By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group
As I was preparing for my journalism branding panel at last month’s National Association of Black Journalists’ annual convention in San Diego, I received an email from Elaine Swann via my Google Profile. Elaine Swann, aka The Etiquette Lady, just happens to be based in San Diego and was making a pitch to be on my panel. Elaine spreads her brand via appearances as a special correspondent on San Diego’s NBC 7/39 “News in the Morning,” her website, her syndicated column and her line of etiquette-inspired products.
You can hear Swann, Google Fellow Kiara Pesante and NABJ student representative Georgia Dawkins on a replay of DJTF’s BlogTalkRadio session, “Internet Etiquette: Being `Socially’ Responsible.”
In this interview, Swann shares up-to-the minute tools and practical tips from a contemporary perspective, presenting workshops, seminars and one-on-one sessions with private clients. Below NABJDigital speaks to Swann about why you need a brand, how create and maintain the brand and how she did it.
NABJDigital: What is your professional background?
Elaine Swann: I was a journalist. However, did not take the traditional route of going to school for it. I grew up in California and moved to New York right after high school. I moved there to become a model, but I started hanging around people who were in the entertainment business, so I started a model management company. I met Kate Ferguson, a dear friend who is a journalist. She asked me to start writing for WordUp magazine. I used my English skills to write and learn journalism in the school of hard knocks.
I then moved to Today’s Black Woman and became its art director. My career is not traditional, and I don’t recommend it for young people. It’s important for them to go to school. I moved back to California and got my associate’s degree, and continued to write, based on contacts I made. Had I not established a decent relationship with Kate, it would have maybe taken longer to get the skills I needed or I maybe would have gone in a completely different direction.
ND: How did you become the Etiquette Lady?
ES: I’ve always been a student of etiquette. I did charm school growing up. I also did beauty pageants, where there was always an etiquette portion. In the small military town where I grew up, sorority women knew about my interest in etiquette and asked me to teach it to local debutants back in 1997. I did it for five years. After that, I created a program and a school asked me to do it for students, and wanted to pay me for it. I did after-school programs and realized it was a business. So I created a business plan and model for the business.
I auditioned for the reality show “Martha Stewart: Apprentice,” and a reporter pulled me aside and asked what I did. I told her I was The Etiquette Lady. I was then introduced to a television producer who wanted me to do a segment on etiquette. I made it down to the final 25 people for the Apprentice, but I didn’t get picked for the final 16.
I went back to NBC in San Diego and from 2005 and 2009 I was a regular. I was also approached by San Diego Union-Tribune to do an advice column, so I did my “Ask The Etiquette Lady” on television and the website, which lit my journalism fire again.
ND: What did you do to create your brand as the Etiquette Lady?
ES: I literally created my brand during the time of “Martha Stewart: Apprentice.” I researched Martha Stewart and her company, I bought and read books, took notes and did everything I could to understand the company. I was already working on my etiquette book and teaching seminars. I knew I wanted to own etiquette products like thank-you cards.
ND: Why do you think journalists need to brand themselves?
ES: I believe journalists need to brand themselves because in today society, we want to go to the expert. The powers-that-be always want expert opinions.
ND: What would you say to a journalist who says “I don’t have the money to spend” or “I don’t need to do this?”
ES: I say its baloney and that they’re making up excuses. You can brand yourself for free. Social media has leveled the playing field to brand and promote yourself for free. If you can’t get a website, get a blog for free. Pitch yourself to get your placement on the Internet. You can do this for free – you just need to plan. Use your journalistic skills to research where you should set up shop. Have real estate on the Internet in places that are relevant for your field. That’s why I write blogs for Essence and Exquisite Weddings.