Tips from the Trenches: One-on-One with Emily Blumenthal, CEO/Founder, Handbag Designer 101

“Be aware that the person you are speaking with has no time for you until you prove you can give them something they might need or want, so having your elevator pitch ready is always a must.” — Emily Blumenthal

 

Fashion entrepreneur Emily Blumenthal

Emily Blumenthal never went to design school. But that didn’t stop her from creating a line of handbags that she singlehandedly got into Bergdorf Goodman, Henri Bendel, Bloomingdale’s and finally to QVC. Add to that teaching Fashion Marketing at Parsons The New School for Design and running a business helping burgeoning accessories designers get their handbag lines off the ground and into major retailers across the country.

In addition, Blumenthal created the Independent Handbag Designer Awards, an internationally respected design competition, runs online resource HandbagDesigner101.com and authored “Handbag Designer 101,” a book to help designers create the next “It Bag” and a viable business to go with it. The woman is BUSY.

In Be Your Own Best Publicist, we interviewed a number of smart, interesting people on how to build a brand and stand out. Just in time for New York Fashion Week, we recently talked to Blumenthal about how she launched her brand and her advice for other entrepreneurs trying to break through the clutter with limited time and resources.

 

Why is it so important these days to stand out in the workplace?

The market is so incredibly oversaturated. It is key to stand out since internal competition is fierce, especially in markets that are so sought after. Proving your value is a must as that will translate into more power, responsibility and eventually dollars in your pocket.

 

What’s the best PR advice you’ve ever received?

When I was starting out and wanted to get into television, a buyer pulled me aside and said, “You would never open a clothing store if you didn’t know how to shop.” In other words, make sure you know how to buy before you can sell. I have used this in every step of my career; I try to get behind the mindset of those that I am pitching and to address their needs before I even begin to tell them anything I am working on.

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6 Ways to Build Buzz for Your Brand on a Budget

How to get people talking about your brand.

You have a great idea, a website, a business plan and maybe even some funding. Now what? That doesn’t mean anything unless people are talking, sharing and buzzing about your brand. If no one hears the proverbial tree falling in the forest, how will they know it actually exists — and why would they care?

For most startups, publicity typically falls to the bottom of the expenditure list. Yet, in this day and age, with so much competition for coverage and attention, it can be the thing that connects the dots, raises your profile and attracts consumers, advertisers, partners and investors. The reality: Those who put public relations as the lead horse will likely cross the finish line first. But if you’re bootstrapped and feel you just can’t justify the cost of hiring a PR firm or an in-house communications specialist, you can learn how to be your own publicist — and kick-start the drumbeat about your brand through press coverage and social media buzz.

Recently, Jessica participated in a panel at the Golden Seeds Innovation Summit — a conference run by an investment firm that supports companies founded by women entrepreneurs — called “Building Your Brand: Lessons in PR for Early Stage Companies,” where this topic was discussed. Moderated by The New York Times bestselling author and former Hearst Magazines Chair(wo)man, Cathie Black, the panel also included The Daily Muse co-founder Kathryn Minshew, Business Insider tech reporter Alyson Shontell and Joannie Danielides who runs an eponymous PR firm. Below we share some of the advice that was given during this panel.

  • Know your elevator pitch. Have a great story and know how to tell it…quickly. What you pitch to the media is not that different from what you have to “sell” to potential investors and, similarly, you have a short period of time in which to impress them and gain their interest.
  • Find a news hook. Understand how your business fits into a bigger trend or story. Don’t just pitch in a vacuum. Minshew of The Daily Muse said that she often pitches reporters when new job numbers come out or as part of a story on young female tech entrepreneurs in the career space so they use her as an expert on a particular trend. Shontell advised startups to identify how their company or story relates to a broad audience.
  • Be scrappy and resourceful. Follow reporters who cover your industry on Twitter, then retweet them and respond to them. Also, read relevant media about your industry and stay up on the latest trends. [Read more...]

