Opinions about branding by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal

Search This Blog

Sunday, November 30, 2014


"Let's begin the staff meeting, all right?"
Everybody rustles to their seats.
"How you doing Joe? How was your weekend?"
"Good. We caught the football game. What a killer."
I do not like, watch or endorse football and am praying this does not devolve into a discussion.
On my left Mary whispers, "Pass me a bagel?"
Wordlessly I take hold of the tongs. They are too narrow. I sit there jabbing at the bagel like it's a slab of leftover turkey that nobody really wants to eat.
Raj reaches over me, a little impatiently I think. He grabs the bagel, a plastic knife and the tub of scallion cream cheese, hands it to Mary, smirks and shakes his head.Incompetent.
"Chop chop, time's wasting. Dannielle, what have you got for us?"
Very few people actually want to hear anything about what I do, much less the ins and outs of a weekly update.
I have no weekly update.
"I'm not sure what you want me to say," I say.
In the corner, Tom had been showing something to Marsha on his notepad, and they were nodding and giggling. Now they, and the room, fell silent. Really? Did she just say that?
After a couple of seconds, "I have a question for Dannielle," says Cindy.
"Of course, go right ahead."
Bring it on, say my narrowed eyes and furrowed brow because Cindy is a shameless, social-climbing ass-kisser not to mention a backstabbing Machiavellian. She's caught my error and is smoothing the moment so she can break out her switchblade.
"Yes, go right ahead, Cindy," says the boss. "Your scarf is very flattering, by the way. I don't mean that in a sexist way, so don't go suing me and all."
He goes on to laugh at his own joke and the group laughs along with him. I imagine his sixteen-year-old asking for the car on a Saturday night. "Yes," he'll reply. "But just remember, you don't get a second chance to put safety first."
And of course, Cindy is literally beaming. "Sexist shmexist."
She throws her head back and laughs like it's the funniest thing ever to say "sexist shmexist."
Again, everybody laughs. What a fine staff meeting!
"No big thing, but Dannielle I was just wondering if you'd paid in yet for the holiday party. I checked and your name was not on the list."
Defense is a very bad place to be.
"Oh. Um, I'll get the money out of my wallet later."
"Thanks for the update. Let's move on, shall we? Who's next?"
___
Dog photo: This Year's Love. Deer photo: Jarrod. Both photos via Flickr.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

"You will always be on the margins because all you have are these idealistic notions that don't apply." 
That's the fictional CEO in Amazon's Enlightenedchewing out whistleblower Amy, played by Laura Dern.
"Well if caring about something other than money is dopey, I'm a fuckin' moron."
Amy started the series as an angry, ruthless career-climber. She ends it finding inner peace (and not coincidentally a good cup of coffee).
Her mother is proud of her as well.
As we all know, it is very, very hard to make a difference in real life. 
Part of that is because we are just so busy surviving. But conformity is also drilled into us from birth. And those who dare to speak up get subtly and overtly told stop from every angle. (Screenshot: Sign for sale at Ozark Saddle Company.)
It is easy to be fooled by all these naysayers. They do after all take many different forms, are voiced by people both friendly and decidedly not.
The dialogue on Enlightened sounded so eerily like it could have been real life:
  • "You are a mental case for pursuing this."
  • "We are going to crush you like an ant."
  • "How selfish / ungrateful can you be? This company took care of you."
  • "Now who's gonna pay your bills?"
  • "You are destroying your own life."
I hope we get to see more of this character, this show. It reminds me of Daughtry's hopeful and great music video for "What About Now," which already has more than 10,000,000 shares.
We need more clear-eyed thinking about right and wrong in this world. People who do the right thing no matter what the cost to themselves.
The people who put this show together have a firmer grasp on that imperative than most.
Dannielle Blumenthal is a seasoned communications professional with nearly two decades of progressive, varied experience in the public sector, private sector, and academia. Currently she is a public servant, as well as an independent freelance writer. This blog, like all of her public content, is written in her personal capacity unless otherwise noted. It does not reflect the views of the U.S. government, in whole or in part. Photo credit: Evan Long via Flickr

