Howard Bragman on Personal Branding

Bragman: I’m Howard Bragman. I’m a longtime PR person and author of the book “Where’s My Fifteen Minutes?” Question: Why is it important for people to define their image? Bragman: There was a recent study by the MacArthur Foundation and it was about teens and internet usage, and it was talking about, there was really a lot of positive effects. And one of the things that they mentioned which is really interesting is it was teaching teenagers how to manage their public image. And for the first time in history, people not every person but most people who aspire to something a little greater, aspire to go to the next level, have a public image. Be you a doctor, a lawyer, a journalist, an Indian Chief, whatever you do, you may have a website; you may have a Facebook page, a MySpace page; you may be on Twitter; you may be in newsletters; you may be the president of the PTA. But it’s never been easier to have a public image. I know now if you… I teach college at the University of Southern California and I hadn’t taught for a few years. Guess what? Every college professor is written about online. Are they a good professor? Do we like their classes? Is it easy? You’re a college professor? You’re a public figure. And there are different levels of this. We’re not all Brad and Angelina, obviously, but whatever milieu we operate in, we are public figures and the rules hold the same, whether you’re a college professor or whether you’re a movie star. If you don’t define yourself, somebody else is going to define you and you’re probably not going to be happy with the way they define you, so you better do it yourself. Question: How does someone control their image? Bragman: I think controlling a public image is myth nowadays. I think my book is very prescriptive in terms of managing a public image. Ultimately, as I tell my celebrities, the best public image you’re going to have is by living a good, clean life, and people recognize it. If people, me or anyone else misbehave, it’s going to get out there in the ether, and there’s a level of transparency. As I say in my 10 commandments of PR, “The truth will come out and it will bite you in the butt, eventually.” So I think the myth that we can control anything is kind of just that it’s a myth. But the truth is, we can manage it and we can make it better, and, as you stated, if we start out early and we create our image from whole cloth early on, that’s a lot easier than creating an image… Excuse me. That’s a lot easier than modifying an image that’s already been created and having to change an image, particularly a bad image. Question: What is micro-fame? Bragman: Well, micro-fame is being known for a very specific thing within a very specific community. I think the Obama Girl had micro-fame that grew into macro-fame, she started out on YouTube. One song about one candidate, and all of a sudden, she turned into a brand. I want to do something by comparison. If you remember in the last election, JibJab, the cartoonists, the animators, they’ve turned that into a business. They have taken their concept and broadened it and really turned it into a business. I don’t think Obama Girl has turned it into a business, so they took what could have been micro-fame and turned it as something that was quite macro. But micro-fame really means that you may be famous within a Facebook group, you may be famous on YouTube, you may be famous in your high school, wherever it is. But that may be all you need too if you’re running for class president, you probably don’t need to be famous beyond your high school at that particular point in your life. And everybody has to start somewhere, and we all have to realize that, “What is our base?” If you’re running for president of your high school class, well, your base is your classmates, and that’s where you are going to start. And so micro-fame can grow, but it can also just lie there and that can be the endpoint. Question: What are the dangers when starting your brand? Bragman: Well, it’s not just screwing it up, it’s getting out there too soon. People want to rush their image out there without building the foundation. My own nephew is trying to launch a little shirt company and he got a story. He’s at the University of Georgia and he got a story in the University of Georgia paper, and I’m like, “Hey, genius, do you have a website up yet?” And he’s like, “No,” and I said, “How are people going to find your shirts, you moron? Don’t you think you should have gotten your ducks in a row before you started doing it?” He goes, “Well, people know us on campus.” It’s like, yeah, it’s a campus of 40,000. I think not, you know? And people are too eager to get the press without doing the work that’s required. It’s very rare that somebody can do horrible damage there unless they’re a celebrity or a true, true public figure or a politician, you know. But anybody has to learn that you have to do the preparatory steps to make it last. This is how you build a lasting image. This is how you turn publicity into sales, publicity into change, publicity into dollars, publicity into whatever it is you’re trying to do. If you say, “I want to clean up the river,” and you’ve created a website that’s called, you can say, “You go to my website and you see how you can help,” that’s going to motivate people. If you say, “I’m here to clean up the river and I want people to help me,” and they go, “Well, what in the hell do I do to do this?” You may not be as strong and what we really have to do is connect the dots, and that’s something the internet does really well, probably better than anything in our lifetime.

Harold Bragman teaches us personal branding 101.

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