Does Anyone Print and Save Thank You E-Mails?

Handwritten notes: a lost art?

In a recent Wall Street Journal article on “The Lost Art of the Handwritten Note,” author Philip Hensher addresses how our increasing reliance on typing and texting is making the handwritten note go the way of the fax machine. He says, “The ready communication through electronic means that has replaced the handwritten letter is wonderful. But we have definitely lost something here, and those Skype, email and text exchanges won’t be treasured in the way that my teenage letters, scribbled journals and postcards have been for years.”

We couldn’t agree more. Recently, Jessica moved apartments and unearthed a shoebox full of handwritten notes from old friends, ex-boyfriends (not sure her husband appreciated that she hung onto those!) and thank you notes from magazine editors with whom she worked for years at Hearst Magazines, including the late, legendary Cosmo editor Helen Gurley Brown. Had those been sent to her via email or text, she definitely would not still have them — and they wouldn’t have had the same sentimental value.

When people ask us if, after a job interview or informational meeting, they should send a thank you via email or snail mail, we always suggest both.  The speed of an email foll0w-up is great but can get buried in a busy person’s in-box (or even get lost in the “junk mail” folder if you’re sending it from an unfamiliar email address). In this day and age, when sadly we’re getting fewer and fewer letters in the mail, a handwritten thank you note, well-crafted on good stationery, will make a candidate stand out from others who chose not to take that extra, personal step.

In fact, a female magazine publisher we know said that if she interviews someone and they don’t send a real note as a follow-up, she will not hire them, no matter how impressive they were in person. And a media executive with whom Jessica works asks his sales staff for photocopies of the thank you notes they’ve handwritten and sent to clients and prospective clients during the week so he can make sure they’re actually doing it, versus relying on email alone.

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Tips from the Trenches: One-on-One with Kelsey Recht, CEO, VenueBook

“Get people talking.  People have a lot of interesting things to share.  You might discover an unexpected connection.” – Kelsey Recht, CEO, VenueBook

 

Ever try to book an event and end up calling around to dozens of places, trying to get someone on the phone to check dates of availability, budget, menu, capacity, etc.?  It can be extremely time-consuming and often fruitless. Well, Kelsey Recht, founder & CEO of VenueBook, has a simple solution: create an online platform that enables corporate event planners — or regular people — just looking for a party space to search all of those things and more in one place.

When we saw Recht pitch her idea at a NY Tech Meetup Women’s Demo Night a few months ago, we knew she’d be a rising star in both the technology and hospitality worlds. While VenueBook just launched in New York City, the company plans to roll out its platform to other markets around the country over the next year. We interviewed the founder of what she calls “an OpenTable-like platform for finding and booking event spaces” about launching a brand, standing out in your career and creating buzz.

 

Why is it so important these days to stand out in the workplace?

The harsh reality right now is that the economy is not strong. Jobs are hard to come by. If you have one, you need to do your best to excel and make a name for yourself.

What’s the best PR advice you’ve ever received?

Do your homework on reporters and what they cover first. Half of the battle is knowing the right person and what angle to take with them.

What are your top networking tips?

Get people talking. People have a lot of interesting things to share. You might discover an unexpected connection.

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Bragging on Social Media: Useful or Annoying?

Can bragging on Facebook and other social platforms backfire? In an extreme example this week, a gang of thugs in Brooklyn boasted about committing murder on their Facebook pages and got arrested as a result. Verdict? Not smart! While most of us are bragging about much less criminal things (we hope!), touting your accomplishments through social media may still have a negative result.

The Wall Street Journal ran a story last month ago called “Are We All Braggarts Now?”, which examines whether social media has given people a platform — and permission — to constantly boast about their accomplishments, children, jobs and lives in general. In the piece, Elizabeth Bernstein writes that “we’ve become so accustomed to boasting that we don’t even realize what we’re doing. And it’s harmful to our relationships because it turns people off.” We believe this is a generalization and that, while select folks spend all their Tweets and Facebook posts talking about how their child is the world’s most talented and beautiful, there are ways to leverage social media to promote yourself and what you’re proud of in a smart and more subtle way.

