Locked gate

Make Your Brand Lockout Proof

Make Your Brand Lockout Proof

Talks of a 2020 NFL lockout have been looming for almost a decade. Yesterday’s email distributed by NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith to agents instructing them to prepare for a work stoppage did nothing to reduce anxiety on the topic.

Lockouts are never a positive or welcomed measure – by fans or players. Nevertheless, they do occur. And when they do, most athletes are left scrambling for a paycheck and a way to maintain their visibility.

The small silver lining in all this madness is that each player, coach, and executive currently has more than a year to get their ducks in a row. It’s never fun to look for a job when you already have one but putting your head in the sand isn’t a survival strategy.

Below are some tips for players, coaches, and executives to prepare themselves, and their brand, for a potential lockout.

Have a Plan

Waiting until the end of the 2020 season to decide what’s next for you is too late! Especially for those whose brand might need a little rehabilitating, waiting until the lockout is in effect is like waiting until you’ve already retired to start saving money.

Here are a few simple questions to ask yourself to help get a lockout plan in motion:

  1. What would you like to do if there’s a lockout? (Hint: “Nothing” is likely not the right answer.)
  2. Will this new endeavor earn you a steady income? (If no, consult with your Financial Advisor to see if this plan is feasible.)
  3. What resources will you need to help prepare you for this new endeavor? Will you need to take a class? Renew a certification? Update social media platforms like LinkedIn or update your resume? Get additional speaker or media training?
  4. What content or outreach will be needed for this new endeavor? Will you need content like a speaker reel, a presentation deck, or a media kit to support your new career objectives?

Know Your Sponsorship Status

It’s to be expected that most companies aren’t interested in sponsoring a player or coach if there’s isn’t an active NFL season. That said, there are individuals and sponsorship deals that transcend the football season, or lack thereof. If you’re a player or coach, it’s important to know which applies to you. There could be a scenario where your sponsorship will remain intact, but without an active season your ability to create engaging content will likely require additional strategy.

Don’t Forget to Volunteer

Whether you’re financially viable enough or not to weather a season-long lockout, don’t forget to take time to give back to those less fortunate. Participating in community service projects allows you to maintain hands-on engagement with fans while doing something good for your community.

Remain Consistent

Without the daily structure that an active season provides, it’s easy to slack off when it comes to creating and posting content to your social media platforms. Just like your workout regiment, taking too many days off from positing quality content has a negative impact. The lifespan of social media content is shorter than you may think, so be sure not to take too much time off. You don’t want to give your fans a reason to forget about you.

Assemble Your Transition Team

As of right now, the 2019 season appears to be full steam ahead. This means your main priority should remain playing, coaching, and leading. To reiterate, you don’t want to put this topic on hold. Engage those around you, i.e. your agent, publicist, significant other, etc., to help you develop and executive a plan to keep your bank account and personal brand in great shape during a potential lockout.

Summer 2019 Internship Information

Title: Summer Associate

Period of Performance: May to August 2019

Hours: Less than 30 per week

Location: Virtual

Pay: For college credit only

College Major: All majors are welcome to apply

Please forward a cover letter and resume to frances@yourfirestarter.com with “Summer Associate” in the subject line by no later than May 1, 2019.


The Summer Associate will be responsible for assisting the CEO with a variety of marketing, public relations, and business development tasks for Firestarter and its clients. Tasks may include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Write/edit printed and digital assets
  • Design printed and digital assets
  • Develop original or editing videos
  • Build and update media lists and databases
  • Create and distribute press releases and media alerts
  • Compile lists for sponsorship, endorsements, and speaking engagement leads
  • Compile lists for business development leads
  • Use analytics tools to compile, organize, and analyze campaign data


  • Must be available by phone and email Monday through Friday, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET
  • Must have own computer and access to reliable internet service
  • Must be creative, self-motivated, organized, and able to multitask
  • Must have a working knowledge of all major social media platforms
  • Must be a strong written and verbal communicator
  • Must be a strong researcher
  • Experience creating and editing video a plus, but not required
  • Graphic design experience a plus, but not required
  • Experience in sports marketing or public relations a plus, but not required

About Firestarter

Firestarter, based in Alexandria, Virginia, advises athletes, coaches, and executives, helping them develop, manage, enhance, and protect a key professional asset: their personal brand.

