Aliza Licht, ON BRAND: Shape Your Narrative. Share Your Vision. Shift Their Perception

Aliza Licht, ON BRAND: Shape Your Narrative. Share Your Vision. Shift Their Perception

Zibby is joined by former fashion executive and bestselling author Aliza Licht to discuss her indispensable and entertaining personal branding guidebook On Brand: Shape Your Narrative. Share Your Vision. Shift Their Perception. Aliza reveals what it was like to be the voice behind Twitter’s DKNY PR Girl and the transition from corporate PR to entrepreneur, author, and podcaster upon leaving Donna Karan. She also shares the importance of building a personal brand that helps you stand out–face-to-face, over email, and on social media–and teaches us how to do it!


Zibby Owens interviews Aliza Licht, about her new book ON BRAND: Shape Your Narrative. Share Your Vision. Shift Their Perception.

Zibby Owens: Hi, Aliza. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to talk about On Brand: Shape Your Narrative. Share Your Vision. Shift Their Perception.

Aliza Licht: I am so honored to be here, Zibby. Thank you for having me.

Zibby: I can’t wait to discuss. There are so many tips, strategies, ideas, and more in this book, but also your own story. I want you to tell that first because it’s so interesting, how you built a massive following and did so in secret and then were revealed and this whole — it’s amazing, the story. Talk all about, basically, how you came into all this, your role in fashion, and how you’ve taken branding and just exploded it and made a user guide for everyone else.

Aliza: First of all, thanks for the great question. I grew up in fashion working in corporate PR spending seventeen years working for Donna Karan, normal corporate PR job. In 2009, we were faced with this newish platform called Twitter. We were like, maybe we should get on it. Sitting around a marketing meeting one day, we were debating how we would get on it. My big fear working in PR was that people would think Donna Karan, the person, was tweeting. Obviously, that has a whole host of problems. Who’s writing that copy? Who’s responding? It was a time Gossip Girl season two or something was the rage. I was like, why can’t we just do it like Gossip Girl and create an anonymous character that can be the voice of the brand? No one has to know who it is. That was the idea. I was like, we can call her DKNY PR Girl. When we pitched it to our legal team, they were like, “Great. Only one person can do that. Aliza, because you are the SVP of Global Communications, it’s going to be you.” Honestly, Zibby, I was like, okay, sure. I had no idea what I was signing up for, didn’t know what Twitter was, and then started to tweet. I think the biggest lesson here in the early days was really, it was all about, and it still is, telling a great story. You can relate to that. Telling a great story. Not selling anything. I learned that by doing. I was anonymous for two years as this person behind the Twitter handle, which is crazy in our world where no one keeps a secret or says, don’t tell anyone, but…

Finally came out in 2011 as the person behind the Twitter handle. What I was doing the whole time on Twitter, in addition to sharing my escapades with celebrity dressing or fashion week, was actually giving out career advice. One day, an editor called me cold and was like, “I think you should write a book.” That is what led to Leave Your Mark, which was my first book. Cut to, I come out as this person. There’s 230 million media impressions of this news, which was wild. I have this book now, Leave Your Mark. It’s 2015. All of a sudden, it becomes very clear the company is changing. They’re getting a new CEO. They’re getting new creative directors. I’m like, it’s time for me to go. This is where On Brand picks up. Leave Your Mark ends. That book ends. Leave Your Mark is very much like The Devil Wears Prada meets career advice. On Brand picks up right from the height of my career at Donna Karan where I have created a personal brand for something I don’t own. I think that’s really important because I had all these millions of followers, like you mentioned, but they were not mine. Then I’m faced with, okay, now I’m going to leave this company. I don’t have this lofty title anymore. I’m not part of LVMH. Yes, I have a book, but now what? On Brand starts with my rebrand from corporate PR person to want-to-be entrepreneur and author.

Zibby: Unreal. This whole thing is so cool. Wait, tell me more what it was like in that moment when you decided to reveal who you were. What was it like having this whole secret identity for a couple years? What was that even like? How often were you tweeting? Tell me more of the learnings from that, just the whole thing.

Aliza: This was a side hustle from my real job. I was still doing my regular role as SVP of Global Communications. I was tweeting probably a hundred times a day.

Zibby: A hundred times a day?

