What is a personal brand, and can it really help you stand out and generate more business? Nancy Marshall of Marshall Communications shares the benefits of developing a personal brand, how you can get started, and what a difference it can make to your business.
Rich: In 1991, our next guest launched her titular communications company, a life changing experience, and one that she’s never regretted today. More than 26 years later, the agency has represented many major clients including the Maine Office of Tourism, the Maine Office of Business Development, and the Orvis Company among others.
Her hallmark is her commitment to living client’s businesses. When she was representing Northern Outdoors, she became a licensed whitewater rafting guide for the Maine Windjammer Association. She lived the life of a crew member on the Victory Chimes. For Orvis she is learning to fly fish and tie flies. She is also well known for her infectious laugh – I can guarantee you you’ll hear it today -and an insatiable love for learning about everyone she meets. Making connections between people for their mutual benefit is a favorite pastime, as is connecting with new and long lost friends on social media.
Today we’ll be talking about what owners need to know about personal branding with Nancy Marshall. Nancy, welcome to the show.
Nancy: Thank you, Rich. It’s a pleasure to be here and thank you for that nice bio. I don’t think I’ve ever heard my business called “titular”, that was a new adjective.
Rich: So I learned this from one of my past podcasting guests, that it should be like a night show where you never say the person’s name until you’re bringing them on stage. So I always take the person’s name out, because anybody who has a bio right now it always starts off with their name, I put it at the end. But then I’m going to give away the ghost if all of a sudden I say, “Nancy Marshall Communications”, people are going to figure out who I’m talking about. So boom, I get to use the word “titular” and prove I was an English major in college, and it’s ‘win’ all around.
Nancy: Well, I hope people wouldn’t have immediately gone to another podcast if you had said my name right off know tuned in.
Rich: I just wanted to build that excitement for you.
Nancy: Well, I was very excited personally. I’m sure my mother would be, too, if she knew how to listen to a podcast.
Yury: Well, that is awesome. Nancy, thank you for joining us today. And also congratulations on the launch of your second book. This is very exciting. I hope we will get a chance to talk a little bit about on the show about Grow Your Audience, Grow Your Brad., clearly that’s the topic of today’s show. But before we dive into the content that you’ve prepared for us today, can you tell us a little bit about the origin story of Nancy Marshall Communications and now Nancy Marshall Business, which was started in 1991?
Nancy: Yes. So I worked in several different PR jobs when I got out of college. I started with Public Broadcasting, I was the public information manager. It was then WCBB TV, the Colby Bates Bowdoin television network. And then I went on to work at Sugarloaf for several years, again, as PR person. And they were in bankruptcy for a short period of time. So I went over to work for Hinckley Yachts in the Southwest Harbor, always at PR positions, because that was the perfect combination for my personality. I think I’ve always enjoyed writing. I’ve enjoyed speaking. And most of all, I’ve enjoyed connecting with people. So I think my superpower has always been sort of keeping track of people in my mind, and whether its journalists or clients, I love to put people together for shared interests.
So in 1991 Sugarloaf essentially eliminated my position. I had told the president of Sugarloaf at one point that someday I wanted to have my own PR agency. But when I said someday, I thought like when I was in my fifties, not when I was in my thirties. But you know, they had a little bit of a budget shortfall and they thought, we will eliminate Nancy’s position and suggest that she go out on her own. And at the time my feelings were a little bit hurt because I thought I was so irreplaceable. But actually they didn’t even replace me, they just contracted with me and that’s the best thing that could have ever happened. And I’ve been thriving ever since.
Rich: Now Nancy, I understand your father was instrumental in helping you with your career direction. How did that come about?
Nancy: Well, my father was an electrical engineer, but he was not your typical engineer because he actually did sales for Westinghouse. And he enjoyed building relationships with people, too, namely his customers. And when I was in my teenage years, he was selling electrical equipment to paper companies here in the state of Maine. And when Boise Cascade in Rumford was going to have a big grand opening for a new paper machine that my father had sold to them, my father said, “Would you like to come and take some photos and write an article about this?” And I said, “Sure”, it was a good excuse to get out of school actually.