In our book, Be Your Own Best Publicist: How to Use PR Techniques to Get Noticed, Hired and Rewarded at Work, we dedicate an entire chapter, called “Toot Your Own Horn (but Not Too Loudly),” to teaching people how to be their own publicists without irritating those on the receiving end. There’s an art to self-promotion and part of it is building your reputation slowly and strategically so you don’t come across as too in-your-face. (Though we don’t see what’s so bad about posting “Got my first royalty check for my book,” as referenced in the article. As authors ourselves, we know what a huge deal it is to finally see some rewards from all the hard work you put in!). Nonetheless, here are a few tips on how to avoid being pegged as a braggart:

Pat yourself on the back but pat others harder. It’s okay to post something about an award you won, but make sure you’re also congratulating others when they’ve received accolades. Hit the “like” button on Facebook or re-tweet it when you see that people you know have posted about their personal milestones and they’ll likely do the same for you. A third-party endorsement often has more impact than if you tout your own accomplishments.

Offer a take-away. If you wrote a great blog post about how to avoid being a braggart, for example, linking to it might actually offer useful advice to the folks who click on it. Or if you say, “Our nanny is a rock star,” maybe you can tell people where you found her so they can find their own personal Mary Poppins or link to the great sample sale where you scored amazing Hermes piece, so others can benefit too.

Don’t make others feel bad. We haven’t had a real vacation in a while (that’s a whole other blog post!), so it’s natural to feel a wee bit jealous when we see our friends post amazing beach shots of their tropical trips (though we’re mostly happy for them). That happiness would be dampened, though, if they posted or tweeted things like, “Ha, ha! I bet you wish you were here!” or “I feel like I died and went to paradise.” instead of “Great view from my hotel room in Costa Rica.” The upshot: Be cognizant that not everyone is as lucky as you are, watch your tone and try not to over-post. (You are on vacation, after all!)

You can always dial down who sees what posts on social media, if you fear that you are over-sharing to your extended crowd. And, on the flip side, if you feel that some of your Facebook friends or those you follow on Twitter are getting out of hand with their self-promotion, simply filter out their posts or stop following them. That way, when you see them face-to-face next time, stories about their child landing first seat in the school orchestra or their latest major deal at work won’t irk you quite as much.

What kind of posts annoy you?  Share with us here, on Facebook or Twitter.

Tips From The Trenches: One-on-One with Valerie Insignares of Darden

“I believe every day your actions speak louder than any words you say.  In fact, what others say about you is often times more important than what you say about yourself.” – Valerie Insignares

We meet a lot of powerhouse women in our day-to-day lives — women who are making a name for themselves in their industries and beyond. So, when we recently connected with Valerie Insignares, SVP/Chief Restaurant Operations Officer at restaurant company Darden, we jumped at the chance to get her perspective on standing out in the workplace.

Insignares is impressive  – recognized within her company (which owns Red Lobster, Olive Garden and The Capital Grille, among other multi-location establishments) for her record-breaking guest count growth as well as for her role in establishing the supplier diversity initiative – she’s made the “most influential” lists for key industry publications as well as Hispanic Business. Add to that her other role as one of this nation’s 30 million working moms, and her list of accomplishments becomes even more inspiring.

With all on her plate (restaurant pun intended), we were honored that she found a few minutes to share her perspectives about serving up authenticity and quality no matter the role and why we should look to Missy Franklin for inspiration:

Why is it so important these days to stand out in the workplace?

I’ve been with Darden for 15 years now, and we’ve grown into the world’s largest full-service restaurant company with more than 180,000 employees and 2,000 restaurants. As the company has grown, the organization has become much more complex and the environment is much more global. In order to stand out, you need to be more than a functional expert. You need to be viewed as a business leader. The way to do that is to view your career as a learning journey: (to) take risks and roles that will broaden your perspective,  be committed to evolving your leadership, and be open to relocation. Many more opportunities will be open to you if you are!

