Tyra Banks talks branding, baby and business

Tyra Banks learned the importance of standing out from the crowd as a teenage supermodel strutting the runway.

“I really had a natural way of walking that was a little different, sometimes a little wacky, and I would notice people smiling,” says Banks who even got standing ovations in the midst of fashion shows. “I was like ‘Oh wow. They like this. This is my signature walk.’ So that’s when I understood. … that differentiation was important.”

Banks continues to stand out from the crowd, transcending the world of modeling by becoming the creator and executive producer of America’s Next Top Model, the owner of a cosmetics and skin care company TYRA Beauty as well as the investment firm Fierce Capital, and the newest co-host of America’s Got Talent. She recently added yet another role to her plate, co-teaching the art of branding to students at Stanford’s Graduate School of business.

Branding is a skill that all of us need to master, Banks says, since society’s selfie-taking obsession with Facebook, Instagram and other social media channels means that “there’s a personal brand that you’re building even if you don’t know that you are. So I think it’s best to be equipped with the tools to make sure that you are shaping something that can serve you in the future.”

Banks taught the branding course last month to students whose ventures ranged from creating a life-saving device, to initiatives aimed at transforming the current political culture.

In addition to having the 25 pupils define their brand, they learned how to communicate it through various media and how to represent it in their personal appearance so that the public “at the blink of an eye can recognize you, from the way you look, to the way you sound, to the words you use, to the pictures that you post. … I think the more obsessed you are, the better chance you have of breaking through the clutter.”

Once your brand is established, Banks says, “the most important thing is to watch your competition and to see if your brand that is now very successful is being copied, because when people see something that’s good, everybody jumps on that bandwagon.”

Banks has learned that first hand.

“I pivot constantly in my career,” she says, adding that when she notices the competition, she thinks ” ‘Oh no, you will not catch up. … Boo, don’t you know you should just make up your own thing, because we’re about to change this, and you’re going to look obsolete because you’re going to be copying something that I don’t even do anymore?’ And that’s why the other shows have not worked.”

Another tip that Banks’ students received came from a social media expert, Gary Vaynerchuk, who informed them that posting messages, photos and tweets shouldn’t feel like a chore. “You need to focus and you need to be great at it,” Banks says, “so if you’re on every single platform, but you only like a couple of them, get off of those. … platforms and focus on the ones that you like.”

Banks, who is now mother to a 1-year-old son, York, said that such balance is important in other aspects of life. A few years ago, she was gracing magazine covers not because of her modeling career, but because of her television success and business acumen. She was chosen for Time magazine’s 100 most influential people, became one of Glamour’s women of the year, and at one point simultaneously hosted America’s Top Model and her own talk show.

“I was on fire,” she says. “I was so successful. … but I was exhausted and I was sad.”

She recalls preparing to interview then-Senator Barack Obama for her talk show, and rather than have her staff review his writings and prepare notes, she insisted on reading Obama’s books herself. “I was really going overboard,” she says, to the point “where I probably would have had to go to the hospital if I didn’t slow down.”

But after her son was born, “I definitely focused on him. I didn’t do any work at all for months.”

She has a nursery on set, a nanny, and York’s dad is very involved with his care and upbringing. “We are co-parenting and doing such a great job raising him that I don’t have to do less,” she says noting that her mother is also about to move closer. “So it’s like this beautiful village around York. But I’m there every day.”

And as Banks prepares to star in as well as executive produce Life-Size 2, a sequel to a 2000 Disney film that she previously starred in, Banks has also learned to let the teams working on her various projects communicate with each other so that she can better focus on one item at a time.

For instance, when she was teaching at Stanford, she was asked to fly to Los Angeles to do some press around America’s Got Talent. Banks refused. “I had to be there for my students, ” she says, and the show’s producers understood. They said ” ‘ You know what? We appreciate that. … you stay there and we’ll figure it out.’ ”

Banks says that focusing and not letting one part of her life overwhelm another has helped her “to be super present for my baby. … (I’m) mama in the morning, and I’m mama at night and sometimes all day when he’s with me and I don’t feel like I’m going crazy at all.”

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