It’s not always who you are, but also your brand that countsWhen Roh Moo-hyun ran for president, he got an injection of Botox in his forehead to smooth the appearance of a prominent wrinkle. Mr. Roh was refining his image as a youthful politician, a break from the “senior statesman,” used to describe all of Korea’s previous presidents.
During the 2002 campaign, Mr. Roh also published a biography of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States; Mr. Roh was running to become the 16th president of Korea. He fashioned himself as a crusader to mend a divided nation, akin to Lincoln.
Mr. Roh’s election victory shows how career management ― developing a personal public relations plan, otherwise known as personal branding, or personal identity ― can lead to success.
Companies create brand images to sell products. Celebrities and politicians create strong images to stand apart from others and market themselves. Some famous international entertainers with larger than life images are Madonna ― a genius at reinventing herself and self-promotion ― and Tom Hanks, the everyman of the Silver Screen. In Korea, Ha Ri-su and Boa have marketed themselves on their image ― Ha Ri-su as a sexy transsexual, Boa as a puerile pop with dance moves that rival Britney Spears’s.
Image factories can manufacture success ― given solid raw materials. But now career management professionals are preaching that image building and branding are not limited to companies and celebrities.
“In the same way that a company has a corporate identity that can be communicated effectively to bring about positive business results, so too can people define a personal identity that is designed to achieve positive personal results,” says Robert Pickard, managing director of Edelman Korea, one of the biggest privately owned PR firms in the world.
“Everyone should have their own PR strategy; the image making process is that important,” says Susie Yoo, the chief executive of You & Partners, a career consulting group based in Korea. “It should be an image that comes to mind when people think of you.”
President Roh needed more than Botox to achieve victory. A labor lawyer who never attended college, Mr. Roh’s lack of formal education and relative youth ― he was 56 when elected ― were seen as negatives. But by emphasizing his background, he forged an identity as an outsider, or a fresh face, which carried him to victory with an electorate that had received his message that underscored his allegiance with the common folk.
Ha Ri-su could have been an outcast in society, but she rose to stardom by playing up her physical beauty in movies, TV shows and on fashion runways. She even released an album. Ms. Ha finds her name, which is a play on the phrase “hot issue,” important enough to her image that when her former management agency, TTM, which owns the rights to the name, gave it to another star, Ms. Ha went to court. Probably with good reason; look at what happened to Prince when he changed his name to a symbol: he drifted into obscurity.
Paraphrasing Shakespeare, it seems a rose is not a rose by any other name. But Ms. Ha’s former managers think otherwise. “She won’t have any difficulties in continuing without the name Ha Ri-su. The name won’t affect her future activities,” says Chung Seung-hoon, head of TTM’s strategy and planning department.
Successful celebrities take the time to create an image. Their PR strategy includes a clear and consistent message about who they are. When we see them, we have certain expectations.
The same can be true of noncelebrities. When Charles Ahn’s computer was hit with a computer virus, he developed an anti-virus program and went on to start a company, Ahnlab, giving lectures and writing books. From a psychologist who writes a magazine advice column, to a radio talk show host who goes on air with a certain attitude to a mayor who swiftly responds to a major crisis, anyone can develop a solid PR plan. In response to that plan, a client seeks an appointment with the psychologist and the listener tunes in to the radio talk show, bearing certain expectations. And when those expectations are met, or bettered, clients return. That’s brand loyalty.
Earlier this year, “The Brand Called You,” by Peter Montoya with Tim Vendehey was published. It followed Mr. Montoya’s “The Personal Branding Phenomenon,” published a year earlier. According to the authors, “Your personal brand is the powerful, clear, positive idea that comes to mind whenever other people think of you. It is what you stand for ― the values, abilities and actions that others associate with you.” Your professional personal identity includes your strengths and weaknesses. But a good PR plan will focus on your strengths.
Whether you are launching a new company or starting a new job, you have a professional identity that people associate with you. According to career specialists, just because you are not attuned to your professional image does not mean you do not have one. You do.
Sam Butler, a senior consultant at DBM Korea, an outplacement and career management consulting firm, agrees that creating a personal PR plan works for everyone from chief executives to new hires. “It provides consistency for work and work relationships,” he says, which makes it easier for co-workers to become comfortable with your style.
“Everyone has personal or professional objectives that can be met by achieving communications objectives through personal PR,” says Mr. Pickard. “Everyone has strengths that can be communicated through personal PR. Everyone communicates with all kinds of people every day whose opinions as influenced by personal PR can help determine and deliver positive outcomes.”
