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.

Here's Why Most Leaders Suck, But You Won't

This is a a child whose name I don't know. In North Darfur, greeting the United Nations, a couple of years ago. Looking at her, I hate my spoiled ways. Can't live without wifi for half an hour. 

But then I think about the leaders I've worked for, who are trying to help her. And I think, maybe I can redeem myself just a little bit by sharing their qualities with you. Because I've imitated them, consciously and unconsciously, and they work, though my life and challenges aren't remotely as significant.
Although to be honest there are more frustrations than victories, and I've had to learn to live with that.
You may be thinking you're fairly powerless to do anything of real significance "out there." It's true - most people easily fall into survival mode, are cynical, take the pessimistic view because then they'll never be wrong. They haven't seen great leadership in action.
You are not powerless, though. You have all of the qualities I'm about to list here. And you've probably used them all in some way, in your personal life. You just need someone to tell you that you can use them, at least in some measure, professionally.
So here goes - a short list of effective leadership techniques for making a difference - that anyone can adopt in their own way:
#1: Believe it 
This part is sort of basic, but it needs to be said. You have to actually envision the positive difference you want to make. I asked a rabbi the other day if the Jewish concept of messiah referred to a historical age or an actual person. He said that there will indeed be a person who will save the entire world from destruction, ushering in an era of peace for all. He believes it and I believe it. Without belief you can't do anything.
#2: Stick with it
The year 2014 has been horrible for me and a lot of other people I know. It's been challenging to maintain my belief in anything. I've seen terrible suffering that made me wonder how G-d could indeed be good. I've made stupid and obvious misjudgments that made me question whether my optimism and idealism is the result of intelligence or infinite immaturity. I've been hit with more than one natural plague - try bedbugs! - which made me reconsider whether it's smart to spend my time thinking great thoughts rather than throwing every possible item in my home into a hot dryer for at least two hours a day. 
And then I look back on this year and I think about the many concrete victories that I cannot share with you, I can tell you that they are very satisfying. The ones that mean the most to me have to do with people, with seeing that light come on in their eyes and knowing that they will carry a torch forward somewhere else and I will never know about it.
#3: Gather powerful supporters
There is no question that the most effective leaders have financial, political and cultural backing from people of influence. Nobody lives on an island, and you can have the best ideas in the world, but it really does take an army of people to implement positive change effectively.
I have observed that people who have this particular skill are able to defer to the supporter and make the vision seem like the supporter's idea, when in fact it is the leader's ideas being promoted.
It's truly brilliant to kind of merge yourself with somebody else who has deep pockets and whose Rolodex holds the phone numbers of people who can make the difference between your vision being adopted and totally ignored or dismissed as insanity.
#4: Communicate frequently and visually
It never ceases to amaze me that people still dismiss the importance of communication in achieving any kind of positive change. Listen: I didn't make this skill up because I enjoy doing it, I am telling you to "own it" because it works.
In two decades, and having executed it well and imperfectly, and having watched others own it and become handsomely rich and powerful as a result, I am urging you to either communicate on your own or get some help doing it. It is not only worth every penny, but the return on your investment is far greater than whatever you will pay.
Communication of course is not limited to formal campaigns, but includes everyday verbal communication and emails, much of which we tend to ignore because we think it isn't "fancy" or "formal."
#5: Learn to compromise
We live in the real world with real people. Human beings are funny, they are flawed, they don't live a black-and-white existence that's either perfect or totally flawed. I was talking to my husband about the rabbi who was accused of voyeurism in the ritual bath: Are all his good deeds nullified because of this one terrible thing? I don't think so. Those deeds will live forever, but the bad deeds he has done can't be ignored either. 
In the same way, there are going to be be inefficient or unhelpful people, structures, or traditions in the workplace that prevent you from making change happen easily and quickly. Don't worry about it. That's the world we live in.
You just do the best you can.
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 the United Nations via Flickr.