So I went and did this article and it got published nationally in the Westinghouse in-house magazine. And I was just so excited to see that process happen. And my dad said, “Well, you know, if you like that, you could do public relations and that’s what your job would be”. And then he arranged for me to actually go to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and spend a whole week job shadowing with the PR people there. That’s when I was only a junior in high school actually. So I job shadowed. And from that moment on, I was like, “Yup, that’s what I am going to do”.
Prior to that I had thought I wanted to be a meeting planner, but my dad said, “You know what? You can think bigger than that. You can think of being in charge of all of the strategy and all of their media relations.” And you know, my dad’s been gone now for about 15 years and I really wish I could thank him for having that wisdom and seeing my future for me.
Rich: That’s awesome. Love that story. Thank you, Nancy.
Yury: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you for sharing. Nancy, I wanted to talk to you a little bit about the personal brand. You know, people throw around the term ‘personal brand’ and ‘building personal brand’ a lot, but how do you define it? What are the key elements in the process of building personal brand and what’s its purpose?
Nancy: The reason that you want to build a personal brand is that you want to be memorable. You want to be find-able and you want to have a story related to your brand that differentiates you from everyone else who does the same thing that you do.
For example, if you are a plumber, you want to be the plumber that people remember, so that when they need a plumber they think of you and not another plumber. So the reason to have a personal brand is to have some way to differentiate yourself, and essentially to put your stake in the ground. So I try to be memorable because I am the person who’s all about building relationships, both in person and online. And I believe strongly that if you meet somebody online, you should endeavor to connect with them in person. And if you meet somebody in person, you should extend the relationship by connecting online.
If I meet somebody in business, I immediately connect with them on LinkedIn, because I want to be able to remember who that person is. Because there’s nothing worse than if you meet someone at a networking event, for example, and then a year later they need what you do. And they’re like, “Oh, I can’t remember that person’s name”. But if they can remember something about your story, then you are going to be more findable online. So the whole interplay between in person and online relationship building is what I believe personal branding is all about.
Rich: Nancy, you’re I would describe you as an extrovert. But what about the, it feels like from your definition, that personal branding is another way of getting business. It’s about positioning and it’s about just one method that you might generate business for yourself or your company. What is an introvert to do in a situation like this? Because you love making these connections. You’ve got the personal brand, but it feels like I’ve got to put myself out there and maybe some people who are listening right now just don’t feel comfortable putting themselves out there. What advice might you give as far as personal branding goes?
Nancy: Well, actually I believe that introverts perhaps may be better at this than extroverts because introverts tend to be better listeners and they might have bigger ears and a smaller mouth. So this is a lesson that my mother actually taught me when I was growing up, is that when you meet somebody really pay attention to what they’re saying and listen, and try to remember some details about their story, and people will actually like you more. If you listen and pay attention to them and really remember their name. I mean, the sound of a person’s name is the sweetest sound in the language. It just sounds so nice when someone says your name. Wouldn’t you think so, Rich and Yury?
Rich: We would, Nancy. Thank you for that. But in terms of putting yourself out there though, I mean, I know that there are people who just going to get healthy heart palpitations thinking about that. So is there a way that they can manage this or advice that you’ve given people who are a little bit shyer or more introverted?
Nancy: I think people who are more shy or introverted should think of maybe two or three questions that they have in their standard repertoire, and just kind of rehearse whenever they meet someone to ask, “What is your favorite pastime when you’re not working?” Or, “How did you get into your profession?” Or something along those lines. Or, “Where did you grow up?” Just think of two or three things that you’ll ask every time and then let people talk and really listen to them and just try to remember.
I mean, I have sort of a database in my mind that I remember details from other people’s stories, but I think this is something that introverts can do. And as I said, then you can follow up and remember and people will like you more because you honor them by remembering about their story. And I think that’s definitely something introverts can do. And I have a chapter about it actually in my new book called, Grow Your Audience, Grow Your Brand. I wrote about networking for introverts.
Rich: Oh, awesome.
Yury: Nancy, can you tell us a little bit about the idea of showing up in person? When we think about the personal branding, what exactly does it mean? Does it mean we have to have our elevator pitch or what does it look like?
Nancy: I think that you need to have the same persona online as you do in person. So for example, if you make a lot of videos online, you need to be your authentic self so that when people meet you, you show up exactly the way you do online.
