Ebony Beckwith talks all things personal brand with YR Media CEO Kyra Kyles.
People talk about their personal brand, but what, really, is a personal brand - and how do you create one? "Having a personal brand helps people understand what you're all about," said Salesforce Chief Philanthropy Office Ebony Beckwith. "Whether it's how you look, how you speak, or how you work - it's the whole package."
To better understand how to create your personal brand, Beckwith welcomed YR Media CEO and former Ebony magazine Editor in Chief Kyra Kyles to the season two premiere of her #BossTalks series on Salesforce+. Kyles got interested in journalism at a very young age and noticed there weren't people who looked like her on the news. She wanted to change that. Following her education at Northwestern University, where she received bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism, Kyles worked in every facet of media from print to broadcast and now oversees YR Media, helping elevate young content creators' voices.
The two discuss having an authentic personal brand and finding work in something that truly resonates with you as well as other topics, including:
Scroll down to read the transcript and watch the episode.
How to start your personal brand journey: Map it out
Building your personal brand has to be about what you want and not what you think others want from you, as the latter can pigeonhole you into something you really aren't. Focus on what truly resonates with you. Start by thinking about what you believe in - and be flexible enough to allow things to evolve over time.
"Authenticity is important and make sure you're true to yourself," Kyles said. "I really like humor and that's the way that I look at life. So when people meet me, I'm not going to give them this dour, like 'I'm an executive and this is how I do things' [look]. I'm also not going to take a job or role where I'm asked to do that."
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Create a roadmap and allow for a personal (re)brand
Kyles said to successfully create your personal brand, you need to start by having a plan to help guide the process. You can start by asking yourself about your career aspirations and how they sync up with your personal values. Having it written down, even in a basic form, allows you to have something visual to refer back to.
"I was able to sync up my love for media, love for content creation, love for DEI, and concern for ushering in the next generation of journalists and content creators and musicians, and bring all those things together," Kyles said. "I won't go as far as to say [I'm] manifesting it, but I think if you don't have a blueprint, you're kind of just rudderless, floating out there in a sea of opportunity."
With anything in life, the goals or direction surrounding your personal brand can change over time. Be flexible enough to go in a new direction if need be. Kyles said to look at that blueprint every few years and, if things are going well, keep going. If you need to make alterations, do that. Just remember, you're never required to stay on the path you set for yourself.
"What scares me is when people are too rigid," she added. "Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to step forward."
If you don't have a blueprint, you're rudderless, floating out in a sea of opportunity
Kyra Kyles, CEO YR MEdia
Balancing your brand with the rest of you
No matter where your path takes you, remember to always be true to yourself. At the end of the day, Kyles said, regardless of what your personal brand puts out into the world, you will always be, well, you.
"I don't identify myself by my job, and I never have," Kyles said. "First and foremost, I am Kyra Kyles."
She explained further that depending on whatever role you may have at the time, there will always be people who want to take advantage of you. Those people may forget you when you move on to another job, and may start paying attention again when you take on something new where they can gain something from you. Being true to yourself, wherever you are, allows you to continue to feel good within your own skin, doing what you think matters most.
"It doesn't matter what is on your business card," she added. "It matters who you are as a human being and that you're doing what you want to do. And if other people don't respect that, that's on them."
Three words to describe your personal brand
If someone were to ask you about your personal brand, would you know how to answer? Having an elevator pitch about yourself is always a good thing to keep in your mind. Even better? Knowing three words that can quickly and easily sum you up. Those three words for Kyles: direct, honest, and entertaining.
"Those are the things I want to bring to the table," Kyles said. "That's what I pride myself on."
Step out like you own the world.
Kyra Kyles, CEO YR Media
Step out like you own the world
Kyles said to focus on the things in life you love and own them. Why? Because it makes you happy. That can be little things like a great lipstick or pair of shoes that really speak to your style. People will always try to judge you, but if you come across as confident, none of that matters.
"Show up the way you want to show up," Kyles said. "Don't worry what other people are doing. Because if you're comfortable, they become comfortable. My mother taught me this: You step out there like you own the world. Nobody will say a word because they know you love it."
When you hold your head high, no one will question your personal brand.
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Read the interview transcript and watch the full episode:
Hello everyone, and welcome to season two of Boss Talks, the series featuring candid career conversations with people who are changing the game in their respective industries. Today's episode focuses on building your personal brand. Now, if I had a dollar for every time I get asked about this, I would be a rich woman. And I really love sharing my thoughts on this because it's something I've been incredibly intentional about. So today we're going to give you total access into everything you need to know about building your personal brand and establishing yourself at work.
