The Professional Development Certificate Student Advisory Board hosted A Night of Networking: The Professional Development Certificates' Career Day on May 14 at the University of Chicago Gleacher Center. With a keynote presentation by Creative Director and Brand Strategist Lindrea Reynolds, the networking event gave present and prospective students, as well as alumni, the opportunity to come together and share professional experiences and strategies over an assortment of snacks and drinks.
“Our goal with events like this is to foster a collaborative certificate community,” said Lisa Malvin, assistant director of UChicago's Professional Development Certificates. “Career Day is one of our capstone events and meant to give our students a chance to connect with industry professionals while networking in a casual space. We were particularly pleased that Lindrea could join us and share her valuable lessons from her career.”
With more than 10 years of experience in the marketing and design industries, Lindrea Reynolds currently serves more than 18,000 Chicago teens as the director of marketing and brand development at After School Matters—a nationally recognized, out-of-school time, nonprofit organization. Having earned her Marketing certificate through the PDC program at the University of Chicago, she coaches creative problem-solvers through her personal blog, speaking engagements, publication contributions, and by hosting her monthly podcast, Creative Masterminds.
Beginning her keynote by pointing to well-known examples of successful and established personal brands, mentioning Bill Gates and Beyoncé in particular, Reynolds noted that she would like to discuss the branding success of Red Panda, a less-known brand that has nevertheless inspired her in recent years. As a stalwart of halftime entertainment across the NBA and NCAA basketball leagues, Red Panda has for 25 years performed an act from her seven-foot-high unicycle that involves balancing a number of bowls on her right shin, launching them up in the air, and landing them all on her head. Accomplished entirely from atop her customized unicycle, the feat is greeted by frenzied applause and cheers from her fans.
“What I really like about Red Panda is her authenticity,” Reynolds said. “She’s comfortable with who she is and she knows her audience and arena. If you’re like me, you might have a tendency to develop what I like to call chameleon syndrome, where we change who we are to fit the people we’re talking to. But a brand like Red Panda shows us that the truly successful brands are authentic. When people love you and invest in you it’s not because they want to become your friend—even if they might want to do that too—it’s because of who you are.”
Calling authenticity the first of four essential attributes to creating a successful personal brand, Reynolds went on to highlight the importance of discipline in Red Panda’s career success, noting that on days she doesn’t perform she still practices for two hours—roughly the average amount of time Americans spend daily on social media, according to recent studies.
“In addition to discipline, I’d also like to emphasize the importance of being memorable,” she added. “Five years ago, Red Panda took two years off to care for her aging parents, but even after her break she was able to return and pick up where she left off. That’s because she’d developed a memorable brand with a strong following.”
Reynolds went on to note the special relationship Red Panda has with her different audiences, a type of relationship she was able to draw on after her $25,000 unicycle was stolen at San Francisco International Airport in 2017. Faced with the possibility of being out of work, she scrambled to assemble the highly customized centerpiece to her act by using spare parts she had accumulated over the years. The result, however, left her struggling to perform.
“That’s when the Golden State Warriors, longtime supporters of her act, stepped in and provided her with a replacement,” Reynolds said. “You can see how the relationship Red Panda has in this case with the Warriors is more than just transactional. I like to call it a transformational relationship. It’s something that you cultivate by engaging with people in a different type of way.”
Reynolds encouraged those present to approach the relationships they have with their different audiences, customers, and clients—and even those connections they were making that evening—as transformational. You want to see them as advocates, she noted, which are people who want to support you so that you can continue to develop your brand.
“The goal,” she said, “involves building a community of advocates. In your discussions tonight, get to know who you’re talking to and find out if you’re making a potentially transformational connection. You’re not just trying to get a job or have coffee. We’re advocating for one another so we can get our seat at the table. And I think it’s safe to say that we’re all here because we want a seat at the table. That’s how we get the brand visibility we deserve.”