Self-Promotion for Independents and Young Professionals: Lessons from Business and Retail Politics

 Written By: Henry Lyatsky

“Though we called your friend from his bed this night, he could not speak for you,

For the race is run by one and one and never by two and two.”

Rudyard Kipling (“Tomlinson”)                                              



Want to live?  Hustle!


No downer is more enervating than being ignored, left out, discarded.  You need clients; your start-up needs investors.  Your bills need paying; your girlfriend has run off with your employed former buddy.  Your college degree, supposedly a ticket to a shining life, is worthless.  You are surrounded everywhere by people, all hustle and bustle, not one of whom even seems to notice that you happen to inhabit this world with them.  You are isolated, confused, dispirited, caught in an Auden poem.


The world has no need of yet another geophysicist, engineer, geologist, technician.  You’ve barely started, you fancy yourself something special, and you’re dead-end surplus.  The mid-life crisis has come early.  The temptation is to curl up in a fetal position, but that’s no help.  What do you do?


If you don’t ask, you don’t get relates to all basic human instincts, and it’s the competitive modern man’s version of “eat what you kill”.  It’s a jungle out there, and in the tight and over-crowded market you are well and truly on your own.  Other people are your competitors.  The only person who would assist is yourself.


Everyone is selling something, or they should be.  To get ahead of others, to put yourself on the map first, the trick is to communicate the content of your sell to any listener bluntly, clearly and concisely.


Clarity being the better part of courtesy, three main qualities distinguish a strong and memorable promotion:


-       instantly obvious and substantive message content,

-       clear, pointed and sharp delivery, and

-       widest possible circulation on a continuing basis.


What does it mean for me?” is the question on the mind of a voter assessing a political platform, and of a potential client or investor reviewing a proffered service or venture.  The available review time and attention span are typically very short, and this implicit but universal question must be answered with blinding clarity in the opening seconds of a snappy contact.


Soft sell is worse than a waste of time: it gets little traction and only marks you as a wimp who should be ignored.  Better to say it forcefully, kind of like this: “This is my stuff, damn it!  It’s good for you – take a look how!”


Decide precisely what you are selling and to whom.  Just presenting yourself achieves nothing: nobody cares.  Tell your prospective clients, in clear terms, what specific commercial good you can do for them.


Your language and style must be simple and catchy.  Your main point should be repeated in very simple terms – again and again and again and again and again.  And then again.  And again and again, for as long as your career runs on.


Heavy academic or trendy jargon makes you look like a detached or vacuous poser, or it can just be confusing.  At first contact, pretend you are explaining your work to an 18-year-old: a more elaborate discussion, if warranted, can follow later.


Every time someone sees information from you, it’s a “touch”.  One touch is never enough, and neither are a few sporadic touches.  A consistent, ongoing, steady effort to reach as many people as possible, repeatedly, using all available means, is what gets results.


My father always wanted to be the corpse at every funeral, the bride at every wedding and the baby at every christening” might not be the most charitable of filial tributes.  But this father also had ideas and substance in abundance, which he did not shrink from popularizing aggressively at every opportunity, and his efforts made him one of the most impactful of the U.S. presidents, Teddy Roosevelt.


Before you go on reading this, if by some superhuman feat of endurance you got this far, here’s a big disclaimer.  I am an introvert, and the experiences and observations I share are those of an introvert.  Except for the nuisance of wearing a mask, I hardly noticed the COVID lockdowns.  I have no idea how an extroverted people-person functions or thinks: if you are one of those, take everything below with a big grain of salt.


Besides working in geophysics, I have also participated in many political campaigns at levels from the lowest to quite high, with a sobering mix of failure and success, and I’ve had a chance to learn some retail politics and marketing from the best of the very best.  I have sat through many useful training seminars on outreach and fundraising.  These skills are transferrable, and this experience did me no end of good as it taught me – an introvert! – how to promote myself actively around the industry.





How do you convey your sales pitch in under 10 seconds?  This is all the real interest span you can count on with a new contact, so make your key point obvious at once.


