5 Lessons from the Oscars

Tonight a worldwide audience tunes in to watch “The Oscars.” Created in 1929, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seeks to recognize professional excellence in the motion picture industry. Many tune in to see if their favorite film wins, to see what their favorite star is wearing, or just to be a part of a global communal event and, well,  tweet about it.

But let’s face it, everyone is there to advance their own profession in one way or another, so let’s look at takeaways for your career.

People notice what you wear. Someone once sang, “It’s not who you are, it’s how you dress.”  That’s true, to some extent, at the Oscars—and to some extent, at the office. You hope to be judged for more, but your office doesn’t have to have a red carpet for you to know that no matter where you work your appearance is one of the first things people notice. While the cameras of the world may not be on you, everyone you interact with notes what you’re wearing. The plus side? It’s also one of the few things you alone can control. Remember the old adage…dress for the job you want. Look professional and prepared (Google “dress for success”).

Thank others. One of the most boring aspects of the awards show (besides, sometimes, the host) is the winner with the long, drawn out blustering acceptance speech.  No one climbs the precipice of success alone, so thanking others is admirable and appreciated. but a thank you shouldn’t sound obligatory it should be sincere. While you may not have access to a Sunday night primetime audience, you do have plenty of social media tools at your disposal. And while tweets and comments are a great way to say thanks, never underestimate the power of a personalized thank you note.

It’s not just about the stars. The base of the Oscar statuette has five spokes representing actors, directors, producers, writers and technicians. In addition to awards given for best actor, best director, and best music—often to names we  know—awards are given for sound mixing, costume design, and makeup—usually to names we don’t. Even if you’re not the “face” or “star” of your organization, know what it is you contribute and strive to be the best at it. Make yourself indispensable, and you’ll last longer than the pretty faces, anyway.

The best work isn’t always recognized. The Monday morning water cooler discussions center around who won, who didn’t win, and who should’ve won. But if there is one consensus about the Oscars, it’s that “the best” doesn’t always get the reward. You won’t always get that job, that promotion, or that recognition, no matter how deserved. There will always be lucky first-timers, irrational favorites, and sympathy winners. If you’ve ever felt jilted, take heart from actors such as Cary Grant who have never won an Oscar. If the reward you want is something controlled and bestowed by others, there’s no guarantee you’ll ever get it. The only solution is to put your focus on being the best performer you can be today, and keep your eye on tomorrow.

What’s your own “Oscar?” While you are sitting on your couch watching others have their big night, think about what you want to win and what would be a good representation of that success. It’s fun to see others celebrate their giddy success, but you deserve to celebrate yours, too. Oh, and when the day comes that you walk up to the podium, please remember the three classic rules of public speaking…Be sincere, be brief, and be seated. Thanks.

Business Lessons from “Pawn Stars”

Negotiation is a cornerstone of business, and like business, it’s an ancient art. There are many books on the subject, from Robert Cialdini’s Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion to Trump’s Art of the Deal. But while watching the History Channel I realized that some key business essentials can be gleaned from the show, “Pawn Stars.”

In the program, a Las Vegas pawn shop is run by a cast of colorful characters including a curmudgeonly “Old Man,” his affable son Rick, and his rebellious grandson “Big Hoss.” The show incorporates a blend of historical insight, humor, and good old fashioned business wheeling and dealing.

Here are some takeaways:

Start with a firm number, not a “hope.” If you are interested in selling something, and asked for your price, don’t say, “Well I was hoping to get $5,000.” No one cares what you are hoping for, and right then and there they know to stick a pin in your balloon of hope and hit you with a lower offer.

Know all you can about a situation. These days there’s no excuse not to run a search on the item you want to sell (or buy) and the people or organization you’ll be dealing with. I’m amazed to watch people walk into the pawn shop without knowing anything about what they want to sell or what it might be worth. P.T. Barnum had a word for people like that and how there’s one born every minute.

Don’t be wishy-washy. Often, sellers on the show say they are “looking to get $400 or $500” for their flea market find. If you say that then the $500 is immediately off the table because you’ve already negotiated with the other side by saying you’re open to $400. Don’t let the other guy help you decide where to start a deal.

Remove emotional attachment. Do you want to sell something or not? Once you have decided to sell then you have moved into the realm of a business transaction, and any sentimental value the item has to you will be irrelevant to the buyer. (“Well, you know, my grandmother used to keep this in her kitchen…”)

Always be ready to walk away from a deal. The Pawn Stars guys regularly turn down unique, cool items not because they don’t like them, but because acquiring them makes no business sense.

Know your business. Business owners can only stay in the black if they can readily sell an item for more than they bought it. If they can’t do this they can’t buy your item no matter what you think it’s worth. Whenever they deviate from their core business and think they can invest more money in an item to fix it up, they increase the risk of losing money.

Retain SMEs (Subject Matter Experts). For Rick and his crew, the job is to run a pawn shop, not to be be experts on esoteric obscure objects of historical interest. That’s why they are quick to call in experts on vintage guitars, toys, currency, or antique weapons. Build your own network of subject matter experts you can call on, legal, tax, sales, marketing, real estate.

