As the co-founder of a small business, I have felt the responsibility of helping build into aspiring entrepreneurs and professional creatives. I do this in two ways: I teach one class at a local college for freshmen studying visual communication, and I also volunteer as a mentor to local startup accelerators.
The hope I have is to maybe help someone make wiser decisions, or at least be a sounding board along their journey.
So far, so good. Until that is, clout rears its head, as it did recently:
I attended a mentor meet-up at one of the startup accelerators I was considering volunteering for, where I met the founder of a startup of which I had deep and recent experience with helping develop a brand. The founder and I clicked, too, and made plans to be mentor/mentee.
The following week we met at the accelerator to kick off our work, but before we could begin, the accelerator founders pulled me aside for an impromptu meeting.
It turned out to be a grilling of my credentials, experience, and why I wanted to mentor this particular startup. What made the meeting curious, even to the point of absurdity, was that I had proactively sent them four emails with everything they asked of me and more weeks before this day. However, while I had requested and audience with them before this day, no reply was sent. Instead, I sat there being grilled in an almost tangible atmosphere of awkwardness.
Yet I was happy to oblige, and reiterated everything I had previously sent them. They seemed satisfied.
But then clout showed up.
I was told that I could not mentor this startup because an employee at one of Cincinnati’s (indeed, the Midwest’s) largest branding agencies had picked the same startup, after I had made plans with the startup.
In other words, I was kicked to the curb because I’m not an employee of a massive branding agency, I’m just a guy who has a self-funded branding shop that has worked his ass off building something from nothing.
In even fewer words, the cool kids had their say. Yes, grade school mentalities are hard to shed for many who cling to clout.
My brand did not have the clout of a big agency, so I was placed in the caste system of what I’ll call “Lower Agency.”
Yes, I’m still pissed off about it, and rightfully so.
The icing on the cake is that, years ago, I turned down a job offer from this larger agency to do what I do now – own, run, and build Brand Shepherd.
The moral of the story, one I’ve had to learn and unlearn a few times is that despite whether it’s fair, right, or just, clout is ever present.
Clout is the wind that cannot be controlled. Like the wind, it can be artificially made and sometimes harvested, but most of the time it shows up because it can.
I know of many professionals with an expertise in something particular who carry no clout amid their peers because they simply don’t want the attention. I also many who can talk corporate jargon until all the oxygen is sucked out of the room, with raw incompetence coursing through their veins, yet these dolts carry a lot of clout.
Where is the good news in all of this?
It didn’t turn out all bad. I was given another startup to work with, one I had experience with their niche industry. I am channeling all my anger into energy for building that startup into a more developed brand than any other in the accelerator.
I believe that quality knows quality and those who are true pros at what they do survive and thrive because of the quality in what they do. It’s why certain brands catch on and need little marketing to sell – the referrals do the selling.
Sure, it’s a form of clout, too, but it’s not the Caste System Clout that I experienced – it’s authentic and verifiable in the work.
Clout is the bane of every brand. Building and leveraging the wrong type of clout is a house built on sand.
May your brand be built from the type of clout that doesn’t treat others poorly.