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personal branding saves communications careers during covid-19 recession

Photo by Mark König on Unsplash

While PR and marketing professionals work hard to promote their company brands, many neglect their personal brands.

Marketing consultant Mark Schaefer, like many other marketing and PR professionals, lost a great deal of business due to the recession caused by Covid-19. That was just the start of his troubles this year. Schaefer contracted the virus and suffered through weeks of illness, including 15 straight days of fever.

After emerging from a “quarantined, non-functional haze,” Schaefer found that he was a speaker without a stage, a consultant who was irrelevant to clients, a college educator without students, and an author with 90 percent drop in book sales since March.

Surprisingly, his business rebounded and he booked two of his strongest financial months ever. “I’ve been saved from this shipwreck by my personal brand,” he writes in a blog post. “In this period of unspeakable suffering and cataclysmic business change, I’ve been saying as often as I can that it’s not too late for you to work on your personal brand, too.”

With PR and marketing agencies and corporate communications departments slashing budgets this year, many communications pros will have to rely on their personal brands to rejuvenate their careers.

Many Benefits of a Strong Personal Brand

A strong personal brand – essentially being well-known and respected in your niche industry — can provide an invaluable career boost. It can be the deciding factor for winning a new job, a new client, a media placement or a professional consulting or speaking opportunity. A personal brand enables journalists to see the person behind the media pitch and clients to see the person behind the business presentation.

Personal brands of individuals behind the organization can be just as important, or perhaps even more important, as the corporate brand itself, since personal brands of company CEOs and founders offer a path to promote the corporate brand. For small business owner, their personal brand is often the actual brand of their business.

Although you might not reach Schaefer’s high-profile, following these recommendations can bring your personal brand to a new level.

9 Steps to Developing a Powerful Personal Brand

Describe yourself – clearly and precisely. Just as brands develop mission statements, savvy communicators write a clear, concise objective that explains their career intentions. While it’s good to keep your options open, experts advise stating your specialty and your target audience.

If you’re targeting everyone, you’re targeting no one. “Much in the same way that you adjust your pitch based on the publication, adjust your personal branding to attract your intended audience,” writes Hayley Berry, branding expert and stylist at Her Brand, in PR Couture.

Showcase your expertise. Showcase your expertise with informative, compelling content. Sometimes personal stories, such as Schaefer’s battle with Covid-19, draw the most attention. While many communicators build a positive brand strictly on social media, some PR experts also recommend a platform that you control, such as a blog or website. “Social media accounts are important to have as part of your extension of your personal brand, but having a website or blog that you own helps in creating a hub for your personal brand,” says Karen Freberg, associate professor of Strategic Communication at University of Louisville.

Be authentic. Although the term “authentic” has been repeated so much it’s become a buzzword, authenticity remains central to a strong personal brand. Being authentic means being yourself, not trying to seem like someone you aren’t in an attempt to gain followers, shares and likes. While some people obsess over such vanity metrics, superficial – and often fake — popularity may not tell the real story about the person’s leadership or expertise.

Share and network. Share your accomplishments – without appearing boastful – and share news to show you stay abreast of industry topics. To stand out, talk about why you care about sharing content and why you believe it’s important to others. “Having the confidence to write, create content, and share it with the community will help establish your point of view and place within the community,” Freberg says.

Audit your brand. Communicators can review a personal brand just as they audit a company brand, although the task is likely much simpler. Monitor your name and niche in news and social media. If you are a corporate or brand spokesperson, you can include your name in the searches for your employer or client. View analytics available on social media networks, and Google Analytics if possible, to decipher who reads your content and what types of posts gain the most views and interactions. Use that information to seek your strengths and weaknesses and your competitive advantage.

Informal research with close colleagues and friends can also reveal perceptions of your personal brand and your strongest topics, Freberg says.

Be helpful. Offer yourself as a resource by answering questions posted by peers on social media platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn and Facebook groups in addition to any in-person gatherings. Ideally, people will recognize you as a subject matter expert and appreciate your willingness to help. They’ll probably return your generosity when you need help.

The power of positive. Fill your social media feed with upbeat images. If you view images of popular thought leaders and social media influencers, you’ll likely see plenty of smiles, Berry notes. There’s a reason for that. Smiles and other positive facial expressions attract people. Moody, negative expressions as well as gloomy images in general repel them.

While voicing your beliefs and perspectives can boost your personal brand, ranting will not. If something angers you, wait to calm down before posting anything online. “Reacting and shooting from the hip may be ok in your personal life but it’s not going to win you that client or secure you that coverage in your professional life,” Berry adds.

Be consistent. Consistency enhances corporate brands. The same concept applies to personal brands. A consistent color palette, taglines, logo, and hashtags across digital platforms signal your personal brand. “This concept extends beyond just visual appearance to include common themes and elements that track where your interests and talents lie,” writes Vanessa Restifo, a PR major at Westminster College and vice president of her PRSSA Chapter, for the PRSA.

Avoid risky behavior. Anything you do on social media or post on a blog can damage your reputation. With so many people, including PR and marketing professionals, constantly posting images and comments on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn, personal brands have become highly visible. Some may be at risk. Recruiters and HR professionals consider online reputations a deciding factor. According to research from Cross-Tab Marketing Services, 70% of hiring executives say they have rejected candidates because of information they found online.

You might want to review previous posts and delete imprudent content. Young people just starting their careers should consider removing all pictures with red plastic cups and any other photographs that show carousing.

However, balance caution with carefree. It’s always fine to reveal your personality. “The key is balance between your personal life and professional aspirations,” Restifo says.

Bottom Line: Just as a robust corporate brand helps increase sales, a strong personal brand boosts your career and can help win business. As Covid-19 disrupts lives, some communications professionals may find that their personal brands will save their careers and businesses. Building a robust personal brand isn’t easy though. It takes time and work to build a trustworthy and authentic reputation.

This post was first published on Feb. 29, 2019, and updated on Aug. 10, 2020.