Back in late 2008, early 2009, while I was finishing up college at University of New Hampshire, I had a wonderful internship at Dyn making video content for their YouTube channel
How Personal Branding Got Me Out of My Mother’s Basement

I was pumping out a ton of content for Dyn, and trying to get it visibility everywhere I could. Working 3 days a week, while taking classes on Tuesday and Thursday, I made some mediocre videos. I didn’t completely understand how to be my own person, and put my own personality into the things that I was making. However, an internal goal I had with the internship was simple: get Dyn to believe in me, and then hire me.

The more views my content would get, the more likely people would be familiar with who I was, and maybe just maybe, the more likely Dyn would hire me when the internship ended. Dyn was rated one of the best places to work in New Hampshire, and I remember really hoping it would work out for me there. I loved the exec team, coworkers, and was really passionate about the product.

But in May of 2009, when graduating came, Dyn informed me that it wasn’t the right time to hire me for a marketing post. They had just hired Kyle York to take over marketing and sales, and while the team was in transition, they felt like they wouldn’t have put me in a good position to succeed. It was a scary time. Though they liked my work ethic and creativity, the company I wanted to work for had crushed my dreams.

old-profile-picture Yup…I used to be young. What happened? I remember when Dyn informed me they weren’t ready to hire me, I went up to Funspot, the world’s largest Classic Arcade Museum, to relax and take my mind off things with some friends. This was the same day, and yes I was really sad.

Woah woah woah. You didn’t think that’d be the end of the post right? Of course this has a happy ending…

Today I want to tell you all a story about my early adventures in personal branding, and how it helped me move out of mom’s basement.

After Dyn informed me they weren’t going to hire me, I sort of panicked. I had no other jobs lined up. Remember, this was post financial crisis in 2008-2009, so the job market wasn’t great. All the senior marketing folks who were let go by the financial companies were taking the entry level jobs. I’d go interview, and the hiring managers would say nice things. Many of them loved my content and background, but at the end of the day, I just didn’t have enough real world experience.

To be honest, I had no clue what I was doing. They were right.

After facing this harsh reality, I decided that I had to do something different. I decided to try and pick up low income marketing projects for local businesses. I had a two prong approach to get gigs.

The first was to find companies hiring for gigs, and cold email them.

The second approach was to make a website with content, and get myself seen in front of respected influencers in marketing. If I could get some of these influencers to share my work, and my story, maybe, just maybe, it could turn into something.

My first branded website was really bad. I branded myself as the Marketing Gun (yup… I want to cringe too). For a kid just out of school living is in his mother’s basement though, the branding and website wasn’t as terrible as it sounds. I didn’t know about WordPress, Drupal, or any of those other web page builders. Remember there wasn’t companies like WIX and Squarespace yet. With the help of old friend who knew a little code, this was my first website’s homepage:

header-image This was my old website getting out of college circa 2008-2009. Keep in mind that the Wayback machine doesn’t store old media and videos. I don’t have this domain or website anymore.

Before long, thanks to my cold outreach, I had gotten two paying gigs to help with marketing. The first was a restaurant publication, doing marketing and sales. The other was as an Associate Producer of a boxing documentary about the Golden Gloves in Lowell, Massachusetts.

trailer-to-the-upcoming-gloves

This is a trailer of the boxing documentary that eventually aired on NESN. Note… I didn’t actually film this. I did a lot of grunt work.

However, these gigs weren’t enough to pay the dooming student loan payments I had coming soon. I had to figure out a way to pick up more work some how.

At first, with the website, I just posted content I was producing from my gigs. Things like blog posts, vlogs, etc. I sort of used the site as a portfolio of my professional life. The problem was, no one really cared. Just like sending a selfish cold email, posting what content I made was boring to prospective hiring managers, and was getting me no where. I needed a change, and fast.

Seeing continuing low web traffic, reading Google Analytics in my mother’s basement, I spent a night brainstorming a way to get more people onto my website who would potentially want to hire me.

To start with, I decided to search for well known respected marketers, and add them to a public list on Twitter. Making the list public would notify these influencers that I considered them to be smart marketers, and before long many of them followed me just for adding them to a list.

marketing-props My first and original Twitter list.

Every couple of hours, I’d check and retweet/share content of theirs and before long, Twitter became a decent way for me to push traffic to my site. I started offering thoughts on marketing. I removed the forth wall, and started providing commentary and value on what I liked and disliked about things I saw in the marketing space. I was building a personal brand, without even realizing it.

The equation for keeping myself busy was pretty simple.

If I could get connections with well known marketers, and interact with them, people that follow and respect those same well known marketers will start respecting and following me.

Then I’d convert those followers into opportunities for jobs, content, introductions and referrals. Before long my website traffic started to shoot up. I had hundreds of hits a day, just writing about marketing.

I realized that these little task were helping me get traffic to my site, but they weren’t completely showing my creativity, and they didn’t necessarily convert into job opportunities. I needed to do something that was bigger and had potential to go viral.

