Why communicators are the worst at self-promotion and how to fix it.
It’s time to advocate for yourself.
Leigh Woisard is a 30-year communications professional. Most recently she led corporate communications for Cox Communications. Today she is a communications consultant, coach and public speaker focused on self-promotion without selling out; Imposture Syndrome and becoming a better communicator. She was just named to the Women in Communications Hall of Fame in Regan and PR Daily’s Top Women in Communications.
We’re the people other people turn to when they want to standout and be known for something. We’re PR champs, publicity and promotion gurus, brilliant architects of the message. And yet, what we as communicators do so readily for our clients and companies, we don’t always do for ourselves or for our careers. We communicators are often the worst at taking control of the narrative — when it’s our narrative!
When we’re not intentional about our career narrative, we feel stuck or burnout. Our career momentum is gone. We feel stagnant because we can’t seem to get to that next level.
Now more than ever, I hear communicators say, “I feel stuck in my career.” It may very well be the other pandemic.
Taking control of our career narrative means we’re intentional about “telling and selling” our value so that as jobs, promotions and other career opportunities arise, decision-makers know us and what we bring to the table. Being intentional about our career story means engaging in a degree of… Dare I say it? Self-promotion!
Self-promote without selling out
Self-promotion has a bad rap. It doesn’t comport with how most of us see ourselves. As communicators, we promote others but most of us don’t want to be seen as self-promoters. It can feel icky. Many of us entered the field because we like making others look good. We believe in the fairytale that says if we simply work hard, we’ll be recognized and elevated. Sometimes it does play out that way but many times it’s just that, a fairytale! The workplace isn’t always a meritocracy, and you need more than hard work to advance. The good news is that self-promotion doesn’t have to mean hogging the spotlight, overdoing it or selling out. (That’s icky.)
Start with what you want to be known for. I call it your “one thing” or differentiator. In addition to your communication foundational skills, what’s that quality that makes you better or different from everyone else doing a similar job? Your one-thing is different from your overall personal brand. To me, it can be overwhelming to focus on your personal brand in its entirety, so I like to start with one attribute to make promoting it more actionable. Also, by focusing on one great thing, you reduce the risk of trying to promote a smattering of attributes which can water down your image. Your one thing might be that you’re an ultra-creative person, strategist, leader or visionary. Whatever that quality is just be sure you’re good at it or committed to getting good at it.
How to “tell and sell” your one thing
Now that you’ve identified your one thing, let’s focus on getting others to see it. Remember, the goal is to intentionally promote a clear perception of your value (what makes you better/different from the rest) so that as those jobs and promotions arise, decision-makers know what you bring to the table.
When people think of you, we want them to think of your one thing quality. When they think of that quality, we want them to think of you. Everything you do at work is an opportunity to promote your one thing:
Appearance: How you dress is a powerful tool for promoting what you want to be known for. Your one thing may be that you’re a trusted counselor to leaders. Does your look say, “you can trust me?” If you’re a creative, idea generator, does your look give that vibe? For example, deeper shades of color are viewed as more credible than light ones. Unusual color combinations suggest creativity. Your look should be in harmony with your one thing.
What you share: The social media groups you join, what you like, comment on; and reshare, should all be part of your “tell and sell” strategy. Use social media not only to raise your visibility but to raise your visibility around your one thing quality. Beyond social media, share articles, data and research related to your one thing with senior leaders. Download an expert article that relates to your one thing and share it with company leaders with an insightful note.
Teach: Your one thing expertise is a gift. Teach it to others via lunch and learns, webinars or at your next staff meeting. LinkedIn makes it incredibly easy to write an article on a topic that reinforces you as an expert in your one thing subject matter.
Get others talking about your one thing
You’ve taken time to identify your one thing – what makes you different, better than others applying for that same job or promotion. You’re also “telling and selling” your one thing so that others see it. Now let’s get others talking about you and your one thing. As communicators, we know the value of getting journalists and influencers talking about our clients in a positive way. Apply this same approach to generate chatter about you and your one thing. Relationship-building is key to getting them talking, but it can be awkward which is why most of us don’t do enough of it. A great way to start is to network with leaders and colleagues who share an interest in your one thing or who are known as experts in that area.
Perhaps you and Joe Executive are both focused on leadership excellence, employee engagement or strategy. Now you have something substantive to talk to him about over coffee. He’ll not only remember you, but he’ll also remember your shared expertise, and be more likely to become your sponsor. My abbreviated definition of a career sponsor is someone who says good things about you and your one thing when you’re not even in the room to hear them say it! The research is clear; career sponsors, aka your advocates, are key to advancement.
Self-promotion doesn’t have to be icky. Knowing your value is not icky; either is sharing and teaching your expertise. Securing career sponsors is smart. As communicators, we’re familiar with all these tactics. Maybe we just need to believe that we’re worthy of a PR campaign for ourselves!
Thanks so much for this insightful article and the gentle reminder of the work we as Communicators must do for ourselves. Continued success.