To Make Your Brand Beautiful, Eliminate Bias

"It turns out members of the upper-class are more dishonest, corrupt, deceitful, and unethical than their lower-class counterparts," wrote Charles Faraone the other day, summarizing a 2012 study.
Put less dramatically, the higher you go the more likely you are to break the rules. A counter-intuitive finding, as most people think that poor people are more desperate and therefore more "naturally" predisposed to being criminals.
Educated people are fortunate. They are forced to read academic texts. Their brains are molded such that there is at least a token respectful distance between the imperative to act, and the act of making a decision.
Most of us are not educated, even if we've gone to school, because really good teachers are rare and few people have the time and space to really study.
We're thrown out there into the waters of business, and we do the best we can to swim. Today, that means we create or join an entity that lives or dies on its brand.
Economic need has a positive side. We learn to draw quick, "good enough" conclusions quickly. This is a survival skill; without it, we would simply die in the competition.
But as a long-term proposition, "gut feel" just doesn't work. To drive a business into the future requires rationality as well as emotional intelligence. Ruthless, continuous reflection.
And your strategy has to be objective. That is to say, it cannot suffer from the unconscious biases you and your peers bring to the table. It cannot be the product of an article in Fast Company, one person's impenetrable "genius," or an unquestionable canon that doesn't hold up to common sense in the daylight.
Nowadays, it is fashionable to dismiss traditional notions of strategy. We celebrate a "nimble," "adaptive," "flexible" and "organic" approach.
But you cannot dispose of strategy. You run an organization of people. They must understand how you plan to get from Point A to Point B. So that they can support you, and do it on their own.
Bias, however unconscious, and bad or unskilled strategy always go together. You can tell in about 5 seconds, because the ordinary person can't explain what it is their company does, how they do it, or why.
In a good place, however, the strategy fits neatly on a wallet card. (I've seen it!) The thinking is smart, and it's seamless, and it's visible wherever you go.
Smart strategy, neatly executed, with impressive results.
That is how you turn a business into a beautiful brand.
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 credit:
 via Flickr.

Pop Culture & the Making of an Alleged Rabbi-Voyeur

Remember that Duran Duran music video, “Girls on Film?”

I thought of it today when I found out that local rabbi Barry Freundel was accused of wiring his synagogue’s mikvah (ritual bath) as a continuous, live-streaming peepshow.

Actually the first time I heard, I didn’t understand what the crime was.

Because it would never even occur to me that a widely respected religious figure would ever even think of violating his congregants in such an indiscriminate yet intimate way.

The truth is I still cannot understand. In a world literally soaked in porn, couldn’t he find an easier way to get his X-rated fix?

But there was something more deliberate here, if the accusations are true. It's about victimizing people who trust you. And that is what makes me, frankly, want to puke when I think about this.

It is not only men who are voyeurs. Lena Dunham is one, too. Yet - perhaps because she is a female, and typically would be the target of same - her version is unusual, compelling, highly rewarded and recognized.

To me, it doesn't work. In Girls, she shoves women’s (and men's) nude bodies in our faces, for no other reason than that they are there.

It's offensive. Their most intimate moments - her most personal, sexual emotions and expressions - are splayed out for us as if revealing something artistic.

But really, it's just for the meaninglessness of it. That's all.

Lars von Trier does not hate women, although from Nymphomaniac - a movie almost entirely about peeping in on a woman's deviant sex life - you might conclude the opposite is true.

After all, we find the heroine beaten up badly as the movie starts.

And as it continues, her sheer self-hatred at having normal human emotion becomes our hatred of her for being such a “whore.”

What keeps the film from being woman-hating though, is its focus on telling the story. Not judging, just telling it all.

Back in the real world, I am part of a community deeply, deeply traumatized. At the circus that is now all things Freundel.

I am crying tonight for the women whose trust was destroyed, whose privacy was violated in a totally shattering way, for the husbands who have to look at him and imagine him looking at their wives.

For the children of all ages whose religious belief will be sorely tested by this.

Maybe we will have the intelligence to use this episode as a “teachable moment.” To have compassion for the Freundel family. To get the victims help. To get legal redress for them. To make sure that the rabbi gets psychiatric care, if he is indeed guilty.

But we probably won’t...probably. Because popular culture turns on profit. The more extreme the behavior, the more money passes hands.

And so stories like this are at least 50% about the sexual thrill of imagining the whole violation.

Rather than actually changing things. So that it becomes horrifying, socially taboo to exploit a human being sexually, or for that matter in any way, at all.

It is actually hard to imagine a world like this. It's almost impossible even to think it.

But we have to think it, don't we?

Because the problem is not a deviant boogeyman lurking in an alley.

It is the average consumer, watching average TV and clicking average click-bait. It is us.

Waiting, in the most bored fashion possible, for something interesting to happen.

To take us away from our less-than exciting existence.


