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Jeffrey B. Hirsch of JBH Personal Branding: “It never gets easier. It’s always something!”

It never gets easier. It’s always something! You get in the groove and a housing crisis and recession bring you crashing back to earth. Technology changes the way sell and conduct your business. Time, effort and money must be invested to stay current and relevant. The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But […]

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It never gets easier. It’s always something! You get in the groove and a housing crisis and recession bring you crashing back to earth. Technology changes the way sell and conduct your business. Time, effort and money must be invested to stay current and relevant.


The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.

As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeffrey B Hirsch.

Jeffrey B. Hirsch is the Founder & President of The Right Brain Studio and JBH Personal Branding, and serves as Adjunct Professor in the graduate communications program at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School.

His business development strategies and new product ideas are responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues for some of the world’s top brands such as Pepsi, Colgate-Palmolive, General Mills, Johnson & Johnson, Brown-Forman, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Anheuser-Busch, Walt Disney and many others.

Hirsch has been quoted on branding and marketing strategy in media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Business Journal, USA Today, Adweek and Huffington Post, and has appeared in broadcast segments on NBC and Fox News, among others.

A former executive with DKG Advertising, Brown-Forman, Campbell-Mithun and Chiat/Day, Jeff has an M.S. in Advertising and a B.S. in Communications from Northwestern University.

An avid reader, golfer, filmgoer and music lover, Jeff enjoys performing solo — or joining his band — at local clubs and events.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I was blessed with an amazing childhood, growing up as a typical Baby Boomer on Long Island in a New York City suburb. We lived in a three-bedroom house in one of those 1950’s developments built for the growing middle class. It was a kid’s paradise in many ways. Virtually every house had children around my age. After school and on weekends I’d leave the house to “go out and play.” You could knock on any number doors to find others to start a game of stickball, punchball, touch football (or backyard tackle football) and we’d stay out until dinnertime. In the summers, we’d stay out playing until it got dark, we couldn’t see the ball we were tossing around any longer or we could hear our mothers’ screaming from the front door for us to go home.

While “playing” was my main activity, I was an excellent student and a “very good boy” in those days. I always loved music. My parents tell me they knew this when I was a toddler. I took up a musical instrument as soon as I could, taking up the clarinet in the 4th grade, inspired by the fact that my grandfather used to play the instrument.

I was also obsessed with anything to do with the popular culture. I watched way too much television. Early on, I seemed to recognize the influence of what was considered “low culture” — sitcoms, commercials, pop music, etc. — on society, though I didn’t have the tools to articulate these feelings until I went to college. Perhaps nothing epitomized this era in the culture and my life as well as breakfast cereals. Attitudes toward food in the 50’s and 60’s were the polar opposite of how we think about food now. Packaged foods weren’t evil processed poison, they were delicious, affordable, accessible, convenient foods. The kids loved the sugary or salty tastes and moms loved the ease of preparation, if any prep were required in the first place.

With few limits on children’s advertising at that time, we gobbled up junk food like Sugar Frosted Flakes, Sugar Pops, Cocoa Krispies (when I could persuade my mom to buy the junkiest of the junk), Alpha-Bits, Trix and others. I loved the characters, the taglines (“Trix are for kids!”), the jingles and the ads. My morning reading was the backs of cereal boxes because I loved the promotions and seeing characters like Tony the Tiger and the Trix rabbit.

We moved from Long Island to a tonier area in Westchester County when I was starting the 9th grade. High school was my “lost years” in many ways. While still a musician, I wasn’t serious about or particularly interested in anything else, a victim to the ravages of adolescence. Somehow, I got good enough grades to get into a good college, avoided serious injury and jail, all while maintaining the illusion of still being a “good kid.”

