If there’s anyone who knows how to package a brand for success it’s Charlotte Beers, former CEO of advertising giant Ogilvy & Mather. During her lengthy career, which included a post as Undersecretary of State to Colin Powell, Beers was widely considered one of the most powerful women in American.
Author of last year’s “I’d Rather Be In Charge,” a guide to achieving “pride, power, and joy at work,” Beers now offers 5-day “X-Factor” seminars across the U.S. and Europe to give women tools she says they need to “take charge, find pride and power at work, and learn to never miss a moment to lead.” Beers says she’s on a mission to help women find the power they have within and to exercise it, and that her book can help anyone become a masterful communicator.
At the OPEN for Women: CEO BootCamp at the American Express World Headquarters in New York recently Beers shared some of her wisdom in an hour-long session called “Authentic Leadership Breeds Confidence.” At 78, the supremely poised and confident Texas native is entertaining and accessible.
First among her insights for women business owners: “Relationships are greater than work.” In advertising terms, Beers explains that consumers have relationships with brands, not products.
Translating that concept to personal and business branding, Beers urges women to think about how they’re building their relationships: “Every email I send is a presentation of who I am,” she says. “Your product isn’t as important as who you are as a brand.” When you have a meaningful brand, she says, a broken product can be fixed.
Beers is also a believer in deep self-analysis. “Do a radical self-inventory,” she says. “And go find out what picture people hold of you. They will teach you how they see you.” Then, she says, you can close the gap between who you are and how you’re perceived. Part of her own journey of self-discovery included attending Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings to understand why the men in her creative department who blew off early to go to the bar reduced her to childlike behavior.
One way to discover who you are, she suggests, is to reflect on those moments at work “when your most real self emerged”—“when you weren’t your most polite professional self.”
She recalls, for instance, when, as a young account executive in Chicago, she confronted a senior female colleague who had mocked her Southern accent in front of a group of male colleagues. “I was afraid of her,” Beers says, “but I went into her office and said, ‘I’m not leaving here until you and I unite so the men can’t divide us’.” The woman took Beers to lunch and taught her to drink Scotch Mist, she says. When you say what you mean, are memorable and persuasive, Beers says, “that’s your standard for major communication.”
Beer says her Golden Rule, learned 100 million times a day in the ad industry, is, “It’s not what you say; it’s what they hear.” To succeed in persuading people, she says, “You must learn something about charm, charisma, wit, humor, the unexpected. Being menacing works too.”
Instead of seeing work as obedient, hard performance, Beers says women should consider work a “daily practice to learn who they are and how large they can be.”
After all, what gives your life meaning, Beers says, “is using all of you in the highest possible way and being influential in your sphere.”