10 Surefire Ways to Brand Yourself

Jon Harris

Jon Harris

Many public relations professionals are so busy working for their clients that they pay little attention to building their personal brands. Jon Harris, chief communications officer at Hillshire Brands, has been able to successfully juggle both, and have fun in the process.

Beginning his career as an intern for a New York radio station where he worked on the Howard Stern show and others, Jon quickly moved to the agency world before holding senior PR gigs at PepsiCo, Bally Total Fitness and Sara Lee Corporation which was renamed to the Hillshire Brands Company in 2012. Along the way, Jon met a lot of people and befriended all of them with his big personality and genuine affection for others. His friendship with NBC’s Meredith Vieira led to the giant career step Jon will be taking next month when he begins work as the announcer/sidekick for the new “Meredith Vieira Show” that debuts in September.

Jon talked last week with Chicago-area PR leaders and grad students at the PRAD E-Portfolio Showcase at DePaul University. He discussed his philosophy of talking with as many people as possible throughout your career, then paying it forward by sharing insights for up and coming professionals. He also provided the top 10 pieces of personal branding advice given to him over the years through those thousands of conversations.

10 Ways to Brand Yourself

1. Be a leader. It’s a competitive market out there and to stand out, you must be a leader. And you can always make a difference.  Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you. Go out there and grab them.  

2. Make the most out of every experience – college, part time jobs, internships, etc. You don’t have to major in PR to become a “PR Pro.” Take advantage of your time in school – volunteer with organizations you are passionate about, foster your creativity, try new things – it’s your chance to really hone your skills and discover your passions. 

3. Create a resume/e-portfolio. It’s no longer sufficient to just talk about your skills and work – you need to show it.  You need to show results.  Show that you have had a positive impact on whatever you have done, resulting in X. 

Today, there are so many resources online than ever before to create a basic website that showcases your work. If you’re a writer, publish your articles. If you’re a photographer, we want to see your photos. Showcase what you do well and help bring your story to life. 

If you don’t tell your story, someone else will tell theirs. 

4. Know how to communicate traditionally and digitally – At your age people will assume that you are a master of all things digital and onlineA really good writer is rare and it is essential to be a great communicator in all areas – written, verbal and social media.  In the business world you will need to present and influence people.  You will need to communicate. 

Took classes in writing and have focused on writing over the last 24 years. 

5. Create a personal brand. What sets you apart from someone else?  Assuming you all has the same education and job experience?  Take this room and multiply it by a thousand.  What will make you different?  Will you work harder? Will you work smarter?  What will you stand for? 

Have you Googled yourself? While you may have a great report card and resume, it’s critical to pay attention to your online persona. It’s the first place that potential employers will look before and after an interview. Use Twitter, LinkedIn and your personal blog to showcase your best work as well as to interact with industries you’re passionate about.  Be careful with what you post online. 

6. Get real world experience. Internships, externships, volunteer, What does an employer want out of you?  You need the basic knowledge… a resume… a diploma from a great institution.  I think a great attitude is what is going to help you land that job.  People need to like and trust you.  Be positive… be real… work hard. 

Companies will look at your internship experience too. Time in the classroom is important, but to really thrive in the workplace, you need real-life work experience. I often suggest that students volunteer to help with communications at your favorite non-profit.  They need the help. 

7. Network.  Look around this room, there are 50 other people in your network.  They will all go on and get jobs.  By keeping in touch with people, they will help you get jobs, advice and more.  You have LinkedIn, Facebook and a very active community of PR people in this city and every major city.  Get out there.  Many young professional organizations (e.g. PRSA, IABC and others) are here that you can join. 

Face to face communications is really what it most important.  The internet has made life very easy, but it has also made things very impersonal.  Getting a job is personal.  We are not texting interviews and I don’t like Skype interviews. 

Also, feel free to contact people and leverage existing relationships.  Most people remember what it was like to be in your shoes.  I know I do, as does Ron Culp… 

8. Prepare for interviews. So you’ve perfected your resume and landed yourself an interview. Time to prepare. Our best piece of advice for turning your interview into a job offer is to think through your past experience as mini case studies. We want to hear about the challenge you were given, your approach and your results (with numbers!). We don’t want to hear about what we can do for you, we want to hear about how your skills can help us to meet and exceed our business and client goals. 

Also, make sure that you know the company, the brands, the cause, and the people that you are interviewing with.  This is very important to you telling your story on how you can help their concern. 

9. Take risks.  Don’t be afraid.  Nothing good ever grew in the comfort zone.  Professional life is nothing like the classroom and you need to prepare. Skills that may not seem important before will be critical to your success – hone your prioritization skills, your email writing skills and approach each project with eagle-eye like attention to detail. 

10. Keep your eyes open. To be successful in this industry, you’ve got to love it. Constantly push yourself to be on top of trends, be creative and see the bigger picture and you’ll go far.


One thought on “10 Surefire Ways to Brand Yourself

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *