SheSays Chicago Event Recap: Personal Branding


“I heard you are creative. How do you open a wine bottle without a corkscrew?” I asked.

“With a pen and a boot, but it’s not easy,” she assured.

Mo was her name and since my middle name is Jo, we became MoJo, what I would like to call our combined personal brand for the evening.

It was cold. Go down the alley and make a left at the garbage can, and then you see the building. It’s big. It feels like the meeting location for SheSays Chicago, a local chapter for professional women in marketing and creative fields. You are further reassured by the group of fashionable women surrounding the call box. Follow the posse wearing variations of black riding boots to the second floor.

Amanda Elliott and Monica Komperda at SheSays networking event
Amanda Elliott and Monica Komperda at SheSays Chicago’s networking event.

We signed in and picked up our yellow worksheets, which included three boxes: three things I want to be known for, tools to remember, and additional notes.

After a solid hour of networking, the cacophony subsided and you could finally hear the song “Looking for Trouble” in the background. We gathered our attention to curator, Jen Lemerand(@shesayschicago) and the panelists.

This evening we were discussing personal branding. As always, the panelists were all successful and happy professionals, who offered insightful tips and stories from their own success and failures. The panelists included: Founder and CEO of SOCIALDEVIANT, Marc Landsberg (@marclandsberg), Creative Owner of Appleavocado and Digital Art Director at SOCIALDEVIANT, Elisha-Rio Apilado (@erioapilado), Assistant Vice President at The Creative Group, Angela Vitzthum (@AngelaVitzthum), and Writer and Blogger, Nikki Carpenter (@Nikkiandthecity).

Below mirrors the Q&A flow from the event.

Why do you need a personal brand?

This is a valid question.

“What are you better at than anyone else in the world?” Answer this question, and Marc calls this “the gooey center of your personal brand”.

The recruiter in the room, Angela, assured that if you are culturally a better fit, “than you’re gonna be a better hire”.

Nikki, another panelist, emphasized the importance of personal branding. She was unhappy with her job and would focus her energy on her blog. When potential clients asked her, “Who do I write for?”, she replied “I said, ‘I write for myself’.” She built a business from her personal brand. Her portfolio includes bylines in Huffington Post, ESSENCE, and JET.

We were down one question and this evening’s host, Marc chimed in, “Feel free to get a lot more drunk, the more your drink, the smarter we sound.” Jen looked to the people at the bar and joked, “Can you do rounds?”

A personal brand is a clean slate, added audience member, Mig Reyes (@migreyes) from Basecamp, “It’s not about inventing a person, it’s about a persona. We want to know if we can sit next to you for 8 hours a day.”

“A brand is what it does, not what it says,” said Marc “Show, don’t tell—show people that you are humorous or funny. In this world you have the opportunity to express yourself like never before.”

What defines what you’re good at—your super power?

Marc offered a different perspective, “It doesn’t have to be unique,” he offered, “It has to be true. Start there.”

Certain skill sets are universal and transferable. In a later conversation, Marc disclosed that top skills that he looks for in a new hire are “curiosity, problem solving, and the ability to handle ambiguity.”

Finding the right context for your super power is just as important as naming your super power. Other panelists, like Angela noticed that she was always on time, but also noticed that she’s not good with directions.

Marc noted, “You have to end up at the place that sees that [your super power] as a super power.”

To clarify, how do you get to that “aha” moment?

Nikki reflects on the quote, “If you look at your history, you’ll see pieces of your destiny.”

Marc, for instance was always leading clubs in high school and college. His resume showed that he was a leader.

Chasing Passion: How to

Saadel Taylor, Photographer and Designer, attendee at SheSays Chicago.
Saade Taylor, Photographer and Designer, and friend, Anthony Johnson attendees at SheSays Chicago.

An audience member, Kelly Simos, shared that she was miserable at work. She followed her passion and now has her own photography company, Kelly Simos Photography.

Persistence: How to Get a Word in

Audience member, Mig said that talking to a hiring manager is like dating. “We want to want you, but make us feel wanted.”

Another audience member added that you have to take initiative and follow people on Twitter and add them on LinkedIn and quite frankly, “bug the crap out of that person,” adding that it stands out because “people don’t have that tenacity.”

Your effort is not overlooked when you have done your research, found the right context and recipient, and apply the message repeatedly. The general consensus is that effort goes a long way.

What is your value?

An audience member, Anuli Akanegbu(@akaanuli_tweets) from Edelman, suggested composing a list of attributes, which are value-based. Everything that Anuli spends her time on has to align with the list. She consults it periodically to note her values.

Marc offered, “The world is full of generalists,” noting that most CEOs come from a background in specialization like accounting.

“Try to be bloody good at one thing.”

Utopia: Still Looking for

“Jobs don’t make you happy or sad,” Marc said, “You make yourself happy or sad.”

Panelist and recruiter, Angela, grounded the conversation and our thoughts, ” I would love to make six figures and work from home two days a week,” she said, but noted that we have to be realistic with our expectations of work.

“The grass is never greener on the other side. It’s just a different shade of green,” Marc added.

Start and Manage Your Brand: How To

Audience members and panelists spoke about how they used their name to draw attention and build their brand.

Audience member, Anuli suggested that when thinking of your brand, you need to “manage other people’s expectations of your brand”. She has a website, akaanuli.

Another audience member, Monica Komperda (@monicakomperda), a graphic designer, talked about her latest website launch and how she started her brand from her nickname, “monster”. Now she has matured into the nickname “Mo” and has the slogan, “Monica is long for Mo.”

Panelist, Elisha-Rio, just launched a personal website, Don’t Forget the Hyphen, because her father stressed that all of her documents like her diploma had to include the hyphen in her name. She originally had a website about “apple avocado,” which is what someone suggest she said to people to help them pronounce her last name correctly. The name stuck and family members share an “apple avocado” tattoo.

While creating a brand is the first step, constant execution and goal setting is key. SheSays Chicago’s organizer, Jen suggested that we start a small subgroup to hold ourselves accountable to starting and working on our personal brands.


Event Location: SOCIALDEVIANT (1143 West Rundell Place, Chicago, IL)

Event Host: SheSays Chicago

Event Date and Time: Wednesday, January 21, 2015, 6-9 pm

Discovered Through: Invite

Bonus: Looking for a job and leaving with leads

Amanda Whitfield
Amanda Whitfield

Amanda Whitfield is a writer and speaker and a relationship builder. She believes that meeting people in person is important. After attending numerous fashion, startup, and creative events, she founded Windy City Cosmo is 2015 to help people make connections in the city as they build their businesses, start and end relationships and see and be seen. Over the past three years, the entrepreneurs she’s interviewed have become the most successful in Chicago and Windy City Cosmo won an award in 2017 for her work for female entrepreneurs.

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