What You’ll Learn
Chellie Phillips, Coweta-Fayette EMC, has built a career by supporting her peers. As a veteran utility communicator and the author of two personal branding books, she shares ways for utility staff members to strengthen their personal stories and build strong foundations for cooperative career success. To learn more about her books and free career development resources, visit chelliephillips.com.
Guest SpeakerChellie Phillips
Transcripts have been lightly edited for clarity and readability.
Intro: A production of WordSouth and Pioneer Utility Resources. StoryConnect: The Podcast, helping communicators discover ideas to shape their stories and connect with their customers.
Megan McKoy-Noe: How can you strengthen your personal brand’s story? That’s what we’ll be talking about on this episode of StoryConnect: The Podcast. Hello, my name is Megan McKoy-Noe. I’m one of the storytellers at WordSouth and Pioneer Utility Resources and your host for this episode, filling in for Andy Johns. We’re recording live at NRECA’s Connect Conference in Seattle, Washington, with 500 of our closest co-op communicator friends. As Andy always says, any noise you might hear in the background is ambiance or in this case, the sound of a very large and much needed group hug. I’m joined on this episode by Chellie Phillips, the vice president of communications and member relations at Coweta-Fayette EMC in Georgia, and winner of the 2022 Justin LaBerge Award from NRECA, recognizing an electric co-op communicator who demonstrates excellence, influence and impact across the electric co-op network. Chellie, thank you so much for joining me.
Chellie Phillips: Yeah, thanks for asking me. And I totally echo that. It is so great to be back with people again.
Megan McKoy-Noe: Now, I love being able to talk to you because Coweta-Fayette was my very first co-op that I was a member of when I was a kid. And it’s just so much to see how you have been growing the co-op’s story in Georgia. You did not start your co-op story there, though. You started out in Alabama. Can you tell me how your co-op story got started?
Chellie Phillips: Yeah. So this is where the power of networking really comes into play. And it’s one part of growing your personal brand that I really think is important. So I got into co-ops because initially I was in newspaper, and I used to call the co-op when we had story information that we needed on outages or system upgrades or whatever it was going on. And when that communicator decided that she was going to take a different opportunity, she called and said, “Hey, since you know a little bit about co-ops, what would you think about maybe coming and working with us? Because they’re going to be looking for someone to replace me.” And that led to a 21 year career in Alabama telling that co-op story, and then the move just about five years ago to Georgia continuing that growth path.
Megan McKoy-Noe: Well, we are very happy to have you in Georgia, and I have been a fan of yours for a long time. And I love what you just shared there about, you know, you’ve been sharing the co-op story, but I know you from the books that you have written about building your own personal story. And I think it’s really important on StoryConnect we talk about keep telling your story. And we often mean the utility story, but it’s important to tell your personal story, too. Can you tell me a little bit about the books that you have written, and why you started to focus on helping support your peers and help them build their personal brands?
Chellie Phillips: Yeah, so it was, you know, it was real interesting the way that journey got started. And I really have to hearken back to it was 14 years working as a sorority advisor, and you would see all of these women come through, grab a degree, walk across the stage, and then couldn’t find work in their field. And so what would happen is they would take what I call “get by jobs.” You know, they’d work retail. They’d work as baristas. They’d work whatever they could do. And then when they actually did get an offer from another company, they were being low balled because they didn’t focus on the education anymore. They focused on the current career that they had. So they weren’t valued as much when they came into the workforce. And so that really got me to thinking about it, and you know, working in PR and communications and I’m like, you know, that’s really a shame because what is our most valuable brand? It’s us, our self as people, we are what brings that value to the table. And if we’re not telling our own story, who’s going to tell it for us? And it really is hard for some people because, you know, we’re told all of our life, don’t brag. It’s not nice. It’s boastful, you know, whatever. And so it really made me stop and think. So I’m doing all this PR, and I’m building campaigns and like, so what if we built campaigns for ourselves? And, you know, if you’re serious about your career and, you know, like you’re wanting to develop your career path and have a chance for growth, you know, there’s nothing wrong with branding yourself because branding is all about creating value and showing what you bring to the table.
Megan McKoy-Noe: I love that. You know, so often we talk about how you can demonstrate the value of communications, but we forget to talk about demonstrating the value of communicators. And we are a mighty group, you know, we do amazing things, and we forget to tell that story sometimes. Now, you have written some great books. I believe, is it two books? Two books right now to help walk people through that process. And I know we can’t dive into all of the books, but could you share maybe your top three tips for someone that wants to start building their own brand and campaigning for themselves. Because they might not want to be a utility communicator forever. We often talk to folks that want to become CEOs, and branding is a big part of that. So what are the steps they should take?
