Personal Branding Digest, March 20, 2015

From Hillary Clinton to Jeb Bush: The Importance of Personal Branding to the U.S. Presidential Hopefuls
(The Drum, 10.03.15)

Wally Krantz, worldwide creative director at Brand Union, asks if the usual rules of branding can be applied to the way the US presidential hopefuls are presenting themselves.

Build Your Personal Brand Website Along with Your Business
(The Business Journals, 06.03.15)

Although business owners spend a great deal of time promoting an enterprise through the company’s website, a recent study notes that personal websites can be just as important for branding.

10 Reasons Why Your Personal Brand Sucks
(Entrepreneur, 02.03.15)

I always tell people—entrepreneurs, executives, business leaders, anyone who will listen—that their personal brand doesn’t really matter. I tell them that customers pay for products and services, not them. Do they listen? No, not really. That got me thinking about why.

Why Introverts Excel at Personal Branding
(Forbes, 16.02.15)

Gregarious. Big personality. Chest-pounding. Outgoing. Braggart. Center of Attention. These are the words people shout when I ask them to describe the characteristics of someone who is good at personal branding. These words reflect a misconception that persists today, despite the evidence; countless successful personal brands have been created by people who consider themselves to be introverts.

“Social media is changing the way we communicate and the way we are perceived, both positively and negatively. Every time you post a photo, or update your status, you are contributing to your own digital footprint and personal brand.” —Amy Jo Martin

Did Obama or Your Boss Overstay Summer Vacation?

[Originally posted on]

Every August, millions of Americans take vacations. And every year, the most powerful of them, their president, takes a lot of heat just for taking his—and also for where he goes. Powerful business executives, too, take hits for their choice and length of retreat.
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Why Sarah Palin Needs A Branding Makeover (Unless Her PBI, Personal Branding Idea, Is Kook)

[Originally posted on]

When Sarah Palin stormed onto the scene in 2008, there was no denying the power of her brand. Whether you loved her or hated her, whether you thought she was the future or rolled your eyes at her big-game hunting and comments like being able to see Russia from Alaska (or “see Russia from my house,” said Tina Fey when she was impersonating Palin on “Saturday Night Live”), you knew what she stood for, and you had some begrudging respect for her positioning as a hockey mom who didn’t believe in wasting a civic nickel. (You gotta remember the stuff on pigs and pork?)
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Have the Guts to Be Accountable

This is the fourth in a series of 10 posts about different aspects of CEO branding.

Where does the buck stop in your organization?

U.S. President Harry S. Truman spelled it out with a sign on his desk: “The buck stops here!” With those words, which he also keenly referenced in speeches, he explicitly took responsibility for the decisions and actions of his administration. (Nobody needs reminding that not all occupants of the Oval Office have upheld that principle with the same rigor.)

There are plenty of good reasons why it’s important for leaders to take responsibility and be accountable for everything that happens in their organization. The simplest is summed up by what Truman said in his farewell address: “The president—whoever he is—has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That’s his job.” The same applies to business leaders. If the person at the top is not the one with ultimate responsibility, then who is?

In principle, I can’t see any political or business leaders disagreeing that part of their job is to be accountable for their organization. In practice, it doesn’t always work out that way; when things have gone wrong and tough questions are asked, there are plenty of cases where leaders have fudged, ducked, quibbled and spared no effort to evade the issue. Cartoonist Christopher Weyant captured it perfectly in a drawing in The New Yorker of a man behind a big desk with a sign saying “What buck?”

One of the most eye-popping examples happened last year when News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch appeared before a British parliamentary committee investigating illegal phone hacking by journalists at News of the World, which News Corp. owned. He said: “I do not accept ultimate responsibility. I hold responsible the people that I trusted to run it and the people they trusted.”

In fact, it’s been a great time for watchers of C-suite foul-ups. In the wake of the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil leak, BP CEO Tony Hayward effectively pressed the self-destruct button on his brand with this ill-considered comment: “There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back.”

There are plenty of intricate moral, ethical and governance issues at stake when a business leader sidesteps accountability, and they’ve been widely debated. As far as PR is concerned, it simply undermines three essential foundations of a strong personal CEO brand: fairness, trust and respect.

  • Fairness. If as a senior executive you are happy to take the credit (and compensation) for things going right, isn’t it only fair that you should be willing to take responsibility if they go wrong? Fairness here isn’t just some high-minded, tree-hugging ideal. The oft-repeated classic ultimatum game experiment of economics has shown that people everywhere resent excessive unfairness; they resent it enough to punish it, even to their own disadvantage.
  • Trust. Your employees, fellow executives, shareholders, suppliers, peers and the media will have opinions about how trustworthy you are. Those opinions will be influenced by many factors, such as honoring promises and respecting confidentiality. This is an important part of your personal brand. Being the leader means you are responsible for whatever happens, good or bad. If you shirk that responsibility, you risk being seen as a self-serving incompetent who can’t be trusted.
  • Respect. There was a time when being respectable in every sense was a national obsession, but things have loosened up a lot. Even so, many business leaders are still more strongly motivated to earn high regard over the long term than to pocket quick and easy megabucks. Accepting responsibility for your company’s foul-ups will never be comfortable, but it will earn you respect if you do it honestly, without trying to spin it. Conversely, taking a “What buck?” approach might earn you swagger points for barefaced chutzpah, but it will damage respect for your personal brand.

We have all become tired of leaders responding to scandals by wheeling out expensive spin doctors with their predictable arguments that down is up. It has a corrosive effect, not least on the organization itself. It signals to employees that when the going gets tough they should focus on finding someone or something to blame.

If you want people in your organization to take responsibility for their actions and to be accountable for them, you must show the way by example. It’s up to you to create a culture of accountability. When CEOs own failure and take the blame for screwups, and they do it honestly, with good grace, it gives a powerful signal. It encourages the whole organization to recognize faults, own them and take steps to correct them.

Howard Schultz, the much talked-about CEO of Starbucks, famously admitted that the brand “had lost its way” and did much to tell that story and put his own self on the line—much to the delight of the press and curious coffee connoisseurs who eventually helped him turn the business around. There’s great humility and dignity in admitting mistakes and flaws, and those two character traits are actually great CEO brand assets.

[photo: Astor–Food Fetishist]