An interview with Beatrice Johnston, CEO, Brand Excitement, Inc.
How long have you been doing what you do and what led you to launch Brand Excitement?
I’ve had two distinct advantages and because of them my career has taken a very unusual path. I started my professional journey as a fashion model, while at the same time starting a career in finance doing graphic design and desktop publishing. Because of the lucrative potential of both of these careers I was able to write my own ticket and set my own hours. What I didn’t know was that they would work so closely together in the future. As a model I was able to stand out from the crowd because I designed and marketed my promotional materials in a way that other models could not do.
This was due to my technical skills. As a graphic designer I was able to leverage many advertising trends in advance of them coming to market. The two industries played together nicely, and in the end is all tied up by branding. I was able to create brands, and be the brand. I was my own guinea pig and could test what would and would not work in the real world.
Do you have any formal education or did you learn on the job?
It was both. I have formal education which equipped me with the tools to teach myself anything. I started coding at an early age, I was 10 years old and my schooling was for children gifted in math and science. I was a book worm, a young academic scholar and a hard worker. Those are great talents to have, but they don’t translate to automatic success in business, by far. On the job I learned observation, discernment, teamwork, trial and error, impact and influence. Books teach me one thing, people teach me another.
I have a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Illinois. I studied Urban Planning and Architecture, which is where my strong design training was developed. In addition to their curriculum in art in design there was a heavy emphasis on computer science and analytics, which has served me well, in particular, in the online environment.
In addition, I also have a Professional Certificate in Journalism from New York University (NYU). This training allows me to help my clients communicate in a way that stands out and reduces the implementation cycle for the process.
Why did you choose to work with educators and entrepreneurs?
I grew up in one of the most impoverished communities in Chicago. Statistics indicated that my life had few options, and none of those options were very hopeful or promising for me or my friends and family. My mother stressed the value of education and instilled in me the belief that with the right education I could beat the odds. She only had a high school education herself, but she knew the cycle could be broken and that our opportunities were greater. She was right. I fought hard against peer pressure and social norms and focused on education and the promise of a different future. My education has allowed me to have experiences that my friends and family had only dreamed of, and with the success it brought I’ve been able to give back and have an impact that leaves a true legacy. Education had a powerful and lasting impact on me, and I believe it can do that for everyone.
My foray into entrepreneurship was a bit more subtle. I was an entrepreneur long before I understood that I was. I taught myself to sew in high school and while in college I started making custom dresses and clothing to pay the bills. I did everything from Bridal dresses to prom dresses, drapes, furniture upholstery and everything in between. For me it was a means to an end, but it sparked a creativity and independence that never stopped. Even while employed and well paid I always found a way to use my talents, whether sewing, coding, or design, and freelanced on the side. Eventually I took a look at my life and realized I enjoyed the impact it had on those I served more than I did the money I was making from it, so I started to carve out a plan to do what I love and get rewarded for it financially. Both work hand in hand now, because I work with the two industries that have changed my life most.