don’t ever put yourself in a position where someone can do your job better than you. This is why I never like anyone filling in for me, because you want to be the only one that can do that job and do it the best. You also want your boss to feel the same way. There are no problems, but there are only solutions.

Walansky: I travel a lot, so if I am going to hire interns to go to events for me when I am not in town, they may not be able to text me and will need to handle things themselves. They have to act in a way that represents me, as well as bring back the content that they need to write about it.

Ruby: Keeping up with the pace of the industry is very important. Many interns are looking for an internship program to be very structured the way school is, but in the real world it is anything but that. You need to make that up on your own, think about where you can add value and bring that to the company. 

Smith: Crunch time is the most important thing to me, because when things go crazy I need the person to think of how we can fix things and make everything look seamless. If someone freaks out during crunch time and it’s debilitating the process, that to me is so glaring, because you have one shot.

Cao: It is important to have a can-do attitude and be able to turn those “nos” into “yeses.” Not everything is going to go smoothly, but if you can make it smooth for your boss, you are going to be invaluable. This is when you will be rewarded.

Want more media career stories? Check out Beyond Bylines’ monthly column Career Crossroads. You can also read our other recaps from the Student Communications Career Conference on ProfNet Connect.

Polina Opelbaum is a communities service specialist with ProfNet. If you need a subject matter expert for that story you’re working on, ProfNet has thousands of folks available to help. Members of the media can register for PR Newswire for Journalists to begin using ProfNet and PR Newswire’s other free media tools.

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