The “Brand of the Month” goes to…

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Each month I give my verdict on who has shown the world an interesting and distinctive brand. My latest Personal Brand of the Month goes to

Diane von Furstenberg

Here’s why…
Earlier this month, I received an invite to a shopping event that piqued my interest: TVF for DVF. Once I decoded the initials, I discovered it was a pop up of Talita von Furstenberg’s collection at the Diane von Furstenberg London Flagship store. Talita is the granddaughter of von Furstenberg. It appears that our legendary brand has a legacy co-brand!

I find von Furstenberg’s brand fascinating on many levels. But this new dimension of her brand introduces an interesting concept, one around creating sustainability around a brand, in both the label and the person.

Photo credit: JOSHUA KESSLER, Inc.com

Here’s what jumps out at me with von Furstenberg’s personal brand and sustainability:

Fresh and forward thinking

What better way to express your beliefs and personal values than to get visual about them? Von Furstenberg shows us just how masterful she is at this. Since founding her fashion house in 1972, von Furstenberg has come to represent the forward-thinking, modern woman, showing us she’s ahead of the curve, with her progressiveness reflected in her designs.

Photo: Courtesy of DVF.

Her iconic wrap dress of course comes to mind. As she explains, “it’s more than just a dress; it’s a spirit.” Given its wide-reaching appeal, the wrap dress came to be seen as a symbol of women’s liberation in the Seventies, and her distinct design is still going strong today. “I created a sustainable dress 40 years ago,” she says of her dress in a recent Evening Standard interview. “It is being sold in vintage shops for more now than it was then.”

She continues to bring fresh ideas promoting sustainability and eco-forwardness into her brand. There are “scrap wrap” dresses, created from the leftover material from wrap dresses. A reversible wrap dress will be launched next spring, “so you can have two dresses in one”, and even a rental service for her dresses. She has also brought eco-friendly practices into her factories, including solar panels and recycled water, the use of more sustainable fabrics and ecological dyeing and printing techniques.


Vision and determination

Firmly at the foundation of her personal brand are her vision and determination, which can be summarized with the motto “in charge”.

 “When I was young I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew the kind of woman I wanted to be — I wanted to be a woman in charge,” she shared. “Meaning I could pay my bills, I could choose who I go out with.”  She didn’t chose badly in fact, by marrying her first husband, the German Prince Egon von Furstenberg. While this officially made her a Princess, the lifestyle she chose was far from Princess-like. She continued to desire a life of independence, one that launched her career. “The minute I knew I was about to be Egon’s wife, I decided to have a career. I wanted to be someone of my own, and not just a plain little girl who got married beyond her desserts,” she explained to the New York Times in 1977.  Divorcing 14 years later, she kept the regal surname.

Getting her voice heard

Another effective strategy in sustaining your personal brand is by sharing your voice, such as by writing a manifesto, autobiography or memoirs. Von Furstenberg has several out there already, and most recently, she wrote her “in charge” manifesto, in which she shares some of her philosophies to live by.

–      Commit to yourself. “Before anything else, being in charge is a commitment to yourself, it’s owning who you are,”

–      Connect and use your position to help others. “The more you use your magic wand, the more strong and the more powerful your wand is”.

–      Believe in vulnerability and show hints of humanness. “Talk about your vulnerability. Talk about your failures. Talk about your insecurity and you will help other people.”

Putting words into actions

This philosophy deserves its own point, given how strongly social responsibility is correlated with effective personal branding. Von Fursenberg believes that we need to pick and choose causes that we believe in and fight for them.

She and her husband founded the Diller-Von Furstenberg Family Foundation, a private family foundation which provides philanthropic support to various non-profit organisations. She launched the DVF Awards in 2010, a scheme supported by their foundation which recognises women whose leadership and vision has positively impacted women around the world. She and her husband are also prominent supporters of the US Democratic Party.

Von Furstenberg appears in, and served as executive producer on, a newly released HBO documentary, Liberty: Mother of Exiles, telling the story of her fundraising efforts for a new museum on Liberty Island. The documentary that takes on particular significance in an era of anti-immigration. “I’m an immigrant, my parents were immigrants [her mother was a Holocaust survivor], this country is built on immigrants, and there will be a switch,” she explains. “You wonder when, but there will be a switch — there’s always a pendulum.”

Careful positioning of successors

As a likely successor, Talita shares the same passion and progressive thinking her grandmother has embraced for decades, and there’s little doubt that von Furstenberg has shaped and inspired her.  In her interview with the Evening Standard, von Furstenberg explains that Talita is taking “highly relevant, forward-thinking classes” in fashion business at NYU.  “She’s learning about the new luxury, about social entrepreneurship, about sustainability.” In other words, she fits the DVF bill.

But von Furstenberg also shows us that you don’t have to turn to family for a legacy. At 72, she just stepped down from her 13-year tenure as president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). This was a decision she did not take lightly…or quickly.  “I’d been wanting to leave for a while,” she explained. “But I had to find a replacement and I wanted the replacement to be an upgrade.” Her upgrade was Tom Ford, clearly already an established fashion brand legend.  She shares, “I was the mother of the CFDA, and he is the statesman. He has a real presence, and he’s much more demanding than I am.” Now that’s some careful selectivity!

And that’s the progressive personal brand of Diane von Furstenberg in a nutshell. What a stunning example of “walk the walk, talk the talk…and wear the frock!”. And long may she (and her name) live.

Lisa

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The Villain Inside: Exploring the “Shadow Side” of your personal brand

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With the controversy around the film The Joker going on at the moment, and this month’s release of the new Breaking Bad film, I started  thinking about the personal brands of villains in our culture, our changing attitude towards them, and what we could learn here from a personal branding perspective.

Photo: Fortier/Daily Bruin

From Darth Vader to the Wicked Witch of the West, we’ve always had a thirst for villains. Villains serve a vital part in the role of the protagonist’s growth: a personification of the opposition and obstacles that the hero must overcome in order to evolve. They are what the hero risks becoming if they start to wander down the wrong path, and are often a mirror image of the hero: the Joker to the Batman, Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker.

Our attraction to these villains and what they represent seems to be growing…what is it that we find so appealing?

Exploring Our Shadow Sides

One theory ties into Jung’s shadow selves, which suggests that villains help us come to terms with those parts of ourselves that we would prefer to keep hidden. However, we are attracted to these shadows at the same time. After all, who hasn’t secretly found pleasure in a villain saying or doing something we would never actually contemplate in a million years (Hannibal Lector eating a musician because he played badly and spoiled his evening!)?

This certainly helps explain the push-pull we can feel for villains: how we can loathe Voldermort and his complete disregard for muggle life, and yet hold our breaths in anticipation of his next appearance on the screen or chapter.  One fascinating plot device JK Rowling used with Harry Potter was to create a connection between Harry and Voldemort that allows Harry to share the sensations and experiences of Voldemort as he kills his victims, something that enables Harry to come to terms with his shadow side. While his friends and Dumbledore implore him to lean a magic art to shut down this connection, Harry has a strange resistance to the idea. This provokes his character to grow by coming to terms with the dark side of himself. We can see the same device used in Lord of The Rings, where Frodo is increasingly tempted to wear the ring which not only makes him invisible, but takes him to a dark place inside himself.

Villain or Hero?