I remember before the Super Bowl (it was an off year for my Patriots), one idea I tried was making Bingo cards that made fun of how predictable Super Bowl ads were at the time.

These bingo cards (pictured below) were only available on my website, plugged my URL at the top, and were designed to be fun and entertaining for all the influential marketers on Twitter. They were hosted behind a landing page that required an email, but I had to think through how to get people to see these landing pages.

This was an example of one of the many SuperBowl Ad bingo cards I made.

Rather than just float this out to my mailing list, I decided to use cold emails to drive conversation about my little campaign. I wrote emails offering marketing professors them to use for extra credit. My cadence was simple: I’d email them, follow them on Twitter, and then follow up with them with a tweet.

The idea worked, and over the course of two weeks before the Super Bowl, the bingo cards accumulated over 40,000 downloads, a few thousand emails collected, and I got a few hundred new Twitter followers that were all my target market: marketing managers. I even got an email from my hosting company telling me I had to move up bandwidth tiers! Sure enough, before the Superbowl even aired, I lined up three great job interviews.

But I needed to keep momentum going…

After this win, I had to think of how to continue the momentum. The night of the Super Bowl, Google broadcasts their first ever TV spot, and it was incredible. It told a love story using Google search, and it was easily one of the most talked about ads on Twitter that night.

parisian-love

Google’s first TV Spot (above). It aired on the night of Super Bowl, February 7, 2010.

After the game, I downed a whole pot of coffee, updated my copy of Adobe Premiere, got a free trial for Camtasia, and stayed up all night making a parody of the ad. I figured with people talking about it in the morning, to get noticed, I’d need to get my parody out before others did the same thing. Editing from mom’s basement, this was my parody:

google-superbowl-ad-parody

My parody (above) had a different spin, focusing on a story about a guy getting rejected by a girl. Of course, at the end, I linked to my site.

To promote my video this time around, I posted it on Digg (it was 2010 after all, and Reddit wasn’t quite bit yet), emailed my bingo list of email signups, and asked them to share it. I posted it to the hundreds of Twitter followers I had earned, and lastly, I exported my contacts on Linkedin, and emailed all of them. Among this group were all my former Dyn coworkers I had met during the internship.

Before long, my video had a few thousand views (embedded on my site), and dozens of shares from my former coworkers at Dyn. After going to bed as the sun was coming up, I woke up to find I got an email from Kyle York and Cory Von Wallenstein telling me that Mashable featured it on their site!

The view count on the video climbed to 20,000 view in less than 48 hours. Branding myself was finally working!

My little website in a 30 day window saw a huge increase in web traffic…my email list had thousands of people on it, and I had finally gotten some marketers’ attention. A week after the video, I had 7 job interviews lined up.

The problem was, there was still something missing from the other companies prospecting me. I didn’t have that magical feeling.

A decent amount of time had passed, and I still really wanted to figure out a way to work for Dyn. I loved the team, product, and management so much. Literally the day after the Super Bowl, I saw that Kyle had posted they were hiring a Business Development Rep, and he tweeted a phone number to cold pitch yourself over voicemail. He knew about all the momentum I had just got from the video and the bingo card. I had to make a decision; use my momentum to work in marketing somewhere that wasn’t Dyn, or try and join the right team in a different role than I was thinking.

Knowing Kyle had seen what I had done with my personal brand, I decided to strike while the iron was hot. I called the number he tweeted at 1AM, and left the most important voicemail of my life.

I thought about everything as the phone rang. The rejection, the grind, the hours it took to get traffic on my site, build a brand out of nothing. Would I be stuck in my mom’s basement, and never move out?

Dyn was the one that got away, and I didn’t want to have to work somewhere else. The voicemail greeting came on, and then when it beeped, I just spoke from the heart and said something like this:

“Hey Kyle. My internship at Dyn was one of the most important experiences in my life. I believed in the team, the company’s mission, the people, what you guys want to do in New Hampshire. When you guys didn’t hire me, I didn’t give up. I worked on myself, worked on my personal brand, and I now I want to do that for you. I want to be on your team. Can we setup some time to talk next week?”

8 years, and who knows how many cell phones later…I still have Kyle’s voicemail. It still gives me goosebumps. Here it is:

kyle-york-calling-me-back

The rest is history. I got the job, and 5 months later, I moved out of my mom’s basement.

My personal brand didn’t just help me create opportunities, it helped me close the one opportunity I couldn’t afford to lose. If you are trying to break in and get into your industry, you need to have a personal brand to succeed.

Note: Some of the content in this blog posts was modified from an old Linkedin post I wrote. This is a revised version of the story with more details.

Posted by Ryan O'Hara
Ryan O'Hara
Ryan O'Hara has been an early employee at several startups helping them with marketing and prospecting tactics, including Dyn who was acquired by Oracle for $600+ million in 2016. He's had prospecting campaigns featured in Fortune, Mashable, and TheNextWeb. Ryan specializes in branding, business development, prospecting, and coaching people on how to make good digital first impressions. He also mentors two accelerators, The Iron Yard and The Alpha Loft, and hosts The Prospecting

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