What’s Your Personal Brand?

November 29, 2010 § 2 Comments

taken by me during a trip to hollywood. This i...

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I have been thinking a lot about brands professionally and on a personal level over the last few months.

As Manager of Marketing and Communications with the City of Grande Prairie, I am leading the initiative that will give our community an official brand for the first time ever early in 2011.  A brand is not to be confused with a logo and slogan. These are the visual identity elements that represent the brand.

A brand is what people say about you as an organization, community or individual.

A consultant determined that Grande Prairie has an innovative culture. This was supported in October when the Canadian Federation of Independent Business declared Grande Prairie to be the most entrepreneurial community in the country. In 2009, we were Number 2.  Our community also has a significant number of patents for our population. The ‘can-do’ spirit is pervasive in Grande Prairie.

A brand is something that is unique and enduring. Edmonton calling itself the City of Champions does not fit the current reality.

Likely as a result of my work with the City, I began contemplating the whole realm of personal brands.

This past week, the professional hockey world lost Pat Burns, a well-regarded former coach, to cancer.

Resoundingly, he was known as a hard-nosed but fair coach with a heart of gold. He had a reputation for building winning teams wherever he went and his three coach of the year awards – with Montreal, Toronto and Boston – proved that out. Burns was the first NHL coach to accomplish that feat. He also was a Stanley Cup winner with New Jersey.

His toughness carried over to his personal life – his latest bout with cancer was his third. He had beat colon and liver cancer but when the disease spread to his lungs, it was fatal.

I am not sure what Pat Burns would have thought about his own personal brand.

“For those who know me well, I’ve never backed down from any fight, and I’m not going to back down from this one,” he said after first learning he had the dreaded disease.

If anyone pitied him, Burns had this to say after it was determined his cancer had reached a terminal stage: “As for my career, I always said to my kids, ‘you don’t cry because it’s over, you’re happy because it happened.’ That’s the main thing. I’m happy it happened.”

Ironically, in the same week as Burns passed away, Tiger Woods was coming up to the year since he crashed his Escalade outside his home, opening up the floodgate of events that would reveal his repeated infidelity and end his marriage.

We were hearing how Woods is happier than ever, thanks to his two children. I saw in the media how he is said to love activities like bathing them and making macaroni and cheese.

What is the legendary golfer’s personal brand? I don’t think using his kids for PR will help him rehabilitate his image.

Perception becomes reality and it will take a long time for people to believe that Tiger is truly a great family guy. Whether he is or is not is none of my business. All I am saying is that once your brand is something you don’t want, it is difficult to change.

Similarly, if Britney Spears suddenly adopted a girl-next-door image, how seriously would she be taken?

On the other hand, Toyota has suffered corporate challenges over malfunctioning brakes and gas pedals in recent years, yet I don’t know a Toyota owner or former purchaser who wouldn’t buy a vehicle from the automaker. I almost did recently.

That goes to show that if you have managed your brand well over time, particularly as a corporate entity, people are more likely to be prepared to stand by you.

On a personal level, I think of myself as a hard-working, fun-loving and caring individual who would do anything for family and friends. If people don’t perceive those characteristics to be true, then that’s not my personal brand.

What image do you think you portray? What is your personal brand? Are they the same?

I leave you with this quote from Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: “Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is enlightenment.”

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Reconnecting

November 15, 2010 § 1 Comment

Nodal Relationship

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I grew up in a dysfunctional family where I was disconnected with many uncles, aunts, cousins and second cousins. That was, in addition, to the internal strife.

Since becoming an adult, I’ve always found that my better friends became closer than family. I never really made an effort to reconnect with any relatives, located mostly in B.C. and Alberta and the Western United States.

However, about five years ago, I made an exception to my rule. I followed my curiosity and, this summer, brought my sleuthing on an impromptu family search to a happy conclusion. No sweat for a former newspaper reporter. Ironically, it is Joyce who is the genealogist in the family.

It all started when I Googled myself. I do this every once in a while to see how articles or information containing my name appear on the World Wide Web since I am routinely quoted in the media. Also, there is a David Olinger at the Denver Post. I have never connected with him, but since he’s a journalist, I like to follow the trail of the scribe with the same name.

As I was scrolling down through the entries on this one occasion, I came across the name Kelley Olinger in Victoria, B.C. I was intrigued by this name since there are many Olingers in Southern B.C., particularly the Okanagan. However I couldn’t remember seeing the name Kelley.

So, I dug a little deeper and discovered that Kelley is a real estate agent in Victoria. I sent a note via email just to see if she could be part of my extended clan, particularly in Kelowna.

Sure enough, she is Peter Olinger’s daughter.

Kelley and I emailed back and forth several times and later connected via Facebook. Then when Joyce, Peter (our son) and I moved to Grande Prairie in 2007, there was always a greater chance we would get to the West Coast in the not-too-distant future. Kelley long ago suggested that if we ever got over to the Island, we should look her up.

So, when we knew would be going to Vancouver Island in August, we followed up on that invitation. We met for a lovely lunch in Victoria.

It was during that encounter that Kelley reminded me that she had located her father’s birth mother through Facebook a couple of years ago.

As a result, Kelley facilitated a reunion in Edmonton and the families continue to correspond. It also closed chapters for both mother and son. As well, Kelley now has more family background for medical purposes.

It was a terrific story that would never have been possible without technology. In fact, my connection with Kelley would likely not have occurred without Google and my curiosity about my own name.

I have no idea what prompted me to reach out and enquire specifically as to Kelley’s connection with me. God knows, there are closer relatives than a second cousin I could have tracked down. Family dysfunction does that to you. Someone has to make the first move.

