Building a personal brand every time you connect with Norty Cohen of Moosylvania

Building a personal brand every time you connect with Norty Cohen of Moosylvania


In the remote world, it’s often harder to keep your finger on the pulse than it is to do in person. Today’s guest, Norty Cohen, shares the importance of using each interaction from an initial phone screen to a conversation with the CEO to pitch yourself and land the job.

You can find Norty online @nortycohen on Twitter, on LinkedIn, and at

Photo of Norty Cohen
Norty Cohen

The founder and CEO of Moosylvania, which is an integrated marketing agency that builds brand communities through two-way participation.

Maren Kate 00:00

Welcome. So today, I'm super excited to talk to Norty Cohen, who is the CEO and founder of Moosylvania, which has 50 people strong, and you guys have worked with people with brands like Cipora and people. I love the name. By the way, Norty is the author of two books, The Participation Game and Join the Brand. And him and his team have researched, written and thought extensively on the idea of how and why consumers adopt brands. And that was one of the reasons I wanted to get you on the show Norty. And I wanted to get your contribution to the going remote book because this is exactly what job seekers need to be thinking about in today's economy. So welcome. Thank you so much for taking the time.

Norty Cohen 00:43

Thanks for having me.

Maren Kate 00:45

So I love this question and it's like one of my favorite to ask. First of all, what was your first job?

Norty Cohen 00:50

My first job? Yep. Well, you want to go back to, like, my first professional job?

Maren Kate 00:56

Both. What was your first real job like?

Norty Cohen 00:58

I mean, I was I was working when I was just a kid, like working in restaurants and all kinds of stuff like that, cutting lawns, working at restaurants, all kinds of things like that. And I ended up going to journalism school because I really thought that I let me just do something I love. And I think that kind of speaks to what what your audience is looking for here and is find something that you really like. And I thought, you know, if I do something I love and everything else to just fall into place. And so I really liked writing and I went to journalism school and came out of J school. And my first job was actually selling ads, selling print ads. And I was I would try to create an ad instead of selling. I would try to give somebody an idea. I realized I could actually sell ideas a lot better than I could do anything else. And so I just sort of naturally fell into the advertising business after that.

Maren Kate 01:50

Did you did you fall into the advertising business at the same job you got out of college? I'm always really interested, like after people graduate or I dropped out my senior year. So even, you know, there's a bunch of roots. But what was like how did that happen? Like how did you get that first job?

Norty Cohen 02:08

So I got out of journalism school and I went to school actually to be a reporter because in my generation it was a movie called All the President's Men in which the whole Watergate thing came out. And Woodward and Bernstein were like the coolest guys because it was Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. And, yeah, it was cool. And everybody wanted anybody that wanted to do that profession kind of wanted to be like them. But I got out, I went to school and sort of journalism school and got out and was offered like incredibly low wages to go into a little town. And then I didn't want to do that. And I ended up taking a job in advertising, selling print ads, which is what I did for for a period of time. I stayed in Columbia, Missouri, and sold ads. And I did that for four or five months until I built a portfolio. And then I said, OK, I want to go see if I can be a creative now. And that's how I did the.

Maren Kate 03:02

And so between then and founding Moosylvania, what were like what were the steps that got you there?

Norty Cohen 03:12

So I got out of school, I got a job at a department store, you know, as a copywriter, which was not a very creative thing, what I at that time did that for a year. While I was looking, I got into a small agency as a writer. I was at that agency for a couple of years and went to another agency where I had a broader variety of skills, challenges and opportunities. I did a lot of different things. I did PR. I did some sales, did some creative directing. Then I kind of went out and did my own thing for six months. And I hooked up with an agency that I ended up being a part of for about 15 years. We sold that agency and I started my Moosylvania in 03 three.

Maren Kate 03:55

Very cool. And tell us about Moosylvania for people that don't know.