The firm provides strategic consulting, detailed analysis, day-to-day support/management, and individualized and group training to help clients position themselves in the marketplace, engage stakeholders, and motivate customers and other constituencies who could have short- or long-term impact on their positioning and reputation.

Building and/or growing a personal brand is not a one-size-fits-all proposition, so Firestarter offers multiple options to help you create enhance, and/or protect this most valuable asset.

  • Personal brand and message development/enhancement
  • Strategic planning, creation, and management of social media and content marketing
  • Media representation
  • Reputation management and repair strategies
  • Personal brand training for individuals and teams


When Your Brand Becomes A Brick

The recent fallout following scandals involving ‘Full Houses’” Lori Loughlin and “Empire’s” Jussie Smollett left not just these individuals, but their fellow castmates, in turmoil. With each passing moment as the details of their individual incidents were investigated, their personal brands became like a brick – threatening to sink all those associated with them.

The reality is, these kinds of incidents aren’t just isolated to TV stars, politicians, and professional athletes. The immediacy and accessibility of information at all of our fingertips exponentially increases the likelihood of a communications crisis impacting you or your business.

Noting Google’s painfully infinite memory, what can you or your company do when scandal strikes? Below are a few simple, yet extremely vital, points to remember when your brand is under scrutiny.

When Scandal Strikes You

Think. Then speak. Immediately defending yourself in a crisis is not always the best policy. Remaining silent and allowing time to do the heavy lifting is often the best course of action. Should a public statement need to be made, lean on the support and guidance of your attorney and a reputable publicist to draft and deliver the statement.

Take a media break. Consuming social media, reading the news, or watching TV while enduring a crisis is bit like willfully drinking poison. Step away from public opinion — to preserve your own sanity, if nothing more. Depending on the severity of the crisis, you may need to turn off social media notifications or shut down your sites altogether until the matter is resolved. If your accounts remain active, update your passwords and security settings to protect against hacking. Also, be vigilant for imposter accounts.

Plan for a (potentially long) rebuilding phase. Whether it was a minor infraction or a major event, there’s no easy fix for negative media attention. Not having a strategic plan in place makes rebuilding a personal brand even more painful. Forgiveness doesn’t come easy, but it does come faster when you manage your response thoughtfully and begin the brand repair process as soon as possible.

When Scandal Strikes an Employee

Have a plan in place. In this day and age, having a crisis communication plan and an employee social media policy that addresses crisis communication is an absolute necessity. Be sure both plans address all audiences, external and internal. Those who are impacted by a crisis situation need to feel they are part of the team and know how to respond to possible inquiries.

Act quickly. In the eyes of the judging masses, seconds feel like days. When crisis strikes, have team members prepped to deploy information across all media channels as quickly as possible. If necessary, have your team practice crisis communication drills so they’re fully prepared when needed.

Remain consistent. How organizations elect to manage an employee scandal will vary with the culture. Whatever course of action your organization chooses, they must remain consistent. How the organization disperses information, responds to inquiries, and develops post-event content must also remain consistent.

A scandal doesn’t have to mean that your brand sinks to the abyss. Whether the employee or employer, remaining calm, rational, and authentic will always help keep you or your company’s head above water.

Personal Branding Tips for the New Year

It’s okay if you ignored my advice back in October. It’s even understandable if you overlooked my tips to start planning in November and December. But now that we’re in the New Year, you can no longer keep ignoring your personal brand.

If you’re planning to change jobs, looking for a promotion, launching a new business or podcast, or even if you’re just wanting to expand your social media presence, addressing your personal brand should be high on the proverbial to-do list.

I understand that this can be an overwhelming task. I have conversations with professional service providers, celebrities, athletes, and philanthropists every day on this very topic. Like you, most are confused as to where to start. Or in an effort to save time, what’s the absolute minimum they need to do to get by.

Below is a mix of entry- and intermediate-level tips and tools I strongly recommend that you execute before the end of January.

Google Search

You’ve likely Googled yourself for fun, but there’s an actual practicality to this self-research. Review the first three to five pages under your name search. Click here for what to do should you find something incorrect or unflattering.

