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Building your Brand with Data Diva Debbie Reynolds and Stellar Women

Mary Rechtoris

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Everyone has a personal brand, whether they know it—and own it—or not. Your brand illustrates your expertise and what makes you unique. So why not take control of your message? In this Stellar Women episode, Mila and I dove into the importance of owning your brand with the Data Diva herself, Debbie Reynolds.

Debbie shares her own personal brand story behind how she came to be the Data Diva. Debbie also shares how she has continued building her brand as the go-to cybersecurity expert, and tips for professionals who want to start developing their own brand.

Debbie Reynolds

Debbie Reynolds, The Data Diva

Founder, CEO, Chief Privacy Officer
Debbie Reynolds Consulting, LLC


Mary Rechtoris: Hey, Stellar Women fans. I'm your host, Mary Rechtoris.

Mila Taylor: And I'm your co-host, Mila Taylor. Stellar Women shines a light on female leaders making their mark in tech.

MR: Mila and I are super excited to welcome Debbie Reynolds to the Stellar Women podcast today.

MT: Hello, Debbie. Welcome.

Debbie Reynolds: Thank you so much. I am so excited to do this. I was dreaming about this. I'm like, oh, I can't wait to talk to you ladies.

MT: We are excited to have you. I didn't actually mention this in our chat before this recording. The first time that someone had mentioned your name was when I was trying to put together a mentorship program for the Relativity Academic Partner program that we have. You were so willing to be involved. It turned out that you couldn't come to Relativity Fest when the mentors would meet the mentees, but you still gave it your all and I always have heard such great feedback about you. So, I'm so excited to be chatting with you today.

DR: Oh, yeah, that was great. My mentee is amazing. We actually went out and had coffee and went to Lou Mitchell's or something. We had pancakes. I've kept up with him, and I think this is interesting. This is something that wouldn't happen in the pandemic phase now. Relativity Fest that year was the same year I was supposed to be in Amsterdam to speak, so I had to go to Amsterdam instead of Relativity Fest. But now, because of the pandemic, we're doing so many things virtual. I can do multiple things in a week.

MT: That's definitely the bright side, but I think I would prefer to be in Amsterdam right now.

DR: You know, I miss it quite a lot.

MT: You're the CEO of your own company, Debbie Reynolds Consulting. What's something that you've learned about yourself since starting your own company?

DR: Wow, that's a really good question. I think the thing that I learned about myself is that I get to use so many more of my skills. I get to do marketing stuff. I get to speak and teach. I consult. To me, this is great because I feel like—I feel freer. I can use so many more of my skills. So to me, it's fun to mix it up a bit.

MR: With you being an all-star in the cybersecurity space, there's something I'd love to know. What's riveting or interesting to you about global data privacy? What's hot right now?

DR: Everything's hot right now in data privacy. That's all I can say. Technology never stops. Technology is always going forward regardless of what we want to do. I am startled and fascinated by some new emerging technology and types of data privacy issues. We also see a rise in people being more aware of privacy issues in their own personal lives—not just business. [They care about] personal security and how that impacts them. We are seeing the evolution of how people are starting to care more about their privacy. Businesses are really getting serious, and not just because of regulations and fines. For some people, it's like eating your vegetables when your mother told you to eat your vegetables. They're like, oh, I have to do this privacy stuff. But it can actually be an advantage. You know, we're seeing Apple with their iOS 14 update and giving people visibility into their data about how it's shared. I tell people it's not a coincidence that Apple had their biggest quarter ever due to that. Privacy could be an advantage because people are savvier about how they share their information. If people feel like they can't trust you, you're not going to have those people as customers, regardless of how well you do other things.

MT: My mom, if she's listening, I love you so much, and I'm sorry. She's the most technically inept person on the planet. This morning when I was speaking to her … she and I talk via WhatsApp. She called me, and she says, "Mila, I've just read that we have to stop talking through WhatsApp because our data isn't safe." And I said, "Do you know what that even means for you?" She's like, "No, I don't." If my mom is starting to talk about data privacy, that definitely means that it's a lot more widespread than I initially thought it was.

DR: I agree. I was actually surprised. I thought that the absence of people saying or showing that they care about privacy gave the idea that people didn't care. I think people didn't have a reason to speak out in some way. That situation with your mom illustrates that people are paying attention, and they do care.

MT: It's really interesting. Thanks for sharing that. Okay, so my next question is a bit more about you. You are also known as the Data Diva. Can you tell us more about that? How did the name start, and what does it all mean?

