In my early 20s, my first job after graduating from University was becoming a Musician in the Australian Army – it was a VERY interesting chapter in my life. After two years as a Musician, I had the chance to unofficially move to the Defence Public Relations Department – an opportunity I snapped up and from which I’ve never looked back. During that time I also enrolled in a Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) public relations certificate program, where I was able to learn the fundamental principles of PR, as opposed to operating from my gut – which is what I’d done previously. Both experiences set me up and have shaped my career for the last 20 or so years.
I don’t think there’s a better example of authenticity today than Lady Gaga – of course, many will disagree with that!
During the PR course at RMIT – being run for the first time – the lecturer asked me to write an article for RMIT’s student magazine, providing feedback on the course. I was thrilled to be asked and eagerly put together an article for the magazine. As I was young and new to the game, I decided to ask a Defence PR colleague (and former journalist) to look over my article, because I just didn’t have enough confidence in myself back then. My friend made significant changes to the article, and what I submitted to RMIT was not my work.
The lecturer – who I got on with exceptionally well – was disappointed. I could see it on her face, and while she never said anything to me, I learnt a very important lesson. She asked me to write the article, not because she liked me, but because she liked my style, and she wanted this article to be from me and by me. As a result, I have never let anyone else edit my work into an unrecognizable style again.
A few years later I inherited as a direct report “the troubled child” at a PR firm in London. This guy was on final warning, and basically the message was clear – get him into shape or he’s gone. It took me no time at all to realise this guy was awesome and we worked together very happily for quite a few years and remain in touch to this day. I couldn’t work out what the problem was (apart from him being a pain in my arse sometimes J), until he started sending client emails to me to review before sending them out. I’d read them, add a comma here or there and sent them back to him – I just figured that was how it was done in my new company.
He finally said to me: “don’t you want to change it more?”
To which I replied why would I? It’s not how I’d write it, but you’ve got the basic point across, said what needs to be said, so just pay attention to the details and get it out the door. Apparently his prior boss had rewritten every word he wrote. How can someone grow and gain confidence if you do that to them? This guy flourished from there, and not because I’m a super boss, but because I created the space for him to find his own voice.
In this new world of information and content marketing, being authentic has NEVER been more important. You’ve got to find your own voice and share it with the world in an appropriate way that gains maximum results for you or your business. You can’t be someone you’re not. You can’t speak in your boss’s voice. You can’t write or communicate in any other way than what is true for you. If you try to be someone else, you will not come across as authentic – and this has never been more important than it is today. Authenticity is what determines success or failure, because your target audience is not stupid.
Sure you can bring in the key messages your company wants to get across. But when you create and share information, you need to integrate everything you know and understand, then bring it forth from the core of your true, authentic self. Do you know who you are and what you want to say? Then say it. Do you think you need to temper yourself? Get advice from people who KNOW you. And of course always ask your boss if you’re unsure – because you don’t want to be one of those examples of a major faux pas in social media-land. However, the message remains – don’t let anyone change your communication into a style that is not you. Good judgement is vital, but so is being true to yourself.
I was very lucky to get this lesson early on in my career, and for some reason I started pondering it today – I think it was a thought unknowingly inspired by my friend Jenny McDonald? I know it’s not easy in the junior ranks expressing your true self – in fact, sometimes it can feel very alone being authentic. But if you want to get ahead and win in this new world of communication, you’ve got to dig deep, believe in yourself, and find it. In fact, this is true for life, full stop.
Sometimes the road of authenticity gets bumpy – because it challenges people who are not true – but at least you can sit back and say I was true to myself – something not too many people can say at the end of their careers I assure you.
Anyone else get any good early career lessons they’d like to share relevant to business communication?
Good luck and be authentic!