Notes by Nero Okwa
Published in

Notes by Nero Okwa

Issue 7: Tyra Banks: Lessons in Business and Personal Branding

Source

“And then we went to a pizzeria in Milan, Italy, and the pizzeria had a tablecloth. You know the tablecloths that are made of paper, and she put a pen in my hand, and she said, “You write down every client in this industry that likes ass.”

I was like, “What do you mean ass?”

“Write down who likes ass.”

And I was like, “Victoria’s Secret?”

“Write it down.”

“Sports Illustrated? Swimsuit Edition?”

“Write it down.”

That was a conversation between Tyra Banks and her mother, after 8 designers had stopped working with her, but I am getting ahead of myself.

As a supermodel, a producer, and media mogul, Tyra has achieved great feats of success others would only dream of. From being the first model to book 25 shows in Paris fashion week, to producing the hit show America’s Next Top model, Tyra has forged a personal brand that has enabled her to make strategic career changes, succeed and build a legacy.

I stumbled on the podcast interview Tyra and her mother did with James Altucher on their new book: ‘Perfect Is Boring: 10 Things My Crazy, Fierce Mama Taught Me About Beauty, Booty, and Being a Boss’. I found the interview so engaging I went searching and found another one she did with Reid Hoffman (co-founder of LinkedIn) on personal branding.

Reid argues that it is strategic to build a personal brand especially in this era of rapid change — It’s no longer the norm to climb a steady career ladder at a single organization. Your company might change, or your entire industry, many times.

And you need to be adaptive at each step along the journey. Your future network will want a clear and compelling picture of who you are and what you bring to the table.

Let’s look at some of the career, business and personal branding lessons we can learn from both these interviews.

College vs Fashion Week

When Tyra was 15, she booked a job standing in a window modelling for Ferragamo. Eventually it was time to apply to college. Tyre enrolled, planning a major in filmmaking and television. Then something happened.

She was offered an opportunity to go to Paris Fashion Week instead. She had two weeks to decide and consulted her mom on what to do, who advised that only she could make that decision.

She chose Fashion Week. With only days to go to Paris, Tyra studied and put herself through a crash course on designer branding at an LA Fashion library.

‘She studied the industry the way someone else might study for the SATs’.

“What is French fashion? Who are the designers? Who are the powers that be?” Tyra said.

“I learned what Chanel liked. I learned what Yves Saint Laurent liked. I learned what Dior liked. I had a little arsenal inside of my backpack.”

Lesson 1: Make your own decisions.

At different stages of our lives, careers, and business journey, we would have to make decisions that have different outcomes. The decision is ours to make.

Lesson 2: Be Prepared.

“So, what I did, Reid, is before I went into every single audition, I would go either in the alley, or on the side of the building, or in the lobby, change my hair, change my lipstick, my makeup, and then walk what the research told me that designer liked”.

Within those two weeks of doing auditions for Fashion Week, Tyra broke history.

She was the only model that booked 25 fashion shows her first season.

Lesson 3: YOU are the business.

When you think of yourself as a business, you will realize that the business needs a brand, your personal brand. In Reid’s words, Tyra’s willingness to adopt her appearance to the requirements of the designer is an example of when authenticity meets craft.

Branding is a two-way conversation. You can still be YOU and adjust to your audience”.

Source

Pivoting

“One day, we were backstage at a fashion show, and she (Tyra’s mom) said, “Oh yeah, you’re in all these fashion shows. You’re in 25 your first season, now you’re in 50 this season, and they want you in Paris, Milan, New York, Tokyo, London, all this.”

And she goes, “But they also wanted,” I’ll just make up a name, “Michelle. And where is she now? How many fashion shows is Michelle in with you this Paris season?” I’m like, “Oh my god, she was only in three, and last season she was in 10, and season before she was in 15.”

And she goes, “That’s you next. So, I want you to look around this room, and analyze. Plan for the end at the beginning.”

Lesson 4: Plan for the end at the beginning

“Over time, I gained some weight, if we want to talk about the booty. And every season there were less and less designers that wanted to use me because my body was changing. My agent gave my mother a list of eight designers that said, “We’re not using Tyra because she’s too big.”

By the way, I was 120 pounds(54kg), but back then it was too big.”

This brings us to the opening quote at the Italian pizzeria.

And then we went to a pizzeria in Milan, Italy, and the pizzeria had a tablecloth. You know the tablecloths that are made of paper, and she put a pen in my hand, and she said, “You write down every client in this industry that likes ass.

I was like, “What do you mean ass?”

“Write down who likes ass.”

And I was like, “Victoria’s Secret?”

“Write it down.”

“Sports Illustrated? Swimsuit Edition?”

“Write it down.”

“And so then I had a list of 10 clients that it was okay if you had curves, and then she drew a line down the paper, and she said, “On this side, write down who has an ass.”

And I was like, “What do you mean? Everybody has an ass.”

“A thicker ass. Who got a thicker ass in your industry?”

And I was like, “Cindy Crawford?” “Write it down.”

And I was like, “Claudia Schiffer?” “Write it down.”

And so then she said, “These are your future clients, and these are the careers that you can be inspired by, but you’re going to make it your own.”

Reid: “This is where true authenticity becomes critical to developing the startup of you. Every industry has compromises that don’t quite sit right. You have to know how to decide where to draw the line”.

Applying this strategy, Tyra successfully pivoted from the world of couture, towards a wider mainstream appeal. She was on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition and one of the first Victoria’s Secret Angels.

Learning from every NO.

One day while watching the American Idols, Tyra had the idea for America’s Next Top Model. She believed it was an expression of her personal brand of authenticity.

She took it to her agent, who said, “Models are vapid and unsympathetic characters, and no one wants to look at that.”

Determined, she reached out to her childhood friend; Kenya Barris(the future creator of Black-ish), who introduced her to Ken Mok a reality TV expert. He believed in it and supported her to launch the project.

America’s Next Top Model would go on to have 24 seasons in 180 countries, and 40 international versions of the show with different local host in different countries: France’s Next Top Model, Italy’s Next Top Model, Japan’s Next Top Model etc.

Lesson 5: Learn when and why to say No.

Part of building a personal brand is knowing when and why to say No. This is important as it helps you focus, and focus brings clarity of purpose.

It is also important to have a network that understands you and can help you decide on the next strategic step.

Summary

Lesson 1: Make your own decisions.

Lesson 2: Be Prepared.

Lesson 3: YOU are the business.

Lesson 4: Plan for the end at the beginning.

Lesson 5: Learn when and why to say No.

Conclusion

Moments like the COVID pandemic remind us why it is important to have a personal brand that is separate and distinct from your company. Businesses and jobs come and go, but your personal brand is still with you. And this allows you pivot in a new direction.

To learn more about this newsletter and stay updated, subscribe below.

Click here to join my newsletter

You can also email me at notesbynero@gmail.com.

Links and Resources

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Nero Okwa

Nero Okwa

61 Followers

Entrepreneur, Product Manager and StoryTeller. In love with Business, Technology, Travel and Africa.