Al Roker is somebody I think about, I’ve been watching his Instagram videos lately. He of course is the weather man on the Today Show and he’s also really into cooking. And during COVID-19, he and his son Nick have been doing these cooking videos every single day and I’ve been watching them and I enjoy them so much. And I just know that if I were to meet out in person, he would be exactly the same way as he shows up either on the Today Show or his Instagram videos. Basically, you just don’t want to have a disconnect when people meet you in person.
Another good example is people who use headshots that are from 15 years ago when they looked younger or perhaps they might have weighed 15 pounds less. And then when you meet them, the first few seconds or maybe even minutes, you’re like, “Oh, this person doesn’t look like what I expected them to.”
So I think people need to pay attention to that. Keep your headshot updated so that people you meet in person aren’t spending a lot of time trying to figure out why they don’t look like the way I thought they would when I met them in person.
Yury: Awesome. Makes sense. Thank you.
Rich: Nancy, it feels like there’s a certain amount of craftsmanship that goes on when it, when creating a personal brand. And I don’t mean that in a negative way, but it feels like we’re supposed to be thoughtful about how we want to be remembered by other people. So if somebody’s just starting out on this journey, what advice might you give them to figure out what is their personal brand, what is their north star? Is there a process you take people through to really help breathe this into life?
Nancy: Well, I think it starts with paying attention to what gives you real joy and energy. And to be honest, for me, it took a long time. I mean, it’s probably within the past five or seven years that I’ve realized that I can delegate the aspects of my business to other people and focus on the aspects that I like, which is making the connections and being out there talking about personal branding and talking about how public relations has morphed into more of content marketing.
But when I’m talking with people about they’re super power, I talked to them about figuring out what gives them most joy, what gives them most energy and what are the days of the week when you just can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning. Now maybe that’s got to be Saturdays. So think about what you’re doing on those days that gives you joy and incorporate that into your personal brand. I mean, for some people, their personal brand might be that they just love to go fishing on the weekends. And if that’s the case, then you kind of should weave that into your story. Because there’s really not a big separation anymore between your personal and your professional brand. I think that no matter what your profession is, what you like to do in your personal time kind of oozes into your brand, whether you’re doing what you like to do of the weekend, or you’re at work.
Rich: Also using your fishermen or fisher person, someone who fishes example. I’m just wondering if that’s not something that you could use as an ongoing metaphor, depending on what kind of business you’re in. Where you can take something from your personal life and use it as an extended metaphor to help explain what you do to other people. And that might be one way of staying memorable and staying on your personal brand.
Nancy: Yeah, I think so. I mean, I’ve done a lot of work in the ski industry and I know bank presidents who love to go and ski the backside of Sugarloaf. So it’s a metaphor because they love to live an adventurous life and they love to take risks and go forward. So I think absolutely, Rich. I think that you can use your personal pursuits as a metaphor for your professional persona.
Yury: And then you talked about different types of content ranging from the personal stories, professional stories, videos and headshots, the elements of content. And I know you frequently talk about the cornerstone content. Should we apply the idea of what the cornerstone content is to make it a part of our personal brand? What are the connections, how people can bring the two together?
Nancy: That’s a great question, Yury. I look at your cornerstone content as big pieces of content where you can explain your unique point of view and develop a platform. And again, develop an audience of people who enjoy consuming your content, because they’re interested in her point of view.
So for example, I have my own podcast, the PR Maven podcast in which I talk about connecting with other people online and in person. And then I wrote my second book recently, published it actually last week, Grow Your Audience, Grow Your Brand, and to the same extent I talk about building a network of people who are interested in what you have to say. So, yes, I believe that in order to do effective marketing today, you need to have plenty of content out there so that when people are searching for you online they can find and they could consume your content in their preferred mode.
So for example, some people might prefer to listen to a podcast or some others might prefer to read a book and others might prefer YouTube videos. So whatever your unique platform is, you need to produce content that people can consume in different ways. Even before the internet when I was at Sugarloaf, we used to talk about how we needed to assault the senses of our audience.
So back then that was having stories on TV, and stories on the radio, and ads on TV and radio, and billboards in Boston. Before the internet, actually, we, we thought in those terms, but now with the internet, we have so many options and so many ways to connect with people and share our story.
Rich: Nancy, you’ve talked about a ‘personal brand manifesto’ in the past. What is it and how do you go about creating one?