Norty Cohen 03:59

So most of it is is a I would call it a brand building agency. We you know, we think about we think about brands. We think about all the things that bring brands to market. We don't you know, we're not married to any one idea in terms of how to get it done. But we write we like to think that we have some thought leadership that we bring forth. One of the ways that we got that done and have built this sort of practice over time was there was a period and I want to say 06, 07, where we bought we bought a 100 year old church to put our offices in, and the church came to the school and we ended up creating a focus group, facility and school as a way to utilize that space. And doing all that research was was really the foundation for all the books that I wrote because I started learning how to ask questions and how to do research. So I just sort of took advantage of each opportunity along the way.

Maren Kate 05:01

So before the pandemic, before everyone went remote, were you guys fully in house, did you have a mix of remote and in-house? How did that work?

Norty Cohen 05:11

Yeah, no, I think we really enjoy it. I mean, we've got we created this super creative environment. If you if you go to YouTube, there's a there's a video out there or Vimeo out there going to Google called a walking tour of Moosylvania. And it's kind of got one of these sort of speeded up videos. It allows you to see what it is. But we have this in this incredibly well, you know, well executed. One hundred year old building. That's really fun to work in. And it's got the stained glass, all kinds of crazy stuff going on. And people enjoy the environment. And, you know, it's it's really something that we enjoy being there and doing it. And now we're in this sort of remote work thing. There's still people there's a few people that go in, but we're trying to be safe and do the best thing we can and hope that we get back to our nice working environment.

Maren Kate 06:03

Got it, got it. So you mentioned when we were chatting earlier that you guys have adjusted you've actually hired a few people via Zoom this year.

Norty Cohen 06:13

Yeah, yeah.

Maren Kate 06:14

How different has that process been?

Norty Cohen 06:17

Well, you know, I think. You know, given the way that the economy has gone and certain sectors are still doing well, certain sectors are struggling, but the ones that are the sectors that are doing fine still need a lot of work done. I think it's a lot easier to hire someone, you know, in that, you know, you just graduated to five year range. From a risk perspective. It's you know, we've done it now. There's been several people that we've hired that, you know, I think maybe our H.R. person was able to go in and meet them, but the majority of the staff haven't been around them in person. We just have weekly resume calls and they get to see them. But it's been it's been it's been good. You know, we have a you know, this systems guy who who jokingly calls himself the mobility guy now because he makes sure that everybody's working and and we'll drive around and connect people. But, you know, getting connected, doing what we have to do is just part of what we deal with every day.

Maren Kate 07:18

It's like your own geek squad. So so you've obviously been involved in hiring a bunch of people over your career across the board theme wise, what have the best candidates have you seen do that most of the other job seekers don't?