A soundbite is a brief and catchy statement that encapsulates an idea.  Politicians use them to define themselves positively (“Honest Abe”) and their opponents negatively (“Tricky Dicky”).  A soundbite can sum up the theme of an election campaign (“Morning in America”) or even its entire policy content (“No experiments!”: Fig. 1).  It can capture a major policy thrust or a military objective (“unconditional surrender” or “Ich bin ein Berliner!” or “Tear down this wall!”) and define a friendly geostrategic alliance (“Free World”) or the enemy (“evil empire”).


A successful soundbite is uniquely and instantly recognizable, and it must relate to something your audience can easily observe and grasp.


How does a geo-consultant or entrepreneur define himself with catchy soundbites?  Consider what you want people to know you are selling.  A specialized expert can describe his services in a few technical words that would attract interested parties and turn off the irrelevant ones.  Such words should boldly top your business card and online profile (for example, “completions engineer” or “carbonate sedimentologists” or “helium exploration start-up – Montana – Saskatchewan”).


Every interaction, without exception, is potentially promotional.  With clear words of self-definition, you should always introduce yourself whether prompted or not: “My name is John Doe, I am a petroleum landman, currently looking for work”.  Such a blunt statement gets to the point at once, quickly eliminates people who are not interested, and makes your interactions more efficient.


Avoid like the plague any trendy or pretentious waffle.  Calling yourself a “visionary leader”, a “change-maker”, a “life-long learner” or an “excellence advocate” sets you off you as a useless windbag with no commercial value.  Your technical self-definition must be maximum specific.



Images and graphics


People are visual.  A picture, we are told, is worth a thousand words.  Posters and cartoons, typically annotated, have been a staple of our lives for millennia: bathroom graffiti are known from the Roman ruins.  The advent of moving pictures has now given rise to video clips.


A successful political poster conveys the message with devastating clarity (Figs. 1, 2).  The famous “Canadian Cow” cartoon from 1915 remains in vivid circulation to this day (Fig. 3): partly because the underlying issues continue unresolved, but also because of its compelling and very simple visual appeal.


It’s important to avoid making your graphics content-free or user-unfriendly, filling them with irrelevancies, or making the field overcrowded and hard to read (Figs. 4, 5).  Don’t make your readers fish for information because they won’t: put it right in front of them if you want them to notice.


A business card, like a campaign postcard (Figs. 6, 7), should give your name, contact information, and a half-dozen words describing what you offer in a big font.  An online profile should show your flattering but recent selfie (posting youthful pix reveals insecurity) and one or two interesting pictures to show how your work is exciting in some unusual way.  Because I specialize in potential-field data, I tend to post pictures of survey aircraft which, unlike psychedelic magnetic or gravity maps, require no explanation (and eat your hearts out, seismic land-lubbers, I get big-boy toys!).


Flaunting your college degrees is not the best idea.  They do not make you unique: almost everybody in geophysics and geology has one.  Bragging about your advanced degrees, if you have them, can make you look snooty and insecure, and PhDs are often distrusted by exploration employers.  Your most advanced degree is worth listing, but only in the context of your overall experience.  The only thing your putative clients really want to know is what you can do for them in practice.


Videos are more elaborate and potentially more pretentious, and they demand time of the viewer.  Few people will want to watch a long infomercial about yourself, so any online video clip must be short, at most a minute or two.  A typical TV commercial or political ad runs just 30 seconds, and the less costly online political videos can go 90-120 seconds before the viewers’ attention wanders.  Besides, videos can be a hassle to produce, and sometimes costly.  They get old after a time, and then they need to be scrapped and replaced.  I do not bother with them at all.


A video should show you in a plausible manner, and it should briefly explain what you offer that others don’t.  Putting down the opposition explicitly is more common in politics than in business advertising, where such negativity can even be discouraged by bodies that regulate professional conduct.  The most effective political video was probably the “Daisy” TV ad from the 1964 U.S. election: it is worth checking out before you make your own promos.  But for a small consultancy, videos are a luxury of limited value, and it might be more effective to publish technical articles and give substantive talks.



Personal contact


The world doesn’t care if you are introverted or shy because it doesn’t care about you at all.  If your lack of aggressiveness prevents you from asking, don’t expect to get what you want.  So, learn to ask.