Audit Accounts

Go through all your social media accounts, all the way back to when they were established, to remove any unflattering or questionable posts or images. Also, untag yourself from any unflattering posts made by others.

Update LinkedIn

Make sure you’re maximizing your LinkedIn account by adding all current and past work and additional career-related information. LinkedIn is the general go-to platform when others want to learn more about you or your company – making it the one online platform that you shouldn’t neglect.

Update Headshots

Having social media platforms without an appropriate headshot is a major faux pas. If you haven’t gotten a proper headshot in more than three years, it’s time to schedule a session with a photographer.

Cultivate Online Relationships

Your network is your net worth, so what are you doing to cultivate all those LinkedIn contacts? Create a plan to ensure that you’re staying connected throughout the year to your online network in a real way. You never know when a random touchpoint could lead to a major opportunity.

Identify Content Tools

If you plan to self-manage your brand, be sure to research and access tools that will make your life easier, i.e. editing apps, graphic design apps, publishing platforms, etc. Click here for an article that has done the heavy lifting for you. Apps and platforms can range from free to rather expensive, and more doesn’t always mean better so shop around.

Create a Content Goal

When you have a goal in mind you’re less likely to create “junk” content. Junk content is usually filler creative, i.e. images, video, blog posts—material that doesn’t provide any value to your target audience and/or your designated goal. Whether you’re sharing and/or commenting on content created by others or your own original content, make sure that it fulfills your plan and personas. Otherwise you’re just creating noise which will ultimately turn your audiences off.

Also, if you plan out your content on a calendar or even a Word doc, you’re more likely to be creating posts that are useful, entertaining, and/or more personalized to your audience. Finally, if you stay focused on your analytics you’ll begin to see a pattern of what’s working for you and what isn’t.

Stay Abreast of Trends

Social media platforms and their functionality can change in the blink of an eye. Staying on top of these trends will allow you to better plan your usage and content creation. Click here for an article with many ways to stay in the know.

Of course, if all else fails, you know where to find me. I’m happy to help if you need assistance with brainstorming, creating a strategy, writing, editing, or something more. The point is: getting started and staying consistent is the key to your personal brand growth in 2019.

Don’t Be That Person: A Brief Guide to Holiday Networking

‘Tis the season to network! If you’re like me, your calendar is packed from November to January with mixers, dinners, galas, and fundraisers— each occasion allowing us to reconnect with peers and secure opportunities for the coming year. During and following these events, there are so many ways we can leave a negative impression in the minds of those we meet.

I’m sure your mother once told you that you’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Generally, this is true and a fact we all must accept. When possible, its advantageous to do what you can to manage your own behavior to help mitigate this fact.

While social media is a powerful brand-building super hero, traditional word-of-mouth can be its kryptonite. All of the dynamic content in the world does nothing if a person or a group perceives you in real life to be a <insert negative adjective here>.

Here are a few ways to help you to avoid becoming that person at your next holiday gathering.

Not understanding boundaries. It‘s imperative that you respect other people’s boundaries—physical and verbal, For example, if someone physically takes a step back from you, that’s not an invitation to step closer. If someone is showing signs they want to end the conversation, that’s not a greenlight to keep talking. If you enter every conversation putting the other person’s needs first, you’ll likely save yourself any embarrassment.

Being a Real-Life Avoider. As our digital footprints continue to grow, we begin to follow more people online whom we’ve never met in real life. Should the opportunity arise that you’re in the same room with an online contact, say hello. If you’re following them on social media, most people understandably assume you like them. If you don’t care for this person, stop following them. There are ways to cyberstalk people without being connected.

Being a gossip. You never know who knows whom. More importantly, you never really know who’s loyal to whom. Avoiding gossip relieves you of having to know this. Find any excuse to exit if you find yourself in a conversation where tea is being spilled. When it comes to gossip, ignorance is bliss.

Being Too Eager Beaver. Be thoughtful about how you proceed following an event if someone doesn’t offer you their business card or ask you for yours. The missed opportunity to connect could have been completely unintentional, or not. If your gut tells you this opportunity is red-hot, send a LinkedIn note briefly reminding the person of the conversation and how to contact you. If they don’t connect or reply, move on.