Norty Cohen 07:38

Yeah, you know, I've heard a lot of people with both companies that we've that I've been an owner and, you know, probably hundreds of people. You know, I think the one thing that I always look for that I can never really articulate well is I look for some sort of what I like to call good breeding. I like to think that they have like the good habits, that personal habits that that they've gotten to where they know how to play well in the sandbox with others. And they just feel like they're sort of comfortable in how they interact with other people. And I think people can get there with a lot of different kinds of jobs. I think, you know, we mentioned, you know, working in restaurants, you know, we love to hire people that have done that. They can. Yeah, the craziness of a restaurant, you know, typically they can deal with a lot of different crazy people that they'll run into and do it with a smile and, you know, there's an aspect of people that just like to work with others, give others credit. And one of the things that we talk about a lot when people first come on board is and once a year, I take people through sort of a cultural deck that we have that sort of this is this is what we're about and how we treat each other, you know, and one of the ways that we talk about it is that you can't get ahead, you can't become successful without making other people successful. And I think that that took me a long time to get to I don't think I figured that out until I was probably 40. But I think if I could impart anything, it's it's the context of it's OK to give other people credit. It's OK to make people feel good. And generally they'll remember you and want to do more with you if you say, what can I do for you? And if you if you approach things like that, suddenly someone's like, oh, OK, let's do this and then I'll think about it. But I don't think you can ever go wrong with trying to make other people successful. And one of the things that happens a lot, particularly the creative industry, is, you know, we you know, we could you and I could be sitting here brainstorming. We come up with an idea and we go to pitch it to someone. And you you've had the little part of it. And I say, oh, and I did this and I did that. And it's almost like you have to, like, take away the ice and put it in the weeds and you have to just sort of catch yourself doing that. So you feel like you're giving other people credit. And I think that's that's an attitude that we we try to get to. And when when we look at work or where more people are having a chance to sort of build on each other's ideas, you want that collaborative person. And that's what I talk about in terms of they're used to doing things with other people. And that, I think is the most important skill you can have is just, you know, good quality relationships with other people that you just can relax a little bit and give them some credit and, you know, also giving people the benefit of the doubt. You know, something doesn't go right. You don't go OK, they suck because that happens a lot. You see that in the media every day. It's like one person does one thing and it's like, oh, my God, that person is you know, they've gone from hero to zero, you know, in seconds. And it's like, why did that happen? What can everybody just relax and give everybody credit? Nobody's perfect. Everybody's doing the best they can. And, you know, most people are trying hard. You know, there's going to be some slackers. But I think what people can figure out that, you know, that everyone's trying, you can step back and take a breath.

Maren Kate 11:12

I think that ties into something we were talking about a little bit earlier before we started recording around the idea of the project here, you're about to launch the just for fun, right?

Norty Cohen 11:26

Just for fun with two hours. And and you were telling me the story about kind of we were talking about like what people care about, maybe quickly tell that story.

Norty Cohen 11:39

So we're doing a concept. And it's something that I'm very passionate about over this haunting period was how are we going to reach out and make people smile? And I realized that my dog kind of is making me smile because I'm out walking three times a day at least, rain, heat, snow, whatever, and. So I started thinking about dog songs and I started thinking about some of the artists that I know in Nashville, and I realized they were all out of work and couldn't actually go play or couldn't do anything. So I decided to sort of underwrite an album which we were calling rock and roll over under the context of just for fun, if you are fun and on and on that site, were allowing people to download any of 17 tracks that are each written for each dog breed and give a donation to shelters nationwide. And there's a geo locator identifies the shelter. There's a platform called Gives that simply allows people to put in five or ten dollar donation or whatever they want to give and they can download the music. But one of the things that I started to figure out was. Everybody that I've talked to as soon as I started talking to him, the first thing that they say is, oh, here's a picture of my dog. So I need to make sure that when we were talking about this project, that we were highlighting other people's dogs as well. And so now we're we're building another component to our to our social outreach to make sure that we can sort of do some badge of honor for people that have given to our cause by honoring their dogs. It's kind of like I gave blood sticker. It's and it's that concept of of like at the end of the day. And it sounds bad when you say it, but it's true. It's like people care about themselves. And I think when when you're looking for a job, when especially like in a tougher economy where you can't just have a pulse to like get a get a position in San Francisco or something because they just need bodies. I think the idea of every interaction you have, whether you're doing an initial phone screen with an H.R. person or whether you're actually getting in to an interview or with the CEO or the head of whatever, thinking in terms of like obviously you're pitching yourself because you're looking for a role, but how do you in some ways make it about them? That's what sticks out. Some of the most interesting job interviews I've ever done with candidates is when they're like, oh, I looked you up and I read blah, blah, blah and whatever. And it's just like whether it's feeding to my ego or just the I'm impressed by the fact it's a little bit of research and it's super easy. But I would say 90 to 95 percent of candidates don't do that.

Maren Kate 14:25

Yeah, that is definitely troubling.

