Personal Branding: Not a new concept.

I’ve had a few conversations recently around the topic of “personal brands.” Most recently, last Monday with some friends, Daniel, Tim, and Rebecca.

There has been a lot of buzz recently around the term “personal brand.” In our discussion last week, I posed the question: In a few years, do you think we’ll still have big PR agencies, or will personal brands replace those of the agencies? Perhaps we will have smaller teams organized and managed by one high profile individual to represent clients. Competing heavily against the established industry.

Daniel makes this point well when he talks about the companies Chris Brogan represents, and he points out big agencies have taken notice. Edelman has by hiring people like David Armano.

But is there a risk involved in big agencies hiring these people? (I don’t mean to imply anything against David, he’s just the first name that came to mind.) These days there are some people with such high profile personal brands that they already eclipse their employers. Sure it’s great that a firm has a personal branding rockstar working for them, and it brings them attention, but in the end, are they working for the company, or are they working for themselves? When they leave, will their clients follow?

I want to pose another perspective entirely, however: This is nothing new.

Look at the names of some of the oldest most successful brands in marketing/advertising/PR. Names like Leo Burnett and Daniel J. Edelman come to mind.

Weren’t these men, in their respective fields, the personal brands of their times? Is the role of a personal branding ‘superstar’ really anything different now than what we see Don Draper doing on Mad Men with his business moves (minus the drinking and sex)? Sure we didn’t have things like Twitter back then, but names were known throughout their industries anyway without “social media.”

If there is anything different these days, it’s that social media has given us more control over our reputation than ever, and a “personal brand” is little more than a modern-day extrapolation of a good reputation. It’s really not the giant shift everyone makes it out to be; we’re just confronted by it more clearly now. The real topic is the accessibility of powerful technology in our daily lives.

Sure we’re dazzled by these individuals now, and they are doing remarkable things, but the role of superstar has always been there and always will be. Some people are destined to climb to the top of their industries. What we call “having a good personal brand” now is no different than being at the top of your game 60 years ago. We’ve just found a new label for it.

4 replies on “Personal Branding: Not a new concept.”

Agreed! Social media and the practice of it is nothing new. It’s been around for a long time, we just now have a name for it. Of course most people don’t realize this so when they hear ‘personal brand’ or ‘social media’ they get scared, or worried that people will start saying negative things about them/their company. People have been saying negative things for years, whether it was at a tupperware party or on Twitter. Now we have the ability to hear what’s being said, which offers the opportunity to make the necessary changes.

I could go on and on, but I won’t. Excellent post!

Likewise. I think the idea of personal branding has been over used. I remember when it “used” to be called reputation management. But, perhaps I’m dating myself. Like Jenn said, people have been saying negative (and positive) things as long as there have been words and mouths to use them. Social media (why the hell is still called social media, is beyond me, but I digress) is just another platform, broadcaster if you will, to project what folks think. At the end of the day, a personal brand/reputation has to be backed up by actions and experiences that justify the brand.

“At the end of the day, a personal brand/reputation has to be backed up by actions and experiences that justify the brand.” A-freaking-men!

John, valid points and thanks for sharing your insights on personal branding. Personal brands are transferable, meaning that if you’re well known in your industry, you can move around, which is great for your career, but can hurt your company. It’s the only form of career protection that exists today. The only way for a person to stay at a company long-term is if their values, mission and vision are identical.

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