Finally…Never underestimate the power of a good poker face.


How to Manage More Than One “Personal Brand” Online

Many of us know the importance of maintaining our own personal brands. From Twitter and Facebook, to business cards and personal brochures, we’ve heard the message.  Determine your brandand own the spaceas business today is all about niche marketing.

But what happens when there’s more to you than just one brand? What if you are a polished finance-type during the week but on Saturday nights front a hard rock band? Maybe you’re in marketing by day but a writer of trashy romance novels at night, or perhaps you pay the rent as a department manager while off hours auditioning for theater roles.

How should a person effectively manage more than one personal brand, or dual identity, without jeopardizing career prospects or compromising artistic pursuits? Let’s look at some real-world examples.

Be upfront

By day, Juliette Mutzke-Felippelli works in PR in Orange County, CA. But when the sun goes down she’s part of a husband-and-wife DJ team pumping out the hottest House and Techno mixes in clubs from Rio to New York. Mutzke-Felippelli believes the best bet is to be straight up about her two roles and show how they are not only compatible, but offer a strategic advantage.

“At my job interview I was asked to bring in press releases I’d written, so I showed examples from my DJ/music producing project,” Mutzke-Felippelli says. “I also got to show off my experience in designing and managing the social media profiles that I use.”

Mutzke-Felippelli has found a way to combine her two brands, and the skills she learns in one complement the other. “As a DJ in my free time I can practice the skills I’m learning in PR and social media to enhance exposure for my side project, which makes me better at what I do in all areas.”

Jeff Perry of Minneapolis-St. Paul is another believer in marketing the different facets of one’s life. He bills himself on Linkedin as a “Recruitment advertising executive by day and a professional, conservatory-trained musician by night.” Perry advises those with alter-egos to look for employers that are compatible with your artist brand and to showcase the advantages your talents bring to the table.

“I used to think a music degree and the skills that go with it—composition, performance, improvisation, arrangement, project management—was not valuable in the business world until I realized one thing: good companies don’t seem to complain when someone has imagination and knows how to apply it. For musicians and other artists this is second nature.”

Christine Tieri, Creative Director of Smith & Jones advertising in Boston, agrees. “For many years, we employed a graphic designer who was one of the most professional, talented and buttoned-down employees by day, but also played bass in a very successful hardcore band,” Tieri says. The same creativity, energy, and team work he brought to the band he also brought to the office.  “Our clients actually thought it was pretty cool he was on our staff, and they loved him.”

Keep it undercover

Not everyone wants their off-hours activities under the purview of their employer, however. Performers and writers have have long used a stage name or nom de plume to indulge the artist within and avoid potential reprisals.

Michael Lovas is a business consultant in Spokane, Washington. But when he’s not speaking or coaching professionals and entrepreneurs on building credibility and emotional intelligence, he plays drums in a blues/funk band where he’s known by the moniker “Psycho” to the musicians and bikers he relaxes with.

“I associate with some pretty strange looking people,” Lovas says. “It doesn’t serve anyone to co-mingle the identities. I had a stage name long before the internet, and as I bump into people who knew me back then, it’s always a surprise when I realize that don’t know what my real name is. I kind of like the anonymity.”

But what if you already use your given name in your weekend band but don’t want to have to water down your rocker persona for the corporate world?  Here’s a tip to promote your band while keeping yourself below the radar. “You can circumvent the search engines by creating a JPG art work incorporating the names of the band members,” says William Howard, a marketing and communications professional in Charlotte, NC.  “Make sure the name of the JPG file doesn’t include your name to keep it from being discovered in an image search.” People searching for the band will find it— and see your glam-rock self—but the site won’t come up when that finance recruiter searches your name on Monday.

Leverage the unusual

Vanessa Holmes, a London-based Brand Development Director, sees an alter-ego as a way of differentiating oneself in the marketplace. Holmes has a friend who is a dapper healthcare economist and college lecturer. However, in his off hours he communes with the hereafter through tarot card readings and séances. At first these identities appear to contradict one another. But Holmes realized economics and fortune telling both involve predicting human behavior based on making observations.  “Since this is his personal brand we are talking about, all aspects of his character seem equally important so we figured one area could potentially inform the other,” Holmes says.

They let the professor’s dual identity out of the bag and as it turned out, the professor’s undergraduate students liked the idea of attending a séance delivered in a more intellectual way, one that demystified illusions and explored their fascination with the unknown.  And what of his peers and business associates? “We found that a little bit of magic can certainly help liven up business meetings and economic presentations,” Holmes says.

If you can find compatible ideas that can guide both your day and evening jobs this can help make you a more interesting person in both endeavors and you will probably feel more satisfied not having to be at war with yourself.

“Authenticity and relevance are of the utmost importance in personal branding today,” Holmes says. “The trick is to find a way of communicating one’s personality, skills and interests in cohesive, well differentiated and meaningful ways.”

« Older Entries