Did Obama or Your Boss Overstay Summer Vacation?

[Originally posted on Forbes.com.]

Every August, millions of Americans take vacations. And every year, the most powerful of them, their president, takes a lot of heat just for taking his—and also for where he goes. Powerful business executives, too, take hits for their choice and length of retreat.
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We Tackle Branding Every Week on Forbes.com

On Forbes.com’s CMO Network, @havaspr CEO Marian Salzman focuses on one of the most important issues today in business: personal branding. She has talked about it through the lens of the red carpet, political beliefs, reinvention, ideas conferences, even Hurricane Sandy. She has wondered if branding should begin at birth and whether readers align their leadership style more with Tony Hsieh or Timothy Ferriss. And Salzman recently pondered the “exceedingly strongly branded profile” of the baby arriving to the British monarchy this summer. Look soon for more about Lance, plus CEOs who fly planes, lessons from social media, “bad girl” branding and more.

Personal Branding Around Communities and Political Beliefs

[Originally posted on Forbes.com.]

I recently got a humorous pitch from a real estate agent in New Hampshire, where, he wrote in his email, “there is a theme-branding wave that is part capricious, part serious business.” At first his proposal made me giggle, but then I saw how it reflects the ways in which personal branding is growing into community branding and vice versa.

People have long considered where they live to be a central part of their identities and personal brands. Being based in New York City sends a different message from being based in Connecticut, and both tell a vastly different story from having chucked it all to live on a ranch in Montana. States are part of our narratives.

The libertarian-leaning “Live Free or Die” state seems particularly suited to this phenomenon. Its population is small, its political persuasion clearly contrarian and its living conditions harsh. The realtor who pitched me, Mark Warden, had figured out how to take “Brand New Hampshire” to an extreme that, in turn, helped him build his own brand as a property broker and political candidate.

His Free State Project, he told me, has inspired more than 1,000 “liberty activists,” in his words, to move to New Hampshire. The project’s motto is “Liberty in Our Lifetime,” and its concept is to concentrate a large number of libertarian-leaning folks in a place where they can reduce the size and scope of government and improve individual freedom.

Here’s where it gets funny: The FSP mascot is the porcupine—“certainly cute and non-aggressive, but you don’t want to step on them!” says the group’s website—which points out how personal branding can require an occasional willingness to sacrifice some dignity in order to create a memorable identity. The project has spawned an array of branded events, including an annual festival that draws nearly 1,000 people from across the country, the Porcupine Freedom Festival (PorcFest for short). It’s held in a private campground, and Warden calls it “Burning Man meets FreedomFest.”

Warden built his real estate business model around this same branding and focuses his marketing on New Hampshire transplants who are drawn to the state for its ideology, telling “liberty-minded activists” that he speaks their language and understands their needs.

He’s not the first to have adopted the state’s politically oriented branding and the FSP’s particular strain of it for his own personal brand: Porc Manor is a website that caters to landlords and renters of libertarian persuasion, and Porc Therapy is a New Hampshire–produced live radio show and podcast that offers “pro-freedom relationship talk” and focuses on “happiness and freedom” and “explores an eclectic mix of topics, all of which fall under the umbrella of ways that we can all free our minds and attain more liberty in our lives.”

Using the mascot to such an extent might be borderline silly, but nonetheless it seems to be working for these porcupreneurs. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) And it’s yet another clear illustration about how branding is everything and everything is branding these days.

[photo: creativecommons.org/PorcFest]


The Thrill of Immersion

In about two hours, I will be wrapping up my first full workweek as an intern at Euro RSCG Worldwide PR. The exhaustion of being up at 5 a.m. every day that had been wearing on me all week is, minute by minute, being replaced by growing elation and excitement at the prospect of sleeping in tomorrow. But while the mornings have been tiring and the nighttimes short, because of a newly instated 10 p.m. bedtime, my first week at @erwwpr has been unlike any other at a new job.

Upon meeting my fellow interns, and newest friends, on Monday morning, I knew it was going to be a fast-paced summer surrounded by talented people. Within about an hour of introductions, we all dispersed with assignments in hand. That very morning, I learned my first lesson in PR: Don’t be afraid. This might seem silly and obvious, but it became immediately clear that I couldn’t hesitate to ask questions or make my own judgments, or even get something wrong. Fear is the ultimate inhibitor, and to be successful at anything, especially PR, you have to learn to let it go.

Additionally, the pace at @erwwpr immediately caught up with me. But I am learning to adapt to it as a motivator, not a series of unending deadlines. Our work is challenging in its quantity and interesting. Adopting an aggressive, always-say-yes attitude is the best way to immerse yourself, use your strengths, and improve your weaknesses.

This opportunity and experience will certainly be a valuable addition to my professional portfolio. But what I think is an even more valuable component is the chance to work in a predominantly female office. Coming from a political background, I have always been seriously outnumbered by men, and I’m hypersensitive to the 16 percent female leadership rate in this country. Working at @erwwpr Pittsburgh provides countless examples of smart, intuitive, well-balanced women who not only know how to lead in an office but also cooperate and work efficiently. As ambitious and malleable interns, I don’t think there could be anything more inspiring to be exposed to.

Although I’m struggling even now to have time to finish this blog post, and I’m on my third coffee of the day, I can honestly say I have never been more excited for an opportunity. The work is constantly changing, our co-workers are talented and while it’s clear (painfully, at times) that I have a lot to learn, I am genuinely thrilled for the challenge.

The One Young House posts on our blog document the experiences of four students participating in a unique and immersive internship with @erwwpr in Pittsburgh. Our main project is promoting the One Young World summit, a pro bono initiative of @erwwpr and Havas that’s coming to Pittsburgh in October. We will be sharing our experiences with traditional and social media relations, grassroots events and community presentations while living together as a team, operating out of One Young House.

[photo: Cassie Lenski]