Having a personal brand helps people understand what you're all about, and it comes through in the way that you show up. Whether it's how you look, how you speak, or how you work, it's the whole package. To help me unpack this topic, I've invited someone whose personal brand I really admire. Our guest today is Kyra Kyles. Kyra is the CEO of YR Media and the former editor in chief of Ebony magazine. Kyra, welcome to Boss Talks. We are so thrilled to have you here.
Thank you so much for having me, and I love the term Boss Talks. So I'm excited to be online with you.
Excellent. Kyra, I have to share that I am obsessed with Ebony magazine, and I have several vintage covers from my birth year hanging in my office. It's actually also my personal mission to collect all 12 magazines from my birth year. It's a hobby I've had for many, many years now, and I'm happy to report that I'm only missing a few. So I'm having a bit of a fan girl moment here with you right now.
Thank you, we appreciate you. We have to support our Black media, it's so important and so crucial. And now more than ever.
That is right. We have so much to cover, so I'm just going to dive right in. I'd love for you to start by telling us about your background and your career journey.
Absolutely. So my career journey is unique in that it started super early. So I was about four or five I think when I really got interested in broadcast journalism specifically. And I used to do this thing where my mom, who was like a shopaholic - don't tell her I said that - well, I guess she'll see it. She used to just plant me in front of the dressing room mirror when she wanted to shop. And I would just entertain myself, like by doing the news, doing the weather. I had such a great time doing this. And you grow up and you grow out of a certain career that interested you, but that never happened for me. I used to read the newspaper next to my father. I'm dating myself now, next to my father on the floor, and he would always just pass me the sections when he was done.
And I was always really interested in journalism, but really also I noticed even at a young age that there weren't very many people like me, no matter what it was, whether it was print or TV, and I was determined to change that. So after doing that through high school and going to Northwestern University, where I earned my degree, I've actually done every single platform you can do. So TV, radio, digital, magazine as you mentioned earlier, newspaper, I just really love media. And as you mentioned, I worked at Ebony as editor in chief, which was a great experience in terms of just communicating directly with Black audiences and highlighting Black excellence. And now I'm super proud to be the CEO of YR Media, where I've tried to help light the way a little bit for young content creators, particularly of color and from underrepresented communities. And that's what I'm doing now from my base of Oakland.
So I hope everyone can see why you are the perfect person to unpack this topic with us today, because this episode is all about building your personal brand. And I want to start really by defining it. So what does it mean to have a personal brand? And do you think it's important, Kyra, for people to have one?
I do, but what I think is even more important is to have an authentic personal brand. Sometimes people build their brand around what they think others want from them. And it's very hard to maintain that, and you can also find yourself pigeonholed. So I like to think of it just as, why am I working? What is my reason and my motivation? And for me, my personal brand is representation. So even though I've done TV, I've done all these things, the through line that you'll find has been that I want to make sure that it's not just representation of me, myself as a creator, but that I'm also making sure that other people get this opportunity because there's this power in numbers, especially when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion.
So that for me is a real brand, because that's something that I've been interested in since I was a child. It's not something that I did because it was popular or a fad or a great new hashtag. And I think people should seriously consider that, because once you embark on that path, people will really hold you to that. So it has to be something that really resonates for you, and you also have to not be afraid to let it evolve as time goes on.
That's right. When in your career, I know you said early on as a young child, four or five, you started thinking about what you wanted to do. But when in your career did you start thinking about your personal brand?
I think that I started thinking about that most when I was at the Tribune Red Eye. I had my own column called the Kyles Files, and I also had a TV segment on WGN TV, which was so much fun, and I got to work with some really incredible people. And it was all about the intersection of pop culture, gender, race. And that is how I really kind of materialized what I was telling you earlier is my interest in representation. And so that's when I think I became really cognizant of having a brand and having to build it in the directions that made sense for me and for my career.
Now, a lot of people wonder where to even start when it comes to building their personal brand. For me, it was helpful to start with my values. So what are your tips for folks just getting started on building their brand?
I totally agree with you on starting with your values because, as I mentioned, authenticity is important. If you pretend to be this sunny person, you are on social media being sunny and, and you're on LinkedIn being sunny, and then people meet you and you're grumpy, or you really don't enjoy talking to people, that'll be a problem because there'll be a major disconnect that you're going to have to solve for. So of course you have to obviously behave and comport yourself differently in different circumstances, but I think the important thing is to make sure you're true to yourself. I really like humor, and that's the way that I look at life. And so when people meet me, I'm not going to give them this dour, like "I'm an executive and this is how I do things," because it's ridiculous.
