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.