As public attraction to villains seems to get stronger, the personal brands of villains seem to be becoming more heroic, creating a more blurry divide in popular culture today. Take Killing Eve’s Villanelle, who at times shares the status of heroine with Eve, our heroine from M16. Villanelle is no doubt a psychopath, displaying little or no empathy for her victims and colleagues, and yet her quirks of personality and stylish dress sense inevitably mean we warm to her. Her gruesome killings no longer shock us, in fact we sometimes even root for her. Even her name, Villanelle, a softer, Frencher version of Villain, is a massive tongue in cheek hint.

Interestingly, both Killing Eve and Peaky Blinders are dark worlds of blood and guts, and yet both are highly stylish, stylised and delivered in a way to delight the senses. Of course, this isn’t something that’s just happening today. Coppola’s The Godfather did the same thing back in the 1970s, creating a film that depicted a warm, loving family set with a score that almost everyone can hum even today.

One way our heart warms to these villains is by having an even worse villain on their tail. Villanelle’s often fighting for her life, whether it’s against some weirdo who has captured her, or her own people. In The Godfather there are rival families who show less “honour” and more brutality than the Corleone family, a device that was also used in The Sopranos.

Then there are the characters who meet criteria for a personality disorder, but use their shadow side for good. ITV’s Sherlock, for example, has turned their Sherlock Holmes into a sociopath. He himself embraces the diagnosis: “I’m not a psychopath, I’m a high-functioning sociopath. Do your research.” He of course turns his sociopathic traits into strengths…and we are hooked.

This blurring and blending of hero and villain creates for more human, relatable characters.

Engaging the villain inside your personal brand

As I hope I’ve conveyed above, every good story has a villain. This includes our own brand stories. Let’s start by taking a look at some content strategy.

While the hero archetype is a great storytelling device to communicate the shiny, more noble sides of yourself, the villain archetype can add that extra dimension of interest and relevance into your brand. These villains represent that relatable shadow side of the heroic part of our brand.

So how exactly can you bring a little of that shadow into the light to make your brand story more appealing?

Here are my top tips for bringing some villain content into your personal brand:

  • Step into the shadows. Identifying and getting to know your villain is an essential (and often difficult) branding task. What parts of you do you keep hidden, or can “rear their ugly heads”? Are these traits holding you back in some way…and why?
  • Examine the flip side. What’s on the opposite side of these traits? If your anger were a double-sided coin, would passion about something or a personal value that’s been compromised reside on the other side? Does jealousy in a situation represent aspiration or a strong drive towards a goal?
  • Flip the story. Once you’ve recognized the flip side, how can you spin the villain in your story into something positive? How has your villain inspired you to grow?  What has your hero learnt from your villain? How has it helped the hero in you develop and shine?
  • Know what works and when. Are there traits from your shadow side that can be helpful or useful in the right context? For example, when upset by something, you tend to be challenging and direct – your inner villain shows up. These traits may be unhelpful on the home front, but what about in the boardroom when standing up for something you believe in? Or can you use this confrontational side in your writing, when you are impassioned about a topic?
  • Use your villain powers for good. This builds on the strategy above. It also relates back to the earlier example of Sherlock Holmes, using the positives behind a diagnosis or emotion. Another example might be someone with bipolar disorder channelling their energy on the manic side into something creative or constructive. Or perhaps you might want to redirect the energy of your anger about an injustice into an initiative that will make a difference.
    Another version of this strategy involves using something in your past that you overcame, such as a health condition or difficult circumstance, to help others in some way; for example, by sharing your story to inspire others facing similar villains, or getting behind a related cause.
  • Fit the villain into your larger brand story. Lastly, how can you reconcile your villain traits with your larger brand? Is there a way to present that side so it’s more relatable and/or likeable (without compromising its authenticity)? For example, is there a story of a worse villain, such as a ghost from the past or a difficult defeat, that’s behind your villain trait?

A defining characteristic of a good villain is their relatability. We all have these shadow traits, and by adding a little villain in your personal narrative, you may find that others will be more engaged with your story. And that’s a villain worth embracing!

Lisa

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What’s in a name? The brand story of “London Web Girl”

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What’s in a name? When it comes to personal branding, heaps! A name can be shorthand for what makes your brand compelling, differentiated and relevant. It can also make you memorable.

Here our guest blogger this month, Cheryl Laidlaw, aka London Web Girl, talks about her journey in creating a brand name that quite simply got results.

Here’s Cheryl:

“I help small to medium business owners build, grow and scale their business online through; branding, website design, social media services and personal branding. My primary focus is to create a business presence to be proud of, increases brand awareness that also brings you business.”

All that sounds great but trying to come up with a brand yourself can be challenging.

When I first started my business back in 2010, I came up with the Name, Reyl Design Group (a play on my first name, Cheryl). It was great for many years but business increased a lot more in 2017 when I changed my social media handles to ‘London Web Girl’. I chose this name quite simply because It was simple but potentially effective for SEO and people would instantly know what I did and where, in a nutshell. This was a bold move and I knew if I did it, I would have to own it.  I wanted to stand out as an expert in my field and this was one of the options that I researched, which worked for others like @LogoGeek – Ian Paget, @Codergirl_ – Laura Madalia  . My feeling at the time was, if I don’t, someone else will, so I went for it.

At first London Web Girl was just a social media handle, it was a name to make myself more memorable and give people an idea of what I do in a glance. Over time people didn’t call me by my first name, I was now known as London Web Girl and my following online went up massively over the months and years. I use a photo system/routine where I showcase work I’m designing and post a photo of myself every other post usually giving tips on tech or design or a general behind the scenes update. I also post to stories daily so I’m always showing up and being consistent. All of my photos are mostly taken on the iPhone and are filtered using the same filter.

I found that the name helped when growing my following as it had gravitas. After a while, it was clear that London Web Girl had grown into a personal brand without much effort at all. I created a logo and website and before you knew it Reyl Design Group was fading away in the background. Although I still did the same thing (produce web design and branding), I found my reach was bigger using London Web Girl so it suited me to bring this brand into the forefront. My other brand is ‘Website In A Day’. This also gets a lot of attention, both brands go hand in hand as they are both memorable, simple, reflects nature of my business and impressionable.  This is exactly what I tell my clients when they first start out, if only they came to me before they chose their name.

Since changing my name, I’ve had great PR opportunities and I’m often called for my opinion on website and branding industry questions for whatsaytheexperts.com, wearetechwomen.com, leagueofher.com and womenofthefuture.co.uk. I’ve entered awards and been short listed 4 times and highly commended. I’ve also been asked to speak at events and interviewed on podcasts and radio. I’m sure that my name and brand has had a lot to do with the success of those.

As a result I’ve been copied a good few times with ‘Website in a Day.’ The concept is great and I can’t stop people from duplicating the process but the name gets used a lot to. I’m often sent screen shots by my friends and colleagues of other agencies doing exactly what I’m doing and using the same name too. Although this is frustrating, it’s also flattering. I have just had my trademark accepted now so I’m protected for copycats in the future.

I would highly recommend talking to an expert when creating your brand, many people discuss their new business name with friends, family and colleagues but this needs to be discussed with an expert who can get you off on the right foot and that starts with the name!If you have any questions about personal branding or want to come and say hi, you can find me at @LondonWebGirl.