Nancy: Yeah, so personal brand manifesto is similar to a professional biography, but I think it incorporates your personal values and maybe your mission in life. So it’s probably a little more interesting than what we previously might’ve used for a bio. I mean back in the day, we might have said where we went to school and what kind of degree we had and what our job was, and it would be very what I’d call vanilla or boring.
I call a personal brand manifesto a statement. I mean, in my bio when you read it, you talked about how I became a raft guide when I was working with Northern Outdoors. Well, the real story behind that is I was actually trying to get them as a client. And we were up at Sugarloaf, it was in January of 1990, I believe, and we were having a few beverages. And I said to them, “If you hired me to do your PR, I am going to go to your guide training in May and become a raft guide”. And it was almost like a dare. And then they call me back in April and they said, “You are hired and you are coming. You get yourself into a wet suit and you’re coming to guide training”. Which I did actually, when my son – my first child – he was only six months and I had to leave him behind and go off and be in the cold water of the Kennebec river in the month of May.
So I feel like that story tells a lot about my personality because I am tenacious when it comes to building business, but I go beyond just, “Oh, here’s the proposal”. I try to really build a deep relationship. So I think everyone has a personal brand manifesto in them. And it has to do with what is their super power, what gives them energy and why are people attracted to them?
Rich: And I love that story. When I was reading over your bio before I read it out loud and the other two examples as well, it sounds like it was something that kind of just happened on a whim, and then you realize the power behind it, and it really resonated. It was in alignment with everything else that you believe in and you made it part of your whole story. And for me, I thought that was fantastic because it helps you stand out. It’s certainly something that’s memorable and it also allows anybody else who’s considering working with you, that if I really want somebody who’s going to understand my business, it’s got to be Marshall Communications.
Nancy: Well, yeah, I have people on my team who when we were working for a hospital, they went in and they got suited up and went in and watched a surgery take place. Or we were also working for the Maine beer and wine distributors, and I had one of my team members, Greg Glynn, he got up at 3:00 AM and he went out on the beer truck to make deliveries to all of the bars and restaurants that beer distributor was selling to. So I do feel like that’s how we immerse ourselves into our client’s business. And we definitely go beyond just the paperwork aspect of doing public relations and marketing.
Rich: Love it, very inspirational. Going to swipe it, totally.
Nancy: Well, I hope you enjoy if you’re going after a rafting company, I hope you enjoy being in the cold water of the Kennebec river in May.
Rich: Maybe I’ll just go after the breweries and distilleries.
Yury: Nancy, quick question. Or actually not necessarily quick question, but can you talk a little bit about the message mapping and how does it feed into the big picture of personal branding?
Nancy: That’s a great question, Yury. Message mapping is a technique that I learned from a guy, unfortunately he’s passed away now. But his name was Tripp Frohlichstein, and he would get hired by airlines when there was a crash essentially to do media training with the CEO of the airline before they went on the morning TV shows and to explain what had happened. And the concept is that whether you’re in a crisis or whether you just want to have a way of explaining your brand, you have what you call a ‘key message’, which is a seven second sound bite. And it might explain what you do, who you do it for, and what is the benefit of it. So I call that a “XYZ statement”. We do X for Y, so they can Z. What are they going to get out of working with you?
And then around that key message would be supporting messages or proof points that all feed back into that key message. And ideally you can create a message map on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, and you can carry it around with you, whether you’re doing an interview with the newspaper or whether you’re giving a speech to the rotary, or whether you’re going to be creating a website or writing a letter to all of your customers. These are kind of your essential messages that you want to weave into anything that you’re communicating to the public. So I actually launched an online course recently on message mapping. And in that course, I talked about creating that seven second sound soundbite and your proof points, and how you can actually use a tool like this to rehearse for a media appearance, or a speech.
Yury: For the listeners that want to check out this course and learn a little bit more about the message mapping, where can they find it?
Nancy: At PRmaven.com. Actually they can find the course and they can find more information about the PR Maven. I have my agency, Marshall Communications, but my own personal brand ties in with the PR Maven. That’s what it says on my license plate, too.
Rich: So Nancy, we’ve talked briefly about your new book. I was wondering if you can tell me a little bit more about it. What would get somebody to get out of reading it? What are the main points behind it?
