As a young public relations professional, you know how important your personal brand is to your marketability and value as an employee. PR is your business. You can skillfully craft a dynamic persona, actualizing all the best perceptions you have about yourself. Unfortunately, that work can be sabotaged by outsiders, even unwitting friends and associates.
Ginny Clarke wrote in her excellent post for this site that your personal brand is comprised of your competencies, reputation, image and value. Of course all these things are interrelated to some degree, but the hardest component to control is your reputation because it can so easily be impacted by the snap judgments of others.
Here are a few aspects of your brand that need to be carefully monitored in order to prevent them from having a negative effect on your career. Don’t let others – intentionally or unintentionally – destroy what you have worked so hard to create.
Your Friends Are a Reflection of You
A quick Google search will provide plenty of advice on how to keep your social media sites neat, clean and private. Again, as a PR professional, this is your area of expertise. But beware! Friends who are “just joking around” can post inappropriate comments or tag photos of your last big night out. Potential or current employers, not to mention clients, will not take these things in the fun, lighthearted spirit in which they were intended. Be quick on the “Delete” function when these situations arise, and don’t be afraid to have frank discussions with friends (especially repeat offenders) about why this behavior is simply intolerable.
Even if you have your social media presence on lockdown, there are certain aspects of most profiles that are always public. For instance, on Facebook, regardless of how stringent your privacy settings are, everyone can see your “Likes” – the pages you are a fan of. Don’t be pigeonholed by employers because, three years ago, you thoughtlessly professed an affinity for some bawdy Comedy Central show or carelessly advocated anarchy.
It might be tempting to ignore social media altogether to avoid these issues. However, remember that having no social footprint is not always good when you work in PR. If people can’t see anything about you, it may not be hurting, but it certainly isn’t helping.
Your Job History is Your Personal History
Even in the bleakest economy, who you work for and what you do for a paycheck is still your choice. These choices speak volumes about you. Do everything you can to ensure the companies you work for reflect your own values and ethics. You can uncover a lot through due diligence when researching a potential employer. As an informed professional who networks and reads trade magazines, you know which companies are the shining beacons in your field and in your geographic area. Strive to be proud of your employment history.
Manage Your Extracurricular Activity
Publicly checking into restaurants, stores and other hot venues is the new craze in social media. Foursquare is a popular site for such activity and can be linked with Facebook or Twitter accounts to broadcast your every movement far and wide. But even if you are careful to limit your participation in this new fad to after-hours, it can still negatively impact your brand.
As with most social media, it can be both a blessing and a curse. Colleagues and clients may be impressed that you landed a reservation at an exclusive new bistro or rated a spot on the guest list at a trendy club, but raving until all hours of the night before a big interview or presentation can land you in hot water. Don’t give would-be employers or your current boss a reason to second guess a subpar performance.
Education is Early Branding
It may be too late to consider how your choice of academic institutions impacts your brand. At this point, you are probably at least waist-deep in a PR major and may even be a graduate out in the work world. In either case, do what you can to improve public perception of your alma mater. Spread word of scholarly achievements, engage in high-profile community service and make sure your alumni association is doing its part. We can’t all be Harvard graduates, but we can talk up the unique attributes of the schools we did attend.
PR is all about reputation management and so is personal branding. If you can’t ward against negative perceptions in your own professional life, how can you expect employers to take your skills seriously, let alone feel comfortable leaving a client’s reputation in your hands? Your friends, employers, educators and activities reflect on you. Be sure you like what’s staring back at you in that mirror.