And I'm giggling to myself, even as I just did that. I'm like, it does not feel real. So even though there may be some people who want me to behave that way, that's not natural for me, so I'm not going to do that, and I'm also not going to take a job or role where I'm asked to do that. Like, we need someone who behaves like this, then go get that person. It's not me. Even though, no, everything is not funny, but I do think that if you cannot, you know, see some humor in things, life is a lot more sad for you. And so I don't want that for myself. So I think that's where you want to start. I also think just a practical tip is I mapped it out, like I did it on paper before, I've done it with PowerPoint.
I'm not great in PowerPoint, but I've tried. And I just map out like, what are my interests? What are my career aspirations? What are my personal values? How do those items sync up? And just seeing it on a visual level was very helpful to me. And as a matter of fact, that's something that I did before joining YR Media, where I was able to sync up my love for media, love for content creation, love for DEI, and concern for ushering in the next generation of journalists and content creators and musicians, and bring all those things together. So it was almost like, I won't go as far as to say manifesting it, but I think if you don't have a blueprint, you're kind of just rudderless, floating out there in a sea of opportunity. So that's one of the things that I've always done is create a visual reference for myself.
I love that. And those three things were your interests, your aspirations and your values, that's so great. It's a really great place to start. And we know that your brand can change over time. My boss building brand was definitely not a thing when I was a call center agent, but I was still super intentional about all of my actions, and all roads led me to where I am today. So I know your brand can change and grow and evolve with you over time. Talk to us about how that happens, Kyra.
I think it just goes with you … like I say, every few years, I make it a point to create that blueprint again and to look at it. And if it looks fine, I keep going. If there are alterations that I want to make, I change it. I mean, hopefully people are mutable, they're able to change. They're able to look around at their lives and things that are going on, and that's even on a personal level. And so I think that it's really important to have a plan, but what scares me is when people are too rigid. And so I think what it is, is you want to revisit it, look at your career path. Is it going in the general direction that you want? Sometimes you have to take a step, so-called, back in order to step forward.
I think we were afraid of that because everything we hear with careers is climate, promotions. Sometimes you can be promoted into a corner. And so I always look at that. Just because I'm good at something, or someone has told me I'm good at something does not mean that I want to do that. At one point in my career, someone tried to make me into a meteorologist. Now I'm not going to disparage my mathematical skills or science skills, but I'm not a meteorologist. And I did not want to do that.
And even then I had to say, yes, it's more money. Yes, it's more visibility. I'd be in the main newscast. But do I want to be a meteorologist? No. I'm going to leave that for the pros, like Al Roker is incredible. Me, I see clouds, I'm like, yeah, OK. My weather is confined to me looking at my phone and deciding what to wear today. And I've never looked back in my career and thought, oh, I could have done this. No, because I knew then even though that was in the beginning stage of my career, that that was not something that I wanted to continue.
Oh, I love that story. So Kyra, let's be real for a minute. Some of us might need to rebrand. And that's OK, it's fine. As we've said, it's fine to make changes and try something different with your brand if you need to. So what tips do you have for people who are thinking about the rebrand?
It starts with what do you want in life? Like, what are your ultimate overarching goals over the next, let's just say 10 years, because 20 years can be disconcerting for some people to try to look that far into the future. You don't have the crystal ball. Look at where your career goals are, look at whether you're actually doing any of those things. Are you doing it professionally? And if not, can you? Can you speak with someone that you're working with and see if there's a way to incorporate that? If not, and I love what's going on now with our creators that are on TikTok, you can create your own lane. You don't have to wait around for somebody to tap you and say it's okay for you to create. Create your own media.
That's something that we can really do within this field. And that's not something I could have done really when I started off. I had to have a news director believe in me, or I had to have a news editor believe in me. Not a lot of people when I started were doing, at that time, it was blogging. So I think it's like, can you create these opportunities within your career path? If not, how can you do it outside your career path? And then just take a hard look at it. And you're right. There are some people who may have created a brand for themselves that they didn't mean to, and your brand may be over promising and under delivering. And that's something tactical you can do. Stop it, learn to say no in the politest way possible, and you will see that people that can change your brand, like some things about your brand may be also like how you show up for people in the work you do.
