Star Power: Where Does It Come From?

On his blog Web Ink Now David Meerman Scott asks a really provocative question: does star power come from a personal brand or from a corporate brand?  Essentially, does Really Big Company lose out when Really Famous Guy leaves or does Really Famous Guy lose credibility when he is no longer associated with Really Big Company?

This reminded me of one of my favorite bits from Ruth Reichl’s book, Garlic and Sapphires, which is about her years as the New York Times restaurant critic.

As she tells the tale, the former critic, Bryan Miller, starts to give her the cold shoulder.  Unsure of why she asks one of the secretaries who tells her that he is bitter at having given up the job as he now realizes this star power has been much diminished.  The secretary tells her:

After nine years he thought it was all about him, that the paper was holding him back.  When he gave up the beat, he thought the offers would come pouring in.

The offers do not, as it turns out, pour in.

The woman goes on to advise Ruth to remember where the fame really comes from:

[L]ater, when everyone’s telling you how wonderful you are, don’t forget this.  Remember that no matter how well you do the job, the power is not yours.  It all, every scrap of it, belongs to this institution.  You’re just a byline. Take a good look.  The minute you give up the job, you become a nobody.  Like him.

Ruth learns the lesson.  She does eventually give up the Times job, but only after landing an even better gig as the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine.

I actually think the answer isn’t either/or.  It’s both/and.  No question that Ruth Reichl became a star because of her association with the Times and then Gourmet.  But now she is Ruth Reichl and has a personal brand that is separate from the specific institution she is associated with.

What does this mean for companies and for employees?

My advice to companies:

  1. Don’t overestimate the importance of “stars”: Yes, superstars can be a boon to your company and even to your brand.  But if you’ve built an enduring brand that is bigger than any one person then the loss of even a few key superstars isn’t the end of the world.
  2. Support your stars, but do it in the context of your corporate brand: Let your employees worry about their personal brands.  They will anyway.  You can support their efforts but do it in a way that enhances your company brand.
  3. Hire lots of stars: This is a no-brainer.  Diversify your assets.  If just one person speaks on behalf of your company then you are truly up a creek if that star leaves.  Have a stable of stars.  Then you are less vulnerable to any one of them leaving.

My advice to employees:

  1. Take a page from the Book of Ruth: Don’t underestimate the reflected glow that comes from the company you work for.  The bigger your employer’s brand, the more care you should take to not believe too much of your own press.  And be sure to set yourself up with a new great gig before you leave the current great gig.
  2. Associate with great brands: No matter how smart or talented you are the brand for which you work has a big effect on your personal brand.  Choose your employers well.

Marketing with Data

David Meerman Scott published a great post about marketing with data.

At my company, we made a concerted effort in 2007 to publish more research studies and it paid off in a big bump in PR coverage, both mainstream press (including trades) and in the blogosphere.  We are continuing with it this year and looking into ways to accelerate the process.

It’s not easy, of course.  You need resources to do it well.  But it might be as easy as some of the other stuff your are already doing and it’s much more effective.  Journalists (traditional and not) love data.  Clients love data.  Prospects really love data.

What could you be doing to get the audiences you care about loving your data?

Advice on Corporate Blogging

I’ve been in charge of my company’s blog for about three years now.  I’ve learned a lot in that time.  Here are three key tips for anyone who is running a company blog:

Edit lightly: There is an argument to be made that blogs don’t even belong in the corporate communications or marketing department.  But I think marketing professionals can play a very productive and important role in corporate blogging by instilling discipline, offering guidance and coaching and filling in the gaps when no one has the time or inspiration to write.  But trying to run a blog the way you create other marketing communications is a fool’s errand.  You are wasting your time rewriting stuff that is perfectly acceptable and squashing the real voices that are what make blogs interesting.  I focus on grammar and spelling and try to take a very light touch otherwise.  If a post has a message I think isn’t good for our brand or if the post is confusing I will make suggestions back to the writer.  And I will reject a post I think isn’t going to work, but do so very rarely.  Most of the time I post ’em as I get ’em.

“Corporate” isn’t a dirty word: Having said that, corporate blogs can be interesting and be well-written.  Sure, there are companies that have success with what I call “unplugged” blogs that are run by the employees vs. living within corporate communications.  But that doesn’t mean buttoned-up blog that is a bit more polished can’t work.  As long as you focus on your audience and let writers have their voice (see previous tip) you can have an interesting blog that is also high quality.

Consistency is key, but don’t be a slave to a schedule: I have minimums (at least one post per week) and maximums (haven’t hit it yet, but I wouldn’t post more than five posts in a week), but I long ago gave up the idea of a schedule or a certain number of posts per day/week/month/quarter.  It’s a blog, not a newspaper.  You definitely need to post more often when you are getting rolling in order to build your readership.  But once you’ve got it going you can be opportunistic and publish as you get content and not drive yourself crazy.  If you can’t keep a baseline of consistency then you probably have a different problem.

I swear I named this blog before I saw this article

Let Me Tell You a Story by Carmine Gallo in BusinessWeek. (Via Smartbrief)

Great article. It’s exactly what I was thinking when I started this blog. Marketing is storytelling.

But stories aren’t a panacea and they certainly aren’t a quick win. I think the best part of the article was the end …

More often than not, a story doesn’t make the sale. Stories open the door, making a prospect more receptive to the message. … If you want to connect with your audience, inspire them, and motivate them to action, start telling stories.

Exactly! Stories are part of a comprehensive marketing plan that must also include lead gen, retention strategies, sales support and more. But stories are a great starting point.