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  • Personal Branding Interview: Deborah L. Cohen

    Today, I spoke to Deborah L. Cohen, who is a veteran business reporter with a knack for writing financial stories that cross over into the areas of general interest, law, science and health. For the past three years, she has produced a weekly column about issues facing entrepreneurs and small business owners for Reuters.com. In this interview, Deborah talks about how she got started in journalism, obstacles small business are facing, and more.

    How did you get started in the journalism world? What peaked your interest about writing for small businesses?

    I got into journalism after five years working in public relations — first in the development office of a private secondary school in New Jersey and later for a mid-sized accounting firm in Chicago. I loved the process of reporting and writing; what I didn’t enjoy was the PR spin factor. So I decided to pursue a career in journalism and headed off to Medill at Northwestern.

    I fell into the small business beat. I left my copyediting job at Reuters three years ago to pursue a career as an independent journalist because I wanted to return to reporting and tackle some different media, including video and longer-form magazine writing. An editor I had worked with at Reuters contacted me about the idea of a regular small business column to help Reuters fill in content for its expanding online presence. I started and was hooked. Reporting on small business is much different than covering big public companies. Entrepreneurs are highly energetic and approachable, and their enthusiasm is contagious.

    What small business obstacles and opportunities have you noticed in the past year?

    The main obstacle for small companies continues to be financing, both from banks and venture capital and private equity firms. There may be some glimmers of improvement on those fronts, but businesses will continue to struggle in 2011. They’re being forced to do a lot more with less.

    You have your own website that showcases your work. Should everyone have their own website? Why or why not?

    For me, a website is a necessary branding tool, since I write for other outlets besides Reuters. It affords me a central place to park portfolio samples and general background information about myself. I don’t know that it’s necessary for staff reporters to have their own websites. In fact, there may be some restrictions on how they showcase their work, depending on their contracts.

    How do you see the media landscape changing in the future?

    Among the most interesting trends in media right now is the migration of content online and its integration into social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter where readers engage in the debate. I see journalists becoming much more specialized in coming years, and I think branding will be a key component of that. Journalists will move seamlessly from one medium to another, providing more complete story packages.

    What 3 tips do you have for young journalists just starting out?

    My three tips for young journalists:

    1. Don’t be complacent about improving your skills. The world is changing and you need to keep pace.
    2. Think about specializing. What do you absolutely love to report on? Take ownership of it.
    3. Don’t be afraid to take career risks or to reinvent yourself.

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    Deborah L. Cohen is a veteran business reporter with a knack for writing financial stories that cross over into the areas of general interest, law, science and health. For the past three years, she has produced a weekly column about issues facing entrepreneurs and small business owners for Reuters.com. She also provides monthly coverage on solo attorneys for the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal. She has contributed to BusinessWeek, Smart Money, Indianapolis Monthly, QSR, Forward, Bloomberg magazine and the alumni publications of the University of Illinois-Chicago and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, among others. Before striking out on her own in late 2007, she held staff positions with Reuters, Crain’s Chicago Business, Bloomberg News and the Post-Tribune in Gary, Ind., covering beats ranging from labor unions to fast food, advertising and telecommunications.

    Dan Schawbel is the Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm. He is the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success (St. Martin’s Press) and the #1 international bestselling book, Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future (Kaplan Publishing), which combined have been translated into 15 languages.

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