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Carla Williams Johnson on Building a Personal Brand: Unleashing the Power of Authenticity

Carla Williams Johnson, also known as The CEO's Publicist is the CEO & Founder of Carli Communications and she took some time out to speak with Rob Barratt from The Industry Leaders about the power and importance of building a personal brand.

Firstly, many people fear the words 'personal brand' as it means going public with your thoughts. I want to know if you have always found it easy to 'put yourself out there'?

Honestly, no.

Putting myself out for the world to see was something that petrified me.

What would people say? Will they accept me?

I felt like I looked different, sounded different, and came from a country that few knew, but once I accepted the things that were authentic to me, that's when things really changed.

When it comes to building an authentic personal brand, what advice would you give professionals starting out?

Just be yourself.

It might sound cliché but it's really the thing that'll put you head and shoulders above your competition. It was only when I accepted myself that things started looking up. People loved my Trinidadian accent, my Caribbean life and did not see my skin color as negative. As a matter of fact, they wanted to know more about me, my business, and my island life. My visibility skyrocketed and business began to soar; before long I was making international connections, being mentioned in Forbes, BuzzFeed Huffington Post & Thrive Global, and of course, making money helping my clients. I’ve been asked to appear on television, featured on radio, and in the press, and even been named one of the 99 Limit Breaking Female Founders, one of the top Marketers to follow, and have won Publicist of the Year 2022 & 2023.

Do you think personal branding and reputation go hand in hand, and what can people do to maintain a positive reputation while brand-building?

Yes indeed!!! The way I see it; any opportunity you get to show up is an opportunity to make a positive impression so you need to be clear on who you are, what you do and how you serve. The one question I always ask my clients is 'What do you want to be known for?' The answer to that question must resonate throughout every single interaction and must clearly be noticed by anyone who comes into contact with you or your brand.

Can you share a success story of how you or someone you follow used their personal brand to build business or career?

For years I have been getting clients featured in the press. It was something that was second nature to me however, I never once called myself a 'Publicist'. Fast forward, I've branded myself as 'The CEO's Publicist' and I have to say that this was the absolute best decision of my life and career. My business did a complete 180 and I've achieved so much in a very short space of time. Some of my achievements include: Teaching at not one but two prestigious higher-level institutions helping students understand the fundamentals of Publicity & Crisis Management; Collaborating with the US Embassy here in Trinidad & Tobago mentoring female startups for their Academy of Women Entrepreneurs initiative; Hosting multiple programs and workshops designed to help others unleash the power of publicity in their business; Working one on one with many entrepreneurs helping them get featured in notable publications as well as showing them how to integrate publicity into their overall marketing campaign; Speaking at events, and conferences while also being featured all over the world in some prestigious publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, Thrive Global, and more; Listed #31 on a global list of PR companies dedicated to assisting start-ups; Winning Publicist of the Year in 2022 and 2023.

Which platforms do you find most effective for establishing thought leadership and growing professional presence?

In my opinion, a thought leader is someone who is committed to change at any cost. Author, Luvvie Ajayi Jones calls them ‘Professional Troublemakers’. It’s not about creating chaos but creating a new way of thinking that encourages new systems and procedures to be in place to effectively tackle said issues. While all platforms can be used to spread your message of change, the two that work best are: 1) Traditional media (Television, Radio, Press, Magazine) This is because we're trained to respect and revere people that we see in the media Being featured in the media creates the perception that you’re “someone” and will encourage others to take you more seriously. 2) Speaking Whether this is virtual (such as a podcast) or in-person at an event or conference, anywhere your audience can hear your voice as you tackle the issues that affect them is a great way to achieve thought leader status.

How do you ensure your personal brand stays true to who you are and your evolving goals?

It all comes back to that question I ask my clients "What do you want to be known for?" Use this as a compass to guide you regardless of changes that will undoubtedly happen over time.

What are some practical strategies or tactics professionals can use to expand their network and build meaningful connections?

Networking is really one of the best ways to connect with the right people but it can be hard, particularly if you don't consider yourself a 'people person' but I learned that there are three questions you can ask that will not just open the conversation but will allow others to open up and trust you more: 1) What are you most passionate about? Once you ask this question, trust and believe you might have to beg them to stop. People love to talk about what they’re passionate about, particularly to someone who absolutely wants to hear it. 2) What projects are you working on? Again, people are always excited to talk about themselves so showing interest will allow them to open up to you. 3) What do you need help with right now? Most people are afraid to ask for help but once you give them an open, they may be more willing to divulge. Who knows, maybe it’s something you might be able to help with. Opening with any of these questions allows you to control the conversation plus shows others that you are happy to know more about them and what they do.

Along your personal branding journey, have you encountered any common obstacles that readers of this interview should be aware of?

Fear, masquerading as introversion, imposter syndrome, and perfectionism. To combat this, I tell my clients to envision themselves the way their ideal customer sees the best thing to ever come into their lives to save them from the anxiety they're dealing with. You have no idea how much better your audience feels when they find you. All of a sudden their stress disappears and they finally see the light at the end of the tunnel because the thing they've been searching for so long, they've finally found in you and what you have to offer.

Imagine you have a time machine that can transport you to the future. What impact do you envision your personal brand having on the world?

Only positive things can happen when people can be their authentic selves. This is literally what I do for a living and I pledge to continue helping my people embrace the things that make them unique, showcase it to the world and get paid for it.

Close your eyes and imagine you're a bestselling author. What captivating book would you write to share your personal brand journey and insights?

I am already working on by book and it's about how to show up when you're not much of a people person.

Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us here! Where should people follow you to find out more about your work?


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