Over the last few months, we’ve been asked to share our tips from the trenches at colleges such as Manhattan College, Montclair State, Rutgers (and soon Ithaca College) as well as to professional, creative and alumni organizations including Advertising Women of New York, New York Women in Communications and The Hired Guns.
Last week, Jessica moderated a career panel for her alma mater, the University of Michigan, and the panelists — all successful alumni in different fields, from finance and e-commerce to fashion and food — had some great advice to share on how to be your own best publicist. Here are a few highlights:
1) Act big, even if you’re small. Two of the panelists, Todd Arky, a co-founder of SeamlessWeb, a leading online food delivery service, and Emily Blumenthal, handbag designer and founder of Handbag Designer 101 and the Independent Handbag Designer Awards, told the audience that, even if you are just starting out and have no clients yet, act like you are a bigger operation than you really are. Arky said, “No one wants to be your first client or the ‘guinea pig’ so when we started SeamlessWeb, we went to companies where we knew people and asked them if we could get them on board early to help us attract other clients.” He and his co-founders asked these folks for feedback — on both SeamlessWeb’s business model and on their particular needs — so that they were in on the ground floor and could help shape a business that would offer their employees something useful and unique in the food delivery space.
Blumenthal added that, even though she’s a one-woman operation, she quickly established a website and a presence on Twitter and Facebook so that when someone searches the word “handbag,” her business comes up high in search and seems like a bigger brand that it is (or was when she first started). Believe in yourself and your product and others will too. Soon enough, if all goes well, you will be as big as you acted from the beginning.
2) Be creative. Stacy Blume, founder and designer of Blume, a personalized clothing company, created unique business cards that mimic the oval name patches that her company is known for (picture the patches on gas station attendants’ uniforms but much cooler!). She said that people hang on to her business card and remember her because it stands out from others. Being creative doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. In our book, Be Your Own Best Publicist, we give examples of people who did everything from wrapping a fashion book proposal in fishnets and Manolo Blahnik shoeboxes to taking out a clever $6 ad on Google to attract attention from potential employers. Think about what reflects your personal brand and what can help you stand out from the crowd.
3) If you don’t ask, you’ll never know. Arky also gave this simple advice: Ask. He said that most people are afraid to ask for what they want and that, if they did, they could be pleasantly surprised. When he was managing a big team at SeamlessWeb (the company has since been sold to Aramark), he used to tell staffers to let him know where they wanted to be in terms of salary and position in six months, a year, three years. You’d think that people would have come back with enormous requests but instead, they gave realistic numbers and then had something to work towards.
4) Get out there — before someone else does. An audience member asked the panel how to go about sharing an idea for a business without risking it being ridiculed or stolen. Blumenthal advised just “going for it.” Arky echoed that by saying that if you don’t go out with your idea, others will beat you to it. He added, “When we launched SeamlessWeb, three other similar companies came out within six months and luckily we won the race.” Part of the reason was that they were aggressive about sharing their concept with whomever would listen and landed some early supporters and investors. Sharing your ideas also holds you accountable and, subsequently, more likely to make your ideas happen.
5) Your first (or second or third) job doesn’t have to be your career. Shari Bayer, owner of culinary and hospitality PR company Bayer Public Relations (BPR), started out in restaurants, went to culinary school, then landed at a PR firm before realizing she really wanted to work for herself. She took her favorite aspects of each job and launched her own business, which she’s now had for eight years. Arky went to law school, practiced litigation at a firm in Washington, D.C. and then decided he didn’t want to follow that path. So he launched an online company with his friends from law school, which did incredibly well. Now he’s counseling other entrepreneurs, as well as dabbling in angel investing and real estate development.
Blumenthal thought she wanted to go into global advertising and found a job at an agency after college. It wasn’t until after a decade working in media that she started her handbag line with no design experience. She had majored in Russian and Spanish at Michigan; in fact, almost everyone on the panel had majored in something in college that has little or nothing to do with their current work. The advice: Don’t get pigeonholed into a career path with your first job or degree. Switching careers — even more than once — is okay; follow your passion and you’ll find the right career path.
6) Find a mentor. Priya Kambhampati, who graduated with a B.S. in computer science, is a vice president of a technology group at a major investment bank. In a field where women are the minority, her current boss (a female) is a fellow University of Michigan alumni who has served as a mentor to Kambhampati, showing her that women can make a big impact in the financial and technology industry. When first launching their business, Arky and his colleagues reached out to the founder of another e-commerce company (the now-defunct Kozmo.com), who came on board as an angel investor and board member, advising them on their business model and supporting their efforts to get the business off the ground.
To book us for coaching or a speaking engagement, email us at bestpublicist (at) gmail.com.