Aliza: But out of passion. No one was making me do this, Zibby. Seven days a week, I was responding to everyone. I started a blog on Tumblr. Instagram didn’t exist. Later on, I started on Instagram. It was fascinating to connect with people around the world. The questions were often, how do I become a publicist? How do I break into fashion? I had advice. I wanted to help. I really found myself mentoring just as much as I was sharing insider, fun, behind-the-scenes, celebrity dressing tidbits. It became a really popular handle. What we decided to do to reveal me as the person was create a behind the scenes of fashion week video on YouTube to show my actual job. The whole premise was my life as a PR girl living in New York City. It was a very fly-on-the-wall view. Because this is “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read,” I will tell you moms also don’t have time to reveal themselves as a Twitter personality. The day that I was designated as uploading this YouTube video to reveal myself was the day I was touring a camp for my son, Ramapo Day Camp.

We drove up into a place with no Wi-Fi. We are literally walking around this camp. He’s six or something. I literally hit submit on the video, and I lose all Wi-Fi, all cellular. I hit submit. I have no idea what happens to this video. I’m on this camp tour. They’re like, and here’s the pool. I’m like, we know it’s a fucking pool. We can see it’s a pool. I was like, we need to get out of here. We finally get back in the car. I’m like, drive! I need cell phone service. It was hundreds of thousands of retweets. It was insane. That exploded it. That was exhilarating, scary, shocking. Then it became like, well, I better be real careful what I say now because now they know it’s me. I didn’t want it to change the personality at all, so I had to balance that. I was a little snarky at times, a little bit page-six-ish. It was incredible. Also, it swallowed me whole as a person. The rebrand and what I’ve put into On Brand is really about building equity in your own name. Instead of being Aliza from DKNY, I want to be Aliza Licht. That is what this book does for people.

Zibby: You have this whole thing. Hi, I’m Aliza. Let me introduce myself to you. How do you do that? How do you do it in the context of a bigger company? So many people are working in a big company. How do you maintain your own identity within a bigger thing but also when you hang your own shingle up?

Aliza: Great questions. First of all, it starts with asking yourself, what do you want to be known for? One of the concepts I really double down on in On Brand is that this is not about becoming an influencer. This is not about building a huge social media presence, unless that’s what you want to do. This is very much just as much for the corporate person who wants to level up and get promoted or for the corporate executive who’s like, you know what, I’m doing great, but I also want to be thought of as a thought leader in my industry. How do you see yourself as a whole person within a bigger infrastructure? It really is as much about your executive presence in the company and how you’re showing up, to how you’re emailing people, to what you’re posting on social media. The book is very self-reflective. What I do throughout the book is create these mental gymnastics exercises. Each concept is broken into very small, digestible bites. Then I kind of hold the reader’s hand to think through how they’re navigating. Self-reflection, what do you want to be known for? Starting off with a classic Venn diagram of thinking about all the facets of your life, all your interests, where you work, what you maybe do for a side hustle, what your hobbies are, your interests, to really shape your narrative. That’s the reason it’s the first subtitle.

I believe that if people don’t make a concerted effort to understand what they want to be known for and how to shape that narrative, they’re not giving other people the tools to speak about them. I think a strong personal brand is really when people are dropping your name in rooms you’re not in. You’re being offered opportunities that other people haven’t even heard of yet because people know your value. Within a company, it’s really about understanding, how can you be collaborative? How can you let people understand that you’re actually really good at what you do? Also, you’re proud of your accomplishments. You want people to understand the value you add, but doing it in a strategic and elegant way. There’s a million different exercises. It can be for anyone who’s thinking, “Wow, I got passed over for that promotion. Why? What’s wrong with me? Why didn’t I get that promotion?” or to someone whose personal brand is getting a little dusty. Maybe they haven’t innovated in their role in a while. They need to recognize that you can’t just sit back and relax. There are so many scenarios. At the end of the day, it really is aligning your self-reflection with public perception. Public perception can be your colleagues, your family, your friends, whoever is consuming you as a person.

Zibby: Wow, it’s all so amazing. Tell me about getting into podcasting. Tell me about where you are now. What happened between DKNY PR Girl and how you made your brand now and where you want to take all this?

Aliza: When I left Donna Karan after seventeen years, I had Leave Your Mark as my book, and I started consulting in marketing and digital, which was challenging because people knew me as the PR person. Part of the rebrand was also to make people understand that I knew how to be a marketer and I knew digital even though that wasn’t on my resume.

Zibby: You didn’t just know digital. You crushed it.

Aliza: Thank you. I did, but I wasn’t a marketing person. I was a PR person and very much typecast into that space, especially with DKNY PR Girl. Zibby, I sucked at consulting. I consulted for ten months. I was so bad. I was so bad. I was keeping track of everything. We both have wonderful networks. I was getting every meeting I wanted and landing not one client.

Zibby: Why do you think? Why?