Norty Cohen 14:26

I mean, I've done many interviews where I'll start to talk and all of a sudden I'll go. You don't even know what we do, do you? Or, you know, even you know, and you know, you're writing a book. I think one of the things you'll find out is you'll talk to people and most people don't don't even like to read anything. And so you'll be like, you know, and I've had people actually we had somebody that we hired and. I said to her, you know, if you read the book, you're going to know how we do things here. So we gave you a copy when we hired you and she said, woman, I'm going to get to it this month. I'm going to I'm going to get to it this month. So. So I hired you and this was like fairly senior level, like this was like five years experience. I hired you. You knew we had a book about our methodology, but you're not going to get around to reading it for a month. But we're going to pay you for a month. Yeah. Why don't you do it this week? Well, obviously, that person didn't work out because I was going to say, did she work out? But, yeah, again, you know, sort of like it's the it's the blueprints. Pretty obvious. Just learn and do it and give it a try. And most people won't won't do that research.

Maren Kate 15:42

So how can so how can job seekers take take some of the best practices from great like you do a ton of work with brands and helping them win consumers and be in the hearts and minds of consumers.

Norty Cohen 15:57

How can I as a professional or someone maybe who is looking for a role right now, how can they use those same best practices personally lost you here? OK, can you hear me now?

Maren Kate 16:11

Yeah, OK.

Norty Cohen 16:14

Well, so, you know, I think one of the things that we talked about a participation game was, you know, it's not about you, it's not about me, it's about you. By the same token, it's it's like how much can we worried about about the other person? How much can you articulate what you think they might be interested in just to show that you have that ability to do that? I think people are looking for that. So I think that's a real simple one, is to do the research and and then maybe think about what it is that is possibly keeping that interviewer up at night. What are what could their possible challenges there.

Maren Kate 16:54

Oh, I see the puppy.

Norty Cohen 16:55

Yes, he's he's in all what kind of dog is it? He's a doodle.

Maren Kate 17:02

Oh, I love Bernese Mountain Dogs. Everybody who's listening. I'm looking at a Bernado right now. Just Google Bernado and you'll see how cute they are. So in terms of so in terms of positioning to like how do you how do you think through that if you're giving advice to someone who is maybe five years out of college or perhaps they're in their 30s and they're deciding to make a shift in their career, how like what are the what are the steps people can do to when they're thinking of themselves as a product or positioning themselves as a professional, you know?

Norty Cohen 17:39

Have you looked very much and have you talked about Strength Finder ever in any of your podcasts?

Maren Kate 17:45

Yup. So we actually interviewed one of the women at Strategic Coach a few days ago, and she was telling us about the unique ability. And one of the things she suggested was the strengths finder test, which I think they might have just changed the name and a few others. But yes, we did briefly touch on strengths binders. So if you know to be interesting, just even if you have a job right now and you're listening and you like what you do and you think you know what you're all about, the way the strength finder works is a very small book, you know, maybe a two hour read and it sort of breaks down all the sort of different qualities that people have that sort of make up their they're who they are. And it will tell you what you would be good at or what your synthesised skill is. And you take the test afterwards and it's only one person per book, so you can't really pass it around with twenty five hour book. It came from what the Gallup organization. And you know, one of the things that that you get and one of the things that I tell people to think about is, you know, what is how would you describe your best skill? What is it you want to do? Because clearly not. You know, what is it you need? I'll do that. I mean, that doesn't really work. So knowing what your particular skill is and I just watched the movie Michael Clayton, did anybody ever see the movie with George Clooney? In this movie, George Clooney, he's a he's works for a law firm and he is a lawyer, but he only fixes other people's problems. That's his job. He's a fixer. And he goes to the head of the law firm. He's like, put me back in litigation. And the guy goes, what, so you can be one like everybody else does the same thing, yet you think you were great at it, you were OK at it. You are great at being a fixer. And for somebody to find out what it is they do that is the key to life. Just do what you do and get out of that concept to figure out what you're good at, which is why I talk about Strength Finder a lot. When I when I interview people, you know, is to say, what is that one thing that you want to do and be honest with yourself. And that's the same I'm sure that's the same thing as you talk to brands, right? Like you don't want to try to be all things to all people. How can you be as specific as possible?

