Finding What’s Most Important: An Interview with Beth Harte

Beth Harte photoIt’s a common discussion in the Solo PR community: how much does online popularity matter when it comes to business success? And are these online relationships really friendships?

When one of the industry’s top bloggers (and my good friend), Beth Harte, chose to sunset her blog The Harte of Marketing this summer, I was interested in hearing more about her reasons behind this decision.

A marketing and PR professional and adjunct professor, Beth recently landed her dream job after a months-long job search that included some difficult lessons. We’re lucky she’s agreed to share these thoughts and experiences with us here in this mini-interview!

1. Some people suggested that if you took steps to “dumb down” your resume, you might do better in your job search. Of course, they were wrong! What lessons do you think the rest of us can learn from your persistence?

Yes, it's true! I received many suggestions to “dumb down” my resume by removing my experience, education, speaking, and social media assets (my blog, Twitter, etc.). The reasoning behind the advice was that being “too experienced” and “too much of a thought leader” could be scaring less experienced hiring marketing and PR professionals. While I understand that our current economy is making a lot of folks nervous, I never understood why a smart company would want to hire a “dumbed down” employee. But more importantly, why would I want to work for a company that thinks like that. I resisted the advice and kept using a version of my resume that highlighted both my experience as well as the results I had delivered. Sticking to my guns helped me to land in a position that met, no exceeded!, everything I was looking for in a new job. My colleagues are not only extremely smart and talented, they understand today's customer and how our digital age has changed business.  If I had “dumbed down” my resume, I think I would still be unemployed today.

2. It's easy for anyone in business to get caught up in one-upmanship, and it can be especially hard for independent consultants — who earn a living based on reputation — to know where to draw the line. What did you learn about the usefulness of outdoing the next guy?

Well, you sure know how to get me on my soapbox! The one thing I should have mentioned above is that my “social standing” or “personal brand” did absolutely nothing to get me a job. NOTHING. What did? A recommendation of someone who I worked with over ten years ago! Reputation can't be formed online…because we can be anyone we want to be. People have an image of “who we are,” but it's often not very accurate because they have never worked shoulder-to-shoulder with us. There is a propensity in social media to think we know someone purely based on what they write or share in a blog post, on Twitter, on Facebook or in a forum. Sure, someone can form a perception of who you are… “The gal that shares great information and advice.” Or, “That guy has a witty repertoire.” But does that really reflect what you are like to work with or if you have integrity in business dealings? No, of course not. It's important to keep in might what is reality. Just because someone has a large following, a high Klout score or are listed on something like AdAge doesn't necessarily mean they actually understand business or know how to deliver strategies that drive business or change sentiment.

A solo PR pro would be better off spending more time making sure they understand their clients and deliver impeccable service. That is, being “other-centric” versus “self-centric.” Get back to to “old school” methods of networking and developing a first-hand reputation.

3. You've noted that when times are tough, you find out who your real friends are. In hindsight, do you think there's any way to know this before the tough times hit? Any tips for knowing who is trustworthy?

I think if someone's ego gets wrapped up in being socially popular, they tend to think everyone is their “friend.” It's hard to know who really cares enough to help you when the road gets rocky and who has their own agenda. When I reached out to my network to find a job, I was often completely ignored or I received the “I'll help you if you help me” response. (And, you guess it, they never returned the favor!) Run away from those people! I think the one way to determine who is truly interested in working together is to ask certain people–when you need it least–about partnering, sharing networks, collaborating, etc. Select an activity that will give you a sense of their knowledge, experience and work ethics. If they resist or ignore you, you know it's time to move on to finding folks who truly understand the point of having a solid network and partnerships.

4. Do you think the culture of social media has impacted our professional networks? How?

Based on my personal experience and what I hear from others, social media used to develop professional networks usually leads to very weak ties. Prior to social media, professional networks were stronger because they consisted of people that actually knew or worked together in some capacity. There was face time and on-going communication via networking events or e-mail. Now, because you can tap into anyone, anywhere in less than 30 seconds there is a false sense of “friendship.” Sure, someone might know many people, but when faced with the question “Can you recommend?” or “Do you know?”  or “Can you help?” the limitations of one's network usually surface. In fact, the other day I was asked for some agency recommendations… I had a hard time coming up with more than one that I actually knew and could recommend their work.

5. How and what did you decide is most important?

Most people don't know this, but the last three years of my life were pretty much hell. Blogging and speaking to try and drum up a job or freelance business did nothing for me except take time away from the things that should have been most important — my family and friends. It also created debt. When a conference doesn't pay someone to speak, who do you think picks up the tab (keep that in mind next time you pay to attend a conference and the speaker is self-promoting –they most likely aren’t getting paid and feel they don’t have a choice). I learned the hard way that people will always take what they can get for free (I should have known better, right?).

It's amazing that when I stopped being involved with the crazy, time-sucking  social media world how everything ordered itself! Today, my priorities in life (in order) are God, family, friends and work and I have never been happier. Not to mention that I have a lot more time for reading, which is one of my favorite things to do. There’s a whole lot of goodness in life/work balance.

Beth is the Director of Marketing for Advent Global Solutions, Inc. and oversees marketing  strategy, marketing communications, and public relations for the customer-centric reseller and integrator of SAP, IBM and Oracle software.