Photo: George Burns
I've been interviewing job candidates for a new television network I'm launching next year. It's a network created around the same idea as this magazine, with 24/7 programming designed to help viewers recognize and create the best for themselves in all things that matter.
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.