Personal Branding: A Competitive Edge

   Kevin Donnellon   

Personal branding is in, and much of this is driven by the tough job market, the glut of exceptional talent and the growing social technologies that can power your personal brand.

I completely endorse personal branding as a consultant, former agency owner and corporate PR VP who believes that “if you don’t stand out, please stand down.”

Sounds like something out of Woody Hayes, John Wooden, Urban Meyer or Coach K, doesn’t it? I made it up, I confess.

Seriously, personal branding is becoming more important when you consider:

1.     In this current turbulent and transformational economy, six people apply for every job, Atlantic.

2.     American workers aged 16-24 have an unemployment rate of 18.8%, nearly double the 9.7%, Wall Street Journal

Anecdotally, my niece was one of three finalists out of 200 applicants for an AAE position at a major PR agency last Fall.  She wasn’t hired, but then happily was later hired by a sister firm.

You have to stand out, and your personal branding will be an asset and your competitive edge.

Simply put, your investment in personal branding can help you get a job, keep a job and even get promoted.  Personal branding is relevant and valuable for beginning, emerging, established professionals and especially for those transitioning in their careers or moving to another city.

As you can imagine, Web 2.0 and its social technologies have energized and empowered personal branding, although the term was coined early by business management guru Tom Peters in a 1997 Fast Company piece, “The Brand Called You.”  Some personal branding enthusiasts even attribute it earlier to famous marketing expert Al Ries, who wrote about personal branding in his iconic Positioning in 1980 (see Chapter 23). Ries also wrote the provocative Fall of Advertising and Rise of PR in 2002.

Regardless of its origin, personal branding is fully caffeinated now with personal branding masters, blogs, magazines, sites, etc. exploding onto the market.

I am impressed with the insights and ideas of Dan Schawbel, Brenda Bence and Colin Wright who have written books, produced systems and conducted seminars and workshops on personal branding. Schwabel recently wrote the popular Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success.

Yes, it’s all common sense, and that’s why it’s effective.  Those smart business people have enriched themselves personally and professionally with personal branding.  

So, let’s address your probable questions:

1.     What is personal branding?

2.     How does it work?

3.     Why does it work?

4.     How do you get started with your personal branding?

What is personal branding?

Simply put, personal branding is the unique blend of your knowledge, skills and experience, and then how you present and communicate these unique capabilities to the public, and especially inside and outside your organization.

Your personal branding is on display 24/7, just like it is for Apple, Starbucks, Ford and Miller Lite (and Tiger?).  And with social technology, someone’s always watching and always reading.  So, despite how private you think you are, you are visible. That’s a positive, when you manage your positive brand.

Schawbel elaborates on the definition of personal branding in this recent interview.  He notes that your personal brand is “everything from the clothing you wear, to how you behave and interact, to your body language.” Fear not, you can go out of the house, when you are mindful of and manage your personal brand.

However, do read this classic Dress for Success by John Molloy.  Dress for the position you aspire to. Flip flops might not suit the CEO, and all of this depends on your business culture. Think suits for investor bankers and dressy jeans and T-shirt for creative director. That’s simple and it works.

My personal branding is about being enterprising, engaging, and having fun while marketing golf brands and organizations. For now, that’s my brand and I’ve been rebranding myself as a social media expert in this golf market.  As a result, I am asked to speak at golf conferences about social media.  All of that has happened in little over a year. I’m just scratching the surface in my personal re-branding.

How does personal branding work? 

It works in a job search.  And when you are gainfully employed, it is valuable to be just as engaged with developing your brand (read raise, promotion, expanded, more fulfilling responsibilities all of which can build your brand).

When searching for a job, personal branding starts with traditional business cards, portfolios, cover letter and a social media resume.  It also benefits from social network profiles and strategies including Facebook, LinkedIn (join and participate in groups relevant to your brand and passions), Twitter and even your own blog and a variety of other smart, savvy social media resources.

Yes, you can gain from having your own blog. It can be the most powerful and viral way to expose and demonstrate your thinking and to be the hub of your social personal branding efforts. When employed, your blog and the LinkedIn groups you create and manage can reinforce your expertise and thought leadership, growing your brand’s value.

To stay employed and more important, to move up, start becoming invaluable, being the go to person, focusing on giving, produce content and start endorsing others who may endorse you. Also, be ready to pay forward, as Ralph Waldo Emerson counsels.

In practice, your personal brand consists of memberships and active participation in professional associations, business clubs, hobbies, sports, charity and community work and your alma mater. Hint, volunteer and join a board for a non-for-profit that matches your passion (I do so for Gilda’s Club and the Evans Scholarship Foundation).

Why does it work?

Well, it works because it can help you make more money and have more fun.  Or how about getting up every day, raring and excited to go to work?  If you create, manage and develop your personal brand, I guarantee you will be enriched personally and professionally.  Alarm clocks can be inspirational, really!

Like the Apple brand, you and your brand can charge more and be who and what you want to be. Opportunities will find you, and you can have fulfilling work as an employee and entrepreneur.  The good reputations and personal brands spread faster and broader.

How do you get started on your personal branding?

Schawbel says there are four steps: discover, create, communicate and maintain.  He offers exceptional advice and excellent ideas in his Personal Branding tool kit and Bence provides effective personal brand positioning worksheets to pump your thinking. Colin Wright, in his pragmatic and savvy E-books says starting your personal brand journey is as simple as pulling out a sheet of paper.  One side lists what you like about yourself and the other what you would like to improve (e.g., your smile, or your perfection obsession).

The idea here is to go out and get what you want.  It’s really simple. Personal branding is what you want to be when you want to grow up.  With today’s social technology, people like Tim Ferris, author of the 4-Hour Work Week, Schawbel and other experts (Google lists almost 10M entries) described in this post show that you can create the life you want through effective personal branding. It can help lead you and lead others to you, creating more personal and professional fulfillment and enrichment.

What’s the summary?

Personal branding is as powerful and expansive as you make it. It enriches you personally and professionally. It is especially important and relevant in professional services careers like PR where your personality, appearance skills, knowledge, experience and brand are your asset.

You will capitalize and benefit from personal branding by being proactive, systemic and committed to it, using the expert advice, strategies and tools described here.

Good luck, and have fun (yes, it can be) identifying, creating, nurturing and fully empowering your personal brand.  It can change your life over time and sooner than you think. 

Kevin Donnellon owns Macali Communications, a marketing and public relations firm that specializes in the golf industry. 

4 thoughts on “Personal Branding: A Competitive Edge

  1. Hi Kevin,

    Your article is uplifting and helpful. You should touch base with a fellow Western Washington University Alumni of mine, Dieter Hertling ( He not only has a great personal brand (you do as well), he hosts an informative seminar on personal branding and the job hunt called Career Strategies 2.0 via his company, Emprove Performance Group ( You two should definitely meet if you haven’t already.
    All the best,
    Cheryl Walters

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