Personal PR is Like Flossing

A Chat with Media Maven Lucy Werner

Let’s be honest: “personal branding” has become a cringe-worthy buzzword many people would rather avoid. It conjures images of self-obsessed influencers and slick sales tactics, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of those who value authenticity and substance over shallow self-promotion.

So, why does it make us squirm? The problem lies not in the practice itself but in the baggage the term has picked up along the way.

In my recent chat with media maven and kindred spirit Lucy Werner, whose popular Substack newsletter, Hype Yourself, I regularly devour, we dive headfirst into this mess. She’s a whizz and someone you should follow, too.

In case you’re not already intrigued, here’s a word about Lucy: She’s the founder of HypeYourself.com, an education platform for building your brand. She’s the author of two bestselling books, Hype Yourself and Brand Yourself, and has been featured in the Alt Marketing Power 100The Dots Rising Stars, and Start-Up Magazine’s Female Founders to Watch.

I started out by asking her about something she said in a recent post: “People don’t choose you on price; they choose you for you. The best thing you can do is be clear about who you are and what you are for.”

Lucy: I have a mantra called ‘show a bit of ankle.’ People hear PR or personal brands, and they think they sound icky. When really, it’s just about showing a pinch of personality. The reality is that the only thing that can separate your work from someone else is you. This means that you need to be memorable. You can do this by being combative (a winning PR approach but not necessarily an easy life) OR sharing stories. Make yourself relatable, and you will be remembered.

Me: Why is the word “branding” such a loaded concept? Has the word itself lost its meaning and value? Do we need to redefine what we mean by it and come up with another term?

Lucy: The problem with PR, advertising, marketing, and branding is that it used to be run by large agencies behind closed doors, and now we have internet pros regurgitating a lot of old rubbish under the label of expert. I don’t think it needs to be redefined, I just think there is a lot of education needed in that space. For me, dispelling myths is a large part of my content strategy.

Me: What does ‘showing a bit more ankle’ actually mean?

Lucy: Instead of only discussing your actual work or expertise, what fun bits interest you that you can talk about? What do you do in your spare time? Who is your favorite artist right now? How do you fill up your creative cup?

Me: What’s the difference between personal PR and personal branding? Where do they intersect?

Lucy: To me, they are the same. Today, everyone has a personal brand. The difference is whether or not you choose to manage it. You can have the greatest personal brand, but it’s wasted if you don’t talk about it.

Me: Why do you think so many people are allergic to the idea of promotingthemselves? Is this particularly difficult for women?

Lucy: I’ve polled over 1,000 individuals who say it is confidence, not knowing what to say, lack of time, imposter syndrome.

I do find it a bit bonkers. At the end of the day, you can have the best product in the world, but if you don’t talk about it, how can you expect to make sales? We don’t have budgets for global advertising campaigns. But we do have something really unique – which is ourselves. Unlike big business, we can be agile, personable, and reactive. The world needs our work. But if we don’t tell them what it is, how are they supposed to know?

Me: You have a great analogy — that personal PR is like flossing — we don’t like it but know we have to. I would add to this that promotion, like flossing, is not a once-and-done. If you don’t do it religiously, it won’t work. 

Lucy: Ha, actually, that came from Daisy Buchanan. I DON’T want it to be like flossing. Who wants to floss? Nobody. I want to make it fun.

I would say find a way that feels good to you. Do you like writing? Write for others? Do you like speaking? Do more podcasts and public speaking? Take small, little steps each day: real-life or online coffees, guest pitches, and resharing others’ work. Everything we do that affects our relationship with the public is Public Relations.

Thanks, Lucy!