Thursday, November 27, 2014

"Do you love me?"
"No." After 25 years, my husband gets to say that when I ask a stupid question.
"I have a question to ask. Can I interrupt you for a minute?"
"Why is it that you always call when I'm trying to write?"
"I'm trying to be more collaborative with you. And we're in the store and I want to buy these shoes, but they're $89.99."
"Are they new?"
"Well that's the thing, they're a little bit used. But I checked eBay and we can make a $300 profit for sure."
"Nothing is for sure. Put the shoes back and leave me alone. I'm writing."
"Spoilsport."
* * *
If you have to ask, the answer is no. One time my boss put it this way:
"If you're coming to me, I can guarantee that the plan is a little bit wonky."
Let's play Family Feud, shall we? Where Steve Harvey says:
"What kinds of questions do you ask, where you already know the answer is going to be 'no'?"
  • "So can I have your number?"
  • "What's your timeline on making a hiring decision?"
  • "Do I look fat in this dress?"
Consider how we deal with questions in consensus-building.
Only a doofus walks into the meeting cold and asks, "Hey, what do you all think?" For about ten years, I was that doofus.
As a colleague recently reminded me, highly evolved consensus-builders work the room in advance of the group convening. They approach each person one at a time, soliciting input in such a way that the answer becomes the listener's idea rather than the asker's.
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
  • Decide on a goal.
  • Do your homework.
  • Then calculate the risk of jumping.

If you still have to ask another person, you know you've overshot the mark.
Photo credit: Sasvata (Shash) Chatterjee / Flickr

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


"That's great! Have a good night!"
That is me, tiptoeing backwards. Because the other person won't stop speaking.
Sure, there's a technique for handling this. But unfortunately not one that I ever mastered.
"Did you say goodbye? I have a great story about goodbyes."
Oh no. Oh no.
"Hang on just a second, I'll walk with you."
It's not that I'm reserved with words. Actually I like to talk, a lot. But not all the time, not with everyone, and generally not at work. I'm there to work.
Executives do not talk a lot.
  • They're busy.
  • They're afraid of saying something wrong.
  • They're immersed in the culture of power.
Powerful people know: The more available you are, the less valuable.
That is why - although communicators bang their heads against the wall trying to get executives to speak - they are normally very restrained. They:
  • Say less.
  • Write shorter emails.
  • Avoid extensive interaction day-to-day.
If you want to actually become a rich executive, you first have to think and act like one.
Hollywood agents know it - now you do too.
Overexposure kills the brand.
Dannielle Blumenthal is a seasoned communications professional with nearly two decades of progressive, varied experience in the public sector, private sector, and academia. Currently she is a public servant, as well as an independent freelance writer. This blog, like all of her public content, is written in her personal capacity unless otherwise noted. It does not reflect the views of the U.S. government, in whole or in part. Photo credit: Alden Jewell / Flickr

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"OK, let's get him on the phone." 
That's radio talk show host Kane. It's the 99.5 FM radio segment "War of the Roses," it plays around 8 a.m. on weekdays, and it's really fun to listen to him and Intern John catch cheaters in the act.
In the script, Kane plays a guy who owns a flower shop. 
"Hello, my name is ____, I'm calling from __ Flowers. Is Pete there?"
"This is Pete."
"We're doing a promotion today, just for picking up the phone, you get a bouquet of roses sent to anyone of your choice."
"Who is this?"
"We're your local friendly flower shop, just trying to drum up some local business and compete with the big boys, y'now?"
"How did you get this number?"
"We subscribe to all the local customer lists."
(Sounding confused) "Oh."
"So who should we send them to?"
"Um, let me think about that for a second. Hm. Yeah, you know what? I know. You can send them to Rachel."
"YOU GODDAMN PIG."
That was Pete's actual girlfriend, Karen.
"YOU GODDAMN PIG. HOW COULD YOU? IT IS OVER. I MEAN IT. OVER, PETE. OVER OVER OVER OVER OVER OVER OVER !@#$@#%!@#$."
"What the f****?"
"Hi Pete, let me explain. My name is Kane, and we do a radio show where we catch cheaters in the act. Do you have anything to say for yourself?"
"Karen. Hey Karen. I can explain this. It's not what you think."
"OH REALLY. OH REALLY!"
It is at this point that I'm usually doubled over on the steering wheel laughing.
Because Pete will spend about ten minutes trying to tell Karen that she is crazy, he didn't do anything wrong. "Rachel" was just being "helpful," she "comforted" him in a time of need, yada yada, et cetera, and so on.
Intern John will say something like, "That dude was crazy. How did he ever think he would get away with that?"
For the audience it's a funny but useful reminder. 
The truth is usually pretty simple.
When people have to complicate things to make them sound good, a personal agenda is at work.
We all know people with a lot of excuses, people who are windbags, people who make up every bullshit in the book.
Like my mother used to say,
"I'm sorry, I don't understand. Tell it to me like I'm stupid."
It is easy to say this and to nod your head. In real life it gets a lot harder.
You deal with people who mystify the facts, who pump up the action and their role in the action, confuse meetings with results, add jargon where they could use plain English, name-drop and acronym-lay and generally wrap a Ph.D., MBA and JD all in one around information that should be straightforward and basic.
Whether it's your doctor, your lawyer, your kid's school or your own organization, you have to be willing to confront the possibility that the emperor is walking around totally naked.
What you do with that information - if you can find it, because you'll invariably be discouraged - is your business.
At the very least, have the courage to ask. 
Dannielle Blumenthal is a seasoned communications professional with nearly two decades of progressive, varied experience in the public sector, private sector, and academia. Currently she is a public servant, as well as an independent freelance writer. This blog, like all of her public content, is written in her personal capacity unless otherwise noted. It does not reflect the views of the U.S. government, in whole or in part. Photo credit: Petras Gagilas / Flickr