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You can also find out more about Cheryl’s businesses on her websites:

londonwebgirl.com

www.website-in-a-day.co.uk

Lisa

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The “Brand of the Month” goes to…

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Each month I give my verdict on who has shown the world an interesting and distinctive brand. My latest Personal Brand of the Month goes to

Sir Ian McKellen

Here’s why…
Earlier this month at the National Theatre, I got to witness firsthand how remarkable this man is, both onstage and off. The performance that night was a culmination of a landmark tour in celebration of his 80th Birthday. His solo tour, Ian McKellen Onstage, crossed the country visiting over 80 venues, everywhere from Inverness to Southampton. Following this final performance (well, at least before its limited appearance in the West End!), the National Theatre hosted a birthday gala, during which McKellen personally made the rounds, thanking guests for joining him. Many performers might have skipped out early, heading home for a well-deserved rest after such an intense solo performance. But not McKellen. He stayed switched on and connected to his audience well into the night.

Sir Ian McKellen by photographer Patrick Hoelck

For me, the evening showcased just how strong and unique McKellen’s brand is. Here are some of the impressive attributes that emerged that night:

An undeniable passion

While the performance began with Gandalf (of course) — with a reading from The Lord of the Rings and an invited audience member wielding the wizard’s sword — it became clear very quickly that McKellen’s heart and soul lies in theatre. The first half of the show, peppered with anecdotes and re-enactments, is a heartfelt expression of the beginnings of this love affair.

His passion was most palpable in the second act, when McKellen asked us to shout out the names of Shakespeare’s plays and, in response, delivered an anecdote related to each one. McKellen, a true Shakespearean actor, truly shone during this challenge. The Guardian described his performance as “an evening of autobiography that is a love letter to theatre”, with Shakespeare getting the most mail.

From the Ian McKellen Onstage programme

A high Emotional Intelligence

Interpersonal connectedness is a hallmark of high Emotional Intelligence (EQ), and a powerful way of connecting with your audience is through story-telling. McKellen’s performance was just that: his story.  The evening was a beautifully acted autobiography, one that reflected the richness of his life.

McKellen started out by sharing his early fascination with theatre, encouraged by his parents, who took him on a family outing to Peter Pan at Manchester Opera House when he was three. His sister, who was an actor herself, took him to his first Shakespeare production. While sharing his story with us, McKellen would often dip into his onstage trunk, a treasure trove that contained props and memorabilia which he used to recreate old characters or share intimate memories with the audience. One of my favourites was a book of Shakespeare given to him as a child, signed by Grandma and Granddad McKellen, which he proudly shared with the audience. Other intimate moments were shared, such as waiting to come out to his step-mum until his late forties, only for her to reveal to him that she already knew.

The Olivier Theatre seats over 11,000 guests, however McKellen managed to create a very intimate experience for his audience. His voice bellowed to the back of the theatre, surely reaching everyone, and he even took a moment to address those in the upper circle. I’m fairly certain he made practically every person in that theatre feel a personal connection to him.  A big part of the night’s magic was in McKellen’s ability to regard the audience not as passive spectators, but as old friends; it’s almost as if you could imagine yourself sitting in his personal library or dressing room as he regaled you with his fascinating stories.

Even the programme to the performance (pictured above) was personal, a take home story of his life.

A warm authenticity

Very closely related to EQ, another unmistakable attribute that immediately struck me was his authenticity. He revealed all on that stage; scripted disclosures were matched with spontaneous ones. When he wasn’t re-enacting scenes from his past or dazzling us with Shakespere, he gave us the impression that there was little acting on that stage: what you see is what you get with McKellen.

A targeted activism and social responsibility

What’s most impressive here is that all the profits from each performance (including his fee) have been generously donated to each theatre’s charitable projects. Our tickets to the closing performance and gala, for example, enabled the National Theatre to work with even more schools and communities around the country.

In addition to supporting charities for the arts (with his solo show being one of his biggest charitable acts), McKellen makes it clear that his activism is targeted. On his website, he shares: “Since coming out in 1988, I’ve been asked, almost expected, to speak and write about gay issues. And I’ve been very happy to do so in London, Washington DC, Cape Town and on any number of Gay Pride Days everywhere. I have been reluctant to lobby on other issues I most care about – nuclear weapons (against), religion (atheist), capital punishment (anti), AIDS (fund-raiser) because I don’t want to be forever spouting, diluting the impact of addressing my most urgent concern: legal and social equality for gay people worldwide.”

McKellen’s BIrthday Gala at the National Theatre

An inspiration for younger generations

The first page of his programme is titled “80: So What?”.  Here he shares the mission of his current work: “to show that it is possible to work in the decade beyond three score years and ten, with energy and joy.”

Given all the ageism and stereotypes out there, I’m always grateful to discover someone who breaks the chronological mold. McKellen does this beautifully during his performance. At one point, our octogenarian recalls the 80-year-old butler he once played in Agatha Christie’s Black Coffee; he recreated this character for us, a creation of his younger self’s stereotype of an “old man”. Needless to say, the character’s fragility was in complete contrast to McKellen’s vitality.

Everything about McKellen on that stage spoke to his stamina, vibrancy and youthful character. Not only did he endure the heat in multiple layers of clothing (there was limited if any air-con in The Olivier during an unusually hot night) and perhaps a head cold (I’m speculating given his sniffles), he also executed the physical comedy in his performance with ease. And given his impeccable delivery of a vast range of Shakespeare, it’s also clear he’s as sharp as a knife.

In his programme, he shares some secrets behind his energy, such as twice-weekly Pilates classes at his local gym. But he confesses that doing 80+ one-night stands across four countries as the best exercise.  He also departs these words of wisdom: “If you are blessed with longevity, the best would be a life still active and meaningful”.

What an incredible inspiration and role-model for generations to come.

Lisa

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Behind the written word: Contemporary authors and their personal brands

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September. For many adults, the month is still associated with that “back to school” feeling. So what better time to continue our examination of literary brands? In July, we tapped into a “summer reading list” theme by visiting some classic literary brands. Last month, I posted a tribute after we lost author Toni Morrison, highlighting what made her such a strong personal brand.

Continuing with contemporary authors this month, I’ve chosen just a handful of those whose brand is expressed and differentiated through their writing. As outer branding is also an important part of the whole brand package, I also picked authors that are instantly recognisable to most, whether you’ve ever picked up one of their works or not.

Let’s pick up with Toni Morrison to celebrate our contemporary authors who have exceptional and enduring personal brands. Again, this is not an easy feat when your work is communicating through the written word!

Toni Morrison

In my post on Morrisson, I comment on how Morrison’s personal brand has in many ways come to represent the black American experience (particularly female), and her work is largely known for her honest examination of this experience. Throughout her novels, Morrison weaves in such cultural references as jazz, blues and folktale, threads that make up part of the rich tapestry of black America. She also challenges us to confront topics of slavery and racism from a very compassionate, personal level.

Black culture not only permeated her content but was also reflected in her style of writing. Morrison once spoke of developing “a way of writing that was irrevocably black”, because of “something intrinsic, indigenous, something in the way it was put together – the sentences, the structure, texture and tone”. Her poetic and mythic style are also signature marks of Morrison’s brand. She wrote fiercely, courageously, and with passion.

Morrison is credited for transforming what was possible for black writers in mid-century America. She was also a champion of free speech. You can read more about Morrison’s inspiring brand in my post here.

“If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.”
– Toni Morrison

Salman Rushdie

You just have to have a glimpse of Rushdie’s website to know he has a pretty fascinating and differentiated personal brand going on. The imagery – the colours, playfulness, magic and mystery – all speaks volumes to his unique brand. His outer branding also includes his own distinct image; the bald head, that salt and pepper beard, his narrow frame glasses are all unmistakable Rushdie.

