7 minute read

5 Ways to Own Your Story

Holly Conti (left) and Caitlin Copple Masingill (right) are partners at Full Swing PR, a public relations and digital marketing firm that helps historically underrepresented leaders grow their visibility. Caitlin lives in Boise and Holly lives in New York. PHOTO COURTESY FULL SWING PR

What’s a personal brand and how to make yours work for you


Public relations isn’t just for the Beyoncés and Obamas of the world.

Did you know that what makes you “you” is your public relations superpower?

Que your response: “But I don’t need public relations.”

Wait. Do you own a small business that depends on your community to know who you are and what you sell? Do you work at a job where promotions and opportunities depend on your bosses and colleagues knowing the progress that you’re making every single day? Do you belong to a church or community organization that could benefit from more people knowing about it?

Public relations helps people know who you are and what you’re doing to make an impact. Whether it’s at your job, your business, or the community organizations that you support, utilizing public relations helps you gain more support and recognition.

Standing out from the crowd starts by leaning into your values and your personal experiences, then embracing your authenticity. This is the “secret sauce” that helps you connect to your purpose and start to cast a vision for the changes you seek to make in your personal and professional lives, as well as the greater community. So first, get clear on what your personal or professional values are.

Second, you start to align your actions at work and in your community with what you value most. Is it career growth? Put your hat in the mix for opportunities at work. Do you value communication? Tell your friends and family about the needs of your favorite nonprofit and encourage them to support the organization. Volunteer!

Next, whether you’re trying to get a promotion or expand awareness of your small business, start to “own your story.” What does that mean?

You may have heard the terms “influencer” or “personal branding” in the last few years. For many of us, the idea of crafting an image or promoting oneself feels cringe-worthy. Whether intentional or not, all of us have a personal brand. Your personal brand is created through interactions with others. Even before social media, each of us existed reputationally, at some level, for better or worse. Today, never posting (or even updating) your LinkedIn profile sends a clear message.

Of course, you’re busy and it might not be a requirement to post on LinkedIn. But if you set an appointment with yourself to write a short article about the work you’ve done, a boss or colleague might read it and be impressed by your initiative. If you’re looking for more career opportunities, recruiters may reach out with job opportunities because you appear to be an expert in your field.

Too often, the people we see in the media fail to reflect the diversity of our communities or countries, which is why personal branding is so important. Be the change you want to see.

Globally, less than 30% of subject matter experts are female, and most newsrooms are still dominated by white men. It can feel tough to “put yourself out there,” particularly for women or other historically marginalized communities. That’s because we’ve often had our stories or opinions diminished by the dominant cultural narrative that shapes our world. When we take the risk and embrace what makes us different, we find – for ourselves and our clients – that our superpower lies in what, at first, can feel uncomfortable sharing.

For example, when Caitlin was 27, she filed to run for city council in the town where she was living – Missoula, Montana. Caitlin was inspired to run because her neighborhood’s representative had voted against what became the state’s first LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance. The city law protected people from being fired, denied housing, or given access to public accommodations because of who they were or who they loved.

Many people advised Caitlin to dial back her LGBTQ experience and broaden her voter appeal by taking on multiple issues with which she had less experience. Instead, Caitlin embraced her sexual orientation and openly communicated about her experience with helping nonprofits and advocacy organizations, while never downplaying her personal life. In the end, she unseated the anti-gay incumbent and made history as the first openly LGBTQ city councilor in Missoula history.

To own your story, you have to identify and reframe the self-limiting beliefs we have inhaled since childhood. Here are five ways to begin to build a more authentic personal brand in your business, personal life, and community.

Embrace radical courage.

It takes radical courage to believe in yourself and your voice, especially in a world that often tells us we are too fat, too queer, too Black, too feminine, too masculine, or some other version of “too much” to matter in the collective conversations that shape our communities, our country, and our world.

Understand it’s not about being famous.

Most people don’t want to be famous for fame’s sake. Stand for something worthwhile. What big changes do you want to see in your community? In your workplace? How could greater visibility help you achieve those goals?

Identify what makes you unique.

To begin, answer these questions:

What do I offer that no one else does?

What values guide my life and are central to who I am?

What is the work that I do that feels easiest to me?

What is the number one problem my business exists to solve?

How would my mom or best friend describe me?

Leverage your passion to help a cause.

Maybe it’s getting more women elected to public office, ending the wage gap, ending food insecurity, or spurring investment in public education. Whatever ignites your passion, find a way to plug into existing organizations that align with your vision. If they don’t exist, start one. Giving back to the community is an authentic way to build connections and your leadership skills.

Recognize others and yourself. Idaho is full of award opportunities. Not everyone is comfortable nominating themselves, but most of us would love to nominate someone else who is making an impact. Awards like Idaho Women of the Year, CEO of Influence, Accomplished Under 40, as well as industry-specific awards, help to grow your platform. Once you’re comfortable owning your story, don’t be afraid to share it. Don’t equate success with the New York Times or Good Morning America. Building your personal brand can happen dramatically, even on smaller platforms.

Sharing your story with friends, family, and coworkers is a great way to gain confidence before entering official PR channels like news outlets and podcasts. If possible, attend local and regional industry events. Meet other professionals. Follow up with them on LinkedIn.

To own your story, you have to identify and reframe the self-limiting beliefs we have inhaled since childhood.

When you feel confident reframe the self-limiting telling your story, pursue local news outlets. It’s rare to jump beliefs we have inhaled from no PR to national coverage. Major media outlets always vet potential stories covering them, so showing up on local news increases your chances.

Spend time reading your local business journal, listening to public radio, and researching local magazines like IdaHome. Discover which topics are trending and consider how you can add value to the conversation. What is the unique perspective that you have to offer?

Once you have a strong topic, submit your idea. Many outlets have a story idea submission form, a submission link on the “Contact Us” page, or you can Google the publication name and masthead. An outlet’s masthead often lists editors, reporters, and what topics they cover. The best chance of being published equals emailing the most appropriate contact. For example, if you are in health care, pitch a health care reporter, not a political reporter.

As you move forward, remember that your personal brand doesn’t have to please everyone. Focus on the audience that is receptive to the real you. And don’t shy away from the “truest” version of yourself. You’ll find your audience and those people will respond to your bravery with a “hell yes” and “fist bump.”