Your Personal Brand is Crap!

IStock_000006271330XSmallThe other day, one of my clients got a bad write-up in the online edition of a regional newspaper.

My instinct as a PR guy, circa 1999, would have been to write to the reporter to see what the client could do to make amends; maybe write a Letter to the Editor of that newspaper, etc.  Standard stuff.  In the end I’d have counseled my client to a.) fix the problem and, b.) remember that “this article will be at the bottom of a parakeet cage soon.”

My instinct as a Social Media PR guy, circa 2009, was to tweet about my client’s bad coverage, adding disclosure about our relationship, and assuring my Twitter friends that the client would fix the issue.  This impulse arose despite the fact that the negative article will very likely never rise to the top of the Google ranks and will soon subside (just as it would have 10 years ago) as an issue for the client.

In other words: I almost put my personal brand ahead of my client’s brand.  Almost.  But I didn’t tweet.  Instead, I contacted my client and provided some counsel, and moved on.

My friend Geoff Livingston rails against this impulse to promote our personal brands:

3426194773_6faacd879e“We can finally look at (Social Media) and say, ‘What’s more important? That we become as famous, even more famous than our clients and organizations who we represent?’ … Or should we stop this nonsense and return to basic counselor values?

“It used to be that promoting clients came first … Isn’t it more important that we understand the medium, how to communicate through it, and guide our (clients) through the transition to two-way media and the phenomenal dynamic nature of this toolset?”

I’ve always been an advocate for PR people to slowly but surely become “known” online for being friendly, good-intentioned and smart.  Why?  Because I believe that such exposure will change the behavior of PR professionals (they’ll think twice before spamming!!) and thus incrementally change the perception of the PR profession.  It all falls under the “Sunlight is the best disinfectant” line that I cart out so frequently.

However, Geoff is also right: another line I’m fond of is “Team before Tweet,” and that applies doubly so when considering a client’s best interests.  As paid counselors, the PR professionals’ clients must always benefit first & foremost. 

PR’s role is in the passenger seat.  When you’re riding shotgun, your role is to help the driver navigate and watch for potholes, not to grab the wheel. 

Oh, and P.S. for those of you wondering about the incendiary subject line of this post, I was just riffing on this YouTube classic:


Posted on: April 22, 2009 at 9:48 am By Todd Defren
31 Responses to “Your Personal Brand is Crap!”


  • Matt Stude says:

    As a journalism student, I find this helpful and mentally engaging. This situation is one that I had not thought about before, but after reading it, I feel I would know how to respond, if put in a similar situation.
    I think this works and I like the idea of team mentality. I think it is important and essential for someone in PR to be a team player. I would think that success is found for those in PR, when the clients brand is put before a team or agency’s personal brand. When this gets switched I think it comes into question whether a healthy client relationship exists.

  • Erin says:

    Even as a college student, the thought of posting on Twitter would not have crossed my mind. That said, I credit that I was “raised” in the business as my dad has worked in PR for over 20 years. He instilled in me, and it has been reaffirmed in school, that my job as a PR professional is to remain professional and represent my client; posting on Twitter is not going to help a client unless it comes from the client itself. I feel an outside post would generate more buzz around the situation and not necessarily help the client’s image.

  • Bob Sloan says:

    It should be about promoting clients first, and yourself second.

  • Most people today aren’t very receptive on being ’sold’ on something. They are tired of this method for business, and a new method is now available that will make everything easier and natural…it’s called attraction marketing. In incorporating the attraction marketing formula into your business, you act as an educator as well as a seller while you develop ongoing relationships with clients. The results will be much more favorable then if you were to try to hard-sell everything.

  • Atul says:

    Be sweet don’t tweet. But you presumably talked to the reporter. By being sweet about the whole thing you may have won a friend, which would prove more beneficial in the long run. What I am trying to say is that – You did the right thing.

  • Rob Leavitt says:

    Great post, Todd. It reminds me of a great ad campaign Deloitte Consulting did in the early 2000s with the tag line “You’re Lucy. We’re Ethel.” So many social media “experts” and consultants seems to have gotten caught up in building their fame that I often wonder who is serving whom with their clients these days.

  • Loren says:

    I would agree with the idea of taking the team mentality. In my opinion, it would not be effective for the PR professional to not be a team player. Isn’t the point of PR professionals to help navigate in the first place? I think the way a PR professional succeeds is to put the client’s brand before their own personal brand.

  • Recent PR college graduate says:

    Think was a good wake up call.

    Now, my question is this … what about yourself vs. your company’s brand? When you work for an agency, you are out there working with people, getting your brain picked, picking brains, making friends, forming relationships… in a GENUINE way and yet… should there EVER be a time when you stop yourself because you are in the forefront (within your group of contacts, friends and other people) instead of oh… I don’t know… your CEO or boss?

    My instinct is no. You represent the agency and if you do a good job out there – it is only beneficial for your agency as well as yourself. It’s symbiotic.

    Am I wrong? Did I miss something?

  • Lizzie says:

    This is a great learning tool for anyone starting out in the PR business. I am a journalism student and after reading this I feel I would know what to do a similar situation. I do agree that you need to take the team mentality as well as pick your battles.

  • Preach It, Brother! Immediately, you brought to mind the image of PR professionals needing to ride in the sidecar of a motorcycle – much like the image noted here >

    One of the great things about this image (for me, at least) is the fact that ‘riding sidecar’ gives PR professionals the oppty to do various things, including:
    * help clients navigate
    – strategic counsel and/or media coaching
    * serve as an extra set of eyes on the road
    – help monitor ‘web noise’
    * serve as a sniper when the oppt’y arises
    – opportunistic and proactive media relations

    Additionally, like the picture shows, we are there to serve a purpose – help the driver…NOT DRIVE.

    Rockin’ Post, Todd!

  • We really don’t help our clients when we walk for them. They have to embrace the medium and leanr how to engage. Well said, Todd!

  • Interesting…but you definitely have to take that team mentality when dealing with clients/brands. I do think that you have to pick and choose your battles though. If a company royally screws up…do you defend them? What would you do in that situation besides get out of the way and advise them?

    • Todd Defren says:

      If they royally screwed up, I’d advise them, actively, to fix the problem. If I thought the client was being immoral or doing anything illegal, I’d resign the contract.

  • I wonder, if your impulse was entirely wrong.

    I’m sure you’re correct that it was the wrong idea to take your client’s bad media day and make it about you. But does your client have a presence in the social media space, where they could have immediately begun a discussion about the issues raised in the article?

    It seems like some of the best image-building for companies happens when they very visibly and openly respond to criticism in an honest discussion with the community.

    • Todd Defren says:

      While I don’t disagree with you in general, Brent, remember that this was a relatively minor mention. Why expand the audience to my 10K followers when that probably comes close to doubling the original audience? It would add insult to injury – for my client.

      Meanwhile the client *has* committed to fixing things!

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