Here, paradoxically, introverts can have an advantage.  Extroverts tend to take their interpersonal skills for granted, so sometimes they fail to develop them hard enough and default to off-putting glibness, which only reflects a lack of content.  One top-name politician with whom I had to deal over a number of years struck me from the very start as vacuous, a climber full of social anxiety, and comically insecure.  My most entertaining moment in politics came when he asked me, in a stifled whisper, what the party leader really thought about him.  He was hard-working and outwardly friendly, even (especially) with people he was jealous of.  He thought there wasn’t anyone he couldn’t charm, but beneath the false smile, he had little that was original or substantial to say.  He succeeded for a time and rose above his level of incompetence, but the mask came off and his absurd vacuity became manifest under the stress test of personal leadership: just when it counted most, he fell flat on his face.


Introverts have to train and force themselves in order to communicate effectively, and many end up doing it extremely well.  Schmoozing is not their thing, and maybe they want to get out of any conversation sooner, so they make their approach as efficient as they can.  Many of the best classical stage actors have been introverts, and so was the Great Communicator himself, Ronald Reagan.  Stephen Harper worked on his presentation and communication skills ceaselessly and very fruitfully.  It’s precisely because communication didn’t come naturally to them at first that they learned to do it so very well.


Persistence is essential.  If your pitch line is memorized, you can blurt it out by instinct, mechanically, without fretting, whenever a chance arises.  And then you move right along.  Don’t expect a positive reaction: it’s almost certainly not forthcoming.  A Mormon missionary goes door to door, like a salesman of old, expecting nearly every door to be shut in his face.  In his confidence, he doesn’t take it personally and just moves on to the next door, and the next, and the next, and then to the next block and the next street.  He is fully prepared for the vanishingly rare case when he strikes up a real conversation: all the countless closed doors are merely the cost of finding the right one.  And that’s how the Mormon church thrives, so you would do well to learn such persistence and apply it to your self-promotion with any people you meet.


An uninterested contact is a waste of time, just another closed door, but a fool is downright dangerous.  From the former you walk away, but from the latter you run.  Someone who fails to understand the relevant basics or has cockamamie ideas is not a client or partner for you, and at worst, such a person can end up dragging you down and doing you harm.  The old admonition is worth recalling: “Let a bear robbed of her whelps meet a man, rather than a fool in his folly” (Proverbs 17:12, KJV).  Of course, if that fool is yourself, it will catch up with you in some unpleasant ways in the fullness of time.


Self-assurance sells, self-doubt doesn’t.  Act as if you enjoy your work, including the retail part, even if you don’t.  Be calmly confident that you are selling the skills and abilities you really do possess: never sell yourself short, but keep in mind that over-embellishment smacks of over-compensation.  Your ego should be the very biggest you can actually back up, because what you know about yourself inside will inevitably come through.


Hard sell is vital, but oversell can be counterproductive.  Too much can be as bad as not enough.  Instant positive response from a putative client or voter is not necessary.  It’s like speed dating (I am assured): at first contact, just make yourself noticed and memorable against the background of others.  Make sure people remember what you are selling, so they could kick it around later on their own terms.  You might want to follow up with fruitful-looking new contacts, but not too much.  Give it time to gel.  Each person’s thought process is different: it can run slowly and shift with changing business needs, so make sure your over-eagerness does not disrupt it.


Knowledge of the customer or voter is essential to a strong sales pitch.  What you are selling will look perfect to you, but that’s no use.  What does it mean for me?”, thinks the buyer – and the operative word is always me.  Forget about yourself: try to see your product through the eyes of the customer, because the customer, even the dumbest one, is always right.


Giving talks at business conferences and lunches is a good way to deliver your message, and so is mingling, especially if you are a people-person.  One-on-one floor conversations do help, but they are low-productivity, especially if someone is selfish enough to monopolize your time with their useless nonsense.  Coverage is much wider, and accomplished quicker, with a sharp and memorable oral presentation to a big audience.


Modesty is an over-rated virtue, and better results are achieved with highly noticeable but inoffensive bluntness.  Soft and affable social waffle is instantly forgettable and could be irritating, whereas a short, crystal-clear, and relevant message can leave a lasting memory.



Publish or perish?