Mr. Pickard and other foreign executives based in Korea are finding personal PR plans can lead to success. The era of being an invisible entity inside a company is changing as people switch jobs and sometimes even industries. “Success stories are no longer based on family and school but ‘show me the money,’” Ms. Yoo says. She also coaches people on how to become chief executives. “A fruit with dust cannot attract people’s desires no matter how sweet it actually is.”
Ms. Yoo emphasizes the need for talent and the ability to create a strong personal identity that peers, supervisors, clients and headhunters recognize.
Getting the attention of headhunters has become especially important in this day and age of job hopping. A strong personal identity should help you not only shine, but do so consistently. If you are looking for a new job, your references should be able to confirm a consistent reputation because you have built credibility and a solid reputation with your PR plan.
Paul Villella, who runs a career consulting Web site, writes in “Secrets of Personal Public Relations,” “A good PR plan can be just as important for employees as it is for the companies for which they work. How do you make sure your supervisors and co-workers perceive you in the best possible light? Doing a good job, and putting in the hours are very important, but if no one recognizes your efforts, it could all be for naught. How do you make sure that your skills and contributions are recognized and rewarded?”
Jan Austin, a career consultant, writes on her Web site, that the very nature of work is being transformed. Fewer people hold traditional jobs, and that is a trend that is on the rise. Instead, people own careers for which they alone are responsible. As a business unit of one, you are the chief executive of your personal brand. And competition is intense. “More than ever, customers will buy based on powerful emotional connections,” Ms. Austin writes. “They will buy brands. If you want to stand out and command the attention of your audience, you want personal brand power working for you. It’s that simple, and that compelling.”
As the nature of work has changed, the communication channels to individuals have increased. The era of calling a client through a dial up phone has become an era of instant communication via fax, office phone, mobile phone and teleconferencing. With all the channels open, it is that much more difficult and that much more important to provide a consistent message.
The approach to creating a plan is the same across all occupations, but everyone has a unique communications context. PR plans should be highly individualized. The interior designer and the bank teller have different communications situations, different objectives and different target audiences. But just about everyone has a boss or customers whose opinions and actions shape career destinies. According to Mr. Pickard, “If people look at themselves through a PR prism, they can then tailor their own communications strategy and tactics to suit their individual circumstances. With personal PR, you plan your work, then work your plan to be the best you can be.
DEVELOPING A PR PLAN
Perform a situation analysis of the industry’s future, your company and your supervisor. What is your company’s core mission? “Remember that the kind of initiatives that matter most to your career are those that relate to the company’s critical path,” writes Ms. Austin, adding, “Focus on the aspects of your assigned job that furthers that mission.” Try to understand what your manager is trying to accomplish, and then work to make him or her successful.
Analyze yourself. In order to find out where you stand today, how well you are known and what people think about you, ask. One good way to do this is to get honest feedback. Mr. Butler of DBM Korea recommends asking five people you work with, they can be colleagues, customers, vendors, basically anyone who knows you professionally. Ask them how they perceive your work and how they perceive your contributions.
When your self perception is different from the way other people view you, you can have many difficulties.
Combine the analysis of your organization’s needs with what value you offer to your organization, whether that contribution is large or small. Ms. Yoo says success stories often happen when a person is able to match the corporation’s needs with their personal image.
Come up with key messages and personal objectives. Simplify all your strengths and positive points into a few easy-to-remember, easy-to-communicate lines that through repetition will be remembered. The simplest covers who you are, what you do, what makes you different, or how you create value for your target market. As for personal objectives, consider where you want to be in the future.
Create a personal communications strategy to communicate those key messages. Mr. Pickard calls them unique approaches designed to make you stand out from the crowd.”
Tactics can include relationship networking, contact management and personal publicity. When networking, don’t forget your peers.
Treat every chance to communicate ― phone calls, e-mails, conversations in the hallway ― as an opportunity to promote your desired image.
Do your assigned job well. “Before taking any steps to promote yourself or get involved with other initiatives in the company, make sure that you’re doing your assigned job well,” Ms. Austin writes.
Step up to the plate. A lot of work that is critically important to a company doesn’t fit neatly into a person’s job description. Be the person that steps up and accomplishes these tasks.
Finally, track your behavior relentlessly to make sure you’re meeting professional and personal obligations. Always remember, this is who you are and this is how you work.
by Joe Yong-hee