Rushdie is a British-Indian novelist best known for the novels Midnight’s Children (1981) and The Satanic Verses (1988). Midnight’s Children received a Booker Prize in 1981, and in 2008, it was awarded the “Best of the Bookers,” acknowledging it as the best novel to have won a Booker Prize for Fiction in the award’s history. Throughout his career, Rushdie has a remarkable collection of honors and awards. In 2007, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

Then there’s the controversy behind his brand.

The Satanic Verses (1988), a novel steeped in magical realism, was inspired in part by the life of Muhammad. While it received several awards and international acclaim, it sparked outrage and condemnation from the Islamic world “for what was perceived to be its irreverent account of Muhammad”. The novel was banned in several countries with large Muslim populations, and in1989, the spiritual leader of Iran issued a fatwa for Rushdie’s execution. Rushdie was forced to live out the next several years under police protection until he issued a public apology in 1998.

Interestingly, while Rushdie became a target of extremists, the Muslim religion was very much a part of his upbringing. Alongside of religion, curiosity and openness were also very much part of his personal brand growing up. His grandfather was a devout Muslim, however he did not ascribe to extremism or intolerance, and this is reported to have greatly shaped the young Rushdie. By expressing his view of religion through his writing, Rushdie was also expressing a very personal aspect of his brand.

Rushdie has also maintained a strong political voice throughout his work. His brand has become synonymous with freedom of speech, as his works often tackle the topic of political turmoil, most recently, his view of the Trump era in The Gold House (2017). His fourteenth novel, Quichotte, is forthcoming from Random House this fall.

“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.” – Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie – Le Livre sur la Place 2018

Stephen King

Stephen King’s books have introduced many to the horror genre, and titles such as Carrie, The Shining, and Misery are household names. King has also stepped outside the genre of horror, such as with his books Stand by Me and The Shawshank Redemption. His work also spans science fiction and fantasy (where he first published under various pseudonyms), however his personal brand has become simultaneous with horror. He is one of the most successful horror authors of all time, rightfully earning the title of “The King of Horror”.

Perseverance and determination are defining features of King’s brand story. He started writing and submitting his stories at age 16; he hung each rejection letter on a nail on his wall, until eventually the pile became so heavy that the nail fell down! King’s novel Carrie was his fourth novel, but the first to be published. Initially he had become so discouraged while writing the story that he threw out the entire manuscript. Luckily, his wife fished it out of the bin and encouraged him to keep writing.

There’s also a socially responsible side to King’s brand, one that is literally “close to home”. In addition to donating several million per year to libraries, schools, and other organizations, King also chairs The Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation with his wife, which supports community-based initiatives in Maine, his place of birth.

A brilliant personal branding strategy, King has also made multiple appearances in film, mostly cameos in movies based on his books, such as the minister in Pet Semetary. He is no stranger to co-branding too, having written for The Ramones, and collaborating with the likes of John Cougar Mellencamp and Michael Jackson on musicals.

The Stephen King Brand has inspired many aspiring authors. He is known for his prolific writing, authoring 52 novels and around 200 short stories! Has holds the Guinness World Record for the most motion picture adaptations from a living author, and also holds the record for the most books on the New York Times Best Seller List at one time. Once a school teacher, King continues to be passionate about education. He is a champion of young writers and readers, and his strong personal brand is one that inspires many beyond the classroom.

“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” – Stephen King

J.K Rowling

Rowling is of course know her for the exceedingly popular Harry Potter book series and the series of films based on them. Whether you are a fan of her work or not, there’s little debate that she has built one strong personal brand for herself. Rowling also writes under the pen name of Robert Galbraith. Like Stephen King, she has separated her separate writing personalities so that fans known exactly what they are getting with a J.K. Rowling or Galbraith book.

Rowling has used her own life story to great effect in the creation of her personal brand. There was her backstory of a single mother on benefits writing novels in a steamy Edinburgh café, alongside of stories of her resilience and persistence after being turned down by twelve publishers before being accepted by Bloomsbury after the eight-year-old daughter of the chairman loved the book.

Rowling is also a shining example of socially responsible branding. Not only has she established two charities; the Volant Charitable Trust and Lumos, but she also wrote her three companion books to her Harry Potter series in support of charity: Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in support of Comic Relief; and The Tales of Beedle the Bard in support of her children’s charity, Lumos, which raised millions for the charity.

She is also very vocal on social media, not without its little spats. Rowling has become one of the most popular voices on Twitter, with nearly 15 million followers. Whether it’s shutting down trolls, sharing candid political commentary, or tweeting messages of hope, she shares a refreshingly authentic voice social media.

Overall, Rowling presents an authentic human brand who doesn’t hide behind publicists and glamour.

“I’ve got two daughters who will have to make their way in this skinny-obsessed world, and it worries me, because I don’t want them to be empty-headed, self-obsessed, emaciated clones; I’d rather they were independent, interesting, idealistic, kind, opinionated, original, funny – a thousand things, before ‘thin’. And frankly, I’d rather they didn’t give a gust of stinking chihuahua flatulence whether the woman standing next to them has fleshier knees than they do. Let my girls be Hermiones, rather than Pansy Parkinsons.”
― J.K. Rowling

Author J.K. Rowling reads from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone at the Easter Egg Roll at White House. Screenshot taken from official White House video.

Lisa

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The “Brand of the Month” goes to…

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In lieu of a typical “Brand of the Month”, I felt compelled to pay tribute to an extraordinary author we lost earlier this month.

Toni Morrison

Photo: Zareteman/Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain]

It’s hard to know exactly where to start this tribute to Toni Morrison, an author that has opened my eyes in a way that other authors just have not. Perhaps it’s down to Morrison’s strong brand, which is so very palpable in her work. Or the spellbinding magic she can cast over the reader. Probably both. Likely more.

Morrison’s personal brand has in many ways come to represent the black American experience (particularly female), and her work is largely known for her honest examination of this experience. Throughout her novels, Morrison weaves in such cultural references as jazz, blues and folktale, threads that make up part of the rich tapestry of black America. She also challenges us to confront topics of slavery and racism from a very compassionate, personal level.

Black culture not only permeated her content but was also reflected in her style of writing. Morrison once spoke of developing “a way of writing that was irrevocably black”, because of “something intrinsic, indigenous, something in the way it was put together – the sentences, the structure, texture and tone”.  Her poetic and mythic style are also signature marks of Morrison’s brand. She wrote fiercely, courageously, and with passion.

Related imageSome of her most notable work include Morrison’s first book, The Bluest Eye (1970), which explores white standards of beauty through the eyes of a victimized adolescent black girl who longs to have blue eyes; Song of Solomon (1977), told by a male narrator in search of his black identity, which brought Morrison to national attention; and Tar Baby (1981), which hits on conflicts of race, class, and sex.

Then of course there is Beloved (1987). My introduction to Morrison was by way of this Pulitzer Prize winning novel, based on the true story of a runaway slave who is haunted by the daughter she killed to save from a life of slavery. A film adaptation of Beloved, staring OprahWinfrey, was released in 1998 (a fun quirky fact: I was lucky enough to be cast as an extra for the film!).

Morrison is credited for transforming what was possible for black writers in mid-century America. In a recent tribute in The Guardian, Valerie Babb wrote:  “The nation should also thank her for being unapologetically black. Without anger, apology or explanation, she moved black life from the margins of American history to the center of stories that excavated American truths. In the process, she reshaped a literature, making it more reflective of the nation that generated it.”