Nancy: Well, in my book, I talk about how important it is to create content to attract the right people into your life, whether it’s customers or even friends. I mean, it’s basically a guide to modern networking. And I talk about the importance of online and in person networking. So there are sort of step by step instructions on connecting with other people.
But I also, in each chapter, have an infographic that kind of makes it easy to skim the book in case you don’t want to read the whole thing. And I also included a lot of vignettes, which are little stories for my own long career in public relations to help illustrate the stories.
One story I have in there is about how when I was working for Sugarloaf, I went down to New York City with my boss at the time to do some networking visits with media outlets, like Ski and Skiing Magazine. But we didn’t take the time in advance to make any appointments. So we were down there in the lobby of Ski and Skiing Magazine, and my boss at the time, Chip, said, “Hey, go in the ladies room and just stay in there, wash your hands and see if any reporters or editors come in and then introduce yourself and tell them that you’re Nancy from Sugarloaf and ask them if they want to come ski at Sugarloaf.” Of course I did whatever he said to do because I was ambitious. And so I stood there and washed my hands and I ended up meeting an editor who ended up coming up to Maine.
So it worked, that’s what I call guerilla public relations. And that’s just one of the stories that I share in the book. But for anybody who is interested in knowing about the power of building a network, some networking is not done, you know, sometimes you’ll meet a person and you have no idea where that relationship might lead. But my attitude is, if you approach any kind of a relationship with a positive attitude and a positive aura and an attitude of helpfulness, it’s going to come back around, whether you’ll have a friend or whether you’re going to have somebody that you work with or work for.
One example I can share, and this is from Agents of Change, Rich. I’ve become great friends with Kate Paine.
Rich: Yes, Kate’s wonderful.
Nancy: We have a lot in common. Actually we’ve discovered we’re very similar in our backgrounds and our interests. She lives up there at Stowe, Vermont, and I lived up at Sugarloaf. And so she actually is helping me revamp my LinkedIn right now, and that’s all as a result of meeting her at Agents of Change.
Rich: That’s awesome. And to be honest, I met Kate at Agents of Change because she came to see Viveka von Rosen speak the year before she spoke, and we connected and bonded. And then ultimately that led to me asking her to come back two years in a row to speak at Agents of Change. And ultimately we worked together to do our first – and sadly, only – Agents of Change Roadshow, which we did in Burlington, Vermont with Kate’s help. So connections do keep paying off.
Nancy: I did follow that. I saw all of you in the van heading over there. And so you’re not going to try to do any more on the road events next year?
Rich: We’ll see next year. Right now we’re just taking one day at a time.
Yury: Nancy, well having three communicators on the same line, people who are passionate about marketing, public relation, all things more modern networking, we can talk about things like this for days. However, we have a limited time and I want to make sure that we deliver as much as we can to our audience. And a lot of our listeners like this particular part of the show where we ask our experts one thing that they would like to change in the Maine business ecosystem to help us grow, succeed, and move us forward. So if you had this magic wand, what would be that thing that you would change in the ecosystem to make it more prosperous?
Nancy: Yury, I’m glad you asked this question. And my response is that I would like Maine business owners to think bigger. I think a lot of people in Maine somehow don’t think they are worthy of having a big business or they don’t think that they’re capable or they don’t think that the economy is good enough so that they can be successful.
But it’s kind of like the mind shift that my father helped me with when I was 17 years old, to go from being thinking about myself from a meeting planner to being a public relations professional. So I think that if Maine people could just think bigger about how to make connections, for example, beyond their local market and perhaps become to serve people more nationally or even internationally, I think that would be transformative.
Yury: So success is a mindset. That’s what it is, right?
Nancy: Yes, definitely. And it’s something that you have to practice every day.
Rich: Nancy, this has been great. Can you let everyone know where can we find you online? I know you’re everywhere, but if you want to give us a few choice places.
Nancy: Well, my agency site is marshallpr.com and there you can learn more about The Marshall Plan, which we did not talk about. We’ll have to do that next time.
Rich: We’ll have to bring you back another time. Yeah.
Nancy: And then at the PRmaven.com, that’s P R M A V E N.com. You can find out more about my book and my online courses and speaking engagements and everything else.
Rich: Awesome. Nancy, thank you so much for stopping by today. Really appreciate your time.
Nancy: Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure.