Corporate Branding Digest, July 3, 2014

7 Ways to Make Big Change Quick and Permanent
(Inc., 01.07.14)

Big change can be disruptive yet beneficial and often necessary. Change expert Robert “Jake” Jacobs shares his tips on how to create real and lasting change.

Is Your Brand Being Nibbled to Death by Ducks?
(Forbes, 30.06.14)

Someone remarked recently that General Motors was not trounced by a single major competitor like Toyota or Ford. Instead, they were attacked on every front by Volkswagen, Hyundai, Honda, BMW, Mini Cooper, Chrysler, Subaru, Jeep, Volvo, Range Rover, Ford, and yes, Toyota. As someone else once said, they were nibbled to death by ducks. And if you think the automobile industry is alone in this, you’re all wrong.

Growth and Change Require Agile Leadership and Bedrock Values
(Entrepreneur, 23.05.14)

Every year we see a new best seller or startup sensation promoting the latest and greatest formula for success. We eagerly study these books and download every TED talk, even knowing there is no definitive guide to success. The path to success lies in continuously evolving and optimizing your leadership strategy, a process I call “agile leadership.’”

3 Questions Executives Should Ask Front-Line Workers
(Harvard Business Review, 09.05.14)

The higher up you go in an organization, the harder it is to stay in touch with what’s really happening on the front lines. And the bad news—if you hear it at all—is presented only in the best possible light. How do you get the real truth about what’s happening out in the field? How do you stay connected to all corners of your organization? I have found that three simple questions, asked with the intent to learn, can help you stay in touch with reality and be a better leader.

“The heart and soul of a company is creativity and innovation.” —Robert Iger

Corporate Branding Digest, June 4, 2014

Managing People Is an Art: Here Are 32 Ways to Do It Right
(Entrepreneur, 29.05.14)

Managing a staff of employees—with their diverse personalities, responsibilities, ambitions and pet peeves—can sometimes feel a bit like nailing Jell-O to the wall. And at small companies, where every single employee needs to pull their weight to move the business along, it can feel like nailing Jell-O to a wall and then trying to balance a cat on it.

Sheryl Sandberg on Honesty, Feminism and Her Own Mom-Guilt
(Inc., 29.05.14)

In an address to Harvard’s class of 2014, Sandberg uses her own sometimes-painful experiences to illuminate her message to graduates.

How to Transform Your Thinking in Five Minutes
(Fast Company, 28.05.14)

If you think you have no time to squeeze creative work into your daily life, ask yourself: Do I have five minutes to spare? Chances are, you do.

How to Become a TEDx Speaker
(Forbes, 21.04.14)

It may seem like an impossible dream to join the likes of Al Gore or Anthony Robbins as speakers at TED, the legendary ideas conference. But with the creation of TEDx, independently-organized TED-like conferences throughout the world, it’s now possible for far more people to become speakers. And there’s the potential for breakout success: some of the most popular TED talks of all time, including Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” discussion of leadership, which has garnered more than 16 million views, began as TEDx talks that were uploaded to the main TED site. So how can you become a TEDx speaker and share your “idea worth spreading”?

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.” —Steve Jobs

Corporate Branding Digest, April 28, 2014

What CEOs Can Learn from UConn Huskies Basketball
(Forbes, 28.04.14)

April 7, 2014, was a special night. The UConn Huskies men became the first 7 seed to win the NCAA championship. As an unlikely victor, they had been disqualified from the NCAA the previous year and had a new coach at the helm. The next night UConn Huskies women won the title, making it an unprecedented second time UConn won both titles.

What I Learned Watching 150 Hours of TED Talks
(Harvard Business Review, 11.04.14)

What makes for a great presentation—the kind that compels people’s attention and calls them to action? TED talks have certainly set a benchmark in recent years: HBR even asked Chris Anderson, the group’s founder, to offer lessons drawn from the three decades he’s run TED’s signature events in an article published last summer.

Slide Show: 9 Ways the CMO Makes a Difference to the Business
(, 09.04.14)

To date, understanding how the role of the CMO impacts firm performance has been limited. But a new study indicates that marketers can—and do—drive value for their companies.

