Jill Abramson, the first female Executive Editor of The New York Times, was summarily fired this week. That made news on the front page of the Times and has the media pundits out in full force as they analyze why she got the axe.
The Times coyly stated that it was “an issue with management in the newsroom.” The Times wouldn’t let its sources on a breaking news story get away with that non-response.
Funny how publisher Arthur Sulzberger clammed up when it was the Times in the news. That’s not what a Times reporter would write about the ouster of a high-ranking executive in a Fortune 500 company.
Abrahamson Lacked a Clear Brand
Investigative reporter Ken Auletta in a profile of Abramson when she was appointed executive editor less than three years ago, wrote, “…many in the newsroom considered her to be intimidating and brusque; she was too remote…”
According to a report by Slate, though,“ By the time she left, media critics would report that staffers deemed her “polarizing,” “bitchy,” and “not approachable.” But to many women at the New York Times, Jill Abramson was everything.”
She had earned their respect by appointing women to important positions in the male dominated newsroom. And no one could quarrel with the eight Pulitzer prizes the paper won under her leadership.
So who was Jill Abramson? Someone who was “bitchy,” with the temerity to confront her boss about her compensation package, or a woman who was highly respected for her news acumen and appreciation for the contributions of women reporters?
The story is still unfolding and the Times is in full damage control mode, but it seems clear that Abramson didn’t have a clear personal brand with the man who mattered the most: her boss, Arthur Sulzberger.
As Ann Friedman reported in New York Magazine, “Women are sometimes advised to keep a low profile and let their work ‘speak for itself.’ But in Abramson’s case, eight Pulitzers did not speak loudly enough. Revenue growth did not speak loudly enough. Successful new digital products did not speak loudly enough.”
What is a Personal Brand?
A brand is what an individual (or company) wishes to be known for. Jill Abramson no doubt wanted to be known for her drive to make the Times the best newspaper it could be as evidenced by the eight Pulitzers the paper won under her leadership.
But how we want to be perceived and how others perceive us is not always in sync. You can’t have a viable brand if you don’t understand your positioning. That’s how an individual or organization is perceived in the minds of its target audiences.
In Abramson’s case the only target that counted was Arthur Sulzberger. He was known to be frustrated with her management style. He resented her pushy side in questioning her compensation. Dean Baquet, her successor as Executive Editor, complained about her to Sulzberger, which reinforced his own problems with Abramson.
Until recently, Abramson seemed to be tone deaf about her brand and positioning. She had hired a coach to help her smooth out her rough edges. But it was too late.
It’s painful when you see yourself one way and then discover that other people have a very different impression of you.
How do you find out if this is the case for you? Consider asking one or two trusted colleagues for feedback on your professional skills – but also your personal style.
What you hear may surprise you. If so, it’s time to work on your personal brand so the way you want to be seen and what you want to be known for are crystal clear in the minds of your target audiences.