DR: This is a great story. A friend of mine. Her name is Jennifer Mailander. She currently is the general counsel of privacy and cybersecurity for Fannie Mae. We have done panels together, and we've become friends. She's one of these people that I am so thankful to have as a friend and colleague because she's one of these people that if she calls you up and tells you something, you should do it. So she called me, and she said, "Hey, I belong to this group called the Quorum Initiative." It's about developing women's leadership and understanding your career and how to move up in corporate America. They were opening a Chicago chapter. She told me that I should go to their inaugural meeting, which I did. They were doing a workshop on LinkedIn on how you present yourself and how people see you. One of the ladies who was doing the workshop there was from The Wall Street Journal. We were broken off into groups, and they were saying, with your elevator speech, make it pop. I was trying to figure out how to explain what I do succinctly in my elevator speech. And, she said, "Oh, you're the data diva." We just laughed so hard about it. And I thought, oh, wow, that's so cool. I really never thought about it that way. There was a woman in my group; her name is Yvette Pena with the AARP. And she was like, "Oh my God, you totally are." I thought, am I? At first, I was bashful about it because I thought people wouldn't take me seriously. But then I thought, it's an excellent way to sum up my interests because I think people who know me from e-discovery think that's what I do. But I do many other things. When I started my career, I taught myself computers. When I was a senior in college, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I honestly wanted to go to law school, but I wanted to be able to spend time with her. So I said, I have to find something to do where I can spend time with her. So I said, well, let me get a computer and teach myself to use it. I thought I would be doing desktop publishing or graphic stuff. That's really how I got into computers. I read books and learned how to use it. I was asked by a friend to help out another friend who was a director of the university library. At the time, they were trying to change catalogs to databases of a media collection. I helped them with that. I just fell in love with data. Eventually, I was tasked with going into legal to help them create databases because I had done that previously. I've always been interested in data. You probably don't know that I'm a Webmaster and a mapmaker as well. All that stuff helps me. With my business, it is fun to be able to tap into all those things. With privacy, I read a book that my mother was reading. It was called A Right to Privacy. I think it came out in 1995, and I was fascinated. When you're a kid, you know how you think, oh, you want to grow up and do this? I'm like, I want to be able to do whatever the hell I want to do. I thought that when you grow up, you have the right to be left alone. To me, that's what privacy is. When I understood the law, and I started reading that, I found out that I thought I had more rights than I do. That is something that I have followed for many years because it interests me. Then, technology started to evolve and grow, so that my role started to develop and grow. Now, I'm working with people on a more international level. Over the last six years or so, people began to call me for privacy only. So I thought, well, this makes sense for me to go in this direction. People working at Fortune 200s or 500s knew that I knew this stuff. So, that's my story.

MR: Going back to when you went to that LinkedIn workshop, did your brand grow organically, or was that something you [intentionally grew]?

DR: To grow that brand, the thing that worked out well for me [in addition to] the name is this idea that people have about making an elevator speech. You have like 20 seconds to tell people about yourself. So for me, that helped people understand who I am and what I'm interested in. In all my videos, I say, "My name is Debbie Reynolds. They call me the Data Diva." And then I talk about data stuff. If I say I am the Data Diva and start talking about farming, you'd think that I was crazy. Part of it was to focus on things that I was most interested in and the things that people knew that they could rely on me to talk about. If you go to my LinkedIn page or my website, I'm talking about data right off the top. Or I'm talking about data privacy or some technology or some law issue. That helped me to focus a lot. Even when I helped people out in e-discovery for the last six years, I basically would not talk about a topic that was not data privacy related. So for me, it was about marrying my scope on what I want to focus on. I think the mistake that people make is trying to show that they can do everything. When you do that, you're taking time and attention away from the focus that you should have.

MR: That's a great way to put it. So, my next question: Why does it matter to have a brand? You just answered that. It helps you focus, and it helps people know that when they come into Debbie, they can ask you about these specific topics, and you're the person to go to for it. You'll get them the answer. There's that element of having that such strong brand that, as you said, makes you that person’s to go-to. And I think that you've done a great job of that.

DR: Thank you. I had gone to another conference in New York. A lawyer was talking about how to get business as a solo practitioner or stuff like that. One thing that he said stuck with me and is very important, which is: It is not what you know, and it is not who know. It is about who knows what you know. If people don't know what you know or cannot explain to people what you're good at and how you can help them, it's got to be hard for your career progress.

MT: I love that quote.

MR: Going back to your brand, what we like to do for the podcast is provide listeners with one or two takeaways. Based on your experience building your brand, what is something that people can do today to march forward to learn and develop their brand?

DR: Hone my message. Everyone has a brand, whether they know it or not. You know, that's what I've learned. You want to be the one driving your own bus. Figure out what you want people to know about you professionally and have a message that you can deliver consistently, and have it tied together. One thing that I do on LinkedIn that maybe some other people don't do is that I don't post loads of stuff. Most of my stuff is either data or data privacy or law. Those are the things that I post about. I don't deviate from that. Otherwise, I will confuse a person.

MT: This has been so interesting. Thank you so much. Outside of work and outside of data privacy, what are some things that you love to do?

DR: People would be surprised. No one who knows me professionally would think that I was introverted, but I am. I like doing things by myself, so reading books or walking. I'm learning more about photography and videography. So I do that a lot. It's fun for me because I have a podcast that I've been working on. It's been fun to learn new data things.

MT: What's the name of the podcast? Our listeners should go check it out.

DR: It's called The Data Diva Talks Privacy Podcast. It is actually hosted by EDRM Global Podcast Network. If you subscribe to that, you'll see my episodes. I was named one of the top 10 data privacy podcasts recently.

MT: That's awesome. Congrats.

DR: Thank you.

MT: Everyone listening, you have another podcast to listen to if you haven't already.

DR: What's fun for me is that I get to work with people in different types of industries. That's probably the most fun. Data privacy is something that touches any industry. A framework of standards for virtual reality and augmented reality devices is very cool because that's very cutting edge and emerging. That's what's interesting to me in the future.

MR: Debbie, we've had a lot of fun chatting with you. Thank you for joining us.

DR: This is so much fun. I'm glad. I hope that some of the stuff that I've talked about will help people as much as they've helped me. For me, it came down to focusing, so I hope that will save people more time.

MR: Definitely. I have some takeaways that I'm going to do.

MT: Me too.

MR: For Stellar Women, I'm Mary Rechtoris.

MT: And I'm Mila Taylor.

Both: Signing off.

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Mary Rechtoris is a senior producer on the brand team at Relativity, where she's always collaborating and looking for new ways to develop and socialize stories.