Monday, November 24, 2014

I've been doing branding for a very long time. And one thing sets my best clients apart from the losers: Their ability to take sound advice.
  • One client flat-out refused to pay.
  • Another threw a shit fit at my boss.
  • A third became enraged at me directly.
The things I say aren't rocket science, really. But most people are extremely invested in lying to themselves. 
When it comes to their own delusional lies or the unvarnished truth, they'll take the delusional lies even though it causes them not just pain but financial ruin.
They could be coasting down the hill, but they'd rather ride a broken bike up a mountain. 
Why is that? Why can't smart people take good advice?
There are three possibilities here.
  • Emotional baggage: They've got some screwed-up thing going on in their brains.
  • Personal power: The solution will hurt their position, status or career.
  • Organizational issues: They agree cognitively but the reigning dysfunction is too great to tolerate a real solution. 
I was talking to someone at a conference the other day. And just for the hell of it I said, "I don't work for you but can I give you some free brand advice?"
The person looked down at his business card and then up at me. And said, 
"We thought of that about ten years ago, but office politics killed it before it got off the ground."
Now the company is kind of a brand laughingstock.
Listen - you're not the only one who finds yourself in a pickle, alright?
Everyone's got their problems.
But you don't have forever to wait, or endless money to lose.
Take good advice wherever you can find it, before that sinking ship you hear about on the news turns out to be your own. 
Dannielle Blumenthal is a seasoned communications professional with nearly two decades of progressive, varied experience in the public sector, private sector, and academia. Currently she is a public servant, as well as an independent freelance writer. This blog, like all of her public content, is written in her personal capacity unless otherwise noted. It does not reflect the views of the U.S. government, in whole or in part. Photo credit: Oiva Eskola / Flickr

Sunday, November 23, 2014


"Say, can I pick your brain for a minute?"
"Sure. I am after all the Director of Things. I'll be happy to help."
"It's just that the boss doesn't seem to like me very much."
"Oh no. That's too bad."
"Well, you seem to have a way of talking to her."
"Me? Little me? Well, thank you very much for saying that. I do consider myself kind of an orator. Actually, maybe 'diplomat' is a better word. I've got a talent, you know? I may be a little bit brilliant actually. And here you are, you recognize that. Flattered, that's what I am. I am just, so, flattered."
"I'm not trying to flatter you. You're a genius, and it shows."
"Oh, stop. Now you're being generous."
"I hate to bother you, you're so important and all. But would you mind teaching me how you do it?"
"Of course not! I mean, it's not like I have any actual work to do. Especially when somebody clearly needs a mentor."
"That is just...I don't know what to say. Kind. You're a very kind human being."
"No, thank you. It's rewarding to be recognized for my greatness."
"So should I get my pen then?"
"Yes, do that. Sit down, and start taking notes."
Dannielle Blumenthal is a seasoned communications professional with nearly two decades of progressive, varied experience in the public sector, private sector, and academia. Currently she is a public servant, as well as an independent freelance writer. This blog, like all of her public content, is written in her personal capacity unless otherwise noted. It does not reflect the views of the U.S. government, in whole or in part. Photo credit: Zorin Denu / Flickr