As a leader, it’s equally important to be known for how you do things as it is for what you do.  It’s important to demonstrate personal balance and commitment to your family and community.  Luckily Darden is a place that places equal weight on both its business and its values.

 

What’s the best PR advice you’ve ever received?

Play to your strengths.  We all come from different places and have seen or worked through all kinds of personal and professional experiences.  Remember that you bring a unique perspective to the table as well as a unique set of skills. It’s up to you, however, to deliver tangible value to your employer by using these strengths. At the end of the day, doing good work using your unique strengths is your best PR plan.

 

What’s an example of when you’ve been your own best publicist?

As a leader, I believe every day your actions speak louder than any words you say. In fact, what others say about you is often times more important than what you say about yourself. Do you behave in way that is positive and energetic? Are you consistent?

 

What are your top networking tips?

Networking doesn’t have to be something you do in addition to your day job. As a working mother, I have little time outside of my day-to-day schedule of work, family and exercise. My advice is to work connections into your schedule. Make genuine connections with people in your company, industry and community, and keep those relationships going. Simply checking in with these connections a few times a year can help maintain a strong network. Also, keep your commitments. A quick cup of coffee is easy to reschedule when your calendar is full or you have a full inbox. But it’s important to realize we’re all busy, and you’ll be happy you honored their time and your commitment.

 

How important is it to break through the clutter when you’re trying to stand out—and what’s the best way to do so?

Sometimes you don’t need to break out in a big way; rather, you need to demonstrate leadership qualities and let the result speak for itself. A good leader coaches his or her team and smartly allocates his or her resources in the best interest of the business. Making a true difference is the best way to differentiate yourself.

 

What’s your best tip for how to get what you want at work?

A great start is to really know what you want!  So many people ask me for career advice and say they want to advance, but when I ask them where they are trying to go they aren’t clear. When you’re clear about the types of opportunities you would be open to — lateral, cross functional, relocations, etc.– you are more likely to be top-of-mind when the opportunities are created. You also need to be very willing to do or change what it takes to get there and be ready to say ‘yes’ when asked!

 

 What do you think is the best/worst recent example of managing your reputation?

I think a strong example of reputation management was seen with the United States Olympians in London. Athletes like Missy Franklin, the 17-year old swimmer who at such a young age is expected to carry herself with the composure of someone twice her age. I think we can all learn something about staying calm under pressure and performing to the best of our ability.

 

 What do you think is the biggest challenge facing recent graduates now – and how would you combat it?

There is a lot of pressure on youth to figure out what they want to be when they grow up before they’ve had enough experiences to really know the answer.  My message to youth is that you don’t have to have it all figured out… but do follow your passion!  If you set yourself up for success by taking advantage of educational or mentorship programs and always keep learning and working hard, you’ll carve out a path to success – and that success may look a lot different in the future than it looks now.

I love the restaurant industry! I grew up in Chicago, wanting to be a chef. I’ve lived in Kentucky, Texas, and now, Orlando.  I’ve progressed from the purchasing side of our business to leading restaurant operations. I couldn’t be happier, and to realize this happiness, I had to be open to course changes during my career journey. The restaurant industry is truly an industry of opportunity.

 

What skill or technique have you, yourself, used to get ahead or get a job? 

For me, it’s strategic thinking: working with teams to identify and prioritize the work that will matter most to our business and our people. In fact, I use the same skill as a working mom to understand the events I really can’t miss at my girls’ school — like Mother’s Day celebrations, for example!

 

Have other tips from the trenches?  Share with us here, on Facebook and Twitter.

Nice Girls Go To Heaven, Bad Girls Go Everywhere – and Other Lasting Lessons Learned from the Legendary Helen Gurley Brown

Helen Gurley Brown believed that self-confidence and smarts would take a woman far.

