It's Everywhere

Branding is an inescapable part of our lives.

A Critical Skill

Professional presentation is important to master regardless of one's profession.


It begins with a sense of inner joy at recognizing and sharing who we are.


It's important to recognize what others see and value in us.


When we successfully match our inner selves with the realities and demands of the outside world, the result is both profitable and joyful.

Is Your Career Haunted By Ghosts?

My friend slid into the seat next to me.
"I'm out of money," she said. "It's been a year and I'm still not working."
"Let me see your resume," I offered. She pushed it over.
"There's nothing wrong with you."
"Well, that's kind." She started laughing.
"So I don't understand why you're not working."
And as she started to talk, I learned why.
"My daughter is still with that guy, up in New York," she said.
"Oh no. Not that bad guy."
"Yes. He's in prison. And she won't come home."
"Did she have kids with him or something?" I asked.
"That is crazy," responded. And thought, If there is nothing tying her to this criminal, why is she running to be with him?
My friend sat back in the chair.
"You look tired," I said.
"I am."
"You worry about her a lot."
And then I said, "Are you holding yourself back as a way of saving her?"
Her jaw fell a little and her eyes went open, wide. She started crying. I felt bad for her but it was like I was frozen to my seat, and only my mouth would work.
"You were so full of joy when we talked about your business last year. But you won't give yourself permission to do it, unless she comes home first so you can help her."
"Yes," she quietly said. "That's right."
"You have a silent contract with your daughter," I said. "You save her and then you get to live."
"I worked so hard to save her from the neighborhood," she said. "I got her scholarships, I put her in a good school, I took out student loans for her. I did everything..."
Her voice trailed off and I knew she was thinking to end that sentence " that she wouldn't end up like me at her age."
"You aren't helping her by doing this," I said. "You're making it even worse."
"I know it. I feel what you are saying."
I could feel my heart breaking. I knew exactly what she was feeling because I had felt the same way a million times, myself.
I remember that I was very close to my mother, as a child. I could sense that she led an unhappy existence. And I'd reassure her, "I'll never leave you, Mommy. Don't worry I'll take care of you all my life."
When I met my husband it was horrible. It was the most natural and normal thing in the world for a young woman to get married. But I felt like a betrayer of the person I always had loved most in the world.
Of course I did get married, and had children. Then somehow the guilt was transferred onto the family. I couldn't live my life, it seemed - couldn't take a single step forward - unless every aspect of their minds and bodies was 100% kosher.
My career - never a job for me, but a calling - always waited until late at night when they were sleeping, or early morning when my husband was doing a jog. It was unquestioned that my feelings and needs not only came last, but were literally mortgaged to the well-being of everybody else in my orbit.
So I understood my friend's feelings well. So well in fact that my throat choked up and I teared for her, with her. I was in her brain, and it hurt to see how messed up she was.
Because my friend had no more money left.
"I want to tell you something," I said. I felt scared inside. I hadn't seen her for so long, was I entitled to give so much advice?
"Yeah." She seemed to want to hear it, but maybe she didn't. And there was no good way to let this out.
"Your emotional strategy is only making things worse."
"What do you mean?"
"On some cosmic level, your daughter senses that you are holding on to her, hovering around, and interfering with her journey toward freedom. As long as you do that, she's gonna keep doing stupid things." Self-destructive, I was thinking.
"And you don't need to look for yet another routine job. It doesn't just take up your time, it takes the energy and joy right out of your life." A substitute for your runaway daughter, I thought.
"You're right," she said, shifting around in her seat. "You said it." It was funny, she looked so happy right then. Her eyes were dancing.
"The best thing you can do is pursue your business," I said. "You love it and the people love you. You know what you are doing."
I had to say it again. I was talking to her, but I was also talking to myself.
"Just get out of your own way. The debt is over, the past is gone. Let yourself succeed already!"
We chit-chatted a little more, but it was nonsense and we both knew it. The business of the day was done. We got up and paid the bill and walked out of there.
And I knew that I would never see her again.
Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo by U.S. Army Africa via Flickr; no endorsement expressed or implied.