Chellie Phillips: So the first thing that I tell people is to get real clear about what your strengths are and what your goals are. And, you know, the thing about that is, don’t be afraid of starting at point A, because as you grow and as you learn new things, your strengths and everything is going to evolve. And so your brand will evolve with you. So whether you’re a first year communicator or you’re a 25 year communicator like me, my brand now looks nothing like it did when I came into the industry. And that’s something to embrace and know that, hey, this is flexible. It’s something that can grow with me. So don’t feel like whatever you’re starting with now is putting you in a box that’s going to limit you. And I always tell people, it’s like, you know, one thing that you can do because like I said, we never really feel comfortable going, I’m great at X, Y, Z. Whether it’s graphic design or whether it’s speaking or whether it’s writing books or whatever it is. You know, we never look at ourselves and go, I’m the most awesome at this. And so, you know, I tell you, find five people, and let them be kind of varied. Let some of them be your coworkers, let some of them be your friends, let some of them be, you know, this random acquaintance that you have, someone that you like you might have coffee with, but you might not invite over to your house for an evening, so you can get some different perspectives. And ask them when they think of you, what do they think that you do well? Or where do they see you? You know, like what do they see you doing? When they think about you, what do they think and envision of you doing? And that’ll give you some good perspective to look at starting and start building your brand.
Chellie Phillips: These are the things that I need to talk about me. The next thing I mentioned it earlier is growing that network. There is nothing more beneficial to you as a communicator or as a professional of any kind than the network that you you have around you. And, you know, I’m blessed to be in this industry because we’re each other’s cheerleaders. I said, I have never gone up to someone at one of these events or in that I’ve crossed paths with and say, “Hey, I love what you’re doing, can you talk me through it? Can you share this with me?” Or if I’ve had an issue about us trying to start something that I haven’t been able to call somebody and say, “Okay, I know you launched this a few weeks ago or a few years ago. What was the problems that you have? What would you do different?” And people are so willing to help you if you just ask. But you have to take that initiative and be the one to ask. But there’s a flip side to that. You can’t just ask and never give. So remember that if somebody comes to you asking, you want to be that person too. You want to be that encourager. You want to talk them through this. Because, you know, I tell people there’s plenty of success to go around. You know, you sharing success isn’t going to limit you being able to move and make changes in your career either.
Megan McKoy-Noe: Well, and that feeds into your brand because you’ll establish like a reputation as being someone that supports others and builds them up and strengthens the network. And people will start to look to you for ideas and support moving on. So it helps strengthen your own personal brand when you’re helping others strengthen their brand.
Chellie Phillips: It absolutely does. And you know, the final thing that I would say is work on your visibility in the workplace. And by that I say, you know, like whether you have an actual seat at the CEO table, or whether you have a seat at your leadership team in your department, or maybe you’re a department of one just trying to struggle and figure out what’s going on here and how do I get the stuff done, is like, you know, don’t be afraid of your voice. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You know, not knowing something doesn’t make you not smart. It makes you smart enough to realize, I don’t know this, and I need to go find that resource. And, you know, people love to talk about what they do and how they do it. So maybe you don’t know engineering or maybe you don’t know how lines are built and put together. Or maybe you don’t know how substations feed. Go make friends in engineering, go make friends with your stakers. Go find other opportunities to go meet people. People love to talk about themselves and when they realize that you’re interested in them, they become interested in you. And it becomes a two-way street that we can help each other. And that’s some of the best things that you can do to build your personal brand, because it is all about know, like and trust people. If they know you and they like you, they’re going to trust you. And when they trust you, they’re going to help you. They’re going to give you the information that you need, and you can continue to grow from that.
Megan McKoy-Noe: I absolutely love that. Now I know you are rushing to catch a plane. I grabbed you because I just love to hear your story, Chellie. And so, do you have any other words of advice for folks before we let you go?
Chellie Phillips: You know, the one thing I can say is don’t be afraid to take a chance on something. You know, some of the craziest ideas I’ve had have turned into some of the best projects that we’ve worked on. You know, I laugh with my CEO right now is that he has a back door to his office that goes to the other side of the building. So I come in one, and I said, I’ve always laughed. I said, I know I’m in trouble if he ever starts running out the backside before I go, “Hey, you got a minute?” And so, you know, don’t be afraid to put some of those things out there. And yes, you’re going to get told no sometimes because, you know, like it or not, the co-op industry is a little slow sometimes. And, you know, my word of advice is to don’t quit asking. Don’t get discouraged. Keep having those ideas and keep being willing to put them out there and see what’s going to happen. Reach out to your peers and find out how they are getting things accomplished. How are they having these conversations with their management teams to, you know, let us do TikTok now or whatever, you know, the new thing that comes on down the line. I mean, I’ve seen so many new things now. It’s kind of crazy when you look back and go, huh, another one. Yea. So, you know, so just don’t be afraid to try new things and put your flair on them. You know, being authentically you is so important these days and you know, people are going to respond to that.
Megan McKoy-Noe: I love that. Put your flair on that. I mean, they would see it’s your personal brand coming through, your tone, your voice. And I love the comment “don’t be afraid of your voice.” I think that is so important for utility communicators to hear. Thank you for sharing your voice and your brand with our family of utility pioneers and congratulations again on your award. So exciting. Now you can learn more about Chellie’s way of focusing your personal story and how to build your own career success at ChelliePhillips.com. We’ll put the link in our podcast details. She is Chellie Phillips, VP of Communications and Member Relations at Coweta-Fayette EMC in Georgia. And I’m your host, Megan McKoy-Noe at WordSouth and Pioneer Utility Resources. Until we talk again, keep telling your story.
Outro: StoryConnect is produced by WordSouth and Pioneer Utility Resources. Both companies are built to share your story. Our associate producer is Sarah Wootten. StoryConnect is engineered by Lucas Smith of Lucky Sound Studio.