Rev up your content — I have really enjoyed watching the evolution of fast food marketing and consumer engagement over the past several years. It’s become so fun, sassy, interactive — and very effective. All businesses can take a page out of their playbook to develop content that is more authentic to your target audience. A CPA firm isn’t going to necessarily create a campaign that would be described as “sassy”, but they can certainly think about campaigns that are more lighthearted in nature. Not everything, and not everyone, wants their content to be stanched and serious all of the time.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Frances Reimers, founder and CEO of Firestarter, a personal brand consultancy located in Alexandria, VA.
Firestarter helps athletes, coaches and sports executives to develop, manage, enhance, and protect a key professional asset: their personal brands.
Some of Firestarter’s current and former clients include: the Denver Nuggets, the NFL Alumni Association, Buffalo Bills offensive linemen Jon Feliciano, LA Rams Aaron Donald’s AD99 Solutions Foundation, Dale Earnhardt Jrs’ JR Motorsports, GMS Racing, and multiple other retired and current professional athletes, coaches, and professional service providers.
Frances currently serves on the Advisory Boards for the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger, and Soldiers To Sidelines.
Frances has featured in articles in O Magazine, Forbes, Huffington Post, Front Office Sports, Thrive, BuzzFeed, Washingtonian Bride and Groom, Washington Post, and You Can Magazine. She’s been a frequent guest on radio and TV shows and podcasts. In 2014, she was a featured guest on CNN’s Live with Piers Morgan. Frances is a 2016 recipient of the Alexandria, VA Chamber of Commerce’s 40 Under 40 award.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Personal branding and content creation have been my career destination since childhood — although I didn’t really know it at the time. While growing up in Cheyenne, WY, developing content like home videos with our massive Camcorder or taking selfies with a Polaroid were ways I’d pass the time. I had no idea that one day that I’d be creating these types of content for professional athletes! Believe it or not, I originally wanted to be a family law attorney. Even though I majored in criminal justice, my outside-the-classroom activities consistently revolved around marketing, public relations, and events. Storytelling and creating content were always things that just felt very innate to me.
Business ownership was not directly a goal of mine, but I probably should have seen it coming. I’ve always been very entrepreneurial and willing to take risks and find ways to innovate. Now 20 years into my career, I own my own personal branding firm that caters to athletes, coaches, and sports administrators.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing or branding mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I don’t really have a humorous marketing or branding mistake to share.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?
From 2014 to 2016 I truly felt like I had finally created and was growing my personal brand. While serving as the Director of Corporate Visibility at PCI (now Yes& Agency), I was able to experiment what worked for my brand. As a result, I received positive feedback — for both me and the agency, regarding my daily thought leadership content: Media interviews were increasing, my social media engagement was going up, and I was booking more speaking engagements. At the time, I had multiple clients and projects to manage each day, so it took about five years to get to this groundswell period. Knowing this, I always encourage people to remain patient and consistent with their personal brand efforts. It will be slow to start, but once you find your niche, things will really take off.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m currently responsible for the day-to-day marketing and public relations for three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald’s AD99 Solutions Foundation. I’ve been involved with the organization since its founding and it’s been a pleasure to help build its brand from the ground up. Our mission is to help change the trajectory of Pittsburgh’s underserved youth and communities. We launched in 2019 and have already had a measurable impact through our programs to provide PPE and meals to vulnerable populations impacted by COVID-19. Also, through our Cohort program, we provide a year’s worth of tuition-free academic, athletic and life and career skills development opportunities to a selected group of Pittsburgh-area student-athletes. We have so much on the agenda for the 2020–2021 school year, including a. get out the vote initiative, a continuation of our free, virtual Mental Flex Forum series, and a continuation and expansion of our ‘Fuel Up for Success’ initiative. it’s really an exciting time for the Foundation, full of so many brand touchpoints.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
There are two pieces of advice I’d give. First, the lesson I’ve learned the hard way is that we have to listen to our bodies. To keep your machine running at peak creative condition we must get plenty of rest, mind our mental health, and eat well. Each of us needs to give ourselves permission to step away and recharge. I know it’s hard for some to conceptualize, and by some I mean me, but the world really will continue without you. Second, you can’t take yourself too seriously. We’re not nearly as cool or important as we all think we are. Standing back and laughing at yourself — and your work, once in a while is good for the soul.
Ok, let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
Brand marketing or branding is the act of building a relationship with your stakeholders by sharing your personal philosophy, thought leadership, and culture. To me, product marketing or advertising is when you identify your target audience’s pain points and demonstrate how your product will solve the problem, make their lives easier, etc. Brand marketing is storytelling or knowledge sharing, not selling.
Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?
Prior to the pandemic, we were already living more of our lives online. For the past five months, that’s literally all we’ve done! And to be honest, I don’t think we’ll fully reverse course. The reality is that no matter if you’re searching for a job, a romantic partner, or more customers, people are more likely to search for you or your company online before connecting through other mediums. You have the ability to tell your story and control what is seen. To that end, people should invest resources and energy into putting their best foot forward in a way that speaks to who you are, builds trust amongst your stakeholders, and helps you achieve your personal and professional goals.
Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?
In the past six months, we’ve seen everyone from companies to sport teams, even country bands, rebrand to reflect the change in public opinion. Anytime your brand is associated with an antiquated idea or a bad reputation is a good time to consider a rebrand. We’re also seeing some companies begin to reposition themselves to reflect a significant change in how COVID-19 has forced us to rethink how we live our everyday lives.
What I often see when assisting professional athletes with their charitable organizations is that brand elements like logos are developed without taking into consideration how it reflects the organization’s mission or how it will be used for years to come. As the charity grows it’s forced to piece together brand elements to fit the needs of the day. When that’s happening within your organization, it’s a clear indication that it’s time to stop the wheel and consider a rebrand.
Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?
The ultimate downside to rebranding is that what’s created doesn’t resonate with your audience. That scenario is pretty much every marketing professionals nightmare. The LA Rams recent rebranding efforts are still receiving mixed reviews. The fans wanted to keep it simple, potentially returning to the traditional blue and white. The team proceeded with a five-color palette and a change to the traditional font and the iconic horns on the player’s helmets. As the 2020 NFL season kicks-off in a very unorthodox fashion, I wouldn’t have advised them to rebrand, but we’ll soon find out if fans adopt or reject the new look.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.
- Focus on your employees — I’d be remiss if my first tip didn’t involve personal brand building. Companies who leverage employee personal branding — allowing their staff to frequently develop content that highlights their work and passions, will reap the benefits. Why have just one marketing steam when you can have many?
- Stop being non-commital with social media — We all know those companies that have only one social media profile and they barely use it. But yet, they can’t figure out why their competition is outpacing them. We are long past the days when social media is an afterthought or something to be managed by this year’s interns. Dedicating time, resources, an experienced staff toward your social media efforts is a business imperative.
- Rev up your content — I have really enjoyed watching the evolution of fast food marketing and consumer engagement over the past several years. It’s become so fun, sassy, interactive — and very effective. All businesses can take a page out of their playbook to develop content that is more authentic to your target audience. A CPA firm isn’t going to necessarily create a campaign that would be described as “sassy”, but they can certainly think about campaigns that are more lighthearted in nature. Not everything, and not everyone, wants their content to be stanched and serious all of the time.
- Make your CEO an influencer — Your CEO doesn’t need to be Tim Cook or Jack Dorsey to be considered an influencer. Every person who has ascended to that position has a unique story and perspective to share. And at the end of the day, their outreach efforts and engagement with their audience could really help improve the public perception of your company’s brand.
- Engage the media — For a myriad of reasons, companies and organizations tend to shy away from engaging with the media. But when doing so leave a lot of visibility opportunities on the table. If your company has public relations professionals, challenge them to find new ways, i.e. highlight different staff or board members, share information about strategic partnerships, etc to earn press for your company. If you don’t have staff, engage a freelance public relations professional to develop a plan to help you accumulate more earned media for the coming year.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
The first company that comes to mind didn’t technically complete a brand makeover, but rather a brand evolution is the NBA. How the organization has evolved over the past five years provides a roadmap for many other companies to follow. Transparent top-down leadership, willingness to diversify, active listening to their stakeholders, and embracing all visibility channels has truly allowed their brand to retain previous and attract new consumers. They’ve fully leaned in to the culture that embraces their sport
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My personal passion has always been to empower women of all walks from life to embrace who they are and leverage their personal brand. For too long, women have been silenced and marginalized in the workplace. We now live in a time when every person can get into the driver’s seat and tell their own stories. Daily through my own actions I hope I’m encouraging and demonstrating to women how to do just that.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes is, “What other people think of you is none of your business.” It seems rather contradictory that someone who develops personal brands would love this quote; but this mantra has been a key ingredient to my overall success. There’s always going to be someone who has something negative to say about who you are or what you’re trying to achieve, but you can’t focus on that. That’s their issue, not yours. To be successful, and happy with your success, you have to stay focused on your dreams and fearlessly put yourself out there.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can find me on Twitter @YourFirestarter, Instagram @FirestarterCEO, and on LinkedIn at /FrancesReimers.
Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.