Being too flirty. Avoid flirtatious behavior, even if another person engages in it. A business-focused holiday party is not the place for romance. The room has lots of eyes, ears, and judgmental minds. If things between you and another person are heating up, take it somewhere else before it becomes X-rated.

Not knowing your limits. It wouldn’t be a holiday post if I didn’t remind people about the dangers of failing to control their alcohol consumption. Most of the aforementioned pitfalls can be avoided simply by limiting your alcohol. There’s nothing wrong with a nip or two to calm the nerves. After that, stick to something without alcohol.

Hoping people forget about your embarrassing behavior is not a reputation management strategy for 2019 or ever! If you enter into every conversation with a fun, positive and helpful attitude, your online and real-life personal brand is likely to kick off the New Year on the right foot.

What Brett Kavanaugh Can Teach Young Athletes About Brand

In the coming days, the fate of Brett Kavanaugh as the next Supreme Court justice will be decided. This piece isn’t about his guilt or innocence. Or even whether I believe the women who’ve stepped forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against him.

What’s happening to and around Mr. Kavanaugh is an excellent teaching tool for young people everywhere about the importance of understanding yourself, the world around you, and how all of that impacts your brand in the short- and long-term.

I want to hyper-focus my remarks on young athletes who at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels are often, for a myriad of reasons, under a far more intense microscope than their peers. And far more likely to find their behavior under the scrutiny of their community or even the whole world.

As I tell young athletes each and every day, branding isn’t just the well-crafted statements, the fancy graphic images, or the edited videos you post to your social media. Your brand, or rather, your reputation, is built through each and every action you take and people you encounter throughout your life.

The original singing cowboy Will Rogers famously coined the phrase “It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, but you can lose it in a minute.”

The moment at which a person’s reputation is lost can occur in so many different settings and as a result of so many different actions. I frequently remind my clients that: everyone has eyes and the walls always have ears, so be extremely careful what you say and do.

Below are a few obvious, and not-so-obvious, ways a reputation can be lost:

  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. Or at least, know your limits. Drugs and alcohol limit the control you have on your words and actions. Avoid consuming them, especially if you’re in unfamiliar environments.
  • Know when to leave. You’ve likely heard the term “guilt by association”. You yourself might not be doing anything wrong, but others around you are. If and when you’re experiencing this, by all means leave.
  • Be a friend. If you see a friend or teammate acting out or in a compromising situation, come to their aid and remove them from the situation.
  • Avoid the cameras. You don’t need to be in every picture at every party you attend. Be very selective about what images you’re in, who else is in the picture, and what might be seen in the background.
  • Understand your audience. If you’re doing community service work or attending a charity event, learn about the cause and make sure you understand what’s expected of your attendance and if there are any words or phrases that might be inappropriate in that setting.
  • Don’t lie. As Mark Twain once said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
  • Be kind. Showing grace, kindness, and compassion to others is never a bad move.
  • Conduct frequent audits. Audit your social media accounts to ensure that you don’t have any posts containing inappropriate picture or offensive statements.

In short, like my grandmother used to say, “Don’t give the gossips any fat to chew.”

Do I mean to say that someone can never repair their image after a mistake? Of course not. But just ask someone like Tiger Woods how painful it is to climb back to the top once you’ve descended to the bottom. The raw emotion of his interview directly following his PGA Tour win is proof of just how much he’s struggled to regain his prior prominence.

The point is to do whatever you can, whenever you can, to be the very best version of yourself. That way, when you reach the apex of your life and career you can be confident knowing you’ve built a solid brand.

39 Tips for Life, Love, and Personal Branding

Today marks my 39th trip around the sun. Most people decide to become reflective when they turn 40 or even 41, but I’m not most people. Those who know me well know that demonstrating patience and following the crowd aren’t my strong suits.

In honor of my birthday, I wanted to share with you 39 pieces of wisdom I’ve learned about life, love, leadership, success, and, of course, personal branding.