I think people make the mistake of thinking, if I brand myself as this, people will believe it. No, it really comes down to the actual work. So I try to stay away from what I call this performative brand, where it's all smoke and mirrors, because what happens when the smoke dissipates and everyone sees you for what you are? Like I just had an opportunity, someone asked me to come on TV, and it would have been a great opportunity to talk about something. I don't know anything about that, not going to do that. Because yes, it would be great visibility, and of course, I want to do everything I can for any organization I'm with and provide them visibility, but not in the wrong way. So that's the other thing, sometimes an opportunity is not right for you, and you have to step back and realize that, and realize that all publicity and all visibility is not good visibility. And I think that's hard to do, but something that people need to do, especially if they've gotten a little tug on the coattail that they need to rebrand.
You said something about how we see ourselves that reminded me of a story I was recently telling about when I decided to move from IT to philanthropy, and how much I was struggling because so much of my identity was wrapped up with who I was at work. I saw myself as a young black woman in tech, and I was really worried that this shift would do something bad to my brand and how I saw my brand. So I want us to explorethe balance between our personal brand and these other aspects of ourselves, whether it's our identity or even our ego. How do you see that?
Well, here's a good rule of thumb that I follow. I don't identify myself by my job, and I never have. First and foremost, I am Kyra Kyles. I'm the daughter of W Louis Kyles and Tony Kyles and the sister of Cozy Kyle. Those are the things that I'm most proud of in the world, first. Some people treat you certain ways when you're in certain spaces. There are certain people that, when I was at the Red Eye, when I could offer them coverage, they treated me one way. When I left the Red, I was independent, they treated me another way. When I went to Jet and Ebony, then they came back and they treated me even a different way. And what I had to know in that moment was it does not matter what these people think of me. It does not matter how they perceive me, because many times they're looking at it as what they can get from me.
It matters what I think. So I don't care where I go. I'm always me. And I'm always going to try to bring the same gifts to the table. And unfortunately, just when you're having a conversation with someone, what's one of the first few things that they ask, "What do you do? Where do you live?" It's part of your identity. I actually reject that as being part of my identity, because what I noticed was it blocks you from trying other things. If everyone thinks I'm awesome because I work at the Red Eye, I can't leave the Red Eye.
Right. That's right.
Even if the Red Eye's not offering me what I need anymore, I'm stuck there because I want to be Red Eye Kyra. So throughout this, I'm just Kyra. Whatever I'm doing, that's what I am and that's what I offer. And I feel like sometimes people use that as almost like a shield. And it's also almost like a comfortable little prison that you build for yourself. And so I've just made it a point throughout my career, it doesn't matter what is on your business card. It matters who you are as a human being and that you're doing what you want to do. And if other people don't respect that, that's on them.
I think that's such an important lesson to learn so early, you're right. It's one of the first things people ask you. So your job, your zip code, does not define your brand. Because what happens when you move, right? A really excellent point. I'm glad you brought that up. Now, part of having a personal brand is the actual branding. And I think it's a fun exercise to think of three or so words to describe my personal brand. I've used for myself grace, grit, and gratitudes as an example before. So Kyra, what are some words you'd use to describe your brand? And they don't have to start with the same letter. It is more fun if they do, but they don't have to.
I like the… that was very clever. So mine is not as fancy, but I would say direct, honest, and entertaining. I try to entertain, even in the bleakest of circumstances. Like I said, life is short, as we all know from what's going on. So I really want to always be having a good time if I can. And I always try to be direct. I try to be super transparent with people and I try to be honest. Now you can't be painfully, ridiculously honest with people and hurt their feelings, but I feel like it's not fair when you're having any kind of transaction with someone if they don't have the full facts. So I always try to do that. And that's what I pride myself on, is kind of undergirding anything and everything that I do, whether it's writing or presenting or buying a home, anything I do, those are the things that I want to bring to the table.
I think you've just demonstrated to us one thing that I think is really important about your brand, and it's knowing it. You didn't have to wonder what your brand is. You were able to rattle those off of the top of your head. And I think that's really important to be grounded in who you are so that you can just come off the cuff and know who you are. So that's really great. I love that you demonstrated that for us. So we've all heard sayings about first impressions. So clearly how people see you matters. But in this hybrid world we're living in, our full presence is our brand. We have our in-person identity, and our online identity through Zoom and social channels like LinkedIn and others. So tell us what your thoughts are on how to do this and how you choose where you show up.