Don't Get Stuck In The Chickenshit

"The other day I was talking to a senior Obama administration official about the foreign leader who seems to frustrate the White House and the State Department the most. “The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickenshit,” this official said, referring to the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, by his nickname." - Jeffrey Goldberg, "The Crisis In U.S.-Israel Relations Is Officially Here," The Atlantic, October 28, 2014
"I don't think I've been so angry since I don't know when," somebody told me.
I'll be honest. I am fiercely supportive of Israel's right to exist, infuriated that her defenders are attacked on all sides, sick of hearing about my kids' friends pelted with pennies as a bullying anti-Semitic "joke" in school - and I had the same visceral reaction.
But that's not what this post is. Let's consider the remark as a PR crisis. Because there are five fundamental mistakes happening here, and you won't want to make them yourself. Remember these principles:
  1. Anonymous remarks from a leader seem cowardly. Hiding behind it, or allowing your people to do it, makes you look weak - an indefensible stance for someone in charge of any major enterprise. We're all grownups here, and people can disagree. If the President has something to say he should just say it.
  2. When warranted, apologize right away. You may think the person you're dealing with is wrong. You may have been caught on a hot mic. Possibly your car broke down or you had a big fight with your spouse or a bad day. No matter what, the longer you wait to take ownership and say "I was wrong" for that stupid thing you did, the worse the fallout will be.
  3. Grasp the symbolism of your act. The use of the word "chickenshit" is read by Jews the world over as an as arrogant, careless, disrespectful and degrading attack on all of us, symbolically through insulting a single person who bears our brand. We know it, we feel it, and in an environment of rising global anti-Semitism it heightens our fear of being singled out and victimized.
  4. Your motives don't matter. What you think or feel is irrelevant to the situation. Your personality doesn't count. People look at you, your words and the effect of your communication, from their own lens and they aren't mollified by the fact that you may personally be a nice person. If you create or are in a PR crisis, get help to solve the crisis appropriately.
  5. Reputations are built over time, not in a single moment.  Like him or not, the public knows that Netanyahu has consistently demonstrated a strong commitment to Israeli security. And while the Nazis lived by the credo that "a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth," the truth is that you cannot substitute aspersion for fact. When you call someone the opposite of what they are known to be by the public, your own credibility gets called into question.
In the end, I don't know why an "anonymous official" thought it was smart to publicly insult the Prime Minister of Israel, and at such a lowly level, in street terms. 
Whatever was behind that, the result is now - as former President H.W. Bush once said in the '80s - some serious political "deep-doo-doo."
The bottom line: When your words provoke a firestorm of reaction, consider whether you've crossed a "tipping point."
As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book of the same name, sometimes you push, and push, and push so far but nothing happens. One day, a seemingly minor additional push makes the whole situation explode.
That is exactly what happened yesterday, when a fool very foolishly shot off his mouth, and called a Jewish hero the same.
Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo by David Phillips via Flickr.