  1. Find a place that refuels your soul.
  2. Master public speaking.
  3. It’s never, ever okay to FaceTime or talk on speaker phone in public.
  4. Just because someone has a bigger platform doesn’t make them better or smarter than you. Put on blinders and keep working toward your goals.
  5. You never wear the jersey of a team that isn’t playing. You never wear the t-shirt of the band that’s performing.
  6. There’s no blue print for the perfect personal brand.
  7. Happily ever after is different for everyone. Figure out yours and follow that dream.
  8. The left lane is for passing.
  9. Turning into your parents isn’t always such a bad thing.
  10. Professionally and personally, always give more than you get. Don’t worry, the universe will reward you.
  11. You’re the only person who knows what size you’re wearing. Buy the size that makes you look your best, not the size you think will impress others.
  12. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you’re letting the other person off of the hook. Forgiveness is letting yourself off of the hook.
  13. The person in the middle seat gets both armrests. End of discussion.
  14. If you have at least one friend who loves you unconditionally you have all the friendship you need.
  15. Learn to be direct but diplomatic.
  16. More social media isn’t always better. It’s okay to be a one-trick social media pony.
  17. On dating apps, always look at all of a person’s pictures.
  18. Never leave the house without your business cards and an elevator pitch. You never know who you’ll meet.
  19. Quit with the emotional cutting. Deal with your baggage and move on.
  20. If you have to ask someone to do the right thing, that person likely stopped caring about what’s right a long time ago.
  21. It’s okay to say that you don’t know. Even if you’re supposed to be the expert, it’s better to admit that you don’t know than share incorrect information.
  22. Travel and read as much as possible.
  23. Always be leery of people who can buy their own justice.
  24. In a relationship or not, take yourself on dates.
  25. Caring about your health is cool.
  26. Ladies, ask him first. Regardless if you want a dance or a date, ask him first. He’ll be glad you did.
  27. Attorneys, accountants, repairmen, nurses, stylists, educators, and editors are friends you’ll never regret having.
  28. When in doubt, send a handwritten note.
  29. People who have to tell you they’re funny, usually aren’t.
  30. Saving money is cool.
  31. One more glass of wine and one more piece of cheese is always a good idea.
  32. Give back as much as you can to the greater good.
  33. Always be willing to say yes. Know when it’s time to say no.
  34. Understand what it means to act with integrity.
  35. Allow the other person to exit then you may enter the building.
  36. Be firm with where you stand on the existence of ghosts and aliens.
  37. Indulge your creative outlet as much as possible.
  38. Always make sure your reputation is stronger than your brand.
  39. Laugh. At yourself. At everything possible. The ability to find humor, especially when all around you is dark, will make all of the difference.

Taking Your Personal Brand Beyond the Basics

Kudos, if this is not your first rodeo when it comes to personal brand development. You’ve got thousands of Twitter followers. Your LinkedIn account is world-class. You’ve been paid to speak a time or two. You may even have additional content like a book or a podcast. You’ve created your narrative and have doubled down on its appeal. You’ve created the choir and have spoken to it more times than you can recall.

So now what? You want to continue to create and grow but have clearly hit a plateau.

How do you take your great personal brand and make it even greater? Below are a few ideas that just might help.

Embrace the plateau. You’ve likely been running and gunning for a long time now and your ideas have becoming stale. Embrace this time to allow yourself to briefly step away, recharge, and allow the creative juices to start flowing again. A brief lull is not entirely a bad thing. Like you, your audience needs a moment to take a breather and fall in love with you all over again.

Revisit your goals. Why are you on this trajectory to begin with? Were the goals that you started out with the same as they are today? Is your target audience the same as it once was? Like you, your brand and your audience have evolved. While on this plateau, take a moment to reflect on what you’re hoping to gain, your position in the marketplace, and what tactics and tools are necessary to help you advance.

Invest in video. I know, I know. Every marketing professional in the world is telling you to invest in video. And they’re right to do so! Video, and video-specific platforms like YouTube, will only continue to grow in popularity. This is not a trend that just focuses on the young. Video and video-based platforms are growing in popularity across all demographics around the world. As you likely know, video allows you tell your narrative in a more succinct, efficient, and creative way than almost any other medium. If you haven’t engaged in video, now is the time to see how it could fit into your content offerings.