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 credit: Snapsi Ctajikep / Flickr

5 Personal Branding Opportunities To Seize Right Now

Everybody's got a LinkedIn profile, a Twitter feed, and a Facebook page. But few are making the most of these tools to enhance their professional value.
Here are 5 things you can do right now to better promote yourself. They don't cost any money. Why not do them all, right now?
1. Profile photo. I've been studying these and can tell you that most of them truly suck. It's not about how good-looking you are (you knew this already and it's 100%) but rather about how confident you seem.
If you're uncomfortable having others take photos of you, take a selfie. Mine is a selfie - I used iPhone to fix it up. Don't think it is pathetic and egotistical to get your profile photo this way. It's hard to get a good picture.
It goes without saying that we should see your whole face and that you should not put brand names into the background, e.g. that time you were interviewed by CNN or a banner showing your current employer.
2. Narrow your LinkedIn headline. This is a combination of theoretical mission statement and practical tagline and it is extraordinarily difficult to execute. You want to communicate something broad enough to cover the spectrum of what you do, and narrow enough to set you apart from others. It should feel right and be true.
You know it's good if it represents:
  • The way you think.
  • Your actual approach to work.
  • Some sort of value that you have already added to another organization.
3. Use Klout. I hadn't logged in to Klout in awhile and was pleasantly surprised to find they'd really upped their game. Now, you can tell the application what subjects you're interested in and schedule Tweets in advance, in those areas. It is so incredibly, stupidly easy to use. I am very challenged when it comes to figuring apps out, and this one is a breeze. You can use it on a regular desktop computer or on your iPhone.
4. Fix up your bio. Everyone should have a professional description even if they aren't a public figure. These brief paragraphs are your story. The story might change, but having them focuses you on a narrative that you can use in talking to other people, when they ask "What do you do?"
I know I always have trouble with this question because in my mind, I'm thinking, "Well, a little bit of do I explain's too much..." By the time I get my thoughts together, the other person's attention span is gone.
In the bio, you want to include bullet points that describe more narrowly what you do, your experience, your honors and your participation in industry activities. Keep it short and punchy. Feel free to review other people's LinkedIn bios to get a sense of what works.
5. Integrate your personal brand across channels. Over the years you've planted "seeds" of your personal brand in various places. You may not think of it this way, but you have. LinkedIn is not the only place people look - they're checking out Twitter, possibly Facebook, and any other mentions of you that would turn up in a Google Search. To the extent possible, make sure that your brand "matches" or at least represents an evolution over time that is rational.
For me, this is extremely challenging as I've worked in the public sector, private sector and academia and have the versatility to do a lot of things well. The key though is to look at yourself in terms of the greatest match between how you see yourself, and how others see you.
For me, the greatest and most consistent match has to do with the subject matter called "branding" and activities related to writing and teaching. No job is perfect, but if I can do any work that relates back to the above, I'm happy. And in the end, that's really what you want - a job where you can earn money and come home with a smile on your face.
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 credit: Abigail Batchelder / Flickr

Are "Concerned Employees" Destroying Your Brand?

You think your reputation is excellent. After all:
  • Your recruitment video is top-notch.
  • Your "brand ambassadors" are the best on campus.
  • Your marketing materials are beyond compare.
But your news coverage is kind of...pesky. Employees "talking trash," who never took their case to you before "spilling it."
Consider these examples:
How can you avoid these kinds of disasters? It boils down to common sense, but you have to overcome your natural biases first. Follow these steps:
  1. Change the organizational communication paradigm from "mostly talking" to "mostly listening." Reputation depends on perception, and if employees are saying negative things about your organization, you will be perceived badly. You're better off if they say them to you first.
  2. Upend the hierarchy, and privilege input from the lowest ranks first. Remember that the employee closest to the action - i.e., the operational reality of the organization - is not the employee who makes the most money or has the highest status. You depend on these people as sources of intelligence. Do not be foolish and ignore or marginalize them because they don't sit in the C-suite.
  3. Reward employees for reporting their concerns. Nobody wants to lose their job by being branded a troublemaker. Unfortunately, too often that is exactly the case - when people speak up, they get hammered. You have the power to change that easily, by establishing formal channels that reward people who provide information that helps to keep the organization functioning properly.
All of the above must be carefully considered. You don't want to wind up with a free-for-all, an endless gripe session, or a negative work environment. But you do want to harness and leverage the most valuable resource you have - your employees.
Remember that people are your business and your brand. They have a stake in your success - it is their success. And they want to work with you to preserve 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 Art G. via Flickr.

