Journalists must build a personal brand: 10 tips

This post was inspired by one written by Joe Grimm, the longtime journalism jobs adviser. DigiDave (Dave Cohn) is a living example of this — and naturally, he has written a blog post about the topic. Ryan Sholin cautions us to be authentic in this pursuit — an honest brand is valuable; a fake or inflated brand is detrimental.

Greg Linch supplied those last two links in a comment on Joe’s blog post. (See Greg on Twitter.)

Lauren Michell Rabaino is a journalism student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and her online portfolio exemplifies many of these points. Check her out on Twitter too.

Here’s my advice for testing whether you’ve built a brand yet:

  1. People in your field should know who you are.
  2. Someone who Googles your first and last name should be able to find out who you are.
  3. Your online self-representation should demonstrate that you are a serious, ethical journalist.
  4. Samples of your best work should be linked to your home page or online (HTML) resume.
  5. Your real work experience should be easy to find and easy to scan quickly. People will want to check this for verification, so dates should be clear, not obfuscated. Example: “June – August 2006” is clear and honest. “Intern” is honest when “reporter” might not be. Consider “correspondent” or “stringer” too, when accurate. Lists of dodgy freelance work make you appear dodgy. Links to work add credibility. (Use PDFs for work that has been locked behind a pay wall or deleted.)
  6. Make sure your online pages can be read easily on various cell phones, including the iPhone.
  7. If you supply a link to a PDF of your resume, make sure the pertinent job or freelance-experience information is also available via simple HTML (not exclusively in the PDF). Word Docs are not good for online resumes. A Google Doc would be better.
  8. People who might want to hire you need to be able to find your contact info EASILY. Don’t make them hunt all over for it. If you supply an e-mail address, make sure you check mail at that address just about daily, if not more often.
  9. You need to be around, to be visible, to be seen — people should see your name in comments, retweets, etc.
  10. People online should point to you from time to time, as I have pointed to Joe, Dave, Ryan, Greg, and Lauren in this post. This confers authority on you. Brands rest in part on authority, in part on name recognition.

Anything I missed?

Joe Grimm said: “You become a brand by being: Authentic … Exceptional … Valuable … Consistent …” and by Sharing — your work, your knowledge, your considered opinions. That’s a shorter list than mine, and Joe has provided explanations of each one too.

The last time I blogged about this topic was almost a year ago: Promote yourself well, or fail.

40 Comments on “Journalists must build a personal brand: 10 tips

  1. Having a recognized and respected personal brand as a journalist is a very valuable asset. As you mentioned – authenticity is key. Creating content online that has value to your readers is also important.

    I would suggest to anyone interested in building a personal brand and/or having a larger digital footprint to create your own blog or Web site.

  2. You couldn’t be more right on #3 Mindy. I am constantly having to monitor what I’m willing to put out there online, and what photos I’ll upload on Facebook and other sites. I’m finding lots of younger journalists like myself complaining about the industry through Facebook updates and blogs, and even though I want to vent at times, I have been able to catch myself and keep from damaging my reputation. Of course I slip up from time to time, but thankfully they have been pretty minor.

  3. Thanks for the mention, Mindy!

    The most important thing I did to build my brand as a journalist was to jump in and start blogging. From the start, I haven’t been shy about offering my opinions, and the results of that have been a string of jobs in the news industry that simply wouldn’t have been open to me if I hadn’t shown off my ideas in public online.

  4. Great advice. Mindy.

    You live what you say, so this rings true. Thanks for linking this to the JobsPage. This is valuable stuff at a time when people are looking for answers.


  5. @Ryan Sholin – I can vouch for what you said. You appeared on the online radar and became very visible while you were pursuing your master’s degree. Purely by writing an interesting blog and commenting on others’ blogs, you became well known in online journalism circles.

  6. All good advice. I wish we could find a better word than “brand,” though. Maybe I’m just too used to hearing marketing types use “branding” as a buzzword for whatever they’re selling.

  7. @Bryan Murley – I agree about the word “brand.” It reeks of marketing — and yet, that is exactly what we are talking about. When you are on the job market, seeking a position, you ARE marketing yourself.

  8. @Mindy – I always liked the term “karma” that used to be used with sites like and others (kuro5hin?), in which members of the community built up their reputation through cogent, incisive comments. Maybe journalists could look at it as building their online karma and just use the “brand” term when they’re dealing with business types. 🙂

  9. Excellent advice. Thanks for the shout-out!

    I think another important point is offering value. Your blog, Megan Taylor’s blog and Ryan’s blog were some of the first ones I devoured (which includes extensively crawled the archives). Hat tip to Paul Conley at ACP/CMA 07 for word of Megan and Ryan’s.

    For a hungry journalism student, the value was immense. I found dozens of other great, valuable resources and people in the posts and blogrolls — including, very quickly, CICM.

    And I kept reading (via RSS) and commenting and learning. Still valuable after all these years.

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  11. Branding effectively is a lot about adding value to your product. What is it you do that separates you from other brands in your field? What skills do you possess that separate you from competing brands?

    There’s also key differences in mass-market branding vs. niche market branding. The conventional conservative mass-market pop-culture form of branding is not the way to go with the breakdown of the mediaconomy into smaller niche-sized markets.

  12. @Patrick Yen – I think for journalism students, they need not be unique (dictionary definition), but they need to stand out from the pack.

    Most journalism students today lack a strong professional Web presence; they lack a demonstrated competency in more than one medium (e.g., they are all photo, or all writing, or all design); they lack evidence that they can dig into a story and produce strong content (e.g., multiple interviews with atypical sources, public records analysis, research).

    If a hiring editor opens your Web site and sees that you’ve hit three out of three, you just might get an interview.

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  14. Journalism is taught. Seek writing, respect it as a craft & skill and you’ll cherish what it can do for you and your readers. However, what to write about is touchy. When you are innovative, sometimes it takes an entire decade for others to catch up, by then you’ve moved on to something else, and the cycle is ever trailing. Empty pockets seldom make the grade, and profits don’t come easy. As for one writer with the same talent hoopla is paraded, the other ignored, but stuff produced adored. Keep at it, and many somebodies notice… keep living, and your next generation will get your worth.

  15. I also recommend trying to “own” the first page of your Google search. So when you search “Jason DeRusha,” you find my WCCO bio, my blog, my Flickr, my Twitter, my Facebook, etc. I believe almost every thing on that page is something I maintain. That helps you control your brand much better.

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  18. Showing up easily in a Google search is easier said than done. Google William Davis and see how many people share my name. If you Google William P. Davis it’s much better, but there’s still a lawyer and an actor that rank above me, plus the newspaper I work for. @Jason – You’re lucky to have a unique name.

    I can’t agree more with #8, though. That goes for all Web sites, not just personal ones. The contact information for the owner of the site should always always always be in the footer of the page.

    @Tracy – Journalism isn’t taught — it’s learned. I learn more spending five minutes in a newspaper office or out in the field than I do spending a term in a classroom.

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  20. @William P. Davis – It sure is tougher if you have a more common name, but don’t despair. As you build your Web presence, you will become more prominent in Google searches. Also, people searching for you are likely to add a word such as “journalist,” “reporter,” or “designer” once they see that your name is shared by others with more fame.

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  26. You are dead on. We are learning about creating our personal brand in my online media class. We are learning how to optimize my SEO. I do not believe you missed anything. The point I most agree with is that you need to be seen. I am continuing to brand myself and will need to in this turning point of journalism.

  27. Creating a personal brand is something new to me (and many others, as we can see). I came up linking my name to the brand of my employer (public radio). That’s just not enough anymore.

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