Aliza: I think there’s an element of brands, they want to solve the problem, but they don’t actually want to pay. When you think about a corporate salary, I was like, I made X amount per year. I’ll just divide that down and figure out my hourly rate. I wasn’t getting the gigs I wanted. The stuff that was coming at me, I was, quite frankly, a snob about it. I was like, I don’t want to do that. I had this wonderful, luxurious brand that I was working for as part of LVMH working on Donna Karan Collection. I was like, I don’t want to do that. I wrote this article in Forbes many years ago which was very popular because it was literally called “How You Know You’re Not Meant to Be an Entrepreneur.” I just basically said it is okay to fail and then be like, okay, this is not for me. I publicly failed. I felt really good about giving myself that permission. Then I went back in-house to do marketing and communications for a couple years.

Then I got itchy again. I decided I needed to do something creatively. I wanted to extend the life of Leave Your Mark. I didn’t want to write another book, so I decided to do the “Leave Your Mark” podcast in 2019. Then I decided to extend that into Leave Your Mark Community, which is where I mentor people privately. That’s Leave Your Mark. I keep on going in and out of house. I was in-house again at one point. Now I’m just a consultant. What I’ve done in On Brand is I’ve taken the two decades-plus of marketing, communications, and digital experience in luxury fashion and applied it to people. Now I’m working as a marketing and digital consultant for brands, but also for humans. The personal branding aspect is something that I’m now offering as a service. When people read this book and they’re like, “This was a great read. Great. I still can’t do it,” I can work .

Zibby: How are you going to make sure you don’t fail in this?

Aliza: I think there’s always an element of failing. When you finally find your “why” and what you’re passionate about — I’m really passionate about helping people amplify themselves and understand their worth. Just like I started mentoring on DKNY PR Girl Twitter for no reason, I really genuinely enjoy helping people see themselves. I don’t think I’m going to fail at this because it’s a passion project. If I didn’t make one dollar doing it, I would still do it.

Zibby: So fun. I know there are so many different pieces of advice in the book. What are some of the things? Let’s just take dos and don’ts for personal branding or company branding or whatever. What are some of the things you’ve seen that really get people in trouble? What are some of the, maybe, low-hanging fruit, if you will, or easiest things people can do to cement who they want to be or what they’re putting out in the world? What are some you’re like, “These are nonnegotiable”?

Aliza: Love nonnegotiable. Your bio and what you’re writing in that bio, whether it’s on your website, on LinkedIn, consistency, but also, words that support your goal. In the book I say some people are like, I’m a Netflix junkie and a Taylor Swift fan. It’s like, great, but if you’re an aspiring journalist, how do we know that? Leveraging that real estate to actually do the talking for you. Your email signature, so many people waste that space where it says, “sent from my iPhone.” You guys don’t work for Apple, do you? You’re doing marketing for Apple when you keep that there. Why not include a link to an article you wrote or your website or your latest episode of your podcast? Handing people who you are on a silver platter —

Zibby: — I’m literally secretly writing this down. I don’t even use my signatures, ever. I don’t even have one.

Aliza: There you go.

Zibby: Thank you.

Aliza: Handing yourself on a silver platter, this goes back to the shaping your narrative. We assume people know what we want to do or do. Nobody does. Dorie Clark’s in my book. She’s a brilliant communications coach. She very beautifully says, no one is thinking about you. No one has time to think about you. If you’re not helping people do your PR for you by telling them exactly what you do or are looking to do, you’re not giving them the tools to help you. Consistency, making such that whatever you’re putting out there is supporting your goal. Then thinking about who your stakeholders are. Whose attention are you looking to get? Are you looking to impress your boss? Are you looking to get clients? Are you looking to get investors? Really thinking about your context mix, especially on social media, with them in mind. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking, this is my personal social media. There is no such thing as personal social media. Even if you’re private, there’s no such thing. We still see your bio. Anyone can screenshot any single thing you post. This has happened to someone I know. She forgot that a page-six reporter was a Facebook friend amongst her ten thousand friends. The person was not a friend. She screenshot this post, and it ended up in the paper. If you’re not comfortable seeing a post as a full-page spread in a newspaper, don’t post it because the screenshot is way more powerful than the delete button.

Then beyond that, I think working on understanding how you see yourself, but really, how other people see you. There’s a lot of exercises in the book to help you actually get feedback from others. You may think you’re X, Y, and Z, but people around you are like, no, you’re A, B, and C. You really do have to marry those two areas. Then really understand how you’re showing up. A lot of people, especially in corporate now that we’re hybrid, remote, whatever, they’re forgetting how important it is to show up in a meeting and give eye contact or to show up in person and engage and thinking about how you’re earning social capital and how people are perceiving you. Are you good to work with? Would they want to work with you again? All of these things roll up to your personal brand. Also, remembering that it’s not just what you say and what you post. It’s also what you choose to align with. A lot of times, people fail at personal branding because what they actually do is in conflict to what they say they believe.

