One Man Brand

Islandbridge feature in Irish Independent article.

It’s now whom you know; it’s who knows you. Patrick Freyne discovers that, when it comes to your career, your personal brand may be everything.

Everyone has a personal brand. The question is whether you are the Rolls Royce of your field – high quality, luxurious and very expensive. Or are you more like Aldi – bright, cheap and reliable? Perhaps you’re a Hoover – you’re so successful that your name is synonymous with the job you do. Or you’re an Enron and your job prospects have spiralled from great heights to public disaster.

Whatever the case, branding and self-promotion can have a huge effect on your career and everyone has a brand. “You make an impression the first five minutes of meeting someone,” say Lorna McDowell, managing director of Xenergie Personal Development Services. “And you will make an impression – positive or negative. So you are a brand whether you like it or not.”

The first step is deciding what your brand says about you. Self-promotion is pointless unless you know what you want to promote and who you want to promote it to. “The most important step is identifying what you’re good at,” says Sophie Rowan, organisational psychologist with Pinpoint. “People need to tap into their signature strengths and use them as a platform for selling marketing themselves. That’s essentially branding, although we wouldn’t use that language.”

Once you know what your unique selling proposition is, you have to look at how you express it. “Having a clear message is very important. If you know what your values are, what your style is, and what your vision is and what your expectations are, then it’s a lot easier to communicate them.”

When you have your story straight, you need to make sure the people who count get the message and can see the proof of that message. The starting point is with your bosses, colleagues or clients. “Irish people don’t sing their own praises highly enough,” says McDowell. “It seems over the top to them, yet it’s totally normal in America. And that’s a shame because no one is going to promote you the way you’ll promote yourself. Bosses aren’t always the best at saying well done, or noticing everything you are doing.”

McDowell says requesting feedback can be a good way to get management to notice you exist and notice what you’ve done. “It’s really important to manage your manager,” she says. “You have to become comfortable giving and receiving feedback. And you also need to request feedback if you’re not receiving any. That can take some courage because you might hear something you don’t want to hear, but it’s crucial if you want to progress.”

To develop a very strong brand, however, the message needs to be spread beyond your immediate circle of clients and colleagues. Good long=term relationships with people in your field are very important for generating the word-of-mouth recommendations that can propel your career. A mentor who advises and watches your career progression can be instrumental in getting you promoted or providing you with the glowing reference that will get you your dream job. “Networking in Ireland usually works in very subtle ways,” says Rowan. “It’s always important to keep in touch with a couple of key people who will remember you and pass on your name as and when necessary.”

Networking? More explicit networking events can also be useful, although some are more comfortable with this than others. “Some people swear by networking events, but I think you have to find a medium that suits your personality,” says Rowan. “People in sales tend to be good at that sort of thing but it’s not for everyone. Standing up in front of a network meeting and talking about yourself can be a great way to get your brand message across, but it’s some people’s idea of hell. If so, they could be more suited to something else, like doing regular email shots to colleagues and clients, for example. The message might be exactly the same, but the medium used can be very different.”

Gerard Tannam, director of brand specialists Islandbridge, feels that being well differentiated is much more important than having the loudest voice in the room. “A good brand doesn’t limit itself to a function,” says Tannam. “It’s not what you do, the focus is more on how you do it. It helps if there is a signature element to your work, so that when you complete a project there’s a sense that your fingerprints are on it. A signature way of presenting work means that it’s instantly recognised and a brand can spread that way.”

Tannam thinks this can be seen in the careers of really successful personal brands. “Take Jonathan Ive, the guy who designed the iPod – he has a personal brand that goes beyond heing a good designer. You can also see it in fashion – people like Karl Lagerfield have created a personal brand. In Ireland, when someone like Gay Byrne gets appointed to the Road Safety Authority, it’s not purely because he has the skill to do the job, it is also because he has a brand the authority wants to be associated with.”

So your brand promises have to be authentic. You have to be as good as you say you are and there’s no point pretending to be something you’re not. “Being articulate about your brand is a door opener,” says Rowan. But workplaces are much more meritocratic than they used to be. If you don’t deliver what you promise, those doors will close again. Branding will only get you so far. Unless you’re good at what you do, you’ve little to gain from having a fantastic brand.”