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Personal branding for career success
Personal branding for career success

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5 Making mistakes – case studies

There are several high-profile cases of celebrities aligning themselves with products or advertising campaigns that have impacted negatively on their personal brand.

For example, in 2014 Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson, also known for her support for various charitable organisations, signed a contract to promote Sodastream. The company headquarters are based in Israel, and they have a factory in an Israeli settlement on the West Bank. At the time, she was also an Oxfam ambassador.

Johansson subsequently received a letter from Oxfam, explaining that as an organisation it officially ‘believes that businesses that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support’. She stood by her decision and eventually stepped down from her Oxfam role (Thorpe, 2014).

A woman taking her glasses off and rubbing her eyes whilst she sits in front of a computer.
Figure 4 When your personal brand goes wrong

More recently, supermodel and television personality Kendall Jenner made an advert with Pepsi that involved her handing a can of the fizzy drink to a riot policeman at a protest. Given recent #BlackLivesMatter protests in the US at that time, the public felt it was an inappropriate subject for a soft drink advert and there was widespread condemnation (Sanghani, 2017). The company apologised and cancelled the advert.

Although there has been no lasting impact on the careers of either individual, both had to deal with negative feedback and will potentially have lost credibility with some of their followers.

While you are unlikely to be involved in global advertising mistakes, or become linked with controversial projects, there are broad lessons to learn from these examples.

Think about what or who you align yourself with. Do they fit with the personal brand you wish to promote? Also, make sure that the views you choose to share with colleagues, social media followers, etc. represent your personal brand effectively. You’ll consider how to promote your brand on social media later in the course.

Webber (n.d.) discusses common mistakes people make with their personal branding in her blog post. They include:

  1. You haven’t clarified your purpose – first decide exactly who you want to be and then start your self-promoting.
  2. You’re not sharing the right things – are you over- or under-promoting, or being careless about what you share?
  3. You’re caught up in the career you’ve already had, not the one you want – choose the projects and experiences that you’d most like to replicate and talk about them.

Activity 5 It doesn’t work for me

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Think of a person in the public eye with a high-profile personal brand you really don’t align with. It could be a reality TV star, a politician, an actor, etc.

Use the box below to summarise why their personal brand doesn’t work for you.

Now try to list what other people do like about them, also in the box below.

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This person’s high-profile brand suggests that even though you don’t feel aligned with them, others clearly do. Perhaps they have made some obvious mistakes that have put you off. Or, perhaps their brand simply doesn’t attract or interest you, and maybe it never could.

The point here is that you can never devise a personal brand that will appeal to everyone.

If you are brave enough to share the authentic you with the world, you must accept that some negativity is likely to come your way. And that’s fine. Not everyone will like you, not everyone will buy into your values and what you present. But those who do will be the people you will most enjoy talking to and working with.