What has struck me in every interview is how every potential employee refers to the "Oprah brand" and has her own take on what that means. Okay, so I accept that I'm now a "brand." But I still want to chuckle each time I hear the term.
Companies spend a lot of money to help define and establish their brand. My brand developed deliberately by accident. One choice at a time. No strategic planning. No marketing or development experts. Just daily choosing to do what felt like the right thing to do.
I started out with a team as naïve as I. The first publicist I hired started the same day I did in Chicago. Only she wasn't a publicist then—she was Alice McGee the intern. After I began getting more mail than I could handle, I said, "Hey, Alice, want to be my publicist?"
When between the two of us we didn't know the best decision (should I do an interview with Good Housekeeping, Redbook, or no interview at all?), our research was to call Alice's mom—who regularly brought homemade meatloaf sandwiches for our nine-person staff. "My mom says to go with Good Housekeeping. ... They have that seal of approval."
That felt right to me. And that feeling is how I made and still make every decision, and gave birth to a brand.
I have a rule with all my producers: Let your intention fuel your ideas, so that what our audience experiences on-air is what you intended. Without knowing we were doing it, that became our brand. To operate from what's true. To never pretend or set up anything in a fake way.
Each of us represents our own life brand. And using your instinct and feelings as your personal GPS puts you in a position to make the best choices for you. Now, of course, I have teams of people involved—consultants, marketers, lawyers. But I sometimes look around the table, marvel at how far I've come, and wish for the old days of Alice's mom. And a good meatloaf sandwich.