I think it's almost impossible to be everywhere. I think people once tried that, but with the proliferation of different social media sites, there's so many offerings out there. It would be very difficult to maintain all of that unless you probably have someone helping you or doing it for you, which in some cases can be a great thing, in some cases, maybe not so great. So I think what it is, is consistency and knowing who your audience is. Knowing things like their demographics, like who are you trying to target? And then looking at your social media and thinking about are these the people that are being reached through these channels? And I think that can help you whittle down. Also, you can look at what are your capabilities? If you're super visual, there are other social platforms that are more given to the visual.
There are some that are more given to writing and the way that you present yourself through the written word. So I think that's a way that you can narrow it down, but you're right. Even with the Zoom, some people have said to me, "Oh my goodness, why do you have on earrings? We're on Zoom." Like, earrings? It's not hard to put on earrings. I love earrings, right? I love jewelry. So I'm going to go ahead and keep doing that. And I think it's just like, what you are doing matters. If you were presenting at a conference or you're doing certain things, obviously you want to step it up. But I think that you just want to have a minimum for yourself in the way that you want to present yourself. I feel like sometimes as a woman of color, unfortunately, we're judged more harshly, and I'm not going to step into that and say, well, as a result, you need to show up to everything wearing curls.
You don't have to do that. But just have in your mind, what are the things that you like? What are the things that make you happy? I like makeup. I like lipstick. I like earrings. That makes me happy. It makes me feel like I'm really working and we're not living in an apocalyptic universe that we are right now. It makes me feel less like I'm in a Marvel comic. So that's what I'm going to do. And when other people point that out, I just kind of think, okay, that's the standard you set for yourself. You don't want to do those things. Don't do them. But also don't point out what other people are doing. You try to make them uncomfortable because I'm not asking you why you got a hoodie pulled up over your head. You do you.
It does matter, and unfortunately, yes, people judge you visually, they judge you by the way that you speak, they judge you, as you mentioned, where did you go to school? Where do you live? So all these things come into play, and they're almost amplified by having all these different places that you can have a presence. For me, that's why it's important, show up the way you want to show up. Don't worry what other people are doing. Because if you're comfortable, they become comfortable.
People question you when you seem hesitant. Have you ever stepped out of the dressing room and looked quizzical, and then other people that you didn't even ask start telling you what you think? if you like it, you step out there, my mother taught me this, you step out there like you own the world. Nobody will say a word because they know you love it. You know what I mean? So that's what I try to think about all things. Act like you love it, and then if you want commentary, ask for it, but don't ever step out like, should I be doing this? Yeah, you should, if that's what you want to do.
I love that. And I know for the last 18 months I've always had on my lipstick because it makes me feel me. It is part of my brand.
And I love your lipstick.
Please keep wearing it.
Lipstick and heels, two things you will not catch me without.
Right. The shoes, I don't want to talk about those because I'm sitting in a chair all day.
I do understand. OK, final question, and it is my absolute favorite because we ask it to all of our guests, and I love hearing their answers. So Kyra, what is your superpower? And before you answer, you've got to make sure it's on brand.
My superpower is writing. I can write super fast, so I'm like the Flash when it comes to that. But it's also about communicating. One thing, and I love my mom, she's an educator, she loves the fact that I have this flowery vocabulary. Sometimes she wants me to use it more. Hi mom. So I'm like, mom, you know what though? I can, but I also write for clarity, because my whole thing is like bridging understanding. So I don't want to write in a way that doesn't reach people just so I can show off. So my superpower is writing because I feel like I can do it fast, and I think I can also do it effectively, which I think is super important.
I love that superpower. Definitely on brand for you. Kyra, thank you so much for joining us today. You shared so many helpful tips for building our personal brands, and we are so grateful for this time you gave us.
Well, I am so grateful for being here. Great questions, and thanks, I would be happy to come back anytime.
I know this is a popular topic with all of you, so let's hear your questions.
Hi, Ebony. I'm Callie and I'm 16 years old. Is it ever too early to start thinking about a personal brand?
First of all, Callie, hi. Clearly you are a boss in progress, and I love that you are thinking about this, and I'm so glad you asked this question. It is never too early to start thinking about your personal brand. And in this day and age of social media, your digital footprint is a huge part of your brand and can follow you for years to come. I wish more young people were mindful about that, and old people too. So with that said, your brand can evolve over time, and that's okay. So remember to stay flexible and open to change as you learn and grow in your career. Thanks again, Callie, for the question.
I hope you all enjoyed today's conversation. For more Boss Talks, be sure to check back here on Salesforce Plus so you never miss an episode. And to continue boss building, head on over to trailblazer.salesforce.com to join millions of trailblazers who are learning relevant skills and giving back with the Trailblazer community. With that, thank you for tuning into Boss Talks. See you all next time.