Live Blog: Branding Ain’t Just for Cattle: Set Yourself Apart from the Herd


Welcome to the BlogHer Food ’11 liveblog of the Branding Ain’t Just for Cattle: Set Yourself Apart from the Herd panel

On this panel: Casey Barber, Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan and Melissa Clark


Casey is moderating this panel.  The room is packed with people and electric with energy and conversation about the day, this panel and the Sweet Auburn excursion coming up later today.  Prior to the session beginning, the room is roaring!

CASEY: What we're going to be talking about is personal branding and career building.  Doing it in a natural and authentic way.  Telegraphing your brand.  Casey is the Editior of Good Food Stories.  Ready Made magazine contributer (and more).

SARA KATE: I'm a food writer in NYC.  Cookbook author, does freelance print writing, magazine work, focus now on the site and book work.

MELISSA: I'm a food columnist for the New York Times.  Cookbook author, writes cookbooks with chefs also.  Writes freelance articles and recipes.  Contributing autor for Guilt Taste.

CASEY: How would we all write about asparagus using our own branding voices?  <talks about how the other two panelists might use their own branding voices to discuss that topic>

CASEY: Did you sit down and write a mission statement when you started out? 'Cause I did.

SARA KATE: She brands herself differently than her Kitchen Apartment Therapy.  For me, I didn't write anything down, but when I chose this as my 2nd career, it was much more of a conscious choice.  I have a stategy.  I was doing this because I loved to write.  My mother was a food writer for the LA times.  I knew I wanted to write about cooking, not restaurants.  This was about 12 years ago.  At Apartment Therapy we started with a clear mission, to be of service in helping people improve their homes.  <She says they always go back to the question of are they being of service.>

MELISSA: When I started I had no consistant voice.  When I started out I adopted the voice of each magazine.  I wrote what the chefs had to say.  I could write this way/that way.  <Her own voice didn't come until she started working for the NY Times.  When she was asked to write a column where she had to get into the head of a cook who is hungry. >  It's fluid.  I feel like if you are true to yourself.  My voice has changed, my branding has changed.  I'm constantly asking myself that question and I don't have ONE answer.

CASEY:  You will find your voice. A blog is an evolving platform.  It doesn't have to be a ground breaking topic you're writing about.  It just need consistancy.  <You find your voice after keeping at it.>  Take a sheet of paper and write down a bunch of adjectives that you think describe you and your voice.  See how it changes...little back of the head reminders helps remind you of who you are.

<<QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE Would you suggest having other bloggers define your brand/regarding an adjective exercise?>>

MELISSA: Do it for yourself and have the people you trust the most free associate about you.  I think that would be so helpful.

<<QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE: What shouldn't I do in writing?>>

CASEY: Don't start every sentence with "I".  Be you, but write everything like you're writing for the NY Times.  <<You can write a mini snippet.>>

SARA KATE: If you're not authentically who you's not sustainable.  You do have to find your own voice.

MELISSA: I made my career writing with other voices.  You have to be aware of your audience.  <<later in conversation>> Flexibilty is a really big asset.  Trust yourself to make the right decision.  Go with your gut, if it doesn't feel right.

SARA KATE: With Apartment Therapy we made a conscious choice to build a team, to help the most people as possible.  We wanted to keep helping people, but reach a lot more.  That's how we reached a "not single persona" voice.  We like the voice to come more from the "we" instead of the "I".

CASEY mentions other food bloggers and how they changed their missions as their priorities shifted.

<<Question from audience: Talk about using your name with your brand.>>

CASEY: Your name is one of your strongest brands.  Some of my friends who have difficult to spell names do not want their name to be their brand.

SARA KATE: Ask yourself if you're a writer.  If you are, you have to use your name.  When I meet people at a conference and I want to meet "Coffee Cup Mistress", I struggle to come up with her name.

MELISSA: Wonders if she should change the name of her blog because it's easy and a common name, but thinks it's too late.

SARA KATE: If you haven't your name on Go Daddy.  Not just so you can use it, but so someone else won't.

<<Question from audience: At what point do you bring in an expert?>>

MELISSA: My publisher said, why don't you go to a branding expert?  They told me it cost $20,000...then I thought why don't I NOT got to a branding expert.  Now I think I'll hire a professional to help give my blog the look and feel of Melissa Clark.

SARA KATE: Don't do it until the reason to do it will pay for it. 

CASEY: Don't hire anyone until you can afford it and until you have something that's really promotable.  When you've got a book it's a great idea to bring in the big guns.  Your friends are a great focus group.  Bring someone in to make a clean site for you.

SARA KATE has 10 websites and 120 freelance paid writers all working for Apartment Therapy.

<<Audience member: I'm launcing a new site and asked my friends for their recommendations.  I tweeted to find inexpensive designers for branding.  Suggests going to Twitter for opinions and advice.>>

<<The panel discusses social media.>>

SARA KATE checks Twitter once a day.  Says none of the social media are going to make you or break you.

MELISSA loves checking Twitter.  Says she's a selfish Twitter user and tries to keep everything mostly about food, sometimes politics and she tweets articles she thinks are great.  "I don't tweet stuff unless I'm really into it."

SARA KATE: The important thing in terms of Twitter.  Don't just look at it as something to promote yourself.  Use it to learn from other people.  I use it to learn about people I might want to cover.

MELISSA: I use Twitter for article research.

<<QUESTION from Audience: As you tweet do you ever take a step back and say, what does it say about my brand?>>

MELISSA: never

SARA KATE: I'm a raging liberal. I made a committment from the beginning and thought about what does this say about me?  Says she's a more causual and looser on Twitter.

CASEY: Writes food related things on Twitter.  Wants to see on Twitter that people are doing more than just promoting their new post.

MELISSA: Twitter is where you have your cross between your brand and who you really are.

<<talking about positive and negative comments left on their blogs>>

SARA KATE: I take it all in stride.  It's a very intimate thing to comment on someone else work.  On Twitter it's more of a conversation with me.

MELISSA: Whenever I blog on NY Times I get the majority of the feedback.  When people are commenting on the Times brand, they don't think I'm a person.  When I do a video, the comments are different.  It's like you relate to a person different than you relate to a big brand. 

SARA KATE: At Apartment Therapy, people do send emails.  When Sara Kate responds she says people are surprised that she reponds.

<<Audience question:  Where do you to draw the line about what you share about yourself.  Showing who you are without exposing yourself.>>

MELISSA: Says she thinks about who will be reading, Mother, editior, husband's boss, etc.

SARA KATE: You have to know your threshold.

MELISSA: You have to know where your TMI line is.

CASEY: Final words?

SARA KATE:  Authenticity.  If you can't be authentic doing this, then maybe it's not the job for you.  I'm such a bad actor, I can't fake things very well.  Come from that place being authentic.  Think about your brand from today on.

MELISSA:  Don't think about your brand at all, just post as much as you can, write, learn your craft.  As you grow ... just keep doing what you love to do.  Don't worry about your brand so much.  Your brand will come.  Focus on your work.

CASEY: Be mindful, don't over think it.  Don't freak out.  Keep thinking about who you're writing for when you're writing.