Morrison was a literary activist and a champion of free speech. She spoke out against censorship following the banning one of her books at a Michigan high school in 2009. She was also the editor for Burn This Book (2009), a collection of essays on censorship. At a Free Speech Leadership Council, she emphasized her strong position in the fight against censorship:

“The thought that leads me to contemplate with dread the erasure of other voices, of unwritten novels, poems whispered or swallowed for fear of being overheard by the wrong people, outlawed languages flourishing underground, essayists’ questions challenging authority never being posed, unstaged plays, canceled films—that thought is a nightmare. As though a whole universe is being described in invisible ink.”

Goodbye to Toni Morrison, our great iconic American author. May she rest in power.

Lisa

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Why this author wants you to judge her book by its cover: The personal branding behind book iconography

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This summer, we’ve shined a light on some of the biggest literary brands and discovered just how often an author’s own personal brand is deeply embedded in their work. In this guest post, we see an extraordinary example of just that. Author Emma Champion shares the journey behind branding her trilogy, which was born out of a lifetime of various influences and inspiration. Here she talks about her  the collection of deeply personal experiences and the passion that shaped the iconography of her book Taiden’s Truth, and how it proved to be an intimate reflection of her own personal brand.

Here’s Emma:

In the corporate world, when applying for jobs, people are advised to think of themselves as a ‘brand’; to market themselves like a desirable product. Throughout my career, I’ve noticed that some people have even created their own, personal logos, which they put on their CVs.

Whilst, to some, this might seem like overkill, it’s actually rather clever. If your resumé is one of several on the consideration pile, you want to stand out amongst the standard, monochrome bullet-point lists. Just like any other piece of written text, you want to draw your reader in, spark interest, create intrigue. Like the cover of a book, it has to give an impression of the content, and appeal to its audience.

They do say never to judge a book by its cover, but we all do it. The cover depicts the brand of the book or book series.

Being a bit of a movie geek, I tend to think in terms of film. Movie franchises such as Harry Potter, The Twilight Saga and The Hunger Games all have their own unique visuals – familiar title fonts, characteristic colours and symbols. With just a passing glimpse, their identities are subliminal. Even if it’s in another language – you see it, you recognise it, and you know what it is.

That is what I set out to achieve with my own book series, The TAIDEN Trilogy. The cover is the first port of call in terms of book promotion. It’s the poster for your ‘movie’, illustrating the brand of your ‘franchise’. For those reasons, I wanted a symbol – a trademark – that people could see and instantly connect with. Additionally, I wanted it to come from a place deep within myself, just as the story itself had done. And so, I began to build my ‘brand’.

The Beatrix Potter Effect

I always had a clear picture in my head of what my novel was going to be. In terms of the story, sure – I’ve always known the story of the full trilogy (yes, Folks – I know how it ends); but also, in terms of designing the overall image of the Taiden books. I sought to conceive something that would be instantly recognisable at a glance. For that, I knew I had to come up with something enduring and iconic; but where does one start in conjuring such things?

First, I turned to my all-time literary heroine, Beatrix Potter. Okay, I don’t write illustrated, children’s story books. However, she and I share similar traits in terms of our creative vision. For example, when she was finally granted a publishing contract with Frederick Warne & Co. in 1902, she was adamant that the books be a particular size, and that the illustrations appear in black and white. She even mocked up a sample, hand-binding it to show them what she wanted.

Luckily for all of us, the Warnes managed to persuade Ms. Potter to have some of the pictures printed in colour. However, the point is, she had a distinct vision, not only of the story she wanted to tell, but of how the book would look on a shelf and feel in the little hands of her young readers.


 

 

 

 

 

 

Left: An early edition of Peter Rabbit Beatrix Potter had made before publication, Right: an antique edition of ‘Peter Rabbit’s Race Game’.

Potter also had a clear understanding of her ‘brand’ and how she wanted to promote it. She pioneered plush toys of her characters and illustrated board games that children could play based on her stories. That kind of merchandising was a very new concept in the early twentieth century. With a history in the field of marketing myself, I completely connect to Potter’s mindset. I, myself, had a Taiden T-shirt made as an experiment in merchandising.

Right: the first ever Peter Rabbit toy that Beatrix Potter commissioned.

Sources of Inspiration

Similar to Beatrix. I could see my book’s cover as clear as a photograph in my mind. I envisioned dark green, grained leather, with a symbol embossed into the surface, and bold, gold lettering. This was inspired by Beatrix Potter’s own journals (an homage, of sorts, to my hero), as well as a beloved copy of Black Beauty that my Dad bought me when I was twelve years old, on the day I met my new-born brother, Terrence, for the first time.

Left: Emma Champion’s personal copy of Beatrix Potter’s Journals. Right: Emma’s childhood copy of Black Beauty, that her father bought her when she was twelve.

I did appreciate that the likelihood of a real leather cover was perhaps a bit too ambitious for a first edition, not to mention a first-time author. So, I settled upon the idea of creating the illusion of embossed leather. If gold foil lettering was not possible, I’d opt for yellow instead. Compromise.

Taking a leaf out of Beatrix’s book, when I completed the first draft of my manuscript, I physically bound a hardcopy for myself as both an editing tool and an exercise in visualisation. I made a cover out of green, leather-effect cardboard, and used gold alphabet stickers to spell out the title. Seeing it as a real, physical entity made it real. If the Law of Attraction is to be believed, visualising your goals helps to manifest them. That moment was an important one. I will reveal why later.

Poster for The NeverEnding Story (1984)

In terms of imagery, I was inspired by fantasy movies from my childhood featuring old books that became catalysts for adventures in other worlds. Films such as The NeverEnding Story (1984), Labyrinth (1986) and The Princess Bride (1987). I wanted the Taiden books to have that same air of mystery and a suggestion of history about them.

Also, for the Taiden symbol, I always loved the logo for the musical Les Misérables– little Cosette, looking windswept and forlorn. That is a great example of a brand that needs no title to explain what it is. Like Cosette,
the character of Taiden is tinged with tragedy. The sombre nature of that famous illustration lends itself well to Taiden’s tone.

Related image

And then, I remembered: my drawings.

Signs from the Universe

Over a period of about 20 years overlapping the writing of Taiden, I had sketched the same girl, over and over. Whether aimlessly doodling or purposefully sitting down to make art, she emerged on the page, again and again. Calling her simply, ‘The Girl’, I thought nothing of it, outside of the fact that it was a bit weird. That was, until I came to really think about the cover of my book.

 

 

 

 

Various depictions of ‘The Girl’, drawn by Emma Champion between 1999 and 2019.

You see, the idea for the story of Taiden itself came from a dream. Not a daydream or a conscious goal – an actual, sleeping dream. So too had these drawings come to be – an automatic symptom of unconscious thought. In that sense, and, being as I’m quite spiritual by nature, I took the first as a call-to-action from the universe. Eventually, I realised that the second was the same, and related to the same subject. At last, I’d solved the mystery: The Girl was Taiden, and the drawings were another nudge from the ether to tell the story.

I looked back through my sketches, as I’d kept them all. Though most had been scribbled with biro on scraps of paper, one had been the first drawing I’d made using a digital drawing tablet ten years earlier. It had that ‘Cosette’ quality to it – windswept, sombre tragedy with a hint of mystery. I knew this was the one– the drawing I’d use as my logo – my brand.