Finding The Courage To Live Your Truth

You have to tell the truth, or you will die inside, a little bit more every day.
You will feel yourself struggling with this concept, as it goes against every grain of advice you'll get. From the world-weary, those who have fought this battle already, shriveled-up bits of ectopic flesh posing as humans.
You can see the immense popularity of people who own their truths. From this I would deduce that those who hide under the covers are not destined to do great things.
  • "Transparent" is not just about a man who finally comes out and lives his life as a woman. It is also about his kids, who emerge from their cocoons as well.
  • "Enlightened" is about a woman who decides not to be a corporate drone anymore. "I will not run away from life" she declares, and we love her awkward, painful, heart-wrenching journey down the corporate ladder toward personal success.
  • "Girls," of course, is about a young woman who freely takes off her shirt every five minutes to show us her flab. She walks away from a highly paid job writing advertorial copy to go to the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Because she has to.
  • Audi is running ads about a guy who says "yes, yes, yes," because he is a well-trained yes-man, until he finally gets his car and can be himself. A "Mad Men" version of freedom but it says something nonetheless.
  • Leah Vincent and Deborah Feldman have both written memoirs about their dangerous and painful, but ultimately rewarding escape from the ultra-Orthodox communities where they were cloistered off from the world. 
Many people mistake personal branding to mean "the development of a phony image." That's true, in a sense; because you're trying to make yourself look the best you can, and in real life you don't always look that good.
But in a deeper sense, it's about finding out who you are, precisely so that you can share your unique and unparalleled skills - even if, and perhaps because - you prove to be uncomfortable for others to bear. That is the definition of genius. To create something, add something, introduce a new mode of living - that transforms the way we fundamentally approach a subject.
Yeah, it will scare the shit out of people. And to do it you have to speak your truth - what you see, what you feel, what is real to you. Not the truth, necessarily, because narrative has many perspectives. But you must make the leap and own what is your own.
What are you destined to achieve in this world? What are the unique gifts you were given, the knowledge that was instilled in your brain in you were born?
You must find out - you cannot censor your search.
Accountability to your higher purpose. It's the the ultimate act of courage, and conscience.
Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo by vincent desjardins via Flickr.

Discover Your Brand, Discover Your Life

"What do you want to order?" my husband always asks me at the Chinese restaurant.
After fifteen years going there, we know the three lunch specials among which we rotate but imagine it is always a choice.
"Oh, I'll just have what you're having," I always say. Because no matter what you order there, it always tastes the same.
* * *
"What do you want to be when you grow up?" my grandmother asked me as a kid.
"A lawyer," I answered - because there were only four professions that existed in my world - doctor, lawyer, accountant and psychologist.
And I had watched The Paper Chase on TV, and liked it.
"Good girl," she said to me. "Hang out a shingle, don't ever depend on a man."
* * * 
"Do you want to get married?" I asked my husband. (This was 25 years ago.)
"No, I've only known you for two weeks." In his world, people got to know each other first. 
"So what? That's enough time." In my world of origin, that is to say the traditional Hasidic world, by the sixth date it's either on or it's off.
* * * 
We make so many major decisions in life before we even know what we're doing.
We box ourselves into corners. Because somebody gave us a set of cardboard boxes. And each one tells us what the outer limits of our choices are.
  • How to act like a man or a woman: check.
  • What we ought to believe about G-d: check.
  • What a respectable career consists of: check.
  • ...And on and on and on.
Before we know it, we've lost our freedom, all the while telling ourselves that every choice we made was free. 
I remember that it took me four decades to sign up as a Libertarian. Four decades! And that was only because a new friend started talking about her views.
All my life I'd been friends with liberal Democratic progressives, and challenging those ideas seemed like challenging...air.
* * * 
Personal branding is a personal cause.
It is not your career, or only your career, though that may be the way people have used it.
No - it is a journey that you take to:
  • Discover who you want to be in life;
  • Map out how you plan to get there; and
  • Measure progress along the way so that you can adjust.
You can use a lot of tools to figure out your brand, and then give yourself permission to pursue it.
  • Admit that there is a need to improve; that you haven't done a perfect job so far of fulfilling it; and that you need to embark on a journey to improve. This is the first step in all successful change initiatives, breaking through the denial and making the commitment.
  • Take a personality test; take two, take three. There is no one instrument that will tell you exactly what you need to know; it's the confluence of several, together. Try Now, Discover Your Strengths. Try astrology - Vedic and Western. Don't be shy about this, you need to hear whatever it says.
  • Look back reflectively on your relationships, your career. When were you really happy? When were you so sad and stressed you wanted to wanted to crawl under a rock and hide?
  • Ask your family, friends, and peers to help you. They want to help you. Are you ashamed or afraid to ask? Listen to the feedback you get from others - really listen, don't just sit there and wait for your turn to talk.
  • Enlist professionals. Therapy has a bad rap, plus it takes a long time to get a psychology Ph.D. or even an M.S.W. so you can do counseling. This is why so many people are coaches nowadays. Whatever you call a support person, find one who is qualified to help you grow into yourself. If this is too daunting or you lack time, join a support group, either in person or by telephone or online. I know more than one person who has found strength through in Overeaters Anonymous. Join a fitness club. Whatever it takes - the key is to get outside your little head, your little world, and do something, hear from someone, who is paid only to help people grow. 
At the end of the day, personal branding offers a kind of freedom that you cannot find in religion or life prescriptions from others. It is a roadmap you create and are accountable for, it is unique and it is moral for you.
At The Brand Consultancy, my former boss Mark Morris used to call it "a decision filter" for business and it works the same for you as a human being.
Choosing your brand means deciding on who you are. It empowers you to "break the script," as the Audi commercial implores us, and make the right decisions for yourself. 
More importantly, it stops you from making stupid ones. As so many of us - including myself - are wont to do. Over and over again.
 Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo by me.

What If You Weren't A Phony?

I was sitting at the dining room table working on a profile photo.
I liked it, but I didn't like it: Hair and makeup good, but you could see the wrinkles around my eyes and I sensed I was getting old.
My daughter walked in and sat down next to me.
"I'm a little bit in the middle of something right now," I said. 
She peered over at my phone. "You've got to be kidding me."
And then she said, "Mom, what if you weren't a phony? I mean you're so obsessed with your image."
Har de har har, I laughed. True. Aren't we all.
"Remember that time when I went with you to the city and I met your friends? I liked you better when you were with them." too. I liked being able to be clumsy, goofy, and laugh without pretense.
And I suddenly realized that my entire life was about navigating the tension between being myself and fulfilling a role.
This is the conflict inherent in personal branding: We are called upon to act in a certain way in order to "succeed" as part of the social order, but left to ourselves it is not clear whether or how we would fit in anywhere.
And we cannot live with either extreme:
  • When we are completely "in the role" we are alienated from ourselves and others sense the falsity and back away. 
  • When we are completely "authentic" we are every shade of odd, strange, bizarre and weird...sometimes even scary.
In fact, neither extreme is profitable or helpful. You are more likely to succeed when you are employed by or situated within a group where others appreciate your natural self.
For example I am a natural teacher. The minute you pull out a whiteboard I am there with a marker, drawing. I like to do research. I write, obviously. And I'm innately a coach, counselor, trainer, a giver of advice.
I am not a natural tracker of details, except where the subject matter is of critical importance to me. I am not diplomatic, political or polite. And I hate, hate, hate all forms of pointless combat.
The biggest mistake I've made in life was listen to well-intentioned people who told me that being a phony was the "right way" to go - as though it were a moral choice. Was failing to trust my instincts.
The children teach the parents and my daughter's simple honest words have taught me something. Authenticity isn't just a nice-to-have but critical for your success as a human being. 
Not the kind of success where you earn a lot of money necessarily, although logically you'll probably will do better professionally playing to your natural strengths.
No - I am talking about looking back on your life and really liking how you lived, who you loved, and how you spent the time you were in control of.
That is authenticity and that is success. There is not a single phony thing about it.
Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo by Scott via Flickr. 

"Feds," A Reality Show - Here's The Pitch

I know you must be thinking that my idea involves comedy. Since we normally see headlines that may as well shout: "Federal workers are bumbling fools."

But I don't mean this as comedy at all. And anyway, we're not.

What we are, on the whole, is:
  • Highly skilled
  • Passionate about helping other people
  • Caught in a system that does not always achieve its highest goals or intended ends
What I'd like to see is a reality show of the "interventionist" kind. Where the "makeover expert" - an organizational development type, most likely - has a chance to take total control for a week.