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I love this quote from Maya Angelou and cite it all the time:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

This is what drives my approach to my work and just about everything else I do in life. My mantra is that in life, love, politics and marketing, the facts never matter. It’s all about feelings.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

There have been so many it’s hard to pick just one or even a few, but one thing they all have in common is their timing.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut had a huge influence on me. It was recommended by my senior year math teacher when I was not quite 17 years old. I wasn’t much of a reader in those days, but Mr. Haskell was a cool, young guy with long hair and a beard. He didn’t look like or act like the other teachers, being closer to us in age than he was to most of the faculty. I enjoyed this book so much that I started reading all of Vonnegut’s novels and then moved on to other writers. It was one of the first times I ever read for pleasure, and it established a life-long habit that I still love.

Of course, anyone growing up when I did owes a great deal to the Beatles. I doubt we’ll ever see any person or group have such a profound effect on the culture in my lifetime. Younger generations can’t really understand it, you had to be there to feel the profound impact the Beatles had on so many aspects of our lives. Their movie a Hard Day’s Night was a revelation to me. I had never seen a film depict sheer joy in this way. While the Beatles were depicted as virtual prisoners in the film — everywhere they went there were screaming girls to avoid — the film still managed to put forth a feeling of unbridled freedom rooted in the music.

There’s a story that John Lennon likes to tell about going to see his first Elvis Presley movie. All the girls in the audience were screaming for Elvis. Thinking of this effect, John thought, “that’s the job I want.” I felt the same way after seeing A Hard Day’s Night, but it wasn’t just the girls I was thinking about. I loved what it meant to be a musician and find so much joy in it. Tool bad I never had the talent, though I do get my kicks playing open mics and local gigs with my young musician friends.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?

After receiving my master’s degree from Northwestern University’s graduate advertising program (now IMC), I returned to New York to start my career, working for a mid-sized agency with strong creative credentials. It was a blast to be on the very tail end of the Mad Men era. As the expression goes, we worked hard and played hard. After a few years I was lured away by one of my clients, Brown-Forman, and moved out of New York City to Louisville, Kentucky. There couldn’t be a better experience for a marketer. Everyone should move out of their comfort zone and the familiar to go live in a place where people grew up differently, hold on to some values unlike their own and have very different cultural sensibilities. Marketing is all about empathy. As a “New York elite,” I could read about the wants and needs of my brands’ target audiences, but it’s really difficult to understand them without living and being in the moment with them.

After returning the ad agency business for a few years, I launched what is now The Right Brain Studio, a marketing strategy, innovation and research company that is still going strong — or at least was until the pandemic hit — to this day. I always thought of myself as a creative person and not a “suit.” The original premise of The Right Brain Studio was that I would bring creativity and innovation to the positioning process and to qualitative research. These are the origins of my personal brand.

I always felt strongly about the need for people to meet and work face-to-face, to be in the moment together. That “touchy-feely” approach is why I love qualitative research, which had started to fall out of favor well before the pandemic with the explosion of “Big Data.” I don’t believe that there’s any better way to sense if people are telling you the truth, or to get them to open up and freely talk about their experiences. But as important as it is to dig deep into the nuances of consumer behavior, there’s a huge added benefit of what I call “The Road Trip.”

The typical focus group tour of the past featured representatives from the client side and their marketing agencies. We all experience research in the same place at the same time. The real magic comes not from my reports, but from the interactions of the marketing team. Discussions start at the site of the research, but continue over meals, drinks and travel time to the next location. These conversations often lead to big breakthroughs. Equally important, the “Road Trip” has the power to build a strong sense of collaboration and consensus. You can’t get that from online focus groups where everyone is siloed.

What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?

I started my new company, JBH Personal Branding.

This isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last, that external events shook up my business. The first was 9/11, when business came to a screeching halt for nearly a year. Next was the Great Recession, which had the same effect. While I always recovered nicely, I realized that the combination of agism, the fall from grace for qualitative research and the pandemic was likely to kill my business, and I wasn’t wrong. I knew that I had to do something differently to keep the suffering at a minimum and to set up a more sustainable business for the future.

Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?