 

Left: Emma Champion’s original drawing of ‘The Girl’, made in December 2007. Right: Emma Champion’s modified version of the drawing, created in August 2017.

I used design software to modify the drawing, extracting elements from it to produce a more abstract look; and then a series of effects to create the illusion of embossing. The result turned my drawing into this gnarled, edgy image that I immediately fell in love with.

Placed on top of a grained leather-style background, and with the addition of a bold, golden font inspired by some of my favourite book covers, I had the cover design completed. My brand was born out of a variety of sources that spanned my entire lifetime. It felt as though the stars had aligned; like the universe had put things in my path and sent me ideas my whole life that would lead to the manifestation of this story and its imagery.

As to the moment I bound the infamous ‘Working Copy’ of my manuscript, it proved the power of visualisation. The week before my book was published, I received a box of special-edition paperbacks, featuring gold foil lettering on the cover. Only twenty-five of them exist – the rest feature the font in dark-yellow. But, when you compare the book I bound with the first printed copies, they are eerily similar.

Left: The ‘Working’ Copy – a hand-bound version of the 1st draft manuscript made by Emma. 

Right: Emma holding up one of the 25 Special Edition Gold Foil editions of Taiden’s Truth in Paperback.

 

 

This is what happens when you take a thought and turn it into truth. Building a brand from the ground up is exactly that. That moment when it stops being a vision in your head and becomes something tangible you can see, and touch, is truly remarkable.

Summary

For all I know, at this early stage of publication, my book might fade into obscurity, fated only to be discovered by a handful of people. Or, it might prove to be incredibly popular. Who knows? All I am certain of, is that I was born to create it. I am filled with an overwhelming feeling of purpose, and the surest sense of self I have ever experienced. That is how I know I am on the right path for me. Something kept willing me to see this project through. It was the idea that never went away, that constantly called to me. My vision. My dream.

That is what every brand is – someone’s vision of the future; their ambition, their determination, and that feeling that if they don’t do it, they might burst, or something. Birthing a brand, when done from the heart, has a flavour of destiny to it. The look of the Taiden books is based on a collection of deeply-personal symbols of meaning from my own life. Look to your own story for inspiration, and let it whisper the answers to you. When you do, you might just realise that the solutions you’ve been seeking have been hiding in plain sight all along. Life leaves little clues for you to solve. Eventually, you figure out what it all means in the grand scheme.

That thing that lights up your soul – THAT’S your path. Your destiny. If you can dream it, you can do it. Take it from someone who knows.

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Follow The TAIDEN Trilogy on social media, including Facebook and Twitter.

Taiden’s Truth is out now and available from the following retailers: Amazon UKWaterstones and WH Smith

 

Lisa

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Behind the written word: A look at some of the most enduring personal brands of classic literature

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If you happen to follow this blog at all, you’ve probably noticed that many of the personal brands we feature here are faces from the world of TV, fashion and film. While we’ve touched upon literary brands in the past (my J.K. Rowling post, and more recently, a guest blog by writer Lucy Austin ), this summer we thought we would feature those authors that have exceptional and enduring personal brands – not an easy feat when your work is communicating through the written word!

Since there so are many extraordinary authors worthy of mention, we’ve only highlighted a select few here, spanning the genres of drama, comedy, fantasy, horror and romance. These are the authors who succinctly express their brand through their work, provoking that feeling of familiarity and anticipation when you pick up their book. Furthermore, as outer branding is also an important part of the whole brand package, these authors are instantly recognisable to most, whether you’ve ever picked up one of their works or not.

This month, we start with a nod to our classic (yet well preserved!) brands.

Photo: Joanna Malinowska, freestocks.org

Of course, we had to start with…

William Shakespeare

Shakespeare has to be one the very first authors with a strong personal brand. His distinct outer brand is recognisable everywhere: the pronounced forehead, the flowing locks and trademark Elizabethan ruff, often accompanied by his quill.  Interestingly, he was one of the first non-royals to appear on a British £20 note. Now that’s a strong brand!

19th century engraving of William Shakespeare. Photo: Public Domain

Shakespeare may not have been the only playwright and poet using iambic pentameter, but he is the author we most associate it with (and consequently. the one most likely to get pupils groaning). Shakespeare’s brand has been part expressed through sonnets, personal words of love dedicated first to a young man and then a mystery woman, “The Dark Lady”. However, he was also known for taking historical stories and tales and then weaving plays out their bare bones (certainly reflecting an “alchemist”  archetype side to his brand!). Whether it’s a comedy like Much Ado About Nothing or a tragedy like Macbeth or Hamlet, Shakespeare’s compelling brand lies in his words. We can watch King Lear in medieval costume, Victorian garb or modern-day dress, yet his captivating story doesn’t change; the power of Shakespeare’s language carries it through, often addressing the very existential nature of life itself:

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.” William Shakespeare, Macbeth


Jane Austen

Austen is also instantly recognisable by her period appearance, in her case the Regency look with pearls, demure lace neckline and often a mob cap.

Austen and her books were famed for their sharp wit, and characters like Mrs Bennett still make us laugh today. Her clever sense of humour was widely adored, and at its peak she parodied the new wave of gothic bodice rippers in Northanger Abbey, which has interestingly lasted longer than the tranche of books it pokes fun at.

But, scratch the surface and you will see that Austen’s subject is quite serious: the choices open to women at that time. One either had to marry for money and position, or for love, and run away to live in destitution.  It was a feminist statement in its own way, and possibly why the Suffragettes carried Jane Austen on their banners. Today, her image is more widely seen on the £10 note.

“Give a girl an education and introduce her properly into the world, and ten to one but she has the means of settling well, without further expense to anybody.” ― Jane Austen

In 2013, the Bank of England announced that Jane Austen would appear on its currency. She is the third woman in history, after Elizabeth Fry and Florence Nightingale, to appear on a British banknote.

Charles Dickens

Dickens, even in silhouette, can be instantly recognized as the epitome of the Victorian man with his smoking jacket and sometimes rather wild beard. Dickens has delighted many generations with his iconic characters such as Miss Haversham from Great Expectations, who keeps her house in the exact state it was the day she was jilted at the altar, and Ebeneezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol,  whose story has become part of the Christmas tradition itself.  Dickens also wove his own personal experiences into his books.  For David Copperfield, he adapted his experience as a twelve-year-old condemned to work in a London warehouse by his family’s near destitution.

While his memorable characters speak volumes to the creativity (and personal history) that propelled his brand, there is another, more humanitarian and socially responsible side to Dickens that gives his brand added depth.  It’s quite apparent that he was in tune to the societal issues of his time, bringing awareness to the abusive treatment of the poor in stories like Oliver Twist, the corruption of the law in Bleak House and the appalling factory conditions instigated by the industrial revolution in Hard Times.  He may make us smile, but he also makes us think.

“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.” – A tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens sitting at his writing desk. Photo: Public domain


Edgar Allan Poe

His name alone conjures up images of ravens, black cats and all things gothic. Our Master of the Macabre is considered one of the most important and influential American writers of the 19th century.  A masterful storyteller, Poe used psychological depth and symbolism to transform the genre of horror stories.  His chilling poem, The Raven (published in 1845 in the New York Evening Mirror) is considered among the best-known poems in American literature. Horror classics such as The Tell-Tale HeartThe Fall of the House of Usher and The Pit and the Pendulum further reveal the sheer talent and unique vision behind his brand.