It just seemed right at the time. I am glad I did. Kelley is, too. After our visit, she offered to be our tour guide if we returned to Vancouver via Victoria. With balmy conditions in Parksville, however, we stayed extra time there and returned to the mainland via Nanaimo.

Next time, Second Cuz!

Making connections with long-lost family is a tricky business. Certainly, it was a lot more challenging for Kelley to connect her father with his birth mother. There is always the fear that they don’t care to be reunited. In my case, Kelley had never heard of me until consulting with her parents when I first contacted her. I could have been some wacko.

Having gone through the experience and hearing the story of Kelley’s family, I would certainly encourage anyone with the urge to reconnect to long-lost relatives to do so. Sure, you might get turned away. But looking at the cup half-full, you are more likely to be opening up a whole new world to yourself.

Go ahead, hop on the phone or get typing!

Home is Where You Hang Your Hat

November 3, 2010 § 4 Comments

IMG My Hat

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In January 2009, Bruce Springsteen released an uplifting song called Working on a Dream. I thought of it recently as I reached another milestone on my own wish list – to travel to every part of Canada.

I am getting there but there is much more to see and do in this vast land. After all, it is the second largest country in the world. There is no shortage of diversity from sea to sea to sea!

You could fit the United Kingdom into Canada almost 40 times!  There are more than 100 languages spoken here.

I’ve travelled to six provinces, and lived in three, but have not ventured east of Quebec.  I had yet to find my way north of the 60th parallel until just recently.

Thanks to having the opportunity to attend Prospects North, a business and trade conference, on behalf of the City of Grande Prairie, I travelled to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories in mid October. It was a wonderful experience though there was precious little time to explore as much as Brian Glavin, our Economic Development Officer, and I would’ve liked .

Still, Yellowknife reminded me in ways of Grande Prairie in that it has the bustle associated with a regional service centre and seems larger than it really is. Did you know that Yellowknife, with a population of 20,000, is the only city in the Northwest Territories?

I also couldn’t help but think of Northern Ontario and its rocky terrain and lakes.
Yellowknife is known as the Diamond Capital of North America.

I was taken by the warmth and friendliness of the locals and the sense of contentment people had living there and in other northern communities.

As with Grande Prairie, many residents hadn’t intended on staying long upon arrival in Yellowknife or Whitehorse, Yukon, but have become attached to these places.

Actually, 2010 has been a year of rediscovering old favourites and exploring new destinations.
It all started in April when I attended the Alberta Municipal Communicators’ Group meeting in High River, where I had never visited. It is located just south of Calgary.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark hails from the town of 11,000.  W.O. Mitchell, author of Who Has Seen the Wind? and other renowned Canadian literary gems also called the town home.

Joyce accompanied me on the trip and we enjoyed wonderful hospitality, including a recommendation we stay an extra day and hang out for the evening at Carlson’s on McLeod, a well-known local watering hole and entertainment spot.

That was well worth it.

We got to hear Bruce Innes of Original Caste fame play a variety of folk, blues and jazz tunes with support from local guitarist Julian Kerr. The Original Caste is known for two hits – One Tin Soldier and Mr. Monday.

The next day, it was off to Canmore to visit my brother, Bob, and family.

I’m always up for a suggestion for the road less travelled. Several people recommended we take the back roads through some lovely, breathtaking, rolling terrain.

So, off we went through Black Diamond, Bragg Creek and other small towns and villages surrounded by wide open spaces. I can see why artisans of all types are inspired and thrive in places like this.
Joyce had not been to Canmore in many years and it was an opportunity for us to enjoy the mountains on the way home via the Icefield Parkway, Jasper and Grande Cache.

In June, I attended the Canadian Public Relations Society Conference in Regina. I had never stopped in Saskatchewan’s capital on my way back and forth across the country.

On my way to the hotel on the day the event started, I couldn’t help but notice the legendary crazy Roughrider fans getting all whooped up. It was an exhibition game that afternoon. I can only imagine what it would be like during the regular season.

During the conference, I enjoyed a visit to the RCMP headquarters and was also pleased to see how the former train station had been transformed into the casino.

In August, we had a chance to visit Richmond, B.C., where I attended college. Seattle, Washington was new to me and Parksville, B.C., which is one of our favourite vacation destinations of all time.

Not far away is Englishman River Falls ↼a fabulous provincial campground where we stayed several days on our last trip to Vancouver Island, 23 years ago. This was far too long an absence, particularly, for people who had once talked about retiring to Vancouver Island.

We delighted in taking photos along the river and the many other spots for photo ops within the park ⇀only this time, they were all digital images, on Joyce’s camera and my Blackberry.
Next June, the Canadian Public Relations Society Conference is in Saint John, New Brunswick.
That will be my first foray into the East Coast.

My brother-in-law, Dave, has taught at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton for many years and yet we never made it there while living in Ontario for 20 years. We will make it there faster by living in Alberta!

We plan to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary while there.

When I reflect on these travels, I can’t help be struck by how different people view the country. Many will wonder how others would find themselves staying in places like Yellowknife, Whitehorse, Grande Prairie and other communities away from the bright lights and action.

The fact is, though, home is where you hang your hat. What attracts residents of Yellowknife may not appeal to those in Edmonton. Some will be content in Alberta’s capital city but not in Toronto.

I am eager to continue exploring my homeland. It really does have something for everyone. Should you be looking in from another country, come see what I mean.

If you are in Canada, join me in celebrating what we have!

Where Am I?

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