I was thinking about my work as an adjunct professor at USC. This work, and the mentoring I do outside the classroom, bring nothing but joy to my life. Two things struck me. First, how much fun and how rewarding it would be to leverage a lifetime of experience and my mentoring talents to help people advance their lives and careers. Next, it was clear that Covid was going to necessitate career pivots from a great number of people. The stars aligned as it became clear to me that this was a great way to go.

How are things going with this new initiative?

Very well! I picked up my first paying client the very first day I launched the new business. I’ve worked with more than a dozen people so far. Feedback indicates that my clients — who range from students to C-Suite executives — really enjoy the process and find my approach both inspirational and practical. And it’s such a pleasure for me. There are exceptions, of course, but my corporate clients are generally a bit less engaged, more impersonal most, and certainly less appreciative. Many times they are process driven people going through the motion. But when the brand is you, you’re going to be much more heavily invested. I love the feeling of helping people gain clarity and insight about who they are. It’s incredibly rewarding.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

All of this also happens to coincide with meeting the wonderful woman to whom I am now engaged. Angela has provided her full support and encouragement. She also has helped me develop my own personal brand. Among other things, she became my personal stylist. It’s not that I was clueless about fashion before. One of my oldest friends loves to call me a “fop.” But her direction on colors and styles helped me hone my look.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

It’s kind of one big story that covers several smaller ones. People came out of the woodwork when I started this business. One of my clients was an old high school acquaintance. We never really hung out way back when, but now we’ve become good friends all this years later. Another was a corporate client of mine who was looking to start a new business. So I say the most interesting thing would have to be the way the new business put me back in touch and helped launch new and better relationships with a wide range of people.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

As I mentioned earlier, the facts never matter. “Great work” is meaningless if people don’t receive it in the right way and there’s no buy in. The work is just the ante to get into the game. To be successful, people have to feel good about choosing you and working with you. Continuing along those lines, I am not in the marketing or branding business. I’m in the mental health business. Managing relationships is more important than the work.

I had a client from a big package goods firm that hired us to develop new products. We far exceeded her expectations, creating some of the highest scoring concepts in their independent quantitative research in the company’s history. She never hired me again. I had always thought of her as rude and unappreciative, but the reality was that I was showing her up in many ways, dominating meetings and doing nothing to help her look good in front of her people. She needed my understanding and attention, but for me, it was all about looking smart and doing “great work.” In the end, as I stated earlier, all that mattered was the relationship.

You’ll spend less time doing your “real work” than on everything else. Marketing and branding work? I spend more time on sales, content creation, social media, networking, bookkeeping and everything else it takes to be successful. People might understand how running a business (or two) is so consuming, but not necessarily in the way they thought.

It never gets easier. It’s always something! You get in the groove and a housing crisis and recession bring you crashing back to earth. Technology changes the way sell and conduct your business. Time, effort and money must be invested to stay current and relevant.

I resisted online marketing for much too long. Tweeting, Facebook, Instagram was for other people who didn’t have a life. Actually, I still feel that if someone isn’t on social exclusively for work, they need to get a life. It’s a bad attitude!

The reality is that I was intimidated by the unknown and mistakenly felt that nothing could be better than the “old” or current way of doing things. In my case, it was a one-on-one, networking model, even though it was clear that the one-to-many model of the web could really help my business. Eventually, and fortunately before it was too late, I became a prolific blogger and started using LinkedIn to expand my reach. Just about every single client I’ve picked up in the last decade can be traced back to one of my blogs. I see people engaging, I follow up, a relationship begins and business ensues.

You must constantly strive to get out of your comfort zone.

Picking up on the last point, marketing yourself is scary. We all talk innovation but most of the time what we really crave is comfort. It’s important to try new things, to keep pushing ahead. If we fail, we fail. But we will have learned something valuable and lived to fight another day.

While we do live in a cancel culture, there’s not much you can do to permanently alienate potential customers out there. While our own marketing initiatives seem like life-or-death matters to many of us, the fact is that no one really cares that much. Your failures will likely die quiet deaths rather than being all that visible to outsiders. More importantly, while there are exceptions, there is little to be gained by doing the same old thing over and over again while the world is constantly changing around you.