In addition to capturing our imagination with evocative tales of horror, Poe is credited with inventing the modern detective story with The Murders in the Rue Morgue. His concept of deductive reasoning (termed by Poe “ratiocination”) inspired countless authors, most famously the creator of Sherlock Homes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He is also widely regarded as the architect of the modern short story, and an early pioneer in the genre of science fiction.

He also knew how to differentiate his name, an impressive branding move. The famous “Allan” wasn’t originally part of his name (after all, Edgar Poe would sound a bit too average!); he added the surname of his surrogate parents later in life.  Similar to his literature, many aspects of Poe’s life are shrouded in mystery, with fact and fiction having been blurred significantly since his death. Nearly two centuries after his death, the dark and fascinating mystery that defines his brand lives on in our collective imaginations.

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.” – Edgar Allan Poe

 

The Brontë sisters

I wanted to give a big nod to the Brontë sisters here, a fascinating example of co-branding!

The Brontës and their World, by Phyllis Bentley

The Brontë sisters were part of the most influential literary family in history. Charlotte, Emily and Anne, who all began to write during a very young age, are credited with radically reshaping the literary conventions of the Victorian era. Their novels explore topics of passion and vice that still resonate with us today.

Their writing was brilliantly used as a form of expression to share dimensions of their brand that weren’t considered socially acceptable in women of the day. Charlotte, for example, was described as small in stature and “could be dismissed as an unassuming country mouse”. Her writing, however, revealed a very different side to her brand, an underlying passion, boldness and ambition. The sisters’ pen names, Ellis, Acton and Currer Bell, were all initially male, a necessary strategy at the time that also created for a hugely dichotomous side to their personal brands.

Just a brief summary of the three sisters’ most notable work: Anne’s Agnes Grey and Charlotte’s Jane Eyre were published in 1847, with Jane Eyre becoming one of the best sellers that year. Anne’s second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Emily’s Wuthering Heights,  were both published in 1848. While The Tenant sold well at the time, Wuthering Heights did not. However, Emily’s novel went on to become a masterpiece, heavily influencing readers for generations to come, including singer songwriter Kate Bush, who wrote her hit song Wuthering Heights in 1977 and even named her house in England after the novel.

The Brontë home in a remote part of West Yorkshire, England remains hugely popular and gets thousands of visitors a year.

And last but not least, one of my personal favourites:

Oscar Wilde

The Quintessential dandy. Oscar Wilde in 1882. Photo: Shutterstock

The quintessential dandy, Wilde is hailed for his sharp wit, humor and flamboyant dress. He is also notorious for conviction for sexual indecency at the time, and has become a gay icon as well as a literary one. Originally from Dublin, Wilde adopted London as his home after studying at Oxford. A poet, journalist and author, Wilde is best remembered for his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray where his protagonist has a painting in the attic that keeps him young, and the play The Importance of Being Earnest, studied by British school children for generations. Wilde was known to be as witty a character as the ones in his writing; his unique style of writing brilliantly reflected his own unique personal brand.

At the height of his literary fame, Wilde was convicted of sexual indecency with men and sentenced to two years in prison, where he wrote De Profundis (Latin: “from the depths”), his famous letter to former lover Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas.

On his release, he left for Paris never to return, and died in poverty. Nevertheless, his great wit lives on, the image of the long-haired dandy, often in his suit, fur coat and with his walking stick, remains an instantly recognisable one today.

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” – Oscar Wilde

To me, this pithy little gem beautifully captures the importance of authenticity in personal branding. You’ll even find these words of Mr. Wilde on this very website!

Lisa

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From fiction to reality: How one writer learned to listen to (and live by) her authentic personal brand…and how you can too!

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This month’s post is truly an inspirational one; a story of how our guest writer learned to tune into a calling and listen to that voice of authenticity. This is no easy feat for many, as this voice is typically one that can beckon us but is often ignored, its showreel of ideas often immediately shelved, or dismissed entirely. This voice might even appear with a sidekick; a feeling that manifests as an urge or longing to do something that just feels more you. Listening to, and then acting on, that voice means having the courage to move outside of your comfort zone, with all the vulnerability and fear that this brings. Here, writer Lucy Austin shares how she took that brave step to align her work with her passion and values, and live her authentic personal brand.

Here’s Lucy…

 

Hello. In the future, you might read one of my books.

Unable to put it down, you’ll tell your friends about it, who’ll tell their friends, who’ll tell their friends. I become a bestseller. I’ve reached my highest potential. Thank you.

It sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? I’m not a critically and commercially successful writer, yet. I’m trying to make a name for myself, and if you’re reading this, I’ll chance that you are too. I’m an unpublished author who wants to go the ‘traditional’ route, and in writing this blog, I’m making another commitment to the future I want to create. I’m showing up and speaking my truth, though it’s not always easy.

It’s a value that the Golden Notebook and I share – living your authentic self/brand consistently. I harness the power of ‘living that’to not only help achieve goals like mine but harmonise my lifestyle too, though I didn’t always feel that way. For a good chunk of my life, I denied what made me happy, until I realised it wasn’t working for me. Though it’s not always convenient and it comes with its challenges, ‘living that’ ultimately empowers me in everything I do.

Challenges, hurdles and barriers, oh my!

One of those challenges – one of the biggest in fact – was my job. For most of my professional life, I’ve worked in PR, but I’d never ‘chosen’ it as a career. I’d always wanted to write; originally, I wanted to be a journalist, but let fear stand in my way. It took a long time to admit I wasn’t happy, and even longer to do something about it.

Around my thirtieth birthday, I finally found the courage to write my first book. It was awful – terrible! – but it taught me a lot and inspired me to get better. I read books on writing, undertook workshops here and there, and joined a writing group; I wrote in the evenings and weekends, punched words into my phone on the way to the office, and even in the gym. Reading and writing, writing and reading; on it went.

Writer Lucy Austin

Leaps of faith; heaps of (old) beliefs

On 1stJune 2018, the day before my thirty-fourth birthday, I took a big leap of faith and finished my ‘day job’ being a PR, to never going back. Armed with savings, rebates, and undertaking a month-long, part-time gig, I’ve managed for a little over twelve months to live a ‘writer’s life’ and help activate my future reality. It’s enabled me to finish the third and final edit of my book (that’s a separate blog in itself!), and as of November 2018, start submitting it to agents. I’ve also completed the first draft and edit of my second book.

Some might say I’m creating a ‘new identity’, though I feel like I’m living who I really am and have always been, but buried or forgot along the way. In reminding myself and breathing life into it, there was a lot that I needed to let go of – old beliefs and patterns which no longer served me and held me in a place that I had no desire to be. That took a lot of soul searching, being honest with myself, and digging deep.

