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Rebranding Yourself

Rebranding Yourself

The Phoenix moment is just around the corner.

Much of my final year in high school was spent avoiding the jock bullies. Feeling gifted as a cartoonist, I volunteered to redraw the school’s mascot. I put days into sketches, thinking about the message, imagining how it would look on T-shirts, flyers, and draping from our gymnasium.

I didn’t have much to go on, the name itself was trite. After all, what can you do to make Pirates stand out from all the other menacing Pirates from history?

But I beavered away and eventually had a couple of favorites. I floated them to “the committee”, chaired by the head cheerleader, Sheri, the belle of our school, hailing from a prominent family. She loved it, or so she said. And I had the approval of the school’s administration.

I was celebrated all summer long as Sheri’s mom got me opportunities illustrating for events.

But the team’s next season was their worst. Their luck was gone, and instead of self-reflection, many muttered that the team logo had killed their mojo.

My dreams of being an action illustrator went poof: Hero to Zero, culminating in the reinstatement of the old emblem.

For my senior year, it was me, on my own, eating lunch. Nobody to take to the prom, and my locker was a magnet for vandalism. By the time I graduated, anywhere was better. I went abroad.

Art School and Work

Art school was different. But after a year of being prey, I chose to keep a low profile. I focused on my portfolio. I amassed some good work, and after a time, my mentors began recommending me for projects.

It took some coaxing, but I knew I could not depend on my parents and the bank forever. Eventually, I relented and found myself doing illustrations for web agencies.

One project after another, and one day, I was asked to submit ideas for a cartoon series that would support some training materials. The theme of that series, in what felt like a cruel twist of fate, involved menacing pirates.

The series’ mastermind was bubbling with enthusiasm. He clearly loved the double-entendre that the pirates presented vis-a-vis his messages. But I was flooded with feelings. I could literally taste the bile rising up from the pit of my stomach. There was the bitterness of betrayal and the lingering smell of burnt paper wafting out of my locker.

I was being asked about malevolent cartoon pirates and whether I had any good ideas.

Of course, my manager knew the whole story, but she said nothing. Instead, she watched me like a white-coated, clipboard-wielding clinician would observe a focus group.

It was at that moment that a clarion-like thought flashed through my mind. It was as if a huge hoarding had been erected across the street, hawking the coming circus.

The crux of the realization was, “You are not that scapegoat who somehow cut Samson’s hair. You are capable of this; otherwise, you would not be in the room. This is a gift. A chance to relive that sorry episode and come out the victor. Rebrand yourself, others have.”

The commission was straightforward enough. I had to show various ways that Pirates, their treasure, galleons, maps, and the like could be tailored to match the educational series. Given a set of stories and themes, assemble the artwork and logos, and write a short brief about myself.

I revisited the logos of my teens. Though it was amateur compared to what I could now draw, its general “look and feel” was good. Within a few days, I had mock-ups and could relate to all of the ideas requested by the prospective client.

As it was a competition, I made my presentation and was invited back to interview for the job. This was not going to be another commission but a position.

I was going to join a project not as a hired gun, but as a team member. And they were interviewing me because they wanted to go beyond the artwork, they wanted to be sure that by adding me to the team, I would fit their group dynamics.

Their project manager took the lead and was assessing my attitude, behavior, and energy. He was asking himself would I be a good fit.

In the interview, he asked about my inspiration for the illustration. Was I going to retell how that logo had led to my senior year torment? Did I even feel some personal connection to the main character?

I was silent.

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Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

The Lessons I Learned

Of the many lessons that the Pirate debacle had taught me years earlier, the biggest was never to answer something that carries emotional baggage immediately. Instead, I replied that it came from some place deep and that I wanted to think about an answer.

This turned out to be prescient. As it gave me another moment to communicate with them. An observation from experts on recruiting, Lensa, says you should follow up every interview. Doing such reminds them about you, especially if they have interviewed others afterward.

It also reinforces your commitment and offers you a chance to follow-up on what you realized after the interview might be other reasons to hire you.

For me working in advertising, you need to remember that, generally, marketing professionals know and live their theory. Even though I am not an ad-man, I know you need to apply the 4Ps. Hence, whatever you write demonstrates you understand the customer’s need, the product or service, and what you can deliver will fulfill expectations.

And above all, you are what you make yourself in the moment. Your brand is not what others thought of you ten years earlier, it is the message of what you can now bring to the party.

I did join their team. The pirate idea, though fun was eventually scotched for something a bit more sensible. I am now permanent and unlike my senior year, so far, my desk has not been scorched.

Image source: Image by JaymzArt from Pixabay

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