Email Addresses and Your Personal Brand

With the recent announcements that Aol and Facebook are introducing a new look and new features, I’ve got email on the brain. It’s no surprise, then, that an invoice I received hit a nerve, and prompted today’s post on professional email addresses and your personal brand. In today’s economy, I know a number of PR professionals, marketers, and graphic designers are doing freelance work for bigger companies. Contractors have always been utilized in the business world, but never more than today, due to increased connectivity, better tools for a remote working arrangement, and cost effectiveness. That being said, one would think that freelancers would take more time and energy creating, presenting, and maintaining their professional brand.

Make your email address professional. My mom gave my brother and sister nicknames when they were little, including “bubba” for my brother, and “chickie” for my sister. I started calling my sister “Tootsie” years ago, and the term of endearment has stuck with her all the way to her present college days. She also played soccer in high school, and thus, her email address throughout high school was Now, this may be fine for a few harmless emails from one 15 year old girl to another… but to use that to her current professors or potential employers? NO. Similarly, my brother would never want to be known as the guy with as his contact information on his resume. And yet, the invoice today had an almost equally ridiculous email address attached to it. In fact, I’ve received several emails from this freelancer from another silly email address. This person has not one, but TWO unprofessional email addresses from which to do business! If you’re going to work as a professional among other professionals, pick a professional email address. Choose something like, or a first initial and last name. You want people to remember your brand with confidence, not snickers over the nickname your mom or sister gave you when you were a kid.

Choose a professional provider. Ok, we all know Aol gave a lot of people their first email address. But let’s be honest, who actually uses Aol anymore? Out-of-touch people still use Aol, that’s who. Or, what about all the random providers that no one has ever heard of? I know some more remote locations use these providers, but most professional environments use a major provider. Even if your name looks professional, if the provider to the right of the @ sign looks unprofessional, you’ve canceled yourself out. You can get free email addresses from major providers, like Gmail or Hotmail, that garner much more respect for your tech savvy, hard-working, professional brand. But it’s not just the address that needs to be professional, it’s also the first connection. Which do you take more seriously, the invitation to “friend” a potential business partner on Facebook, or the invitation to “connect” with a potential business partner via LinkedIn? Do you really want your new bosses to see you in a bikini on your last vacation? Make it a policy to put your professional brand at the forefront by including a professional email address on a professional medium.

Make your signature professional. Give yourself a title, even if it’s just “Independent Contractor”,  “PR Consultant”, or “Marketing Professional”. Include your professional email address, phone number, website URL, and possibly “on behalf of [company]” in the signature line, so that members of the organization know you’re a legitimate member of their team. When you just sign your emails with your name, people within an organization may question your credibility or right to have information, payment, and decision-making power on their project. Improve your professional image by being professional down to the last word of your electronic correspondence.

Back it up with other electronic information. If you plan to freelance long-term, create a website and a business name. A well-maintained, informative website lends credibility to you and your work, and allows potential employers to vet you before paying good money for your services. Set up a LinkedIn profile, and post updates about projects you’ve done, with links to the information on your website. This ensures that companies receive a professional image, rather than a personal image, when they are looking to hire a contractor. Give your business a name, and set up payment options for the business. Nothing says “suspicious” like an invoice requiring payment to an individual… especially when that individual has not established credibility elsewhere on the web. Once you have a business name and website, you can then use the domain name in your newly created, professional email address.

If you want to be taken seriously as an independent professional, you’ve got to present a professional image, starting with the address on your correspondence. Don’t be, be, Marketing Professional, with a proven track record of success!

Epic Fail: Editor

While reading a trade magazine, I came across an Epic Fail by the editor. You know those green and red squiggly lines that appear in Microsoft Word when you have a spelling or grammar error? Yeah, this published ad had the little red and green squiggly lines printed! They had intentionally used incorrect spelling by saying, “soooooo…………”, and the red squiggly appeared to indicate the spelling error. They had also put spaces between words and colons or semi-colons, which makes the green squiggly pop up to indicate the grammar/formatting error. Why, WHY would this be printed in a professional trade magazine?

The entire magazine encompasses strong editorial writing, high-res photos, and glossy, high-quality paper, so I can’t imagine that an ad would intentionally include the squiggly error indicators. And, if for some reason someone (well-meaning but clueless Marketing person, perhaps?) thought it would be a good idea to include the error indicators, it’s still an Epic Fail on the part of the editor! It looks completely unprofessional and sloppy, and makes your company look like you don’t have a detail-oriented employee on staff. It’s one thing to intentionally go a little overboard with text like, “sooooo……” and multiple exclamation points at the end of a sentence, but including the squiggly error indicators? I just can’t seem to get on board with that, no matter how many ways I try to twist my thinking into believing it was intentional.  Bold, obviously intentional mistakes can make an ad different, as in the case of the Chic-Fil-A campaign with slogans like, “Eat Mor Chikin”. Here, everyone can plainly see that “more” and “chicken” are intentionally misspelled to create interest and humor. Yoda, from the Star Wars movies, always speaks with poor grammar or unusual sentence structure, but it’s clear that this is a unique character trait. But, if your audience has to wonder whether you deliberately misspelled a word or wrote with poor grammar, you’ve missed the mark.

My plea to Marketers: don’t include ambiguous mistakes just to make a statement! My plea to editors: if your Marketing person tries to include ambiguous mistakes to make a statement, just say NO. This ad shows one example where someone really should have put their foot down to avoid an Epic Fail.

The 4-Color Process Charge

I came across an interesting blurb in one magazine’s rate sheet for advertisers: computer printing makes the 4-color process only slightly more expensive than a black and white print-job. And, if the rest of the magazine is printed using a 4-color process, there’s really no reason to charge for the “labor” portion of the 4-color fee. Sure, it takes a little more ink to create a 4-color ad, but the huge “labor” fee that used to be charged is irrelevant in the digital age. What’s more, this particular magazine is using this as a cost-advantage in their value proposition! They will let you run a 4-color ad for the same price as a black and white ad.

This is pretty much non-existent in the other magazine rates I’ve viewed, so it definitely piqued my interest. It further piqued my interest regarding negotiations for rates with other magazines… if there’s really very little cost for them to create a 4-color ad for my company, they should be able to negotiate the price with more freedom. I know it’s probably one of those industry secrets that you’re not supposed to know, but one magazine chose to out the truth, giving them a leg up on pricing and trustworthiness. I think it’s a pretty smart play on their part, and I will certainly take a closer look at their stats when creating my budget for next year.