Fast Company

Brace Yourself: A Brand-Building Reality Check

I’ve talked before (and will continue to talk about) my growing impatience with clients and potential clients who think we’re ready to call Oprah because the first draft of their manuscript is written. Not only is this expectation both naïve and grandiose, it’s completely based in fantasy. This childlike look at the book industry would be completely laughable if it weren’t so frustrating. What people need to understand is that, yes, it’s possible to get Oprah’s attention. Yes, it’s possible to get on the bestseller list. But it will not happen overnight. It won’t happen in a year. Give it five years of real effort, and then you have a chance. Ten years is more practical. Let me illustrate.

What I’m seeing is that when building a brand that someone is looking to launch on a national level, it takes 100 smaller victories (local) to generate a medium-sized victory (state level). It takes 10 medium sized victories to gain a large victory (national). So, while the medium-sized victories do come more quickly after the first one, you’re still looking at 300 – 500 local victories that need to occur before you get that first piece of national exposure.

This isn’t meant to be pessimistic—in fact, knowing what it takes to achieve a national victory (and then many national victories) is empowering. I’m seeing it with Robert Renteria and our work together. We’ve done a ton of work at the local level before we finally reached the state level in terms of political support, with the endorsements of IL Secretary of State, Jesse White, Illinois Director of Literacy Dr. Jodi Martinez, State Rep Linda Chapa LaVia and others. This week, we have our first real opportunity for national exposure through LULAC, the largest Hispanic organization in the country, with 500,000+ members. We’ve been invited to present our program at their national board meeting in Los Angeles.  This is an opportunity for exposure and endorsement at the national level. And we would be honored.  LULAC is an exceptional organization with the ear of the Obama administration among other powerful decision makers.

At the same time we are pursuing these political outlets, we’re repeating the smaller/medium-sized victories process now with corporations and schools. As a result, we have achieved more local victories with IBM and McDonalds at the corporate level and with the Chicago Public School District with schools. If we repeat this process over and over again, we’ll build up to national deals with corporations and school systems. And, very importantly, we’ll publicize each victory along the way so that, together, these victories can generate the momentum we’re after.

Robert’s story is a great example of possibility—of what a book, an author, a career, a dream can look like with all the work behind them that they deserve. Frankly, anyone fantasizing about a national brand who isn’t willing to work toward this series of smaller and medium-sized victories first probably isn’t someone who is ready to be successful at it.

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