Professional publications showcasing your exploration methods and skills are very useful when run in industry magazines.  Best of all are open-access magazines with strong social-networking capabilities, so your article can be widely shared.  Sadly, many good publications just sit for years, unnoticed and unread.  Once published, it is all up to you to get readership by circulating your article around aggressively, typically on social media.


Before you choose a magazine for your article, check to be sure public access to it would be easy.


On the other hand, peer-reviewed academic journals often have a cumbersome review process by the wrong people who go on power trips by being gratuitously difficult, which adds little or even subtracts value.  After the appalling exposures and scandals of Climategate, it is hard to recommend the academic procedures.  A good editor, as in some industry journals, is all you really need – but be sure to shop around, because even in the industry, discreditably, some editors fail to stand up to the thoughtless pressures of facile political correctness.  Self-defeatingly, many academic magazines and some industry ones are paywalled, which ruins circulation, and their industry readership can be low.  Many academics who try to transition into the oil or mineral industry get baffled and angry when their long lists of peer-reviewed papers (in journals with names like Tectonophysics, if you please) impress nobody at all.


Another very fruitful venue is to have your work published by the federal or provincial geological surveys.  Their public access is easy, because publicizing their work is typically part of their mandate.  On the downside, the reports they run can be the size of a book, requiring a writing effort to match.  The geological surveys seldom publish reports by external workers unless they are employed as contractors, and the internal bureaucratic process of getting a publication approval can be long and opaque.


The title of your article should be especially catchy, in order to attract the kind of readers you need.  Your published work should ideally be written as tutorials, serving to educate your future clients in your methods and capabilities.  Over-specialized jargon and hairy math reduce your readership.  Describe everything you cover from first principles, as if you are writing for high-school kids.  Your ideal audience is not your fellow experts: you want to reach the non-experts who might use your services if you can convey to them, at their level, how your work can add value to their exploration and development programs.


Coverage in the general media can raise one’s profile and greatly widen exposure.  It is highly valued by small businesses, such as restaurants chasing newspaper and magazine reviews, but to achieve it often requires long cultivation of non-expert journalists who may have their own agendas and preferences.  Due to my advocacy of the oil industry, I’ve been fortunate over the years to get many radio and TV interviews, as well as third-party articles covering my work (even in the biggest and unlikeliest of national venues, where I can proudly report that readers’ comments denounced me as an environmental criminal).  None of it has ever led to work contracts for me directly, but as general advertising, it has been priceless.



The dynamic cyberspace, where it all really happens


Elections are won and lost online.  Corporate reputations and sales are made and ruined.  Information is circulated far and wide within minutes, along with a sentence or two of your own catchy comments.


The online world is an introvert’s paradise.  The social media are a superb means to achieve broad exposure, provided you are willing to put in the time and the thought.  The dollar cost is vanishingly low.  LinkedIn, in particular, allows you to create a short and catchy business profile with outside links, and then put it before other users by posting announcements and articles or commenting on other people’s posts and by initiating contacts.


Your posts should be purposeful.  Nobody needs to hear about how the condition of your cat relates to your spiritual growth, or about your emotional or self-esteem challenges met and overcome.  We all have our own problems galore, and nobody needs yours.  Besides, to complain is wimpy and whiny: a weak man is unreliable, and a weak character is not what good managers value.


The social media are only a platform: the winningly sharp content is for you to generate.  Above all, your posts must be tailored to be of interest to the kind of people you aim to attract.  What interests exploration managers might be quite different than what interests a petrologist or a seismic surveyor.  How do you define your target audience?  What do you want them to learn about your expertise, your judgment, your character?  Before you ask yourself what to post, first ask these basic questions about the purpose.


It is also important to watch what you post in order to protect yourself.  Many politicians’ careers have suffered from releases of their inappropriate recent or old posts, which might have seemed like a good idea at the time but turned out to be unwise.  Competition is a blood sport.  All’s fair in love and war, and free competition is a Hobbesian war of all against all, so don’t be surprised if your competitors look for ways to taint you with your own past words.


A website can be another useful tool to circulate your information, but it costs money to build and keep updated, and it takes effort to gain traffic.  You need to make sure your website is linked from other, high-traffic sites and social-media posts, and that it shows up at the top of relevant subject searches.  The content must be very clear, catchy and blunt.  People’s perceptions are visual, and the homepage must make it instantly obvious what exactly you are marketing.  People will click the tabs better if they are hooked from the first page.