This person:
  • Is introduced to the agency and its mission.
  • Joins a small team - let's say, a unit or working group - with a task.
  • Learns from them about their preferred way of getting it done, their culture and processes.
  • --Normally, expresses shock that the processes are so inefficient.--
  • Introduces his or her "expert" approach and is given total control of the group for a week.
  • After that week, we come back in 2-3 months and find out how the unit is faring.
I think this show would be a huge, huge hit. Because reality shows like this are a hit. And the public loves federal workers - even as they distrust the government itself. They are endlessly curious about the "real" goings-on in Washington, and value any opportunity to peek behind the curtain.

More than that, it's a common source of frustration that D.C. suffers from gridlock. A show like this, even though it would be apolitical in the strict sense, would be a chance to discover some of the factors that contribute to government inertia. To to make a real, positive difference in shaking that up. 

Because, obviously, it's well-known that when you put the microscope to a socially aware being, the being itself changes. That is true whether you're talking about tracking someone's eating habits and then weighing them [The Biggest Loser], or following a group as it battles to survive in the wild [Survivor]. 

That's social media. That's digital engagement - where you must answer others who "see" you. 

That's the premise of transparency: When we see ourselves, we are forced to change and grow.

I hope a TV network decides to do a show like this, and films a range of federal agencies in action. The public would thrill to see it. Federal employees would revel in some well-deserved limelight. And all of us would benefit from watching the interactions then hearing an impartial expert's view from a grounded, real-world setting. 

Everybody wins when the operations of government are optimized.


Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo by Bryan Jones via Flickr.

15 Reasons To Watch CNBC's "The Profit"

This show, hosted by investor/business turnaround expert Marcus Lemonis, is one of the few that really does give you something for nothing: priceless advice.
A synopsis doesn't even come close to doing it justice. Because what you learn from actually watching the show, and its various interactions, is that business theory isn't just an abstraction - it works.
It's education for business and for life. In that vein here are 15 juicy takeaways from tonight's rerun episodes ("Courage B." and "Planet Popcorn"):
1. No matter how profitable the concept, if your business partner demonstrates a lack of integrity, walk away. But not before you call them on it.
2. Relationships have to work for the business to work. Never allow someone else to mistreat you, at work or anywhere. Don't treat your employees as your friends because you need a big power trip. 
3. Get yourself under control. Don't yell at people. Don't condescend to them. And keep your ego in check, especially the control freak in you - it could cost you everything.
4. Most people have too limited a view of their own potential. Or, on the flipside, they fail to market themselves properly because they're convinced that their brilliance "sells itself."
5. Narrow your product line - the 80/20 rule. Find your niche. It's generally "the thing people always ask for but which is getting a little boring."
6. When you need an expert, bring in an expert. 
7. Management controls are unsexy but critical. If you're leaving cash lying on the floor, literally, stop it.
8. A small boost in quality can mean a huge boost in sales because you have that "premium" image.
9. Packaging, packaging, packaging, packaging. For example, fewer items and more variations. For another, more sturdy packaging (canisters) brings in more money than plastic bags and it isn't much more expensive.
10. Focus on margins more than revenue.
11. Do your research before you walk into the room. Not only does this educate you, but you have a competitive edge with a cocky prospect. For example, try buying their domain name before you start talking.
12. Emotional intelligence is your secret weapon. For instance, ask questions again and again until you drive to the point you're trying to make. When you ask a question, listen to the answer. Solicit opinions from those who are quieter, marginalized, scared.
13. The brand matters, but only insofar as it helps build a profitable business. And the purpose of the brand is to tap into the customer's wishes effectively, not only to disseminate your personal vision. It's where your talent meets their need that you strike gold.
14. "Greed is good" - to an extent - because it focuses you on a common goal. 
15. People will respect you if you know what you're talking about, are willing to invest in your own ideas, and dress as though you take yourself seriously. It's the combination of the three that works, not any one in isolation.
Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Image via CNBC