Friday, November 21, 2014

There are few things in life more painful than a job interview. Except, perhaps, dating.
There are also few things more shameful. Right? It's not something you want to talk about. The screw-ups, the flubs, the asinine mistakes that everyone makes but which feel totally unique to your sorry ass.
In a nod to the generous holiday spirit, I will attempt to lessen the collective shame of job interviewees everywhere by sharing some actual outtakes from various interviews I've suffered through over time.
I would also like to reassure the group that with each of these horrendous meetings, your self-esteem will drop by 3 percentage points. Which you can later drown in a gigantic iced coffee at any high-end coffee shop of your choosing.
Also on the positive side, you will likely never see these people ever again.
And now without any further ado: Lights, camera, ACTION.
* * *
"Here, Dannielle, have a seat. Sit right here."
Clearly this isn't a choice thing. "Sure. Thank you."
"There are a few of us, so please bear with us as we gather in."
"No problem."
"Oh, there's one more...is Katie on the phone?"
Then, to me, as if I will in any way, shape or form remember this.
"That's Katie, our Director of Field Coordination."
"Super."
"Are we all ready now?"
The group nods. Waves of nods appear. Mmhmm. We. Are. Ready.
"Well, welcome, Dannielle, it's such a pleasure to met you."
"For me as well."
This is not a pleasure for anyone. I need a job, and for you it's 3:00 on a Friday.
"We've heard so much about you. We love your blog."
"You do? I appreciate that."
Because it's the only thanks I'll ever get. It doesn't make me a damn dime.
"We're on a tight schedule here, so if you don't mind let's get to Question 1."
Back to Planet Earth.
"Great."
By the way, I have gleaned from many years of experience that the less you say in an interview, the better.
"OK, Question 1."
Shuffles papers.
"Tell us a little about yourself, if you would."
"Sure. Well, I started out as a writer from a very young age...."
  • One of them is checking his smartphone. I can see you!
  • The other is drooling.
  • The third is busy "taking notes," a.k.a. doodling.
"Thanks. Now on to Question 2."
Laboriously he reads. This one's gonna be a doozy, I can tell.
"Tell us about a time when you had to handle a difficult communication situation. What was the problem, who were your key stakeholders, what are some of the challenges you faced, and what was the outcome?"
NO! THE DREADED ESSAY QUESTION!
"Um, could you repeat the question please?"
"Question 3. What's your biggest weakness?"
"I am an obsessive perfectionist."
Wait. That didn't sound right.
The guy's expression says: freaking 3:25 p.mmmmmm.
"I get to do Question 4," Katie chimes in. From the phone, all chirpy. I hate her already.
"Why do you want to work HERE, specifically?"
Because you have a job available, idiot.
"I, uh, mm, I, well..." stuttering, stammering.
"...I just love the very important critical aspects of the esoteric specific highly confusing and impossible to understand work that you do."
There. Now it's perfectly clear.
"Last one. Do you have any questions for us?"
Oh good. That one was in the article about interviewing skills. Which I read on the train.
"Tell me what is the absolute worst thing I could do in this job if you hired me. Like the one thing that would make me fail, out the wazoo."
The doodler looks at me as if to say, OMG.
"It's been a pleasure, Dannielle."
"Thank you. I thought that went well."
"That being said - we'll call you."
Dannielle Blumenthal is a seasoned communications professional with nearly two decades of progressive, varied experience in the public sector, private sector, and academia. Currently she is a public servant, as well as an independent freelance writer. This blog, like all of her public content, is written in her personal capacity unless otherwise noted. It does not reflect the views of the U.S. government, in whole or in part. Photo credit: Gerard Stolk via Flickr
There are few things in life more painful than a job interview. Except, perhaps, dating.
There are also few things more shameful. Right? It's not something you want to talk about. The screw-ups, the flubs, the asinine mistakes that everyone makes but which feel totally unique to your sorry ass.
In a nod to the generous holiday spirit, I will attempt to lessen the collective shame of job interviewees everywhere by sharing some actual outtakes from various interviews I've suffered through over time.
I would also like to reassure the group that with each of these horrendous meetings, your self-esteem will drop by 3 percentage points. Which you can later drown in a gigantic iced coffee at any high-end coffee shop of your choosing.
Also on the positive side, you will likely never see these people ever again.
And now without any further ado: Lights, camera, ACTION.
* * *
"Here, Dannielle, have a seat. Sit right here."
Clearly this isn't a choice thing. "Sure. Thank you."
"There are a few of us, so please bear with us as we gather in."
"No problem."
"Oh, there's one more...is Katie on the phone?"
Then, to me, as if I will in any way, shape or form remember this.
"That's Katie, our Director of Field Coordination."
"Super."
"Are we all ready now?"
The group nods. Waves of nods appear. Mmhmm. We. Are. Ready.
"Well, welcome, Dannielle, it's such a pleasure to meet you."
"For me as well."
This is not a pleasure for anyone. I need a job, and for you it's 3:00 on a Friday.
"We've heard so much about you. We love your blog."
"You do? I appreciate that."
Because it's the only thanks I'll ever get. It doesn't make me a damn dime.
"We're on a tight schedule here, so if you don't mind let's get to Question 1."
Back to Planet Earth.
"Great."
By the way, I have gleaned from many years of experience that the less you say in an interview, the better.
"OK, Question 1."
Shuffles papers.
"Tell us a little about yourself, if you would."
"Sure. Well, I started out as a writer from a very young age...."
  • One of them is checking his smartphone. I can see you!
  • The other is drooling.
  • The third is busy "taking notes," a.k.a. doodling.
"Thanks. Now on to Question 2."
Laboriously he reads. This one's gonna be a doozy, I can tell.
"Tell us about a time when you had to handle a difficult communication situation. What was the problem, who were your key stakeholders, what are some of the challenges you faced, and what was the outcome?"
NO! THE DREADED ESSAY QUESTION!
"Um, could you repeat the question please?"
"Question 3. What's your biggest weakness?"
"I am an obsessive perfectionist."
Wait. That didn't sound right.
The guy's expression says: freaking 3:25 p.mmmmmm.
"I get to do Question 4," Katie chimes in. From the phone, all chirpy. I hate her already.
"Why do you want to work HERE, specifically?"
Because you have a job available, idiot.
"I, uh, mm, I, well..." stuttering, stammering.
"...I just love the very important critical aspects of the esoteric specific highly confusing and impossible to understand work that you do."
There. Now it's perfectly clear.
"Last one. Do you have any questions for us?"
Oh good. That one was in the article about interviewing skills. Which I read on the train.
"Tell me what is the absolute worst thing I could do in this job if you hired me. Like the one thing that would make me fail, out the wazoo."
The doodler looks at me as if to say, OMG.
"It's been a pleasure, Dannielle."
"Thank you. I thought that went well."
"That being said - we'll call you."
Dannielle Blumenthal is a seasoned communications professional with nearly two decades of progressive, varied experience in the public sector, private sector, and academia. Currently she is a public servant, as well as an independent freelance writer. This blog, like all of her public content, is written in her personal capacity unless otherwise noted. It does not reflect the views of the U.S. government, in whole or in part. Photo credit: Gerard Stolk via Flickr