A strong e-mail list makes it possible to send out occasional updates about your work, but modern privacy laws can limit your reach considerably.  As with any media content, brevity and sharpness of a message are essential; a long discussion is likely to cause annoyance followed by deletion.  Routine updates are seldom well received except by devotees, but clear announcements of new products, publications and events tend to generate more interest.



Other ways to get around


Professional associations offer many volunteer opportunities, which can get you some high visibility in the professional community.  Volunteering can also be a chance to exhibit your work ethic, management skills, judgment, character and reliability.


The downside is that 20% of unpaid volunteers usually end up doing 80% of the work, and you could easily find yourself exploited.  But it can be an opportunity to circulate your name around the industry by piggybacking on your association’s promotions, as well as a chance to learn some new skills.


To chase awards from professional associations is a waste of your political capital in the industry.  Awards are a massage for insecure egos, but they add nothing much to your commercial marketability.  Nobody impressive or business-savvy will be impressed, so what’s the use?


Some people join industry-related social activities more than others.  This could be a means to meet people in a setting less focused than trade shows, and to strike up conversations.  Unfortunately, a hard sell might not be appropriate in the middle of a golf tournament.  On the other hand, geological field trips can be both good for learning and for semi-socially meeting people in your particular field.


Your name, expertise and capabilities tend to get announced widely if you lead a field trip or teach an industry short course.  Teaching courses can also be a useful financial earner, but preparing the materials can require a significant up-front investment of time and labour.  On the upside, once your field-trip notes and course slides are generated and canned, you can repackage them for new opportunities fairly quickly.



Eat what you kill


If you take away just one thing from this article, let it be this: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get!  If self-promotion is not in your nature, as it isn’t in mine, train yourself to do it on autopilot.  You’ll grow into it, and the best practices will evolve with experience.


Your biggest enemy is yourself.  Instead of feeling sorry for yourself in your joblessness and your paralyzing shyness, learn to hustle.  When you have work, keep hustling, because jobs end and renewed unemployment is a pink slip away.


Clarity, bluntness, patience, endless persistence, and broad circulation are all vital for branding and self-promotion.  They are a productive way to fill any downtime, and they should not be neglected when you are busy.  Self-promotion requires ongoing and often solitary effort with frustratingly little immediate reward, but the result is to get your work and expertise widely known.





Figure 1.  Compelling but subtle simplicity (Christian Democrat campaign slogan on a poster, West Germany, 1957).  No experiments!” and a reassuring image of “the Old Man”, Chancellor Adenauer.  Message: let’s protect the country’s post-war recovery and domestic and international stabilization from dangerous ideological schemes of the irresponsible left.  Unspoken hint: recent experiments by the National Socialists produced nothing but war and the nation’s near-destruction, so no more!


Figure 2.  Compelling wordplay (Tory campaign poster, UK, 1978-1979).  Britain’s sluggish economy and the collapse of public services due to unproductive state-owned industries and unchecked union militancy by the late 1970s made the Labour government untenable and the case for Margaret Thatcher’s free-market reforms very appealing.


Figure 3.  Is any part of it somehow unclear?  (Cartoon, 1915).


Figure 4.  Where’s the beef?  This campaign literature piece tells you nothing about the candidate’s platform or personal qualifications.  Instead, it unwisely makes the readers work by scanning the QR code to access the website: you can be sure they won’t bother.


Figure 5.  Too much information for a mere postcard.  Small, almost unreadable font in an overcrowded field.  Few recipients would bother to look for a magnifying glass to read this.  Detailed information of this sort is best delivered to the mailboxes in a full-size letter format.


Figure 6.  Simple, to the point, and easy to read (Alberta provincial election campaign literature, 2019).  The candidate is shown as reassuring and focused, and the key policy points are made obvious at once.  Details can be put in a smaller (but not too small) font on the back.


Figure 7.  A general-purpose business card (my own, since modesty is over-rated).  Just a few key words, and highly visible contact information, are all you need.  I mention gravity and magnetics verbally: no need to have them on the card because they are not all I do, and a lot of my work is published.


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