Norty Cohen 20:09

Yeah, no, I think I think that, you know, you always look for some quality that the brand has that that can differentiate. I mean, every every brand wants to differentiate and you have to figure out how they can sort of make their mark and and have it tonality of personality. You know, I always I always joke with people. You know, my parents gave me an unusual name, you know, and I had to spell my name, you know, A.R.T. y every second grade, third grade. The teacher always looked at me where to be like, boy, this is hard. And then I figured out, like, people with, like, unusual names always seem to like have their own fashion line or something. At some point it's like you get so used to, like just being your own brand when you're like, yeah, ten. You like figure it out and, you know, it's interesting, I gave my kids very simple names because I didn't want them to have to do what I did, but. You know, I do think there's something about like sort of establishing your own personal brand.

Maren Kate 21:17

Well, I think also you think about as the world is becoming more connected, as remote work is becoming more and more necessary, and it's it's only going to it's only going to grow as connectivity grows, as technology advances. And sadly or because of the pandemic that's fast forwarded remote work, probably five, 10 years that if this never happened. So you think about in like my company, we when we recruit for roles, we recruit pretty much globally. So all of a sudden, 50 years ago, if you were in, let's say, Dallas, Texas, and you were an accountant, you were competing with the other accountants in Dallas, Texas. But now if you an accountant and you're looking for remote work, in theory, you're communicating, you're competing with all the accountants of your level, of your whatever that are in North America or even globally. It just depends role by role. So I feel like one of our theses of this kind of like it's more important to create your professional brand now than ever before because there's there's more competition. But also this connectivity. It's like you want to be neat, you want to be unique. I recently read a statistic and talked to somebody in another interview that said only like less than 10 percent of professionals actually have their own website, their own professional website. Like you have your own website. I have mine at Marian Kate dot com. I only heard that a few years ago. And it's it's one of those really easy ones that we shouldn't be relying just on LinkedIn or another another provider. It's really owning your own narrative, just like you would if you were a business. You would never say I have a Shopify page, but I don't need to have my own URL.

Norty Cohen 23:08

Right, and you know what I was going to just say, you know, it's to create a at your name Dotcom is a couple of steps in your Google stuff, but it's not that hard. No. And so, you know, I have an attorney, an attorney. There was a woman attorney. And I was talking to them one day. And I'm like, why do you want to have a Gmail address? Like, why would you want to have what the name of your law firm? Just take that extra step and kind of, you know, make your statement as to who you are.

Maren Kate 23:36

It's true. And also, I know from I'm I'm from like the tech world. And my my agency has helped a lot of tech companies hire one thing we notice what for fair or not fair, a lot of higher tech companies will actually look at whatever the email address or email is coming from. And if it's coming from, let's say, a Yahoo or an Amazon or whatever, they will actually set things to reject the application versus if it's coming from Yahoo! Or Gmail or hey or your own URL. So I think that's another thing. There's all these little things that that add up well. And to that point, it's almost like not having a job when you get a job, not having your URL, when you when you try to talk to somebody makes you look like you're less less organized. Trimodal yesterday, the other thing that I would really pass along to people is, you know, if you're going to be doing zoom conferences, take a shower, put on some nice clothes because. Yes, because I have to tell you that and. And it doesn't it doesn't necessarily have to be like a young person, but more than a lot over the last few few months, I've noticed that I'll get someone on a zoom that's trying to sell me something or do something and they'll look just disheveled. And it's like, wait a minute. Like, did you really want to do business today or did I interrupt you from taking a nap?

Norty Cohen 25:03

Yeah, if that's a thing. Yeah.

Maren Kate 25:06

It's a huge problem with working from home. Like they would never come into your office like that.