Zibby: Interesting. You should teach a class. Do you teach classes?

Aliza: I don’t teach a class, but I love teaching.

Zibby: You should teach a Zibby Class.

Aliza: I would love to teach a Zibby Class.

Zibby: That would be really fun. I feel like a lot of authors in particular could use help with your branding advice.

Aliza: I would love to. By the way — you have the galley, but I have the real one. It’s metallic.

Zibby: Oh, my god, that’s so cool. Wow, look at that cover.

Aliza: This is my only copy, but you’re getting it. I would love to. Especially for authors, you think the hard part is writing the book, but the hard part is also marketing the book. You really are left on your own. You do a brilliant job for your authors. A lot of people who are not part of Zibby Books or don’t have the support or are publishing themselves, it really is like a black hole. These tips are for an author. They’re for any single type of person who really wants to understand how they’re showing up in the world.

Zibby: I love that. Go back to the podcast for a second. Tell everybody about your podcast.

Aliza: My podcast is called “Leave Your Mark,” which is inspired by the book, Leave Your Mark. It is every Sunday. I bring on guests. It’s really meant to be tactical career advice. Leave Your Mark, the book cover is a coffee cup with my red lip stain because that’s my coffee every day. “Leave Your Mark” podcast is the same image. One of the things I wanted to do with this show was, one, really bring my network together to deliver advice every week, but not just advice. You know how sometimes you’re listening to a show and you’re hearing someone who’s extraordinarily successful and you’re like, “That’s great, but I’m never going to build a billion-dollar company. I kind of just want to do a good job in my role right this minute”? “Leave Your Mark” is much more down to earth in the sense of, you’re walking away with tactical career advice, but you’re also not walking away feeling badly about yourself in the sense that you’ll never measure up to that unbelievably successful person. I try to make it humble in that sense. Again, the small, digestible bites. Every episode has three main takeaways in the title. I think it’s important note to also, which goes back to the ethos of On Brand and building equity in your name, I never put the guest’s company in the title of the episode. I want their name to stand on its own because what you do today may not be what you do tomorrow. I think it’s really important to show every guest that, no, you matter as yourself. It doesn’t matter where you work. The lessons are the same. They take their skills wherever they go.

Zibby: I love that. Have you read the new book by Tara Schuster? She left Comedy Central. She had a massive best-seller during the pandemic. Now she has a new book out. It’s all about how she lost her job at Comedy Central. For her whole life, she was, “Tara Schuster, Comedy Central,” all one phrase. She went into this spiraling depression and search for identity after. Part of the book is about the rebound from that and figuring out who you are when you’re so closely aligned to your job. It’s about many other things too. Since I’ve read that, I keep finding this happening to people all the time. So-and-so worked here forever, but who am I now that I sold my company? Who am I now that I left that company? That’s who I was. I feel like that’s happening to so many people right now. I feel like your book and your advice could not come at a better time, especially with this — no matter how invested we are in companies, people, daughters, mothers, whatever we are, a company is just one piece of it.

Aliza: Yes. I remember that first week when I was my unemployed self. You feel like less of a person. You feel naked without that title, without the credibility of that company. It’s an unfortunate and uncomfortable feeling. What’s worse is when people actually don’t respond to your emails anymore or don’t pick up the phone because you’re not really offering the same thing that you once were at X company. If everyone walks away with one piece of advice today or one lesson, don’t do that to your friends. Stay in touch. It’s disheartening when people go through that. Identity crisis is real. It’s not to say that you can’t put tons of value into the company you work at and completely appreciate that you’re part of that team, but also remember that your name isn’t on the door. Even if it is, founders can be replaced. We see it all the time. It’s really about putting the equity in your own name and making sure that you know that you’re good enough without it.

Zibby: I love that. I love it so much. Aliza, thank you so much. On Brand. This is not the silver edition. On Brand: Shape Your Narrative. Share Your Vision. Shift Their Perception. Love it.

Aliza: Thank you, Zibby. I appreciate it.

Zibby: Thanks for coming on. Stay in touch.

Aliza: So fun. Thank you so much.

Aliza Licht, ON BRAND: Shape Your Narrative. Share Your Vision. Shift Their Perception

ON BRAND: Shape Your Narrative. Share Your Vision. Shift Their Perception by Aliza Licht

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