Very Mercenary? The rise of personal brands in business

There’s a great post by Todd Defren on PR Squared called “Got Some Personal Branding I Could Borrow?

The idea is that some people have impressive personal brands and are superstars no matter who they work for and as such can move from company to company and still be as followed and impressive. Scoble and Jeremiah Owyang being prime examples. While it generally focuses on PR, marketing, blogging and so forth, it will probably refer to more and more industries as more industry segments become “socialised” and we’ll have less faceless brands and more companies with personalities. How many companies now encourage their staff to become superstars? Most have such heavy rules that it can’t happen. Most companies want homogeneity, shamefully.

I really love this quote though:

We’ve made many more hires than this handful, of course, and expect great things of all of them – but, specific to these “well-known” people and their personal brands? We consider them to be “on loan” to SHIFT for the duration of their tenure. And I expect more and more of our employees (and future employees) will have their own personal brands either well-established or on the rise.

That’s progressive. Many companies know staff will move on but I doubt many say it publicly (or even to the staff) and say it with such respect for their staff. There was a slightly related conversation on Piaras’ blog post on networked PR companies. With PR people on LinkedIn and Facebook, they will still have a highly connected network no matter who they move to next. I don’t think companies can go back to the old days. Many people will bring clients with them when they move but nowadays they’ll bring their fans too and while fans are not clients, they are free evangelists, R&D teams, friends and so much more. I wonder how much weight in the future will a company give to “followers”? – “Great CV, good qualifications oh and he has 1100 blog subscribers and 540 on Twitter and have you seen his LinkedIn?”

A Chris Brogan quote was also included:

“The age of half-owned brands is upon us,” Chris writes, citing Robert Scoble as the impetus for this trend. “…Is Jeremiah Owyang about Forrester, or is he a half-owned brand that Forrester can claim for the time being?”

Rockstar singing on stage...
Photo owned by giango (cc)

I still haven’t fully gotten my head around this concept but to me it’s fascinating. How does a company attract these “personal brands” and how do they have them fit into their existing structure and then how do they work when these brands move on? Soccer clubs seem to manage well enough, though they get transfer fee. Todd shares the Shift manifesto here.

8 Responses to “Very Mercenary? The rise of personal brands in business”

  1. TJ says:

    The blurring of personal and institutional brands and contacts is a legal problem also. What happens when your personal blogging starts to irritate your employer? If things go sour might your employer claim ownership of your social networking contacts list? (As in the Pennwell Publishing case –

    If you’re lucky enough to enjoy a personal brand, you should think about these issues before taking up a new job – or better yet ask a lawyer.

  2. And remember, both sides get a benefit. The company benefits from hiring someone shiny, but the personality/talent benefits from having a company to support their opportunities and development. It’s trickier and then some.

  3. Cronan says:

    Very interesting area – and the analogy to soccer players is a good one.

    The fact that a employee can simply leave an employer without a “transfer fee” as such and take the value of a personal brand that may have been developed on the back of research performed or insights gained “on the job” is a problem.

    Overall I agree that it is good for the company for an employee to build an online presence, whether it is personal or part of their job and thus belongs to the company should be discussed.

  4. Surely this is far from a new phenomenon. J-Lo to Christina to Charlton Heston for the NRA (or Sting for the rainforest for that matter), the fact that certain savvy in-spotlight celebs have been willing to lend endorsement has highlighted one principal fact: right or wrong, celebrity holds kudos. As I write I’m drinking from a John Rocha wine glass (which is complete pants, btw, but the point remains: the name travels, irrespective of its actual, on-the-ground relevance. J Rocha shouldn’t be let near wine glasses or Irish Olympic opening ceremony designer gear for that matter, but the name has weight, ergo it travels.) Partners the length and breadth of the business spectrum know this truth. They network it to within an inch of its life. Nothing new about it. The singer may change, but the song remains the same.

  5. Damien says:

    This isn’t celebrity endorsements. I’d hire J-Lo for her big ass or because she would be used to entertain.

  6. Yes. But. That no longer holds true when she’s selling some God-awful scent or her latest attempt at dancefloor clawback. Celebrity equals brand. Thereafter you’re really talking about definition in terms of core target market. Defren’s zoom-in on Scoble or Owyang is narrower than J-Lo’s ass, admittedly, but the cult of personality still holds, ahem, sway.

    Oh dear. I fear I’m getting anal at this late hour…

  7. Damien says:

    They are being hired to do work, not to endorse.

  8. MJ says:

    This is something I’ve been watching from the sidelines since first reading your blog Mr Mulley. It’s not only fascinating, but something I would love to do myself. It’s interesting – is the individual championing the new employer, or is the employer championing the individual on their particular career path? I share TJ & Chris’ hesitation – clearly I keep an anonymous blog myself, and this has not a little but a lot to do with the fact that I don’t want to cheese off my employer(s). I am the employee/worker I am because of the myriad of experience I have gained with said employers, along with all the life/college/personal experiences etc. That said, my real name is getting out there as the go-to girl for more than one thing. I am so tempted to start a proper blog (my learning curve with blogspot has been fruitful!) but I’m still worried about fluffing the wrong feathers. Alas Damien, we don’t all have cojones of steeliness. I will keep watching from the sidelines for the moment and bite the bullet at some stage.