Create partnerships. Creating a strategic partnership with an adjacent personal brand or company can provide the jolt that your brand needs. A partnership has two very obvious benefits: It allows for new and creative content and grants you access to a new and engaged audience. A partnership also enables you to look behind the curtain of another brand to see how you may adjust your tactics.

Look overseas. You likely haven’t exhausted your American audience, but that doesn’t mean you can’t look to international markets for visibility. Appear on podcasts, promote your book, and speak at conferences. If nothing else, international opportunities will provide you with new and fresh content to engage or reengage your American followers.

Every personal brand eventually hits a plateau. If this is your first, welcome to the club. If this isn’t your first, you know you must channel your inner Madonna and reinvent your why. If you can’t remember your why, then let’s grab a beer and talk about it. The point is that you have to keep going if you want to keep growing. Happy creating!


Real Engagement is The New Black

So, you’ve lost some Twitter Followers…

If you’ve noticed a drop in your Twitter followers recently it’s likely due to the platform’s recent crackdown on suspicious accounts. While this is the social media platform’s largest effort to date, it isn’t the first time Twitter has completed this type of purge. And as our lives continually expand online, it probably won’t be the last.

The plummet in ultra visible followers like athletes, celebrities, and politicians has been met with mixed reviews. Some view it as a way to humble the giant by exposing its purchased followers. Others view it as a welcomed sign of the times.

We mortals have not been spared from this social media cleansing. Professional services providers like doctors, lawyers, and journalists have also seen double and triple-digit losses.

What, if anything, does this mean for your brand? And how, if at all, should you respond?

The short answer is: Just keep building.

If you’ve lost followers (and know that you bought them), make a plan to be better. Create a strategy to develop better content and engage more with your followers— online and off. You don’t need any statement, explanation, or third-party vendor to blame. You just need to do better.

If you’ve lost followers (and know you didn’t purchase them), keep being awesome. Keep posting the great content you’ve been doing all along and keep engaging with your followers.

If you didn’t lose followers, congratulations. You must be a lovely, delightful and authentic person.

Moving forward, my prediction is that these kinds of social media purges will be a constant reality. Provide yourself a little insurance policy by conducting your own purges. Real engagement is the new black, so do what you can to put forth the most authentic version of yourself and your followers.

5 Things Sabotaging Your Personal Brand Growth

If you heeded the advice in my previous blog (Summertime is the perfect time for your personal brand), then throughout the summer you’ve been busily working on developing your personal brand. Whether you’ve been developing your brand for the past six weeks or the past six years, these five elements, if ignored, will keep your efforts stalled at the starting line.

Bad Graphic Design. Most people can’t articulate what makes for good graphic design, but most sure can say when it’s not good. Bad graphic design can often make your brand appear sloppy or cheap. If you don’t have a background in art, marketing, or design, take a little time to learn about it. If you can’t afford to work with a graphic designer, learn to use inexpensive apps like Ripl or Canva to help you create eye-catching posts.

Bad Grammar. I don’t care what the kids say, appropriate grammar is cool – and really matters! Especially those in the professional services world should always post and respond using appropriate grammar. No one wants to hire an attorney who says “u” instead of “you”.

Being Inconsistent. One vital key to overall brand growth is consistency. Every day you should be training your audience to know when they’ll hear from you and what kind of content to expect. It may be helpful to make a daily calendar item or use a distribution service like Hootsuite to schedule posts.

Forgetting to be Human. Social media was invented with the idea of connecting people, so it’s very important to engage with your followers online – and off. If someone posts something awesome, tell them. If a follower is attending the same event as you, make the effort to connect. Unless you’re concerned about your personal safety, watching people from a distance without engaging makes you appear creepy or snobby. And honestly, it doesn’t help your brand one bit, so #JustSayHello.

Forgetting to Have Fun. If developing your personal brand is feeling more and more like a root canal, let’s chat. This is all about your life, accomplishments, and thought leadership—and it should be fun to want to share this information to help enrich the lives of others. Developing a way to ensure that brand building doesn’t become a chore is important to ensure you remain consistent.

Need a plan? Need a pep talk? Need hands-on training or daily management? Don’t hesitate to give me a call. I’m happy to provide a consultation, training, or daily content creation and/or social media management to help you reach your personal branding goals.