Monday marked the passing of a publishing legend: Cosmopolitan magazine editor-in-chief Helen Gurley Brown who, at 90 years old, still came into her leopard-print and pink corner office at Hearst Tower nearly every day. While Meryl only admired her spunk and sayings from afar, Jessica, who has run PR for Hearst Magazines for over a decade, knew Ms. Brown personally and was able to admire her up close.

Ironically, a story Jessica had been working on for months about the power of Cosmo as a global brand, ran in the New York Times Magazine just last Sunday and paid homage to Brown and the influence she had on the 100 million readers of Cosmo around the world. The “Cosmo Effect,” as it has been called, all started with the publication of Brown’s bestselling book, Sex and the Single Girl, much of which is still relevant today. If you haven’t read it, you should.

In light of this significant loss for the magazine world and for women in general, we wanted to take a moment to share some of our favorite lessons gleaned from the author/businesswoman/editor’s life well lived and well spoken (if not controversial at times):

-”Nice girls go to heaven. Bad girls go everywhere.”  Brown wasn’t technically a “bad girl” but she was a risk-taker and she had the confidence to be her own best advocate to get ahead instead of fading into the background.  Yes, she started as a secretary but quickly rose the ranks of the advertising world, then conquered the magazine landscape with her bold, frisky version of Cosmo.

-A handwritten note goes a long way. Famous for her handwritten and typewritten notes, Brown sent them to everyone she met. In fact, a book of select notes she had written, Dear Pussycat (her preferred term of endearment), was published in 2004 and is filled with quippy, thoughtful, interesting messages from her to people such as Joan Rivers, Barbra Streisand, Barry Diller and Steven Spielberg, among many unknowns. We simply don’t hang on to people’s emails like we do a handwritten note and it really makes an impact when you send one. In fact, Jessica still has the note that Brown wrote to her in 2003 saying, “You were such a busy person and you took such good care of me…I was wildly impressed!” — and she cherishes it to this day.

 -”Beauty can’t amuse you, but brainwork—reading, writing, thinking—can.” Brown did not consider herself beautiful; in fact, she referred to herself as a “mouseburger” (the feminine version of “milquetoast”). But, boy, was she whip-smart and that –even more than looks–was (read: “is”) sexy. The brainier you are, the more beautiful you get!

-“My success was not based so much on any great intelligence but on great common sense.” Being book-smart is one thing, but being street-smart is often more important in getting ahead. Common sense is an innate skill and if you listen to it. It will help guide you in the right direction. Trust your gut. Helen Gurley Brown did and look where it got her.

-“Never fail to know that if you are doing all the talking, you are boring somebody.” In Be Your Own Best Publicist, we talk about how listening can often be even more important than speaking. It will give you insight on people that you wouldn’t get if you just blathered on about yourself. Brown understood this and was gifted at reading people –both women and men– and identifying what they wanted.

-“Nearly every glamorous, wealthy, successful career woman you might envy now started out as some kind of schlepp.” We interpret this phrase to mean that everyone has to start somewhere. A lot of young people these days don’t want to take an unglamorous entry-level or administrative job; they want to get to the top quickly. But Brown started in the secretarial pool, worked hard, networked and moved up. But she never turned her nose up at getting into the trenches in order to get things done. Even when she had reached the top, she often stayed at Cosmo’s offices until midnight to make sure everything was just so.

-“What you have to do is work with the raw material you have, namely you, and never let up.” She believes that every woman can be successful and sexy, even if they don’t have traditional good looks or natural style. Like we address in our book, finding your personal style is about playing up your best features, creating a signature that people will remember you for and presenting yourself with confidence.

Helen Gurley Brown was truly ahead of her time. She believed in the power of women and encouraged them to shoot for the moon in all aspects of their life, from relationships to career. The world is a little less interesting without her in it.

How do you think Helen Gurley Brown changed the world? Share with us here, on Facebook or Twitter.