Norty Cohen 25:11

Maren Kate 25:13

Yeah, that's a really important thing to remember, I think, especially for some of us who have worked at home for long periods of time, there's a laziness that kind of sneaks in. And when you're doing I mean, I so when I do when we're doing like a video that will be recorded or something like that, I actually will have like a button down shirt. I put over my workout clothes because I have like my little workout shorts or whatever, and then it's like professional on top. It's like the mullet, the mullet outfit on party on bottom. You've got to have it ready. But yeah. So I mean just little things about being consistent with your appearance, thinking about who you are. Think about how people connect with you. And I think the other thing is you've got to be really careful. You're for it at this point. You don't have a lot of really crazy shit out there because you don't know when it's going to blow up on you. Everyone, like everyone can find it. If you just like put a name, a few things. It's important. It's important to well, just like a brand like you wouldn't you wouldn't tell a brand isn't going to have all their crazy ideas are like conspiracy theories on their page because they're going to want to be cognizant of that. I think people need to think that, too. We once had to actually rescind an offer to an H.R. person because we were looking through their social media, just doing kind of our glass like reference checks. And we saw all these pretty controversial and racy photos. And we were like, hey, man, look, I'm sorry, this is the environment we have. This is our core values. You know, if you do this on your own time, that's fine. But you can't be publicly putting it out there and then also be a representative of our brand. And he responded to me and our VP of HRT was like, well, but this is what I do on my personal time. I'm like, Yeah, but you weren't smart enough to at least like to not put it out on the Web. Like, that's not it's not a good move professionally. Right, right. And the other thing is, you know what? If you're the person that are like, I'm going to do this and this is my thing, great. Whatever. But probably your job, the job you want is not going to be like in H.R. Maybe the job you want is to be a rock star, to be someone controversial and have your own interesting podcast or something. So one thing you mentioned is that you've been doing a bunch of research around connection and there's a stat I think it's forty five to fifty percent of job listings are actually filled through people's network and usually it's actually loose connections versus tight connections. So you're more likely to refer me to a role than my best friend would. What has your research around connections? Kind of what lessons could we pull from that in the idea of like being our best selves as a professional or finding a new role?

Norty Cohen 27:59

Yeah, I think what we've been looking at is what the changes have been really since March and and how connectivity has sort of amped itself up into this next hyper level and the need for connectivity. So what we're looking at is there was a period of time and we call it almost sort of like the the ice age of Social up until March. There's about a three or four year period where social was like a place to sort of like push out some content. But you still connected in person a lot. You didn't just connect on social. So social is sort of acted as sort of like this kind of ad for yourself. You can push out here I am on vacation. Here's my what I just ate at the pizza restaurant, whatever. It was a way to kind of push out some imagery about yourself, but it wasn't the sum total of your connectivity. What's happened now is connectivity is really require social and so, so suddenly the tonalities social has a lot more personal opportunities inside of it. And and that is that's a common denominator across every every person on the planet. So that's what I like when we see, like, oh, look, you know, like with Tom Hanks on Saturday Night Live two months ago, and you can see his kitchen is kind of like, OK, that's Tom Hanks kitchen. I kind of like I feel like I know who he is. And, you know, that's a nice kitchen. But I've seen nicer kitchens, you know, so it's kind of like, you know, here so-and-so at home and, you know, they didn't even, you know, they're wearing some old sweatshirt or whatever. They're just like me. And so this idea that there's this everybody's connecting and everybody wants to connect and needs to connect is kind of what's happening. And that's why when you see stuff like, you know, like the all in challenge and stuff like that, this is a way for people to sort of all play a game or just even all the gaming platforms where we can all play at the same time. We can all do this thing. And it's like there's this next level of connectivity that's happened. And I think from a jobs standpoint, it's kind of like everybody's out there already connecting more than ever now just sort of get into it, listen to what people are saying and say, OK, we're connecting this way. Maybe we could connect about a job, too. I think that hyper level of connectivity happening.

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