Focus on the sliver of people in your broader target audience that truly “get you” and that you truly “get.”

In other words, go deep, not broad. It took a while for me to realize that I just couldn’t please everyone and that it wasn’t not fault. Just like we can’t be friends with everyone and all long-term relationships require chemistry and compatibility, I’m just a bad match for some companies.

Shared values and a chemistry check are important. Like-minded people will always be more receptive to your sales pitches and your work.

So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?

One of the points I could have included in my “5 Things,” above, is the need to do everything you can to take care of yourself mentally, spiritually and physically. Yes, the pandemic — not to mention the terrible polarized socio-political environment in our country — provides an unrelenting level of background stress that is always nagging at us. But it didn’t require any major changes on my part, as I continue my lifelong effort to stay healthy and sane. It takes a lot of work, but it’s so worthwhile.

I get up in the morning and take our dogs on the first of four walks that ensure that I get my 10,000 steps in every day. Then it’s back home for my 20 minutes (minimum) of meditation. I can’t say enough good things about that practice and don’t know why everyone doesn’t do it. I don’t think anything has helped me as much with a wide range of mental health issues including patience, self-esteem and diet.

I include diet as a mental health issue because it is one! We don’t overeat or choose bad foods because we’re hungry. Just like smoking, drinking alcohol to excess or any other vice, we stuff our faces to fill a psychological void. When we can successfully live “in the moment,” our choices become more mindful and healthy.

Years of psychotherapy have helped as well. I had a very hard time seeing myself as I really was, for better and worse, but having the luxury of an objective outsider to talk to every week has been remarkably transformative in helping me overcome some narcissistic tendencies and selfishness to better appreciate the needs and wants of others. It’s that empathy thing again.

Finally, after I gained about 25 pounds in my freshman year in college, I started running, well before it was a trend. While my weight has gone up and down over the years, I’ve always made sure to do my cardio and strength training. Now with the gym closed, I bought some fantastic Bowflex adjustable dumbbells to keep up my upper body strength and my lifetime commitment to fitness.

I’m now in my 60’s and I maintain my high school weight. Everything is better when your head and body are in shape. You have more physically energy, stamina for work and are just happier overall. It’s a huge advantage I have over most people.

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?

I’d have to come back to empathy again. I follow politics very closely and have many, strongly held beliefs. While I like to think of myself as open-minded I can still be biased. If I get into a focus group in red state places like Houston or Jackson, Mississippi, I cringe on the inside when people go off on tangents to insult the politicians I back and extol those that I love. My first reaction: “I hate these people.” But after a while, we’re into the discussion and clearly enjoying each other’s company. Yes, I actually like these people who voted for He Who Must Not Be Named!

The fact is racism, prejudice and all sorts of bias have existed since the beginning of time. But the old saw is true, that we have more in common with others than not. Sometimes we just need to listen. Don’t try to change anyone’s mind, just try to understand and be understood.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

Too many to think of! I love being around super smart, one-of-a-kind creative people. Politicians I’d like to know are Barack Obama, of course, and Hillary Clinton. She is so misunderstood, largely because she needs so much work on her personal brand! People seem to love her — even the Republicans she worked with in the Senate years ago — but despite being warm and funny, she comes of cold and calculating.

Then there are dozens of musicians. Many of my heroes have passed on, but I’d love to talk to some of the pioneers of rock and the British Invasion that are still around. The living Beatles, of course, but also people like Ray Davies of The Kinks, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead. The minds of truly original people fascinate and inspire me.

How can our readers follow you online?

My websites are therightbrainstudio.com and jbhpersonalbranding.com.

You can find me on:

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/jeffreyhirsch and linkedin.com/company/jbh-personal-branding

Instagram: instagram.com/jbhpersonalbranding/

Facebook: facebook.com/JBHpersonalbranding

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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