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Personal branding for career success
Personal branding for career success

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3 What can I learn from celebrity branding?

For most of us, discussions about personal branding bring certain celebrities to mind. They are obvious examples of individuals with a personal brand, cultivated deliberately to maximise their following and thus the potential profit they can make from appearances, product ranges and endorsements.

A glamorous woman in black dress has just stepped out of her car onto a red carpet.
Figure 2 The red carpet

But what can we learn from their approach that could be useful in our own careers?

There are several things that celebrities do, that we can adapt for our own use:

  1. Many of the most successful celebrities have a clearly defined brand.
    • If you look at the brands of talk show host and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey, or singer-songwriter Lady Gaga, they are clearly defined and come across as authentic. We know what they do and what they stand for, or can very easily find out.
    • While you might not be looking for global recognition (or maybe you are!), it is important to take time to identify your own authentic brand. You’ll look at this in more detail later but starting with questions such as ‘What are my values?’ or ‘What do I want to be known for?’ is helpful.
  2. They look for opportunities to share their brand through a variety of channels.
    • In the celebrity world, endorsement of existing products broadens the profile of your brand, allowing you to reach new audiences. For example, footballer David Beckham’s endorsement of watches, whisky, etc., or singer-songwriter Justin Timberlake co-founding a clothing line with an established designer.
    • Look for opportunities to showcase your brand in a different way − for example, you might start a blog or volunteer to present something at a meeting or conference.
  3. Making connections with other celebrity brands can broaden awareness of your own.
    • For example, singers might duet with other famous singers on their albums, e.g. David Bowie and Bing Crosby’s unforgettable ‘Peace on Earth’/‘Little Drummer Boy’ Christmas single; or actors perform together in comedy sketches for fund-raising TV events such as Comic Relief, or make guest appearances on other successful shows.
    • You could write a guest blog for someone who has an audience you know you can connect with, or volunteer to give a presentation about your work to staff in another department. The key point here is about expanding your network.
  4. Successful celebrity brands have clear boundaries.
    • Many celebrities have struggled with what to post on social media or how to respond to negative comments – some have even withdrawn from it altogether. Those with the most successful brands have clear boundaries about how much they are willing to share and what they will or won’t respond to.
    • Personal branding is usually closely associated with social media, and this is undoubtedly a way to reach a much wider audience. However, you must decide how you want to use it yourself rather than feeling pressurised to have an online profile. Ask yourself – ‘Will it help me to achieve what I want in my career or are there other methods that might be more effective?’

If you do use social media, focus on one tool rather than trying to spread yourself across every platform. LinkedIn is an obvious one for many professionals, but you might find that Instagram is more aligned to your brand and ambitions. You’ll look at promoting your personal brand online in Week 6.

Activity 3 Using social media

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, is a regular user of Twitter. Look at the following examples of her tweets and describe your impression of her personal brand in the box below.

(If you already use Twitter and would like to use another public figure who you follow for this activity, please do.)

  • a.‘It’s that anniversary again. This year, I apologise for killing someone who didn’t die during the #BattleofHogwarts, but who laid down his life to save the people who’d win it. I refer, of course, to Dobby the house elf.’
  • b.‘Argentinian artist Marta Minujín’s monumental replica of the Greek Parthenon created with 100,000 copies of banned books, to [sic] symbolizes the resistance to political repression #womensart [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]
  • c.‘You’re free to offend. The rest of us are free to say we’re offended. That’s what freedom of speech means.’
  • d.‘Your regular reminder that @AlabedBana is the girl who live tweeted as bombs fell, while pro-Assad apologists claimed she didn’t exist.’
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From that small number of tweets, you could have picked up the following:

  • a.Caring and appreciative

    By apologising for something unpopular in one of her novels, she shows that she cares about her fans. She is also referring to an exciting event in one of the books, which might entice new readers to investigate further.

  • b.Champion for the repressed

    She is using her ‘celebrity’ to showcase women’s art and demonstrate her support for the repressed.

  • c.Strong willed

    By responding to her detractors, she demonstrates that she is strong and clear about what she believes in.

  • d.Not afraid of expressing her opinions

    Another opportunity to draw attention to repression – she clearly has strong political views.

A key element of J K Rowling’s tweets is that they are consistent and clearly reflect her personal brand. The reader is clear about what she stands for and so can form an informed opinion about whether they support her or disagree with her viewpoint.

In a career context, your tweets can similarly impact on how an employer perceives you and whether they want to work with you.

So, while the celebrity brand is probably a step beyond where you hope to position yourself, there are several things we can learn and borrow from their approach. In the next section you’ll look at an individual who has a particularly strong personal brand and explore what happens when a brand works well.