More Reasons for Why Personal Branding Is Not Optional

Simply to Keep What They Have, More Agency Employees Need to Practice What They Preach

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Stuart Parkin
Stuart Parkin
As a son of a doctor and from a medical family I know something about the habits of medical practitioners. One of the strangest revelations I can share is that doctors often smoke (or used to) yet prescribed advice and guidance that they might not adhere to. Whatever the reasoning, this reality is very analogous to the advertising, branding and marketing communications business in which I've worked for the last two decades.

Agency executives wax poetic about brands' power in driving business, imploring clients to spend more on communications. Yet the same practitioners seem to see little compelling reason to regard themselves as brands. And even when they do cultivate their reputations, they often do so halfheartedly. It's ironic, given that we're all pretty much public entities in the digital age. More important, because of the devastating change the digital era is having on agency jobs, as the business restructures, we all need to work harder to keep our jobs. So, why is it that agency employees don't tend to embrace this reality?

There are five reasons I can think of, the first of which I don't subscribe to: the belief that individuals can't take seriously the idea of their being a brand. The reality, of course, is that consistent product offerings that make a difference in people's lives -- a.k.a. brands -- do not start out as being such, they start out as being unknown, untried and doubted. Which leads me to my second explanation, a lack of time commitment. Personal brand-building involves a lot of work that many would rather avoid. People have their day jobs and families and a life to keep them busy -- and this in turn leads me to reason three, cultural factors whereby most people, like their corporate masters, are not typically keen to pursue objectives that do not yield short-term results or benefits.

Fourth, psychological reasons: The idea of building a personal brand with the potential commercial application and the risks this carries takes people down an entrepreneurial track that many would rather avoid. Related to this argument is the fifth reason, incentive. Most people feel that unless they are setting up their own businesses there is no need to develop, nurture and advocate their abilities and so differentiate themselves within corporate America.

There are almost certainly other reasons why individuals don't brand or market themselves. But there is one key reason why agency employees ought to: Especially in this economy, no one else is actively going to manage your career or help you emphasize what you do well. And this reality is scarier still when you consider how almost any employee today can be fired at very short notice.

Personal branding is about propagating a reputation for doing something well. Ideally the skill set is highly differentiated, making the individual more valuable. Knowing what you do well, consistently delivering against these competencies and ensuring others are aware of them help an individual to maximize potential opportunities. It is this process of self-awareness and, through it, differentiation communicated to audiences both in and outside the agency that helps enhance reputation and, in turn, bolster your position. The fundamental implication of active personal-brand management is that you enhance your chances of achieving desired career goals and keeping your job.

The most valued and visible agency executives are the bloggers, the public speakers, the columnists and networkers.

In late 2009, there has been a change in mentality of many of the people I am meeting, employed and unemployed. More individuals want to know what they can do to secure their jobs as much as to discuss career progression. They are realizing that far from the option of branding being something that happens when you set up business, as employees they need to be proactive stewards of their own brands. They see that although they are part of the workforce and various teams, they need to be in the business of managing their own career. They know that like the brands they work with, it's only if they are seen as consistently solving certain problems and adding value that they can secure their future. Part of this reality is about substance and doing a great job, and part is about spin and making people aware of your contribution. They recognize that acting like a brand is far from optional, it is increasingly necessary, simply to maintain what they have.

Stuart Parkin is a New York-based career coach and executive recruiter. He has 20 years of experience in agency new-business and marketing and has worked on four continents across agency disciplines. He has run Sparkin, his New York-based consultancy, for seven years, working with a range of traditional, multicultural, digital and PR agencies including DDB, Rapp, SpikeDDB, Porter Novelli, Dieste, Fallon, Berlin Cameron and Organic.
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