A writer’s life: From fiction to reality

How I’ve been cultivating my future-reality:

  • Living congruently: I question anything which isn’t in alignment with the life I want to create – is this congruent with what I want? That can be the pinch – making decisions, acting on things from big to small that are consistently authentic to who you are and your bigger picture. It can be a small as following someone relevant on social media, to **real-life example** taking up a screenwriting course, so you’re best placed to adapt your manuscript in the future. I’m human and might not ‘get it right’ every time, but keeping one eye on my north star helps.
  • Manifesting with imagination:I don’t have a blueprint to how my vision will manifest itself, but I try to bring it into my consciousness consistently. That can include things like positive affirmations and visualisations – I’ve even drew a rough mock-up of my novel’s sleeve on my fridge! Anyone who appreciates the Law of Attraction understands the power and potential of thoughts and intention. I read books like Think and Grow Rich which retrospectively affirmed the steps I’d already taken, Ask and It Is Given and anything by Brené Brown, which helps foster ‘can do’ mindsets and different perspectives.
  • Leveraging ‘your tribe’: Having people around you who understand what you want out of life, and who tell you the truth/call you out on your shit, is essential. My best friend has also been working towards her highest potential goal, and her support has been invaluable because she really gets what I’m trying to do. I’ve drawn so much strength from friends and family who believe in my vision, and everyone I’ve told has been super supportive. I think when people see your passion and determination, carrying on despite fear or doubt, they find inspiration and encouragement for themselves too.
  • Sublime self-trust: Having faith in your goal takes courage, and to have courage, you need strength. Strength is will, perseverance, belief in self and something outside of you, and a sense of fearlessness. The foundational pillar to all of that is trust – sublime trust in yourself and the world, that if you’ve taken all the possible action and responsibility needed to make it happen, then it will happen.

Keep on, keeping on

Constantly having faith and trust can be hard. When I’ve got a knock-back from an agent – statistically it’s gonna happen, it’s a tough industry – I can’t help but question: am I supposed to be doing this? Can I really become a success? In those moments, I revert to the single most important truth that I know: I am a writer. I know I’m supposed to write. Believe me, if I didn’t need to, I wouldn’t! There are no guarantees in the publishing game, and financially, I need to support myself, so more decisions and actions will follow, but there’s no turning back. I’ll keep on moving forward, though that takes courage too.

So often in life, ‘being strong’ comes from situations that aren’t of our choosing; if someone we love falls ill, or something shocking happens out of the blue. Instead, I’ve chosen this pathway, and if you’re still reading, you may well have chosen yours too. This whole journey has been the most challenging but rewarding thing of my life so far. I don’t know about you, but I’ll continue choosing my pathway. I’ll keep on, keeping on; I’ll choose it again and again until, at some point in the future, you might read one of my books and won’t be able to put it down.

 

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You can read about Lucy’s about book and other writing on her website at Lucyaustin.comand also check out her ‘writer’ Instagram and twitter channels.

 

 

Lisa

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Celebs who “step it up”: My top socially responsible brands

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In lieu of a “Brand of the Month”, I thought I’d mix things up a bit and give a big nod to some of my all time favourite socially responsible personal brands.

Celebrities have known the power of stepping up and giving back for years. By adding a socially responsible dimension to their name, these celebs are certainly strengthening their personal brand, a win-win situation for all. It also works the other way, when already big personal brands put their weight behind causes, as we’ve recently seen with Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry and their planned TV series on mental health.

But it’s not just celebrities who can benefit from socially responsible branding, it can work for anyone. By looking to celebs who step it up and give back, we can learn a lot about building a strong and conscious brand.

As there’s so much to say about these socially engaged celebs, here’s just a taster on each to spark some inspiration:

Leonardo DiCaprio
A long-time environmental activist, DiCaprio  is a stellar example of someone who follows their passion and takes action. From his Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation to his “Before the Flood” documentary with National Geographic, he has used his Hollywood fame to address some of the most pressing environmental issues of our time. He has even personally presented on climate change to President Trump and his administration and further spoke out against Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord. Check out my post on DiCaprio here.

DiCaprio at a screening of his documentary film “Before the Flood” at the United Nations, 2016. Photo: Reuters

Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry
In a huge co-branding move, Prince Harry recently announced via Instagram his plans to co-create and co-produce a landmark TV series about mental health with Oprah Winfrey. The documentary series will be screened worldwide in 2020 on the Apple TV+ online platform. The mission of the series is to help end stigma over mental illness and “empower those who silently suffer” with mental health conditions to seek help.  You can read more about this co-brand here.

Photo: Getty

Emma Watson
The same year she graduated from University, Harry Potter actress Emma Watson was appointed a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, perhaps her most impressive role to date. She quickly became a strong voice for women’s rights and equality. In 2015, Watson launched the HeForShe campaign by giving a much-lauded speech that called for men to stand up for gender equality.  My blog on Watson can be found here.

Photo: Robin Marchant / Getty Images

Elizabeth Taylor
Elizabeth Taylor spoke out about AIDS in the early 1980s, at a time when there was still a lot of fear and stigma attached, and her outspokenness rocked a fair few boats. She was a founding member of the America Foundation for AIDS research (amfAR), co-branding with AIDS researcher Dr Matilde Krim, and went on to create the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. The force of her brand (and co-brand) helped to raise awareness at the time.

Elizabeth Taylor with Dr Matilda Krim Photo: amfAR

Stephen Fry
English actor and writer Stephen Fry is also cherished as the respected figurehead of non-profits such as Mind and The Terence Higgins Trust. He is known for personally mingling at charity events, rather than merely gracing the programme with his name. He is an advocate of LGBT rights. He also actively challenges mental health stigma by openly talking about his mental health, and has presented several documentaries, including Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive. Read more about Fry in my post.

Photo:  ntfu

Vivienne Westwood
Our “Queen of Punk”, Vivienne Westwood, is a long time campaigner for environmental causes, having previously protested against fracking in the Arctic, as well as driving a tank to David Cameron’s  home in Oxfordshire in a protest against fracking in the UK. She showcases her values on the catwalk, using her shows as a platform for her cultural and environmental activism. She has even joined forces with the UN on environmental and ethical trade projects. Check out my post on Westwood here.

Photo: Francois Mori/AP

Glenn Close
Close has been an active supporter for animal charities and causes such as gay marriage, women’s rights, and mental health. She co-founded Bring Change 2 Mind, a national campaign that aims to combat the stigma and provide support around mental illness.  In 2013 Close also paid a visit to the White House to urge passage of the Excellence in Mental-Health Act, to help strengthen the mental health-care system in the US, which was signed into law by President Obama the following year.  Read more about Close here.

Photo: Brigitte Lacombe

Angelina Jolie
Jolie is well known as a UN Ambassador and meets with refugees and victims of national disasters worldwide. In 2006 she founded the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation with Brad Pitt, which is dedicated to alleviating extreme rural poverty and protecting the environment and wildlife in Cambodia. Her foundation also supports humanitarian causes globally, including Doctors Without Borders and Global Action for Children.

Photo: Getty / Dan Kitwood

George Clooney
Another UN Ambassador, Clooney is known for his work in the Darfur region of the Sudan. He co-founded Not on Our Watch with Don Cheadle, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt to stop genocide in the region. He was even arrested in 2012 while taking part in a peaceful protest in the Sudanese embassy. He also co-founded The Clooney Foundation for Justice, campaigning for accountability for human rights abuses, with his wife Amal.

Photo:Alex Wong/Getty Images

Audrey Hepburn
One of the most iconic examples of a socially responsible personal brand has to be actress turned UN Ambassador Audrey Hepburn. Well-known for her love of and work with children, Hepburn is famous for saying “I speak for those children who cannot speak for themselves, children who have absolutely nothing but their courage and their smiles, their wits and their dreams.” In addition to the Andrey Hepburn Children’s Fund, she left us with a legacy of using your personal brand to do good.

Photo: Reddit

Do you have a socially responsible brand in mind that you’d like to see mentioned? Please share in the comments below…

Lisa

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