Why journalists need personal branding
Reporters better learn to be their own agent
I was in San Francisco recently addressing a roomful of journalists at their annual convention. Ten years ago, I would have been one of them. But these days—my youthful aspirations cut short by layoffs and the Internet choking the bejesus out of the newspaper industry—I stood before them as an older-and-wiser marketing consultant, advising an eager crowd how to build their brands and avoid the ax.
It’s a truism for journalists: you should never be the story, because your job is to cover the story. But the modern ethos of personal branding stipulates that everyone—and that means even journalists—needs to think clearly and carefully about how to position themselves to their bosses and the world, or risk “superfluity” in the marketplace (translation: buh-bye). How can journalists square these competing priorities, as they fight to avoid the same fate that has felled so many of their editorial brethren in the past decade? Here’s my take on this modern media conundrum.
- Journalists: your efforts to build your reputation often redound to the benefit of your employer. After all, if you’re a “must-read,” that means more eyeballs for your outlet. But don’t think just having a blog or a Twitter account for work does the trick, because…
- Journos have to recognize when their interests diverge from their employers’. After all, their legion of Twitter followers vanishes the minute they get a pink slip. So whenever possible, they need to build their own personal database—friending their sources and their readers on Facebook or LinkedIn, so they can connect even if their outlet cuts them loose.
- Online prominence doesn’t “just happen.” Journalists can’t sit back and wait for the masses to come to them, hoping the allure of their publication will draw in readers. Instead, they need to make a point of engaging with other opinion leaders online, and build their web traffic by commenting on others’ posts, retweeting like mad, and—in general—using their employers’ time, symbiotically, to make friends and win readers.
- A/V is mandatory for media types these days. Even if journalists’ current employers don’t make them take video or edit podcasts, whoever hires them next (to be a nonprofit communications director, or a PR flack at an agency) will expect them to have multimedia chops. Start learning now, guys.
- Don’t forget real-world networking. Teaching a class at a local university or volunteering with a charity (that doesn’t conflict with their beat) are both good ways to make in-person connections that can add heft to journalists’ resumes, win favor with local bigwigs (who may be friends with the editor/owner), and hedge against career trauma (because reporters will have a bevy of new connections to tap).
- Finally, perhaps the best advice for the New Media Order is a holdover from the old days: Treat your sources like gold. After all, how did I recover from my layoff trauma? One of my pundits hooked me up with a (higher-paying) job. The reality (dangerous though it may be for the credibility of the Fourth Estate) is that you may be covering somebody today, and working for them tomorrow. The best way to hedge against owing anybody anything? For journalists to develop a personal brand so powerful that they become indispensible.
Dorie Clark—a marketing strategy consultant for clients such as Google, Yale University, and the National Park Service—is president of Clark Strategic Communications. A former New England Press Association award-winning journalist, she can be reached at www.dorieclark.com and www.twitter.com/dorieclark, and you can follow her Marketing Strategy blog at www.dorieclark.wordpress.com.