10 Reasons to Rebrand
(Branding Strategy Insider, 08.04.14)

My colleague Brad VanAuken made this excellent observation about rebrands. “Identity systems are designed to encode and decode brand information to and from people’s brains,” he said. “If you change the system, the associations may be lost and will take a long time to rebuild.”

“If you don’t love what you do, you won’t do it with much conviction or passion.” —Mia Hamm

Corporate Branding Digest, Jan. 6, 2014

How to Give a TED-Worthy Talk
(Forbes, 02.01.14)

The TED conference, with its high-powered speakers and thousands of viral videos, has become a cultural touchstone. Professionals with big ideas and big ambition want to know: how can I become a TED speaker, or at least sound as good as one? Often, John Bates is the man they call. Bates, an independent consultant not employed by TED, has become a go-to expert for many TED and TEDx speakers and organizers, running a speakers boot camp with his colleague Michael Weiss.

3 Things that Can Kill Genius Marketing Campaigns
(Business Insider, 30.12.13)

Anyone that has been practicing marketing in the “real world” has learned that there are three things that typically kill effective marketing strategies … 1. Politics; 2. Ignorance; 3. Looking at marketing as a cost rather than an investment.

Want to Increase a Product’s Value by 2,706%? Give It a Story
(Inc., 27.12.13)

Research shows consumers increasingly valuing brands that they feel fundamentally understand them and that interact with them as human beings. According to the Brandfog CEO, Social Media and Leadership Survey 2012, customers now expect to have direct access to brands and brand leaders. What’s more, the survey shows, there is a direct connection between social media participation, purchase intent and increased brand loyalty.

Lynn Good of Duke Energy, on Effective Leaders
(The New York Times, 23.11.13)

Interview with Lynn J. Good, CEO of Duke Energy.

“Progress is always the product of fresh thinking, and much of it thinking which to practical men bears the semblance of dreaming.” —Robert Gordon Sproul

Ideas Conferences as Brand Builders

[Originally posted on]

We’re in an age of ideas conferences—not just such stalwarts as Davos and TED but also upstarts like All Things Digital’s D conferences (D11 is next, in May)—and attendance is increasingly seen as a mark of legitimacy. They’re the ultimate see-and-be-seen gatherings. Smart talk is today’s hot commodity, whether you’re speaking, listening or, perhaps most important, hobnobbing after the formal sessions.

“It’s easy to think that money is the currency of the world,” TED staffer Duncan Davidson told New York earlier this year, “but there are other currencies.” Davidson was being interviewed because three years earlier, a well-dressed mugger had tried to steal his all-access TED badge in Long Beach, Calif. That’s the significance these confabs have taken on.

But what do they say about your personal brand? Are Davos people different from TED people different from SXSW people? What about the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) and Renaissance Weekend? Is there a big half-dozen in conference-going that lets you borrow for your brand (today’s equivalent of name-dropping) and build it up? And if there is, do you have to attend all of them (who has time?), or do you need to decide what each stands for and how it helps make a person a brand? Does your choice of conference send a message about what generation you see yourself in?

That same New York article includes a helpful history lesson:

“At least since the early seventies, when Davos was founded, there have been exclusive gatherings that mix fizzy ideas with major-league networking. The eighties gave rise to Renaissance Weekend, for a largely political crowd; Allen & Co.’s Sun Valley retreat, for media machers; and an early version of TED, for the titans of the converging worlds of (as the organizers had it) Technology, Entertainment and Design. But recent years have seen a furious proliferation of these status events. There’s PopTech, FOO Camp, the Clinton Global Initiative, Solve for X (Google’s conference for ‘moonshot thinking’). And beyond the higher-profile events, a lengthening tail of gatherings you’ve never heard of like the Feast, Do Lectures, the 99% Conference and Techonomy. All promise much the same thing: a velvet rope to keep out the attitudinally unwashed, serendipitous interaction, quirky content and at least the illusion of egalitarian elbow-rubbing.”

But I’d argue that some conferences are becoming so ubiquitous and trendy that their velvet ropes are being pulled back. TED has gotten so democratic—not just in making its 18-minute edited TEDTalks available online for all the world to see, but also in its increasingly frequent TEDx gatherings (270 events in 58 countries last month, according to the TEDx website)—that it’s more the brand of might-bes than überachievers.

