Make a Lasting Impression, Part One
The mission of Branding Outside the Box has always been to help people become more memorable and make a more lasting impression. I believe everyone has the power to become known for the values they truly embody and make an impact on the world.
That’s why I’m dedicating these next four episodes not only to making a lasting impression, but to ensuring it’s the impression you really want to make.
First up, why you should give a damn about your bad reputation.
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I have never been the popular kid, far from it. Since I was young, I’ve always danced to the beat of my own drum which, while it may be an asset now, wasn’t the best characteristic for making friends in grade school. But for the most part, I didn’t care. I would rather be myself and do what I wanted, even if that meant I didn’t have tons of friends.
But this reputation for not adhering to the rules or social norms followed me from elementary school, to middle school, and finally into high school. When I would meet new people, they would ask things like, “Didn’t you use to wear dog collars to school?” It was the early nineties guys, I assure you the accessory was very in at the time.
The same went for teachers. I would walk into classrooms on the first day, and they’d already have an idea of what type of student I was. They’d see me as argumentative, someone who would challenge everything, and never be satisfied with an answer just because they said so. This was all before I opened my mouth. They had already determined what kind of student I was and they would treat me as such.
As you can imagine, school was a struggle. There were certain teachers who embraced lively debate, but most didn’t. They would get frustrated, ding me on exams, and looking back, I’m pretty sure they graded me harder than other kids in the class. This would cause me to dig in more, fight for the grades I felt I deserved, further proving that their assumption about me was correct.
Because that’s the thing about reputations. The more they’re reinforced, the more you live up to them.
I used to have an attitude of, “I don’t care what people think. They can love me, hate me, or be indifferent, it doesn’t matter. I’m going to be me.” And that serves me well in many areas. I’m not afraid to take an unpopular opinion or stick to my guns, and I don’t get hung up when a potential client chooses another PR company over mine. If they’re not digging what I do, then they can keep on walking.
But not caring what other people think can also be problematic. You don’t have to please everyone, I’m not saying that, but it’s important that their information is accurate and fair. If you have the reputation for being blunt, and that’s both true and something your clients appreciate you, then great. Keep saying what you mean. But if you have the reputation for being so blunt that people think you’re difficult to work with and worry about bringing you in as part of their team, then that’s a problem.
About five years into my career as a publicist, I made a crucial mistake that still haunts me. While I can’t get into too many specifics, I will share enough that will give you a sense of why I did what I did, and also why it was wrong.
I had a client at one of the big five publishers who was overlooked for an event. A bunch of the authors were in town for a conference, and the publisher had arranged for 10 of them to speak at a local library, but my client was left out. When I called the publisher to say, “What gives?” the response from the in-house publicist was that he presented a list of all the authors to the library and unfortunately, my client wasn’t chosen.
Now, I get that. If someone is programming an event, they want to bring who they want to bring. But what struck me as odd was that I knew the person organizing that event and I KNEW she was a fan of my client. I thought, there must be some mistake.
So I called the library and asked her why she didn’t choose my client and she responded that the in-house person had never given her a list to choose from and didn’t tell her that this author was available. The publisher had provided the list of 10 authors they wanted to include. My client was not one of them.
As someone who hates, HATES, lying, you can imagine how upset I was. Not only did I have zero idea of why my client was left out, but why would the in-house publicist lie to me? I was fuming.
And this is where I made a crucial mistake.
I deliberated with the author’s agent and we decided that I would write to the author’s editor, who had been a huge cheerleader for him in-house, and let her know what was going on. I’d ask her why this happened and see what could be done. At the time, it felt very reasonable and the right thing to do.
Can you guess what happened next? If you work in corporate, you probably can.
The email got forwarded to the in-house publicist, the executive editor, and the head of the publishing imprint. It was then followed by angry phone calls to me asking why I’m meddling in their event and telling me to butt out. They rallied around their team, as they should, and positioned me as the outsider, the person in the wrong, someone who was difficult to work with.
And when one of the big five publishers sees you as difficult to work with and starts spreading that message throughout the author community, that is bad for business.
Potential clients would contact me about publicity services, and we’d have great conversations, but when they’d speak to their editor or in-house publicist, they’d be discouraged from hiring me. Current clients were worried about our ability to work with their in-house team and whether or not we could continue working on their books.
When authors would speak with me directly about what happened, I’d explain the situation, and most of them were glad to hear that I had our authors’ best interests in mind, but they’d still be worried about drama or causing friction with their in-house team.
It was a tough year.
Once you develop a reputation, it’s difficult to change that. It’s more than re-branding your re-messaging, it’s about changing what people think of WHO YOU ARE. If people view you as difficult, or aloof, or unreliable, it doesn’t matter what you do or sell, they’re not going to want to work with you. It can take months, sometimes years, to change your reputation.
As Benjamin Franklin said, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only bad one to lose it.”
So while it’s okay to march to the beat of your own drum and stick to your guns, it’s also important to consider how other people view you or your business. What are you associated with? Do people want to be associated with you? And why?
When we talk about building a good reputation, here are a three things to consider:
If you are delivering a quality product, whether it’s in the form of services, digital products, or physical ones, it needs to be of the highest quality. I always tell our authors, their #1 job is to write a good book. Because if book one isn’t good, they can sell a million copies, but no one is coming back for book two.
Email marketing and social media are important for growing your audience and getting your name out there, but ultimately, the products and services you offer have to be superior. So if all your marketing efforts are resulting in delivering an inferior product, then it’s time to re-prioritize and re-focus.
I always laugh when I see CEOs or politicians on television trying to remedy a crisis and they refuse to tell people the truth. They try to spin, back-pedal, and sugar coat, when all people really want to hear is, “I screwed up and I’m sorry.”
When all that stuff went down with the publisher, I called my client and spoke very frankly. I told him what happened, that my intentions were good, but that I made a mistake and that I’m sorry. And his response was far better than if I had tried to make excuses, or worse, lie about what really happened.
I hope you never have to deal with a crisis or tarnish your reputation in any way, but if you do, it’s important to be honest. Don’t spin, don’t make excuses. Apologize and offer a plan to make it right. If future clients or customers ask about it, don’t hide it. You can share what happened and what you learned from it. The truth can’t be hidden, it will come out at some point. And if there’s one thing you really want the reputation for, it’s being honest.
I’ve addressed this several times when we talk about personal branding, but the same goes for your reputation. If you have the reputation for coming up with out of the box ideas, then don’t deliver one-size-fits all packages. If you have the reputation for being accessible and available, then ignore your inbox or silence your cell phone for days on end. Whatever you want to be known for, you need to embody it and stick to it.
If you focus on quality while being honest and consistent, you set yourself up for having a memorable and favorable reputation. And if something does happen, like it happened to me, these touch points will help you re-build your reputation far much faster.
A bad reputation can severely damage your relationships and your business. It’s not something you can ignore. And there’s a difference between having unique views or strong opinions, and people thinking of you unfavorably. Keep your ears open, listen to what people are saying about you. If a customer hasn’t made a purchase from you in a while, ask them why. If you’re passed up for a project, ask the potential customer why they went with someone else. Monitor your social media mentions. Set up google alerts for your name and business.
Know what people are saying about you, and if necessary, invest the time and energy to shift the conversation. Reputation is everything, so yours better be good.