Why The Desperate Talk To Aliens

Roger Goodell was on ESPN saying that he was gonna fix what was wrong with the NFL. "It's my job to make sure this doesn't happen again." Referring to Ray Rice.
Outside the pizza shop a woman stood just off the lip of the sidewalk. She was skinny and wore a yellow tank top and shorts. She was talking to someone but nobody was standing next to her.
She could have passed for normal, or whatever normal passes for these days.
Except that she stood there talking to aliens. I can't remember what she said exactly.
And then my husband said, "Remember there was that other guy, when we got on the bus? He was talking to aliens too."
The other guy, about a mile back, was having a very animated conversation with outer space. We cut him a wide circumference before ultimately stepping aboard and paying our fare.
Back at the pizza place a small crowd had gathered just outside the tattoo parlor-slash-souvenir shop one door down. A young man in a wheelchair, with several nose rings and tattoos, held a few small dogs on their leashes as they spoke.
"Hey Chris," (not the name I heard), "how are you?" "What's going on?"
He smiled and bantered with them. The dogs yapped and strained this way and that.
My attention went back to the ESPN, which apparently has a deal with every pizza place in Ft. Lauderdale. Everything is sports down here.
Now they were showing outtakes from an NFL video on domestic violence.
"This is going to sound bad," I said to my husband. "But I don't think the NFL should get so far into people's business."
"They have to do something," he replied. "Corporate sponsors can't enable domestic violence."
I took a bite out of my watermelon ices. "That's why we have the police."
Am I an idiot? I thought. Attention on these issues is good for women. I really must be.
Outside, the small crowd had dispersed. The woman in the yellow tank top was still there. It was almost as though she were looking at me, though I knew she was just looking in the window.
We stood up to leave. "Thank you," we said to the pizza shop owner, and threw our paper plates and stuff in the trash.
Thank you for charging us $6 for a slice of pizza and a cup of frozen sugar-water, in a flavor I didn't even want, but thought was cherry and then got stuck with. Oh well.
The air was hot but the wind was cool. We stood there briefly and inhaled.
A heavyset older man walked up to the woman in the yellow tank top. He wore a beard but no mustache, long denim shorts, a denim vest and sunglasses.
He grabbed her in a great big tight bear hug. "How you doing, Sarah? (Also not the name I heard.) "What's going on?"
She looked at him and gave a real smile. Not fake, not tired, just beautiful and bright. So much for the aliens.
We think some people are mad and others sane.
But maybe the distinction is different - and those who "talk to aliens" have wandered, or been thrown, so far outside the social system that there is no real way back.
In short they are alone.
So that "recovery" begins with something simple like "Hello."
The sky had suddenly grown darker, and the nighttime clouds edged over us. The remaining sunlight shone through behind them.
Waves have a consistent way of moving in the water. I watched them and as many times before, felt my busy mind go still.
"Want to go hear some music?" I said.
I took my husband's hand, and felt grateful for all the time I'd been granted with him. The temporary escape from the essential loneliness that is this world.
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 lilivanili via Flickr.

Lulu's, A Branding Case Study

This is what you see on the outside.

But within, it all starts with the brand.

The message flashes across the cash register constantly - how do we do it?

  • Build the brand
  • Build relationships "one plate at a time."
  • ...and so on.

I've seen similar messages at McDonald's and The Post Office.

The technique of training employees to depict the brand is also mocked in Office Space, when a coworker at a fictitious quick-service-restaurant tells Jennifer Aniston to smile and "show her flare," i.e. the miles of pins that run up and down one's suspenders.

At Lulu's it really works.

When you deal with the waitresses the experience is exact and consistent. I know this because we've been going there for years, and there clearly is a formula. Friendly, but not overly so; bustling and efficient; and like you're one of some kind of family that you're returning to every time you eat.

We will only go to Lulu's, if we have a choice. We must return there. And we've actually gotten food poisoning!

Maybe it's for the pretty girls, the music and the drinks that people go. The company that owns the place also owns Hooters. They serve alcohol in tanks as big as fish bowls. And there's lots of tunes advertised as going on.

But I'm a wife and a feminist and I throw up when I drink and we never go for the music.

Lulu's is still "our place."

There is some kind of mystical, emotional experience here that only this restaurant provides.

If I had to put it in words, it's something like "G-d bless America" and "we're tough girls" and "regular food" that's greasy and rough and good.

We just left Lulu's a little while ago. 

Already, I want to go back.


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. Photos by me.