Production company executive and Atlantic contributing editor for tech and media Michael Hirschorn coined the memorable term “clusterfuckoisie” to describe the tribes that pile on in hopes of proving or improving their social rank. A blogger at the Jane Dough asks if all the conferences have lost their mojo, simply because there are too many of them.

I don’t think they have, but it’s increasingly hard to know which conferences are really relevant to you. A forum on Quora about which conferences someone “needs to attend to meet world and industry leaders” has a few recurring answers—Davos, TED, CGI—but not much consensus overall.

And so, like Deadheads 40 years before them (but with espresso as their drug of choice), a new tribe has formed to follow the route from Sun Valley to Aspen to Austin to Switzerland. But following the knowledge takes its toll, and these conferences are eating alive the would-be thought leaders who join the circuit, traipsing around the world in search of ego food and new smarts, one quick bite at a time.

If they’re getting anything from this, it’s primarily that they’re strengthening their networks. Davos still seems to make careers—the others, mostly connections.

When you are managing your brand, it’s unbelievably important to remember that co-branding is vital: You are the company you keep, and that also means the conferences and events where you are seen and seeing. Unfortunately, in our reality-TV world, perception is reality and reality can be insanely demanding.

[photo: markovski]

Drawing Lines

Some of you blog loyalists out there might remember my excitement at the prospect of working with so many talented women this summer, and that has indeed been one of the highlights of this job. In the United States, female leadership averages about 16 percent in every sector across the board. I had just finished my senior thesis about the dearth of female leaders in this country, so I was geekily interested in observing what made female leaders in general the exception, and what put some of them in the 16 percent.

In a December 2011 TED talk, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said that of the graduating seniors entering the workforce for the first time, 57 percent of young men negotiated their first salary. Seven percent of young women did this.

I thought this very interesting as a young person on the brink of entering the working world. My female peers are, generally speaking, both unaware of their own worth and unwilling to assert it. Attribute it to whatever you’d like, but women across the board are not comfortable with their own talent and abilities. In her TED talk, Sandberg goes on to cite how women, much more than men, underestimate their IQs, downplay their GPAs and attribute their success to others rather than their own “awesomeness.” At the heart of this, she determines, is that success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. It seems to me that in a world where women are literally pulled in so many directions, the only way to manage all this is by drawing lines in the sand, deciding who you are and unapologetically being that person.

The superwoman stereotype is perhaps the most damning of all, and it’s where a lot of these attitudes can be derived. It encompasses all areas of a woman’s life, sets the highest standards for everything from homemaking to professional success to body image, and consequently makes it impossible for her not to fail. Anne-Marie Slaughter poignantly and passionately addresses “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” in a six-page op-ed in this month’s Atlantic. She diverges and even openly disagrees with Sandberg on critical points, but she claims it is impossible to “have it all” at the same time. With Slaughter’s and Sandberg’s arguments in mind, women must stop spinning this narrative because it is just that: a narrative. Women must stop actually believing that they can have it all, must stop participating in it and, most critically, must stop projecting to other women that they are actually succeeding at it.

We have to stop being terrified of making choices, of saying no, of drawing clear lines and defining ourselves, because that is how we grow and actually begin to have it all, in the real, human sense. It is how we fill C-suite offices and how we truly liberate ourselves from manufactured and unchallenged archetypes of female happiness and success. It’s how we make room for ourselves, our daughters and our daughters’ daughters as CEOs, tenured professors, heads of surgery, managing partners, etc. And inconsequential as they might seem, every preface to a comment with “This might be really stupid, but…” or apologizing unnecessarily during a brainstorming session perpetuates these attitudes and reinforces that 16 percent.

At the beginning of my summer at @erwwpr, I made a conscious decision to be a sponge. I try to take in every last detail and habit of those older, more talented and more successful than I am. I observe them and watch how they balance their lives and schedules, how they handle themselves in meetings, how they treat their colleagues. The women here, truly PR professionals, are sharp, talented and poised. And as the summer comes to an end, I am preparing to wring myself out, grateful and appreciative to move on with the bits and pieces that complement me and that hopefully will contribute to my growing that 16 percent.