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


"I used to live near the Gowanus Expressway, do you know where that is?"
"No."
"It's pronounced GO-WAH-NUS."
"No kidding."
"I was going through a really tough time back then. I was poor."
"I'm sorry. I..."
"Now I'm successful. REALLY successful."
"Yeah? Hey listen, I've got to go check on that - "
"I mean BIG. But my kids aren't talking to me."
"Oh. Oh no. Well I guess I can sit down for a minute more."
"Yeah. And my husband walked RIGHT OUTI was working too much he said."
"Mmmmmm."
"He took the kids with him. That's why they hate me."
"Um, I'm sorry I just have to - "
"Yeah, they really do."
"Oh. Yeah."
"Hey - I see you shifting around over there. I didn't mean to keep you. You go ahead and take your bio break, yeah. You need that."
"Thank you, I mean thank you. Thanks."
"You take care now. Give me a call."
"I will."
As I am thinking, that would be never.
It took me a while to put myself in the other person's shoes. But I used to be a blabbermouth myself, and once I cottoned onto that, catching others in the act became a little easier for me.
So now I'm telling you.
When you're talking to a stranger, and you feel really comfortable, enough to chat away and tell them all about yourself...consider this: Do they seem to want to hear it?
If they're squirming, or looking away as if for an exit sign, consider it a warning. You're probably sharing a bit too much.
Dannielle Blumenthal is a seasoned communications professional with nearly two decades of progressive, varied experience in the public sector, private sector, and academia. Currently she is a public servant, as well as an independent freelance writer. This blog, like all of her public content, is written in her personal capacity unless otherwise noted. It does not reflect the views of the U.S. government, in whole or in part. Photo credit: sari_dennise / Flickr