Life Lessons Learned from the Films Director John Hughes

This past Monday marked the three-year anniversary of the untimely death of 80s film director John Hughes. And, while many of us who grew up with his movies learned a lot about our personal lives, there are lessons that can translate to our professional efforts as well. Some of those include:

  • Don’t put anything in writing you wouldn’t want read. (Sixteen CandlesAs Samantha found out when she filled out the quiz that fell into the wrong (read: Mr. Right’s) hands, everything is on the record — and that is even more clear when you put something in writing (or post something online).  Sure, things turned out great for her (complete with birthday cake and happy ending) but most of us mere mortals need to be cognizant that everything we say, write and post can and will be used against us. In our speaking engagements and workshops for Be Your Own Best Publicist, we remind people not to put anything in writing you wouldn’t want your grandmother, boss or rabbi/priest/shaman/spiritual guide to read.
  • Help can come from the least likely of sources. (The Breakfast Club) A criminal…a princess…a brain…a jock…a basketcase….What started as a group of strangers turned into the ultimate powerful network by the end of the film. And what they learned as their detention day rolled on is that, despite their surface differences, they could rely on one another for advice (Claire giving Allison makeup tips), to help dodge a bullet (Bender distracts while the others get back to the library), for attention (Andy listens to Allison) and to communicate the message (Brian writes the pithy note that summarizes the film). In work, too, support can come from anywhere. Don’t dismiss the people who seem less powerful than you (i.e. security, mailroom workers, secretaries) because sometimes they’re the ones who can help you most. Be nice, lend a helping hand to others and be open to making connections wherever you go.

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NEWS WE CAN USE: Killer Heels & Killer Instinct are Not Mutually Exclusive

Can’t women in tech have killer heels and a killer instinct?

How much does what you wear in the workplace make a statement about your skills and accomplishments? It depends: While it doesn’t seem to have affected Mark Zuckerberg’s success (we doubt Facebook’s stock price has dropped as a result of his refusal to wear anything but hoodies and sandals), at the same time, when you’re a tech entrepreneur trying to attract funding, partners and press, paying attention to your appearance and wardrobe can contribute to an image of success.

In Be Your Own Best Publicist, we talk about dressing the part  and how what you wear can pose a hindrance -at worst, a barrier to entry. It’s like that old saying, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”

And, for many women in Silicon Valley, cultivating a personal style has at least earned them and their startups some good publicity, as evidenced by this recent New York Times Style section story on a new crop of women in the tech space who unabashedly dress up in designer clothes.

In the article, Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, 42, a former Google executive who now runs a video shopping site called Joyus, said: “Earlier in my career, if I had to choose between a skirt and being taken seriously, I would have chosen being taken seriously. But now I’m at a point in my career in the valley where I’m judged by what I’ve done.”

Considering that the tech world is typically on the cutting edge of what’s new and modern, it sounds a bit archaic to us that a woman who walks into a meeting with venture capitalists wearing a designer skirt wouldn’t be taken seriously. If it was a hot pink mini skirt, perhaps, but dressing professionally and having a signature style should make a positive impression on others and show that you’re polished, smart and can run circles around those male tech geeks in t-shirts and jeans — even if you’re wearing five-inch Louboutins.

How do you think clothing impacts perception of your abilities?  Tell us here, on Facebook or on Twitter.

 

Serena’s Olympic Victory Celebration: Learning from The Dance that Became a Distraction

 

Serena busts a move (http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/tennis/highlights-serena-williams-dancing-after-winning-gold.html)


Likely it was simply a moment of unbridled joy — as she told Access Hollywood, “A good moment for her”–  but Serena Williams’ golden accomplishment became tarnished when she spontaneously broke into a  ”C-Walk” victory dance – moves tied to gang life in her home state of California.

Of course, the various pundits and people around the blogoshere rushed to weigh in:

It was embarrassing.”

It was just a dance (and the criticism smacked of racism).”

It was inappropriate.”

It was cool.”

No matter what the meaning or intention, the result of the action was the same: It inadvertently shifted the focus from her incredible achievement to a less than stellar image.

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